Golf ‘n Stuff – Day Trip to St Andrews

Now that I finally got yesterday’s post out of the way (geeze, that one took longer than I thought it would!), I can focus on today’s (which also won’t be ready today, but if you’re reading this five years from now, you don’t care anyway). Today was an interesting one from a travel standpoint. What should have been a very straightforward train ride turned out to be…not that. But the important thing is, we made it to St Andrews and had a great day despite that and now we have a more interesting travel story to tell.

So, St Andrews was our destination today. It’s a smallish town in the county of Fife, on Scotland’s east coast, and is the home of golf. “Oh, so you’re both big golfers!” I can hear you all saying, but you would be wrong. We never golf (though Scott does have clubs!), but that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in seeing the famous courses and learning more about its history! And in addition to golf-related stuff, St Andrews has more than enough interesting sights to fill a day trip. Here’s a rundown of what we filled ours with:

  • Holy Trinity Church – this was a quick stop because it happened to be where our Uber (yes, we ended up in an Uber – more on that shortly) dropped us off when we arrived.
  • St Salvator’s Chapel – this small, but beautiful, chapel is part of the University of St Andrews.
  • St Andrews Links – this is the home of golf! There are seven courses in total, so we spent time learning about them and seeing some of the Old Course on our guided tour.
  • St Andrews Castle & Cathedral – the castle served as a bishop’s palace, a fortress, and a state prison, while the cathedral is all that remains of Scotland’s largest medieval church.

Let’s get the most annoying part of the day out of the way first – our travel experience from Edinburgh. Not having a car, there were two options available for us to get to St Andrews – train or bus. We did look into both, but the bus takes about twice as long and trains always seem more comfortable anyway, so we opted for the train. Super! Tickets were only £32/$40 USD in total, so we booked them Monday from the main station, Waverley, which is just a ten-minute walk from our hotel. Great! Everything started out normally on this train ride, until we were just shy of Dalmeny, where we stopped. After a little while, the conductor said we had to stay stopped for an indeterminate amount of time due to “police dealing with an issue ahead.” Those were all the details we got, as well as a couple more updates saying the same thing, so I did a quick search and found that the Forth Bridge, which we were just about to cross after Dalmeny, had been shut down in both directions due to a man being on it. Although there weren’t any details, our assumption was that the man was attempting suicide, so it was understandable that the bridge had to be shut down. By the time we actually pulled into the station at Dalmeny, we were told our options were to stay on the train and go back to Edinburgh or take a replacement bus to Inverkeithing, where there was no way to get to St Andrews without spending a couple (more) hours on a bus. Scott looked on his phone and saw that there were Uber drivers around, so we decided to just go for that. Yes, it cost us about $85 USD (hey, it was a 35-mile ride), but we really wanted to make it to St Andrews and we didn’t have anything more planned for Edinburgh anyway. We ended up with a really great driver (who just happened to be in Dalmeny to see if he could get any rides and was about to head back to the city when he got our request) and we went along some really nice country roads, so the trip was more visually interesting. We knew we were taking a small risk because we couldn’t be picked up by Uber in St Andrews, but we felt pretty confident the trains would be running again by the time we were ready to go and if they weren’t, we knew we could book a one-way ticket on the bus service (not ideal, but it would have gotten us home). Thankfully, the man was safely removed from the bridge and train traffic reopened by mid-afternoon – hooray!

With the travel unpleasantness behind us, we jumped right in to looking around, as we were now 90 minutes or so behind our planned itinerary. We were originally going to start with lunch (we had skipped breakfast in anticipation of that), but skipped in favor of walking into Holy Trinity Church, which wasn’t on our itinerary, but was where our Uber driver dropped us off. It’s a small church and we didn’t need to spend much time in it before we’d seen it all, but I’m glad we got to add something unexpected (in a positive way) to our day.

Being such a small church, I only have a few photos.

I’m not sure what this building is, but it’s just across the street from Holy Trinity.

A quaint little church building.

Like any good church though, it still felt pretty massive inside.

We saw some nice stained glass.

And of course, I found the organ. It was interesting to see the pipes set into a wall like this.

There was also a small exhibit at the back of the church.

Next on the list was St Salvator’s Chapel, just a short walk from Holy Trinity (to be fair, everything is a short walk from everything else in St Andrews – it’s not a big town). This chapel, founded in 1450 (though the building has been refurbished a few times since then), is the major chapel for the University of St Andrews, one of the four ancient universities in Scotland. It’s pretty straightforward as chapels/churches go, though it is quite small (the smaller interior of this building is more what I expected Holy Trinity to be like). Being part of the university, we also got to see a little of the grounds around the chapel, which were very green and pretty, despite the grey weather.

