FIFE & CLACKMANNAN

 

Coastal church, FifeOne of the Picts’ ancient kingdoms in the fourth century, Fife is tiny but certainly memorable.  The peninsula is surrounded by different bodies of water on three sides: the Firths of Tay and Forth to the north and south respectively, and the North Sea to its east.  Fife seems decidedly schizophrenic, with the south being entirely industrial and part of the commuter belt, and the rest marked with rural living and villages and towns dotted with history at every turn. Fishing remains a big part of the county industry, which can’t be helped, considering that Fife is surrounded by water.  In several parts of the county, you will find thriving fishing villages, among preserved burghs, and not to mention many a historical building, many of which are concentrated in the county’s biggest draw—the university town of St Andrews.  The University of St. Andrews is one of the oldest and greatest academic institutions in Europe—it is Scotland’s answer to England’s Oxbridge.  It is also home to one of the world’s admittedly elitist sports, golf.  The whole university town remains decidedly old-fashioned and attracts a wide variety of visitors. 

While in Fife, you must experience its famed coastline, a 78-mile trail that gives you an expansive view into Fife’s natural gifts.

 

Gartmorn Dam Country Park and Nature ReserveWest of Fife, even tinier Clackmannanshire- dubbed The Wee Shire- is the smallest county in Scotland (see 7 & 8  on map).  Also known as Clacks, its assets included  rolling hills, fast flowing rivers and pretty villages.  It may not have knockout highlights, but its Gartmorn Dam Country Park and Nature Reserve has some splendid walks and is the destination of migratory water fowl in winter.  The Clackermannan Tower Trail consists of four well preserved medieval tower houses and a manor house, the most spectacular dating from the 1300's  being in Alloa, Clackermannan's largest city and administrative centre. 

 

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Places of Interest:   1. St Andrews  2. