Scottish Icons, the Royal Family & Dogs – all in the same day!

Today is the halfway point of our trip, Wednesday September 12th, and at the top of our agenda is a visit to the hallowed grounds of the “old course” at St. Andrews.

But before I tell you about that, I have to share the view we awoke to on this day.  If I was to tell you to look up the word “pastoral” in the dictionary, I expect this is what you would see.


Our host Linda put on a fabulous breakfast for us, and during the course of the conversation, we learned she has three daughters in their 20’s, the two oldest named Kathryn (yes spelled the same as our Kay), and Jennifer.  A delightful coincidence.

IMG_5622Just as she had the night before, Linda helped us with some short-cut directions into St. Andrews, and suggested we park at the Old Course Hotel and walk into town, a route that would take us right past the golf course itself.  Upon parking the car, we embarked on what would become a four hour walk through history, and, through the heart of a University town that was buzzing with the energy of students from all around the world (not to mention quite a few men toting golf bags around  on their shoulders).

The first stop on our our trek around town was St. Andrew’s Golf Course, where we proceeded to walk (sneak) onto the 18th fairway and have our picture taken by another couple who had just finished taking a bunch of selfies.


It truly is an iconic setting for anyone with even the slightest interest in golf.  The clubhouse behind the 18th green, and the homes along the road beside it, represent some of the most famous images in golf.  The minute I mentioned Scotland to any of my friends, almost always the first question they asked was “are you going to St. Andrews?” How could we not?


The area around the course itself was not as busy as we had expected, but what caughtIMG_5630 us by surprise was the number of people in the British Golf Museum, right across the street from the clubhouse.  While you’d never know it from the picture, it was jammed inside, so much so, that we could barely move around inside the lobby/gift shop.  As much as I was interested in seeing some of the treasured memorabilia in the museum, I was just not ready to be a sardine, trying to look over people’s shoulders at old trophies, golf clubs, and famous photographs.  Perhaps another time.

From there, we continued to walk towards the east end of town where we knew both St. Andrews Castle and Cathedral were located.  The path we chose took us right through the heart of some of the oldest buildings of St. Andrew’s University, and the grounds were stunning.  See for yourself.

St. Andrews Castle and Cathedral are both steeped in history and are only few hundred metres apart, bound together for all time. St. Andrews Castle was the main residence of the bishops, and later the archbishops of St. Andrews.  They were regarded as Scotland’s leading churchmen in their day, and lived in an opulent manner reflecting their high status.  Given the times, they also had to be prepared to defend themselves and the property of the Church.

IMG_5639During its 450-year history. St. Andrews Castle served as the bishop’s palace, fortress and state prison.  It was also the setting for many important events, not all of them hosted by the heads of the church.  We heard on the audio guide that James l held his Christmas celebrations here in 1425, and that his grandson James lll was born in the castle in 1452.  Dignitaries were lavishly entertained within it’s walls, while others less fortunate were confined in a grim dungeon.

We entered the castle through the main entrance which is on the south side facing the town.  It was meant to impress all who approached.  It was not always the main entrance, and it was a later addition to the castle, in 1555.  I could just make out the date carved on a stone above the doorway, but it did not  make for a good picture.

The inner courtyard was the domain of the bishops.  The buildings and towers arranged around its four sides housed residential accommodation and service offices for them, their senior household, their guests, and their prisoners.  The inner courtyard was reserved for the bishop’s ceremonial use.  Apparently it was once paved or cobbled.  The only feature visible today is the well.


The most fascinating part of these ruins are the mine and the counter-mine that date back to the 1500’s.  In 1546, the castle was under siege following the murder of Cardinal Beaton.  His assassins had occupied the castle, and troops had been ordered to capture them and regain control.  The siege lasted more than a year.


In November 1546, it was reported that besiegers were digging a mine beneath the castle walls in an attempt to undermine the fore tower.  At the same time, the defenders were counter-mining to intercept them. The defenders could hear the sound of underground digging but it took them three tries before they were successful in breaking  through the counter-mine and repelling the besiegers.  The counter-mines were in-filled to prevent re-use but were re-discovered in 1879 when the foundations of a new house were being dug.  Visitors can enter the counter-mines and mines but there are warnings about not going in if you suffer from claustrophobia.  You can see why when you look at the pictures below.  Bear in mind that Mary is  5’2″ and could only move around in a bent crouch.  I had to shimmy side-saddle all the way down, and if I had to guess I’d say at some points the tunnel was barely 2 feet high.


Exiting the castle ruins, we ventured a short-way along the seawall to the magnificent ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral, the largest church in Scotland.  Construction began around 1160, close to its predecessor St. Rule’s.  The cathedral was encircled by a great precinct wall, which separated the sacred space from the burgh of St. Andrews to the west.


Severe damage was inflicted by a storm in the 1270’s and again by fire in 1378.  Another storm brought down much of the south transept in 1409.  In 1559, a fiery sermon preached by John Knox in the town’s parish church aroused the congregation so much that they attacked the cathedral and tore down its rich furnishings.  The office of Bishop was finally abolished in Scotland in 1690 and deprived of any function, the cathedral fell into ruin.

We couldn’t get over the sheer magnitude and scope of what this church and complex must have looked like in it’s time.  You can see from the picture of the priory (below), how massive the grounds were.


IMG_2181Among the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral is a tall tower which is part of the original St. Rule’s.  At over 100 feet tall, it was built to serve as a beacon for pilgrims heading for the shrine at St. Andrews.  St. Rule’s continued to be used and modified after the new cathedral was built.  The dating of the St. Rules’s is the subject of much debate as some historians believe the tower may have been built in the middle of the 11th century.  Others suggest it was completed around 1123.  In either case, it is really old, and we were amazed that the tower was still standing in the midst of the rest of the ruins around it.  I climbed 160 narrow steps to the roof of the tower and was afforded some pretty spectacular views up and down the east Fife coast.  In the picture below, you can see the ruins of St. Andrew’s Castle just up the coastline.  The water in the background is the North Sea.


I left Mary to examine some of the exhibits in the Church museum while I took a brief stroll around the cemetery.  It seemed somehow appropriate to find a wall-mounted head-stone of a golfer, so close to the famous course, just up the road.


On our way back to the car, we were on the look-out for Janettas Gelateria a popular ice-cream shop that our B&B host (Linda) had mentioned to us.  My love of ice cream is well-known, so finding it was of more than mild interest to me.  When we did find it, it was obvious by the crowd inside that this was much more than just a local hang-out.  As you can see, we didn’t let that stop us. 

We had been blessed with bright sunshine all morning and into the early afternoon, but as were coming to realize, the weather in Scotland changes only slightly less frequently than traffic lights. As we made our way back to the car, we were hit with an icy cold wind and heavy rain-drops for a period of no more than 15 minutes (nasty while it lasted), then as suddenly as it had started, it was over.

As Mary was navigating her way out of the parking lot, I glanced at my Fitbit and noted that we had walked almost 10 km during our exploration of the town of St. Andrews.  Probably a good thing after that delicious Ice Cream!  Our afternoon destination involved a bit of back-track through the outskirts of Dundee, IMG_5646and you can see Dundee Law on the top of the hill.  A 45-minute drive was in store as we headed to Glamis Castle.  Reputedly, the castle is where Macbeth brutally murdered King Duncan in Shakespeare’s play.  Our interest lay in the fact that Glamis was the childhood home of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and was also the birthplace of Princess Margaret, the last member of the current royal family to be born outside of England.

Glamis Castle has been the ancestral home of the Lyon family since 1732, and as we approached down a long tree-lined drive, we couldn’t help but be impressed.


As with other homes we visited that continue to be lived in, we were not allowed to take photographs.  That said, there were many highlights that stood out for us, beyond just the splendor of the rooms.  For example, our guide told us to see if we could pick out the only room in the entire castle where there was no sign of a lion.  In room after room, there were paintings, sculptures, engravings, and carvings that in some way included or featured lions (significant to the family crest), except for the chapel!  Renowned as one of the finest private chapels in Europe it features many paintings by Dutch artist Jacob de Wet – one of which was extraordinary. It was a picture of Christ wearing a hat, one of only six in the world.

The Castle contains Royal Apartments which were used extensively between 1923 and 1937 by the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth).  The sitting room contains many family photographs, including a signed photograph of Princess Margaret who was born at Glamis in 1930.  In the drawing room of the castle, there were two children’s chairs in front of the fireplace that had been the favorite sitting spots for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret when the family gathered at Glamis.   There was also an ornate and very large wooden bed by the side of the  Queen Mother Elizabeth’s bed.  It had been specially made for Princess Elizabeth when she was just a baby.

Of all the places Mary and I have visited to this point, Glamis held a different kind of significance to us, since the Royal family as we have known it in our lifetime is so inextricably linked to this castle.

I wish I had more pictures of Glamis that I could share with you, but I can at least leave you with this one, which really shows off the pink sandstone that was used to build this beautiful castle home.


Our final drive of the day was to our room for the night in the town of Dunkeld, on the River Tay, some 40 minutes west of Glamis Castle.  I had booked us into the Atholl Arms Hotel, and it turned out to be absolutely charming.


We were greeted by super friendly staff, and, we were welcomed by Angus, a scrap-metal piper who enjoyed a prime location in the lobby.  There were a couple of rather serious (snooty) people standing near us, but when Mary and I asked the receptionist and Assistant Manager to take a picture of us with Angus, it seemed to give all the staff a great laugh, and we thought it was a hoot.


We had a really good meal in the pub/restaurant in the hotel, but the best part of dinner to us was the presence of dogs who were very welcome in the hotel.  There were two dogs at separate tables beside us (below), and when we walked back to the lobby, there was a couple eating in a small side room with two beautiful Golden Retrievers by their side.

As dog-lovers, we just loved the presence of these pooches, and so did the head waiter, who not only had biscuits for each of the canine guests, he probably paid more attention to them than to their owners.  The open-door policy for dogs was not exclusive to our hotel either,  for as we went for a post-dinner walk up and down the high street, we saw a number of similar signs to the one below.


We really enjoyed our evening visit to Dunkeld, and once again marveled at how fortunate we’ve been with the accommodations we’ve booked, often with no more than a couple of hours notice.  All just part of the adventure, and we are loving it!











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