Travel Column: Up and Away, Down to Earth—St. Andrews, Scotland

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Travel Column: Up and Away, Down to Earth—St. Andrews, Scotland
Stephanie Weyant - Up and Away, Down to Earth

Travel writer, Stephanie Weyant

Dear friends,

I can’t tell you how much fun I had writing this article.  St. Andrews, Scotland is near and dear to my heart, a town where my happiest college memories took place.  It was here in the years 2002-2003 that I spent time studying abroad, and I’ll never forget the impact it had, how the experiences shaped me, and how the people I met are still great friends to this day.

As you dive in, you’ll notice that this is about a year late.  I again submitted it to the New York Times last November 2013 – the 10th anniversary since I had attended university there – but never heard back.  And in waiting for their response deadline to pass before publishing here, it had been forgotten.  But it’s back and refreshed.  I’ve checked on my previous hotel and restaurant recommendations, and made a couple of changes to reflect the times, and added a couple of personalized tidbits.  But most everything is the same; like this town, some things never change.

Happy Autumn, everyone.  As much as I love the follies of summer, it’s autumn that kicks me back into gear.  I hope you’re appreciating the new season as much as I am.

Love,
Stephanie

P.S.  Does anyone have connections at the New York Times?  I’m all ears!

 

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36 Hours in St. Andrews, Scotland

By: Stephanie Weyant

* * *

 

The coastal town of St. Andrews in eastern Scotland has been on the map for nearly 1,200 years, once a flourishing religious pilgrimage

St. Andrews, Scotland - From St. Rules' Tower

St. Andrews, Scotland – From St. Rules’ Tower

destination and now a charming university town.  It’s also considered the birthplace of modern golf with the Old Course; and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, met as students here.  But St. Andrews is much more than all of that: it’s one of those places that wraps you up and welcomes you to kick back, relax, and simply catch your breath.

This year marks the 600th anniversary of the town’s namesake University, and celebrations have echoed this rare achievement all throughout town.  The University shop carries St. Andrews 600th anniversary memorabilia; banners with the 1413 – 2013 timespan have been hoisted up on college buildings.  Its six-century-old legacy is indeed noteworthy: of the roughly 10,000 universities in the world, only 25 can make that claim.

In honor of the University of St. Andrews’ 600th anniversary (well, 601st!) and the upcoming holiday, St. Andrews Day on November 30th, have a look at what you can do with 36 Hours in St. Andrews!

FRIDAY

1. View From The Top | 2 p.m.

Get your bearings along with a workout by climbing to the top of St. Rule’s Tower, part of the first church built in St. Andrews.  Trek up over 150 steps and you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the town streets, castle and cathedral ruins, and the North Sea.  The tower, likely erected in the mid-1100s to house the bones of St. Andrew, is a relic in its own right, standing boldly alone amidst the cathedral ruins.

2. Cathedral Ruins | 3:30 p.m.

 

St. Andrews Cathedral Ruins & Cemetery

St. Andrews Cathedral. Photograph courtesy of: yupa-d2xr1az (Flickr)

Explore more of the centuries-old history by meandering through the cathedral ruins and gravestones.  Free to wander the grounds for as long as you like, it’s interesting to see the lives that once were, and the footprint of the once largest cathedral built in Scotland.  Construction began in the 12th century and was completed in 1318, only to be ravaged by Protestant reformer John Knox and his followers in 1559.  For an added dose of learning, stop into the Cathedral Museum (adult tickets are approximately $7.20) to see the relics of St. Andrew, including the patron saint’s Pictish sarcophagus.

3. Local Happy Hour | 6 p.m.

Check out Central Bar, a popular local joint for residents and students alike and grab a couple of pints to kick off the evening.  Choices are extensive, and you won’t be disappointed.  If you can’t decide, ask for a sample; the staff will gladly oblige.  While you’re at it, strike up a conversation with one of the friendly bartenders who will be happy to share stories of this little college town.

4. Dinner and a Show | 8 p.m.

Mitchell & Co. - Deli, Coffee Counter, & Restaurant

Mitchell & Co. Photograph courtesy of Management.

Always busy no matter what time of day, Mitchell & Co. newly joins the St. Andrews’ restaurant scene on Market Street.  Soak up the cool but cozy atmosphere of eclectic design as you sip a glass of Mitchell’s Rustic Rosé.  For dinner, start by sampling the Mitchell’s Deli Board, an array of artisan cheeses and meats from the deli next door.  Venture into Scottish cuisine with the Oak Smoked Haddock Risotto, rich flavors and textures that balance out the dish with parmesan and a poached egg.  The Confit Pork Belly with tomato stew is also superb, combining a sense of comfort food with a touch of gastro elegance.  For dessert, enjoy a slice of classic cheesecake complemented with plump raspberries and made in house.  Stay into the evening and listen to the weekly live music kick off at 9 p.m.

