City of Scotland’s patron saint and home of its ancient game
Long before it became the acknowledged home of golf, St Andrews was renowned as a seat of learning, and the area about it as a place of the saints. These were men like St Monan and St Fillan – whose chapel-cave can still be seen at Pittenweem – something of whose gentle, indomitable spirit seems to have been passed to the fisherfolk who built the little towns and harbours and worked the chilly waters of the North Sea.
Tradition has it that in AD 347, some three centuries after he was crucified on his X-shaped cross, the bones of St Andrew the Apostle were brought from Greece to this spot on the windy shores of Fife. St Rule, who was carrying them, was shipwrecked on the coast and there, somehow, the bones remained. Over and about them were raised a cathedral, a castle, several churches -including one named after St Rule, with a 108 ft tower – a university and one of the loveliest of Scottish cities. St Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland, and his cross the symbol.
THE ROYAL AND ANCIENT
The origins of golf, Scotland’s great contribution to the world of sport, are obscure; but similar games were played on the Continent in medi eval times, and the word golf may come from the Dutch kolf, meaning ‘club’. All the Stuart monarchs played golf, and James I introduced it to England. In 1754 the first written rules for golf were drawn up by the Society of St Andrews
Golfers, which in 1834 became the
Royal and Ancient Golf Club. In 1897 the ‘Royal and Ancient’ be came recognised as the controlling authority of the game.
St Andrews, with its three main streets, its colleges and red-gowned students, and its old houses with outside staircases, is essentially a medieval city, though it was savagely mauled in religious wars, and its cathedral used as a quarry by the townsfolk. Strife is woven into the city’s history, as the monument to the Protestant martyrs burned to death overlooking the West Sands bears witness. So does the infamous Bottle Dungeon in the castle, considered escape-proof until one prisoner got away by exchanging clothes with his daughter.
Such passions have now been largely sublimated in the zeal for golf, for which St Andrews is famed the world over. Streets, hotels, bars and shops are all named after various aspects of the game, and four golf courses are open to all comers on a ‘first come, first off basis. The only exception is the Old Course, with its fiendish natural hazards such as Hell Bunker and Swilcan Burn, on which, from April to October, starting times are determined by ballot. For those to whom golf will always remain a mystery, St Andrews offers many other diversions, including sailing, fishing and vast flat beaches on which oystercatchers and sanderlings strut at the water’s edge.
North of Crail the derelict huts and hangers and overgrown runways of a disused airfield appear much more doleful and haunted than the ancient tower at the airfield’s end. This is all that remains of Balcomie Castle, where Mary of Guise, mother-to-be of Mary, Queen of Scots, spent her first few days in Scotland; a large farm has been built around it, and it is not open to the public.
Beyond the castle green, golf links sweep down through rich farmland to Fife Ness whose rocks, together with those of North Carr offshore, have claimed many ships down the centuries. On Fife Ness there was a Danish settlement and a later village, abandoned now, though the remains of its salt-pans can be seen. Along the beach path from the end of the links is King Con-stantine’s Cave, named after a Scottish king murdered there by Danes in 874.
Cambo, to the north, has an exhibition of ‘The Living Land’, centred upon an 18th-century farm and showing its life and work, past and present. It features rare breeds of farm animals, a pets’ corner and an adventure playground; there are rock pools to explore and fossils to be sought.
At the bottom of a steep lane is a deep little harbour, the walls built in three giant steps of uncemented red boulders, each step or shelf piled with neat stacks of lobster-pots. The visitor can buy fresh crabs, lobsters and sea urchins, or simply sit on the wall and look out over the red-gold beach strewn with boulders tumbled from the cliffs.
Crail is a pretty little burgh, built mostly of the same red stone as the harbour, and with paler red-pantiled roofs. Many of the old fishermen’s houses are of two storeys, with an outside staircase or forestair; the ground floor was used as a workshop and for net storage, while the family lived above. The large Tolbooth with its gilded salmon
The busy, workaday harbour of St Monance and its climbing, curving streets of stone, red-pantiled houses are the very essence of old Fife. However, the burgh’s principal business is not fishing or tourism, but boatbuilding and repairing, and on the slipways at the end of the little harbour there are usually a couple of fishing boats stripped down to their skeletons.
