The Scotland Series: Being Local in St. Andrews

Scotland. The land of my forefathers and the land of half the people I know’s forefathers. Very unsure there was any kid in my grade who didn’t have either Irish/Scottish ancestry (Yes, I’m lumping them together; I know they aren’t the same. It’s gonna be okay) or were Jewish. My clan, MacFarlane, were particularly troublesome. Due to their ability to, ahem, “bend” the rules, they got the boot, were forced to move to Ireland, which isn’t a bad place to be booted if you’re going to be booted anywhere, and sent their spawn on to grace many a lucky North American town and elsewhere. But before the Irish transformation, the MacFarlane’s made themselves at home in the middle of Scotland on Loch Lomond, where they thought it would be a great place to start extorting other Scotsmen, and began their business taking advantage of their neighbors. “We’ll make sure your cows are safe as long as you pay us, otherwise it’s not looking good for those cows. I mean, I don’t know anything about it, I’m just saying,” said my Great (x30) Grandpa Mac. A lovely bunch of people. I am so proud. (Unfortunately, I really am proud, I don’t know what that says about me, but it can’t be good.)

My heritage perhaps led me here, but this country is without a doubt one of my favorite places in the world. The landscape is almost alien in it’s beauty and the towns give a sometimes eerie sense of nostalgia, prevalent in many European towns perhaps, like you just missed the people who once wandered these streets, walking by the buildings that they themselves built or remember others building. Having history smack you in the face immediately is one of the reasons I love not only Scotland, but Europe in general. What separates Scotland, however, is that glow of Scottish pride. And also the questionable food choices. Can’t forget those.

St. Andrews

Let’s begin our adventure where my first Scottish adventure began about 4 years ago, in the small town of St. Andrews. You’ll come to see that small towns make up the majority of towns one wanders into upon galavanting through this country, and that is a great thing. I’m not sure exactly what caused us to choose St. Andrews, but I am sure there was a Google search and a bit of figurative eenie-meenie-miney-mo involved, and I’m glad we eenie-meenied our way over here. My friend and I sauntered into the town late at night, which was freezing even in the middle of summer, and after being locked out of the hostel and believing it was going to be a long, chilly night of sleeping on the street, we were able to find the one restaurant that still had people inside. Long story short, we got in touch with the owner of the hostel and did not have to learn what frostbite is like after all. This was life without a working phone. I kind of miss it. Emphasis on “kind of”.

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Looking a tad different than Penn State’s dorms.

This town is home to a whole host of historic sites. Prince William and Kate Middleton both attended the University of St. Andrews, which is the oldest university in Scotland and the third oldest in the UK. Unfortunately school wasn’t in attendance as it was July, so my own Prince William will have to wait a bit longer, but I’m coming for you, my little prince, don’t worry! Needless to say, the University is a vision, with buildings dating as far back as the 1400’s and 1500’s.

St. Andrew’s Castle, originally built in 1158, now lays in ruins near the sea, making for a stellar view. We even found some tunnels to crawl into that were dug for invasion’s sake during the Siege of St. Andrews in the mid-1500’s (John Knox was just the worst, as he incited this incident. I mean, who doesn’t love a good tunnel, but you need to chill out, John. For real), after which the castle fell to ruins and has remained as such ever since. 

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The ruins of St. Andrews Castle with the town beyond.

Of course, one cannot think of St. Andrew’s without thinking of golf. Except this girl. I didn’t know it was famous for golf until I got there. Me smart. Home to the Saint Andrews Golf Club, there are several pristine courses, which make for a fun visit even for an anti-golfer such as myself.

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Excuse the 2014 iPhone 5c quality. It happens sometimes.

St. Andrews Cathedral (is there anything not named after ol’ Andy?), parts of which were built in the 12th century, was also one of my favorite places to explore. The cemetery there contained some of the oldest gravestones I’ve ever come across. We also climbed up St. Rule’s Tower (Andy gave Rule a tower! What a saint), catching the view of the entire town, the sea, and the green fields that stretch out into infinity. It was bliss.

 

Throughout the town, there are several historical markers and hidden gems that you can

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GW. RIP George. RIP.

miss if you’re not looking. These include: West Port Gate, from the 16th century and one of the last remaining of its kind in Scotland; the place of study for James Gregory, one the founders of Calculus and creator of the Gregorian telescope; The spot where George Wishart, a protestant, was burned at the stake in 1546 (again, Knox, you gotta chill).

St. Andrews is a place for rest. There is not much going on, at least during the summer, in the way of nightlife. I can only assume this increases when the kids come back to school, but not being much of a partier myself, I embraced the quiet. My friend and I asked the man working at the hostel what we should do one night. He said, “If you want to be real Scottish here, grab a cider and drink it on the beach.” Yes, sir. So, being the classy gals we are, we grabbed a 2 liter bottle of Strongbow and headed for the sand, assuming we would be joining other locals in their nightly activity. Perhaps we missed the cool spots because I’ve never seen an emptier beach. But all’s well that ends well. My friend and I had spent every waking minute together for weeks and yet we still found much to talk about, sitting in the sand, gazing out at the sea, merrily emptying the bottle of cider.

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If this were taken a little more to the left, you would see a beach full of no other people.

 

Next stop on this Scottish train: Edinburgh!


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