 

SATURDAY

Forgan's - St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of Management.

Forgan’s – St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of Management.

5. Scottish Breakfast | 10 a.m.

If you liked Mitchell & Co., you’ll love its sister restaurant, Forgan’s.  Quietly tucked behind Mitchell, Forgan’s was once a golf club factory warehouse originating in the 1860s.  Whether it’s a traditional Scottish breakfast complete with black pudding or a contemporary classic like poached eggs with hollandaise sauce, indulge guilt-free in the quality, locally sourced ingredients.

6. Get Schooled | 11:30 a.m.

Walk through St. Salvatore’s Quad and take a moment to breathe in the living history.  (And secretly pretend you’re at Hogwarts: it’s okay, the alumni do it, too.)  Still educating some

University of St. Andrews - St. Salvatore's Quad

University of St. Andrews – St. Salvatore’s Quad

of the world’s best and brightest, the University of St. Andrews is Scotland’s oldest and most esteemed university.  Students and local are celebrating the school’s 600th anniversary for good reason, too: this highly regarded institution has alumni ranking from global diplomats and Nobel Prize winners to the future king and queen of England.  Not too shabby!

7. Join a Tradition | 12:30 p.m.

As you leave the courtyard, step into local tradition but tread lightly.  At the main entrance set in cobblestone are the combined initials of PH, and watch as students and faculty gracefully step around them.  The letters stand for Patrick Hamilton, a Protestant martyr who was accused of heresy during the Scottish Reformation and burned at the stake in this exact spot.  Scholars take heed: legend says that should a student walk across this former teacher’s name, he will be cursed to fail his classes.  Don’t be surprised if a local student trips over it and acknowledges, “Sorry, Patrick.”

8. Lunch Like Locals | 1 p.m.

Relax with an easy, inexpensive yet delicious lunch at West Port Bar & Kitchen.  Order a drink on special, and start with the soup of the day.  If your visit takes place anytime outside of July, you’ll likely need it to shake off the chill.  Then enjoy a savory crêpe of pulled pork and mushrooms, or a chicken and bacon crêpe for more simplicity.  If French cuisine doesn’t strike your fancy, the Kitchen also serves up gourmet sandwiches; order the turkey, brie and cranberry on warm, fresh bread and you can’t go wrong.

9. Please Your Inner Child | 2:30 p.m.

Yes, Mark humoured Stephanie capturing her at the pretty much beyond a doubt happiest she's ever been.

Steph at Luvian’s. Photograph courtesy of Mark Liddell Photography.

No matter what time of year, what storm is brewing, what icy temperature exists outside, a stop at Luvian’s Ice Cream Parlour is a must.  It is the best ice cream in the world.  In the world.  Try the classic mint chocolate chip in a chocolate-dipped waffle cone, or dive into one of the seasonal new creations like nutella, pumpkin, cinnamon, or wait for it: blueberry New York cheesecake.  It’s amazing and all natural: ice cream lovers everywhere will be thankful for this revelation, and everyone else will become an ice cream lover.

10. St. Andrews Castle | 3 p.m.

What’s left of this castle gives way to its violent and colorful past.  Destroyed and rebuilt several times, the castle initially served as a bishop residence when it was built in the mid-1100s.  Throughout the course of its history, the castle crumbled with the wars of independence, was rebuilt by the Church, became fortified as a defense post, taken over by the Protestants, and ultimately abandoned when the office of bishop was abolished.  Visit the grounds of what’s left of this important piece of history, and for the walls that still stand, listen closely and see if you hear them talk.  With a bottle dungeon, the mine and countermine, and several recorded murders, the St. Andrews Castle holds a lifetime of intrigue and questions.  It’s not so much a castle as it is the ruins of one, but it’s well worth the visit.

St. Andrews Castle - St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of C Ray Dancer (Flickr).

St. Andrews Castle – St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of C Ray Dancer (Flickr).