St Monance is named after St Monan, the slight remains of whose cave or shrine are visible near the church. This was built by David 11 in about 1370, in thanksgiving for being cured of an arrow wound at the shrine. The lovely, massively walled building is dark pink stone without and high, white and airy within. It contains a number of objects linked to the history of the town, including a model of a 100-gun man-o’-war donated by a local naval officer out of the prize money he had gained during the Napoleonic Wars, and a memorial to 37 St Monance fishermen who lost their lives in a storm in 1875.
ELIE AND EARLSFERRY
The old fishing port of Elie, and Earlsferry, a market town ‘old past the memory of man’ -according to James VI – have long been united into a single burgh devoted to entertaining the visitor with red-gold beaches, bowls and two magnificent golf courses. The largest building is the battle-mented and towered Golf Hotel, but for the most part the burgh consists of low, crow-stepped stone houses, some washed white or pink, looking out to Bass Rock and North Berwick Law, with bulk carriers riding at anchor in the foreground.
An embracing view of the gentle town and its natural harbour is obtained from Chapel Ness, where there are slight remains of a chapel built in 1093 by the Earl of Fife to serve pilgrims to St Andrews. A little to the west is Kincraig Point, one of the volcanic plugs that abound in the area; one of the caves beneath it is said to have sheltered MacDuff from the wrath of Macbeth. weather-vane reflects the town’s 17th-century prosperity that wilted under a savage attack of plague, never quite to return. The church dates partly from the 12th century, and contains an early Pictish cross. A museum in Marketgate, open daily in summer, outlines the history and heritage of Crail and the surrounding area.
ANSTRUTHER (Easter and Wester)
Until the Second World War, ‘Anster’, as it is known locally, was a fishing port, but nowadays its chief attraction for visitors is the Scottish Fisheries Museum. It is housed in a gathering of old town and ecclesiastical buildings, one of which dates back to the 16th century, and embraces the entire history of the fisheries and fisherfolk.
Inside the harbour is the North Carr lightvessel, removed from its station on Carr Brigs off Fife Ness in 1976, and now a maritime museum. Close by is the herring drifter Reaper, with her giant masts; she was launched in 1900.
The towering cliffs of the Isle of May loom offshore, surmounted by lighthouses like candles on a cake. It has a ruined priory built over the grave of St Adrian, murdered by the Danes in 870, and the island is a reserve for coastal and migratory birds.
Dating back in part to the 13th century, Kellie Castle stands in the middle of rich, black-earth countryside rolling out to low, olive-green hills. Its record of owners reflects the ups and downs of Scottish history. The Earls of Kellie, for example, lost the castle, regained it, and lost it again down the centuries due to their adherence to the Stuart cause. Its state of preservation is largely due to the Lorimers, a talented family of architects and sculptors who, since 1875, have devoted themselves to restoring the old house, which now belongs to the
National Trust for Scotland. The plaster-work, paintings and furniture are superb, and the walled garden, also restored, is a gracious place to saunter in.
The crow-stepped gables of this toughly handsome Fife fishing port rise steeply above a great double harbour. The rough stone harbour walls- 10 ft across and more-are festooned with orange and green nets being repaired and spliced by fishermen. In the late afternoon the boats manoeuvre up to the fish market where visitors can buy codlings, flatfish, crabs and lobsters straight from the holds.
Pittenweem has its own saint, St Fillan, a 7th-century missionary. He must have been a man of some fortitude, for he used a cave as his chapel, and lived there too, sleeping on a stone shelf and drinking icy water from a little spring. Much later, Augustinians built a priory on the hill above the shrine and drove a flight of steps into it through the rock; later still, the cave was used as a smugglers’ den and as a store-room.
In 1933, the Rector cleared the cave of centuries of debris and had it re-dedicated to St Fillan, whose spring, stone couch and chapel carved by water out of the rock can still be seen. It is cold and still in the cave, yet it conveys a very real sense of the serenity and power of the early church in Scotland. Pittenweem means ‘the place of the cave’.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Craigtoun Country Park, 2 miles SW of St Andrews. Daily.
Fife Folk Museum, Ceres, 7 miles W of St Andrews. Domestic and agricultural equipment. Most afternoons in summer.
Hill of Tarvit (NTS), 9 miles W of St Andrews. 17th-century mansion. Most afternoons in summer, gardens daily all year.
Lochty Railway, 6 miles S of St Andrews, off A915. Restored steam railway. Sun afternoons in summer.
CRAIL HARBOUR Crow-stepped gables, a peculiarly Scottish architectural feature, add a distinctive touch to Crail’s harbourside.