Another small batch of photos, since this was another quick(ish) stop.

St Salvator’s as seen from across the street.

Walking in the door that led back to the courtyard behind the chapel (and eventually the chapel door as well, which we didn’t see at first).

Looking at the chapel from the courtyard.

The grass in the courtyard was pretty pristine. It reminded me of some of the sights we saw on our day trip to Cambridge a couple of years ago.

I like to get shots of tall towers/buildings looking straight up like this.

One of only a couple shots inside the chapel.

This small chapel still has a big pipe organ. No surprise there!

Lest you think I don’t like directional signs anymore, I snapped a photo of this one (the first on this trip!).

From St Salvator’s, we made our way to St Andrews Links, the home of golf. Now, as mentioned above, we are not into golf. Like, not really at all. Scott does have clubs, so he’s gone before, and I like mini-golf (as evidenced by the two rounds I played on the trip I just took with two of my brothers), but that’s about it. Still, no trip to St Andrews can ever really be complete without at least visiting the Links (including when I was last here), so we made plans to go. On my solo trip, I just kind of wandered around on my own, stopped in the shop, and walked around near some of the greens to snap some photos. This time, Scott found a nice tour of the Old Course that was meant to last about an hour and fifteen minutes. At £25/$30 USD for the two of us, it seemed like a good deal and a more interactive way to learn about the importance of golf in St Andrews. Our guide was a nice, older man named Charlie who had previously worked as a caddie at St Andrews, so he knew the history and the courses well. So well, in fact, that our tour ran over by about a half-hour, clocking in at nearly two hours. The information was certainly good and the weather cooperated for the most part, but because we had limited time to spend, we felt a little rushed to get out of there. Also, although the name of the tour suggests that you’ll walk around the Old Course a lot, we didn’t feel like we did. We stayed near one of the clubhouses and Charlie pointed a lot of stuff out about some of the courses, then walked down around The Himalayas (that’s their putting green that’s open to anyone to play), then near the 18th hole of the Old Course, by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, and finally out onto the actual course so we could get photos with the Swilken Bridge. It was all interesting, of course, but I think we had slightly different expectations. If you’re looking to learn more about the Links and the history of golf, definitely give the tour a try. If you’re just casually passing by though, you can probably get just as much enjoyment out of wandering around on your own (that includes getting a photo at the bridge, as it’s public land, though golfers playing through always have first priority). Fun fact about that bridge – Charlie says they don’t know how old it is or who built it and that it could be 700+ years old. And another fun fact – if you want to play the Old Course, you have to plan waaaaay in advance as they’re currently taking application for anyone who wants to play it in all of 2020.

Now you can putt your way through this slightly bigger batch of photos.

The Links Clubhouse, where we started our tour.

A sign on the Jubilee Course.

Charlie filling us in on the history of golf and talking about the courses at St Andrews.

Looking out over three of the courses – Old Course (left), New Course (center), and Jubilee Course (right).

It was from this vantage point (on top of the clubhouse) that Charlie pointed out several facts about the courses and grounds.

A better shot of The Himalayas.

A nice panorama over the courses.

Hamilton Hall, right next to the courses, was built as a hotel, but today houses private residences.

I think this is the 17th hole of the Old Course, but it may be the 18th.

Well, this is for sure the 18th hole. 🙂

The famous Swilken Bridge!

To be honest, I probably would have preferred to take a selfie, but Charlie took all the photos for us. And he did a good job!

And that was our two-hour visit to the home of golf! We did enjoy it and the rain mostly held off, though we did have to pull our umbrellas out for a few light showers, but they were quick. Unfortunately, as we walked to our final destinations, the rain picked up a bit more. It wasn’t a huge storm or anything, but it was too heavy to be a sprinkle, forcing us to use our umbrellas throughout the rest of our time outside. We knew we were getting tight on time, which was confirmed by the staff at St Andrews Castle, as they reminded us that we wouldn’t have much time there or at our next stop. We were committed to making it work though!

