With The Open – the world’s oldest major golfing championship – just around the corner, we decided to visit St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, before it becomes overrun by golf fanatics. As you’ll see from the photos we didn’t have the best weather, but I think the billowing grey clouds added an attractive moodiness to the town’s historic architecture – especially the ruins.
Most of the parking on the high street appeared to allow stays of no more than one or two hours, so we saved some change by parking for free by West Sands beach instead. The beach car park isn’t particularly far from the town centre – it’s perfect if you want to spend the whole day in town – however it’s far enough to make multiple trips back to the car annoying, so don’t do what we did! To get into town from here you have to walk the full length of the golf course car park, along some of first part of the golf course and then you can cut across the course and into town – just watch out for flying golf balls!
Once parked up we headed straight into town to do some exploring and shopping. We had to walk past the golf courses to get there. The seat stands, score boards and some other bits were already set up for the Open, and although I’ve never watched golf before I’ll be interested to tune in this year and see these stands full of people. I glanced at the golfers as we walked by and gaped as I saw one hand a wad of notes to a caddy as a tip. The extraordinary number of golf equipment shops appeared similarly expensive, as did the restaurants lining the course. This part of town is definitely a playground for the wealthy.
Yet, at the same time, it’s also a student town – albeit a very old and beautiful one. Much like England’s Oxford and Cambridge, the University of St Andrews boasts some magnificent, clock-towered, courtyard-centred buildings that you can’t help but stare up at in awe. But it’s also notable for its less grand quarters. Never before have I seen such pretty little houses – tightly terraced with flowers trailing up the walls – serving as classrooms and offices.
The Town Centre is much like that of any old market town, but with more interesting architecture and more designer or artisan shops. We were drawn in first to a luxe doorway headed with ‘Iain Burnett – The Highland Chocolatier‘. Classy bird that I am, I bought a box of chocolate straws that had been marked down as half price while trying every single sample of truffle (needless to say, they were gorgeous). We failed to be posh again when we went into The Old Cheese Shop, an artisan cheese shop so posh it had special fruit-and-nut ‘toasts’ just for topping with cheese, and came out with four bottles of beer (from the local Eden Mill brewery, I hasten to add)!
Starving and newly laden with a flimsy bag of clanking bottles, we hastened back to the car to stow our shopping and eat our packed lunches. After an ill-advised attempt to sit down on the very windy beach, we ate our pulled pork wraps on a picnic bench facing the dunes instead. It was still a nice break, despite the car park alongside and the crows hovering around waiting for scraps. We then headed back toward town to visit the castle and cathedral.
We went to the castle first, and bought combined castle-cathedral tickets for £8 each (the attractions cost around £5.50 individually). Before going outside to explore the ruined castle, we were directed through a small exhibition explaining the history behind the castle. It was interesting, but hard to follow having no previous knowledge. Being a Monday afternoon it was pretty much deserted when we first got in, but barely a minute later the silence was broken as a giant foreign tour group crowded into the tiny space in which we were watching a video. From there on we tried to hang back to let them go ahead, and then to do whatever thing they weren’t doing!
The castle itself was little more than ruined stone walls with several preserved rooms, based around a large area of grass. Being located on a corner of the coastline, however, meant its various ledges and windows provided great views over the water. The best part was something we weren’t expecting at all: an underground tunnel dug with the intention of infiltrating the castle. It began with a hastily dug, very uneven tunnel that was too small to stand upright in, which although lit felt quite exciting to venture down ourselves, with no guides or safety gear necessary! This first section culminated in a ladder down a small hole, that led to a much larger section of caves that had been dug out more methodically by the opposing army. We thought it was a really cool piece of history, but it would be terrifying for a claustrophobic!
When we initially tried to leave the grounds at around 5.20pm, we found the doors of the visitor centre had been shut! Thankfully the staff were still there and able to let us out, but this didn’t bode well for our visit to the cathedral. Sure enough, when we got to the cathedral’s ticket office we found that it had shut, meaning we couldn’t exchange our tickets for the tokens needed to go up the tower. That was disappointing, but the blow was softened slightly by the fact that besides the tower the cathedral was free to access anyway. This is presumably because its primarily a graveyard now, with incomplete stone walls and strange, imposing structures being all that’s left of the cathedral. These constituent parts, overcast by the dark clouds, created the overall effect of being in an old-fashioned horror film! I could happily have wandered around this eerie landscape for longer had we not been shooed out by the staff wanting to close the gates.
With everything shutting up, there was nothing left to do but go and find dinner. And that we did – but not in St Andrews. Instead, we drove a little further down Fife’s East coast to a little seaside town (with VERY narrow roads!) called Anstruther. This town seems largely unremarkable except for the legendary fish and chip shop it holds, which we’d been wanting to visit for months. Anstruther Fish Bar has won multiple awards including the title of Best Fish and Chip Shop in the UK, and we wanted to try it for ourselves.
We found a car park on the seafront, directly opposite the restaurant, and were narrowly stopped from buying a parking ticket but a friendly local shouting that it was free after 6pm! It was a good start and things only got better when we stepped into the restaurant, saw the long queue and realised it was for the takeaway not the restaurant. We were seated within a few minutes at one of the tables hidden at the back. Going for the traditional battered haddock with chips and mushy peas was a no-brainer, but I wasn’t expecting to find a drinks list containing locally made wine and beer. Delighted, I ordered a £2.50 (!) glass of the Cairn O’ Mohr raspberry wine and it was the best-value rose wine I’ve ever drank. The food came quickly, and I’m pleased to say that it lived up to the hype. The fish was huge with beautiful white, tender and flaky flesh, enrobed in a gorgeously light, crispy and tasty golden batter, while the chips were scalding hot, yellow and crisp with zero sogginess or brown bits. Definitely some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, although having had so many good fish and chips in my lifetime it’s admittedly hard to tell!
Despite being stuffed full to the brim, we somehow both found room for a small cone each of homemade ice cream from the ice creamery by the restaurant’s exit, where we also paid our bill (a shrewd marketing move on their part). I had a very fruity raspberry scoop, Steve had a very rich chocolate scoop and we licked them while walking along the pier, trying to convince ourselves we were walking off dinner while eating dessert.
All photos (c) Juliet Langton 2015.