We arrived in Scotland the way many east coast Americans do, on an overnight flight with an early morning arrival in Edinburgh airport. To stave off exhaustion, we grabbed our rental car and headed north to St. Andrews for a day of sight-seeing and mini-golf. The conditions were perfect for outdoor exploration and we took full advantage of them. Had we known it would be our best weather of the trip, we would have spent more time exploring the town and beach.
St. Andrews is a lovely old seaside town that also boasts some hefty credentials. It’s home to the ruins of St. Andrews cathedral and castle which were the center of ecclesiastical rule in Scotland from the 12th century until the Protestant Reformation in 1560 AD. St. Andrews University, also located here, is the oldest university in Scotland and the third oldest in Europe. The town’s biggest claim to fame, though? St. Andrews is credited for being the “home of golf” because the game was first played here in the early 1400’s. The Old Course, the name of the St. Andrews Links, is home to the annual Scottish Open and had the honor of hosting the British Open this past July. Preparations for the tournament were well underway during our visit.
[ Mitchell’s Deli for breakfast ]
Our first stop of the day was the restaurant at Mitchell’s Deli for breakfast – a happy accident that provided me with a delicious scone topped with butter, raspberry preserves and whipped cream. Feeling refreshed by good food and caffeine, we set out to see the sights. We spent time walking around the cathedral and its accompanying small museum. The highlight was climbing St. Rule’s Tower – a vigorous and slightly scary exercise that provided fantastic views of the town and St. Andrews Bay.
[ Ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral and St. Rules Tower ]
[ View of St. Andrews from St. Rules Tower. Access is free with a Historic Scotland pass. ]
A short scenic walk from the cathedral brought us to St. Andrews castle. The castle was the home of the bishops and archbishops of the cathedral and I believe also hid the honors of Scotland for a very short period of time. Some serious ugliness took place here around the Scottish Reformation with hangings and murders and such. Our favorite part of the site was the defensive tunnel under the castle meant to thwart attackers during a clash in the mid 1500’s between protestant rebels within the castle and the 2nd Earl of Arran. (This is a thorough explanation of the mine’s existence.)
[ View of St. Andrews Castle and St. Andrews Bay ]
[ St. Andrews Castle ]
[ Inside the castle grounds ]
[ Exploring the countermine under the castle, dug by defenders in 1546 ]
[ St. Andrews Castle ]
[ Homes in St. Andrews ]
We finished up our day at The Himalayas putting green which is owned by The St. Andrews Ladies’ Putting Club but open to the public. Generally I stink at miniature golf but I cleaned house at The Himalayas; I almost bested Jay, who is a far better golfer than I am. Maybe the spirit of the Old Course was rubbing off on me? The putting green lies adjacent to the Old Course and provides exceptional views of the fairways. After our game, we wandered around the area, watching the preparations for the British Open and the golf games in progress on the Old Course.
[ The Himalayas putting green ]
[ Looking toward the hallowed grounds of The Old Course ]
[ The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews ]
[ Holes 1 and 18 of the Old Course ]
We only skimmed the surface of St. Andrews’ offerings. We had limited time and energy so we picked a few things we really wanted to see and still wore ourselves out. There are enough shops, restaurants, sights and experiences to keep a person engaged for far longer than a day. And if golf is an important or just fun part of your life, the town should be a must on your Scotland itinerary. I don’t care about golf at all and was still moved by the historical relevance of The Old Course.
There really is something for everyone in St. Andrews.