Poised and well-groomed, St. Andrews is the pilgrimage site for golfers around the world. It is also Scotland’s oldest university town, founded in 1410.
According to legend, the town was founded by pure accident in the 4th century. St. Rule was the custodian of St. Andrew’s bones in Patras, Greece. Unfortunately, Rule had a dream, and he paid attention. In his vision, an angel ordered him to carry five of St. Andrew’s bones to the western edge of the world. When he got there, he was to build a city in his honor.
In his non-dream life, St. Rule’s goal was to keep the bones from falling into the hands of the Emperor Constantine.
The poor guy took off and was shipwrecked on the rocks close to the present harbor of St. Andrews, Scotland. Struggling ashore with his precious burden, he landed at what was then the Pictish village of Kinrymont. He built a shrine to the saint on what became the site of the cathedral. It was soon a place of pilgrimage and miraculous cures went on a spree. St. Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland, and his cross became the national flag.
The town of St. Andrews is small—only three main streets and an open, airy feel with long stretches of sandy beach on either side of town. There are acres-plus of golf links in every direction. The locals are proud of their town and it has a refined, old-fashioned ambience.
Many original buildings have survived, and the castle and cathedral have been rebuilt to preserve their remains. The main streets and cobbled alleys are lined with crooked houses. Medieval churches line up and meet at the ruin of the 12th century cathedral. (The original cathedral was dismantled and used to build the town—a fine act of recycling.) The British Golf Museum describes how the city’s Royal and Ancient Golf Club became the ruling arbiter of the game, and it will delight golf lovers.
Lovely beaches and little fishing villages of East Neuk are close. Golf and coastal walks are favorite pastimes, but the East Neuk villages, with old cottages and merchants’ houses huddling around stone-built harbors, bring excitement and buzz to artists of every sort.
Robert the Bruce rode his horse down the aisle of the cathedral when it was consecrated in 1318. Below the cathedral is the castle, and it is filled with tunnels of intrigue. Buried for centuries, they were rediscovered in 1879 and you can explore them. It is a lot of fun, but the tunnels are narrow and torturous–if you have claustrophobia, forget it!
St. Andrews is a light, seaside resort that feels busier and larger than it is. More importantly, it is one of the most notable and historic towns in Scotland. And, it is a must.