Queen of the Kingdom of Fife
Wind-swept and hugging the North Sea, the ancient burgh of St. Andrews has played above its weight upon the stage of Scottish history for 1,000 years.
Of course, any serious golfer knows St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf and scene of pilgrimage for golfers from around the world. If St. Andrews Old Course means nothing to you, millions learned of the midsize town (circa 17,000) on the coast of Fife as the meeting place of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, when they were students.
The Royal couple met at St. Andrews University, Scotland’s oldest university, founded circa 1410. The colleges and halls of the university are scattered through the town center, giving St. Andrews a campus flavor.
Between its surround of upscale golf resorts, the college town amenities and a density of historic sites, St. Andrews is a town with a memorable personality.
GETTING TO ST. ANDREWS
FROM EDINBURGH, St. Andrews is about a short hour and a half by car via the A90 and A91. Or take the train from Edinburgh or Glasgow to Leuchars, a 10-minute ride from St. Andrews by bus or taxi. St. Andrews can be seen on a daytrip from Edinburgh but certainly repays planning an overnight or two.
OUT AND ABOUT IN TOWN
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ST. ANDREWS is a compact town, easily explored on foot. You might begin at the Tourist Information Centre on Market Street for maps, brochures and current events. Around the corner on South Street, medieval Holy Trinity Church was where John Knox, father of the Presbyterian Church and Scottish Reformation, was first called to preach in 1547.
The “Home of Golf” is the Old Course of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, where the game began in the early 1400s. Its regal clubhouse sits on the 18th green, where the Royal and Ancient still makes the rules of the game. There are seven golf courses in St. Andrews today (and some 30 within half an hour’s drive). If you want to play, make plans well in advance of your visit (standrews.com), but they offer guided walking tours of the Old Course as well. The British Golf Museum is just across the street, paying particular honor to the golfing greats who have played here.
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St. Andrews Cathedral is a dramatic ruin. Built in the mid 1100s, and at 391 feet the largest church ever built in Scotland, the cathedral was the center of Scottish Christianity through the Middle Ages and seat of the Archbishop of St. Andrews. After the Scottish Reformation, in 1560 the building was abandoned. Climb St. Rule’s Tower for dramatic views over the town, links courses and out to sea.
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Ruins as well mark nearby St. Andrews Castle on a promontory overlooking the North Sea. Built about 1200, the fortress was besieged and changed hands many times over the next 400 years in Scotland’s wars with England. It was once the palace and headquarters of the Archbishop of St. Andrews, but the early violent throes of Scotland’s Reformation were enflamed in 1547 when Cardinal Beaton was murdered in the castle in a revenge killing. The castle was seized and garrisoned by Protestant nobles and promptly besieged by a French flotilla. When the castle surrendered, noblemen and their chaplain, John Knox, were taken prisoner as galley slaves.
If time permits, there is no shortage of other attractions to entice a longer visit. St. Andrews also boasts an aquarium, a botanical garden and a local history museum.
BED, BOARD AND BEER
THIS IS A UNIVERSITY TOWN, and a large student population drives the local character. Students hang out at The Raisin for both food and drink. The Criterion is a local favorite as well. Casual dining options, pubs and cafes abound. Fine dining is abundant and accessible, too. The Seafood Restaurant, The Vine Leaf and The Road Hall all win awards and acclaim for their use of locally sourced seafood, meats and seasonal produce.
The Old Course Hotel is among Scotland’s most luxurious for those with the taste and budget. More modestly, Scores Hotel (Best Western) is superbly located and atmospheric. Guest houses and B&Bs are abundant. visitstandrews.com
IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
IT TAKES JUST A FEW MINUTES by train or a dozen miles by road north across the mouth of the Firth of Tay to Dundee. If you have time for just one visit in this old seaport city, head for Discovery Point. Here, where it was built specifically for his exploration of Antarctica, Robert Falcon Scott’s RRS Discovery stands in drydock. It’s a great visit. Then, follow the coast north to Aberdeen, or the shore of the Firth of Tay to Perth and Stirling.