11. Unofficial Scotch Tasting | 5 p.m.

Not only does Luvian’s have the best ice cream in the world, Luvian’s also has the best liquor store in the world.  Toward the end of Market Street, tuck into Luvian’s Bottle Shop and peruse the fine and extensive selection of scotch.  Alongside familiar names like Glenmorangie, you’ll also find rare, limited edition bottles that are only sold in Scotland.  In other words, you can pick up a bottle or two that cannot be found in any store elsewhere in the world: now that’s a souvenir.  While you’re at it, don’t be surprised if the shopkeeper offers a wee dram of scotch; on occasion they’ll have an open bottle or two to sample.

12. A Country Gathering | 7 p.m.

The Grange Inn. Photograph courtesy of thegrangeinn.com.

The Grange Inn. Photograph courtesy of thegrangeinn.com.

Echo the historic theme of the weekend with an intimate dinner at The Grange Inn.  Nestled inside a converted farmhouse dating back to the 1600s, the restaurant serves modern Scottish cuisine by renowned chef, John Kelly.  Warm up by a crackling fire as you savor the Scottish lamb, seared salmon filet, or roasted guinea fowl: each dish will make your mouth water.  Complement your meal with a dessert like the St. Andrews Clock Beer and date pudding in salted caramel, or the pave of white and dark chocolate in amaretto and raspberry; selections change seasonally.  Currently, the prix fixe offers two courses at $48 (£30) per person, and three courses at $60 (£38) per person.

Taste - St. Andrews, Scotland. Photo courtesy of www.fancyacuppa.co.uk.

Taste – St. Andrews, Scotland. Photo courtesy of www.fancyacuppa.co.uk.

SUNDAY

13. Coffee Fix | 9 a.m.

Quench your thirst for energy and coffee beans with a stop at Taste on North Street.  It’s a small establishment and often busy, but be patient: locals swear it’s worth the wait.  Full of character and that genuine been-here-awhile-and-comfortable-in-our-own-skin vibe, their coffees and lattés are strong and smooth.  Try a flaky almond croissant or any one of the delectable treats prepared daily.  If you’re feeling the urge to check e-mail, Taste also offers free WiFi to all patrons.

14. Stroll Where Golf Began | 10 a.m.

With your coffee to go, wander down The Scores – the street along the cliff to the North Sea – and visit the famous Old Course: aptly named, it’s one of the oldest golf courses in the world.  Many argue that golf was born here, at least in the form it’s developed into today.  Since the early 1400s, Scotsmen have played golf at the St. Andrews Links, and today, the Old Course still regularly hosts The Open Championship on its rolling green.  On Sundays, the course is closed to golfing but walking on the Old Course is allowed, so get a taste of the classic piece of history without the waitlist or cost.

The Old Course - St. Andrews, Scotland

The Old Course – St. Andrews, Scotland

15. Hop, Skip, & Jump | 11 a.m.

Down at the East Sands, take in the expansive view of the North Sea and the sights from afar as you walk on the beach.  Don’t worry, despite the autumn season, you won’t be alone.  Runners, tourists, and local families wander the sandy shore all year long, inhaling the fresh sea air and breathtaking views.  You can even recreate the running scene made famous by its iconic music in Chariots of Fire: it was filmed here.

South Street - St. Andrews, Scotland

South Street – St. Andrews, Scotland

16. Last Lunch | 12 p.m.

Cozy up inside Playfair’s Restaurant near the Old Course as part of the Ardgowan Hotel.  Go Scottish with the classic dish of haggis, a main course with a peppercorn jus served with potatoes and vegetable (at least try it as an appetizer); or for a more mainstream option, order a bacon cheeseburger: you can’t go wrong with either.  Add a couple of pints of ale and you’re in for a fine Scottish meal indeed.

17. Hit The Market | 2 p.m.

Before heading home, spend the afternoon shopping along Market and South Streets, and the narrow alley closes that connect them.  For a little cobblestone town, there are a lot of shops!  From contemporary shabby chic housewares (Millers Tale Two) to classic Scottish wool designs (Jack Wills) to hand-tooled leather goods (Scaramanga), there are stores for everyone.  Feel free to check out the charity shops as well: many of these consignment and Salvation Army-type shops have a plethora of antique jewelry, dishware, and books – for a bargain.

 

Where To Stay

Consistently ranked in the upper echelons of star and user ratings, the Old Course Hotel offers elegant luxury and priceless views for the most discerning of tastes.  A full service resort and spa to be pampered, the hotel also houses 4 excellent restaurant options.  Typically $800+ per night, rooms in the offseason run as low as $165.

Old Course Hotel - St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of Management.

Old Course Hotel – St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of Management.