As for the castle, it’s neat to know there’s been a castle on this spot since the late 1100s, though the current one (well, what’s left of it) was certainly damaged/rebuilt/updated a number of times in the hundreds of years it was in use. Although used as a fortress at the end of its life, it was a home for bishops before that, when St Andrews was the center of Christianity in Scotland. It was also used as a prison via the reportedly terrifying bottle dungeon carved out of rock under the castle. Interestingly, during a siege against the castle in the mid-1500s, a mine was dug to try and penetrate the castle, but its defenders did their job well by successfully digging a counter-mine. It’s a fascinating story – learn more here! Visitors can see and enter these mines, which I did on my first visit, but we didn’t this time because the rain and wet conditions would have made it really slick and messy in there (since they’re cut right from the rock) and also because we had to make sure we left time for our next destination…

St Andrews Cathedral! Although not right next to the castle, it’s only a few minutes away, so we booked it over there as fast as the rain would allow us so we had time to see it before it closed for the day. Built as an important Catholic church in the mid-1100s, it fell into ruin after Scotland broke from the Catholic church in the 1500s and celebrating Catholic mass was outlawed. The ruins are degraded to the point that there isn’t actually a lot left to see, but there are several partial walls standing, as well as a large graveyard, all of which you can walk around without paying an entry fee. What you do pay a fee for, however, is walking up to the top of St Rule’s Tower, which stands in the cathedral ruins, but was part of a different church that stood near the cathedral at one point (and the tower actually pre-dates the cathedral). Even though it was rainy and windy, we wanted to get to the top of the tower to see the views over St Andrews, so we climbed the tight staircase (after squeezing through an even tighter turnstile), got to the top, took our photos in the wind and rain, and climbed right back down again. The total cost to get into both this and the castle was only £12/$14 USD each and it was well worth it. I do have strong memories of seeing this on my last trip to St Andrews and I was bummed we couldn’t spend more time here on this one (and that the weather wasn’t better!), but I’m glad we got to see them at all, given how the day started.

Ruins, ruins everywhere!

You can see here how the castle overlooks the sea. Perfect for defense.

Looking outside the castle’s main entrance.

The view looking “inside” the castle.

Looking up at where the second floor once was.

I wish would could have seen the sea in the sun! Nice to see the cathedral ruins in the near-distance though.

A different angle of the castle taken just after we started walking to the cathedral.

The ruins of the cathedral.

I loved revisiting these ruins – really magnificent to see in person.

Some of the many headstones in and around the ruins.

I wonder what this would have looked like when the full building was still standing?

Trying to get a nice shot of the tower, despite the weather.

One of the few, quick photos I took from the top of St Rule’s Tower.

One of the other photos from the top, this time looking over the town.

This angle gives a better sense of what the cathedral would have looked like.

After the travel delay, the over-long Old Course tour, and having to spend the last hour in the rain, we were ready to rest! Given the inclement weather, there was no line at Jannetta’s Gelateria, which is apparently an unusual situation as they’re generally packed. Rain or not, we were going to have some tasty ice cream and it was definitely worth it! Having started with dessert, we decided we would just have dinner in St Andrews as well, so we didn’t have to figure something out back in Edinburgh. We were originally supposed to be on a 547p train back there, but we figured with the delays earlier in the day, no one would care if we took one an hour later instead (we had gotten confirmation that the trains were operating normally by this time, so we knew it was a safe bet). We thought this would give us the chance to visit our original lunch destination, Little Italy, but they were randomly closed (there was a handwritten sign outside stating the reason, but we couldn’t make it out). There happened to be a pizza place basically right across the street though, so we went there instead, enjoyed every bite, and got the heck out of Dodge (well, St Andrews, but you know what I mean).

St Andrews doesn’t actually have its own train station, but there’s one in Leuchars, about six miles away, that buses regularly go to. We planned on taking the bus after dinner, but the one we wanted never showed up, so we ended up taking a taxi, which was faster anyway. We got to the station with a few minutes to spare and we were going to ask someone at the station if our tickets would be okay (since we were supposed to be on the train an hour earlier), but no one was at the window (and yes, the station was staffed at that time, but whoever was working wasn’t there). So we just went for it and, when the ticket-checker came through after the journey started, he either didn’t notice or didn’t care, which was exactly what we needed.

Just for good measure, how about a couple more photos?

My two scoops (one Oreo, one salted caramel) were super creamy and delicious.

Quick photo of the view from the train.

We didn’t go to this restaurant, but it was right by our entrance/exit to the station and I thought it looked so interesting. Must visit next time!

And with that, our somewhat-whirlwind day was done and we could relax at the hotel for the rest of the night. I’m still behind on my blogging duties, but hopefully I can get caught up soon! If not, you’ll just be waiting in suspense a bit longer. Or if you’re reading this 20 years later, it doesn’t matter because you can skip right to tomorrow.

For now, it’s farewell Scotland and hello Northern Ireland. Want to read about our first day in Belfast? Look no further than here!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!