The Hotel du Vin, nestled in the heart of town between the Old Course and St. Andrews Castle, was fully renovated in the spring of 2014.  Tasteful décor exudes masculine warmth, blending traditional tartans with contemporary chic.  The much recommended hotel also has its own bar and restaurant, part of the St. Andrews scene.  Prices as low as $141 per night.

Hotel Du Vin - St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of Management.

Hotel Du Vin – St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of Management.

Highly praised by visitors and tourism boards alike, the cozy yet stately Macdonald Rusacks Hotel offers a home away from home with sweeping views of the Old Course.  Enjoy fine cuisine in the hotel’s restaurant, where both hotel guests and locals dine.  The hotel is newly renovated as well, and prices dip to $140 in the offseason.

Macdonald Rusacks Hotel - St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of Management.

Macdonald Rusacks Hotel – St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of Management.

 

When You Go

The Old Course:  If there are any golfers reading this (hi, Dad!), it would be remiss of me if I didn’t provide information about playing on the famous Old Course.  The most reliable place to check availability, register, and plan your dates is online at: http://www.standrews.com/Play/Courses/Old-Course/Booking-the-Old-Course.  While it’s hard to book times during peak season (late spring, summer, and early fall), it is possible to play the Old Course when there’s a reasonable chance of good weather.  Check the shoulder seasons or enter by ballot – a lottery to play with drawings held 48 hours in advance.  If all else fails, you can also request to join a group the day of play, at the group’s discretion if room permits.

Bear in mind general restrictions when planning your trip: Saturdays cannot be prebooked; Sundays the course is closed; and the course still holds professional championships and thus is unavailable those days.  Finally, please be advised the Old Course requires a valid handicap certificate in order to play: the maximum is 24 for men and 36 for women.  Recommendation letters are not accepted.

Depending on the season, the cost varies – greens fees would run $127 for the winter months and $270 in the summer; adding a caddie would incur approximately $77 + tip.  Should you run out of luck reserving the Old Course, the kingdom of Fife where St. Andrews is located has several additional golf courses that will surely provide a memorable experience.  They too can be found at: www.standrews.com.

What To Pack:  Whether you’re golfing, touring, shopping, or wandering, be sure to wear comfortable shoes.  I cannot stress this enough: the cobblestone streets in St. Andrews are not terribly forgiving with high heels.  You want to navigate the historic landmarks and charming shops; not the roads.  Dress for warmth and pack layers: this town along the sea tends to carry a chill much of the time, and can get windy.  If you plan on jogging (what a fabulous backdrop!), wear reflectors: the fog can roll in quickly and get very thick; once my friend and I were out – we could hear voices but couldn’t see the people 10 feet in front of us…needless to say it was cool, but eerie!  Golfers, feel free to bring your clubs, but know that the Old Course and other courses do offer clubs to rent.

As always, pack light, but bring an extra bag for purchases to bring back with you: this really is a lovely town with so much to offer, and I find myself needing more room in my bags for gifts every time I visit!

Getting There:  Travel to St. Andrews is not entirely direct: you can’t experience this kind of escape and change of pace if you’re right next to an airport.  Fly into Edinburgh for quickest access to St. Andrews; travel by train, bus, or car is consistently available, and fits every budget.  1) If you rent a car, remember that they drive on the left side of the road here, so the driver’s side is on the right side…it can be challenging to get used to for some.  And please do yourself a favor: get an automatic transmission and GPS…you’ll thank me later.  Also, the insurance may be a part of the rate – this is a requirement in Scotland.  2) You could also take a taxi or bus from the airport to the train at Edinburgh Station in the city center, take the train to Lucars/St. Andrews station, and from there get another taxi into the center of town (around $35 per person each way).  3) Lastly, you could hire a car service: this is the easiest, but most costly, around $100-$150 total each way.  If you’re traveling with 2-5 people, hiring a car service makes the most sense.

Conversion Rate:  Pricing is based upon current currency conversion rates; US dollars to British pounds remains at an average of $1.60/£1.00.

Cathedral at Sunset - St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of John Patrick Pazdziora.

Cathedral at Sunset – St. Andrews, Scotland. Photograph courtesy of John Patrick Pazdziora.

2 Comments

  1. I looks and sounds wonderful! I felt like I just went away for a holiday 🙂 Glad you got to publish this post here as it’s a great one!

  2. Thank you, Christy! I am so glad you enjoyed reading it. Yes, Think Outside The Box Inside The Box is such a great concept: being creative and making the most of what you have. Happy travels!

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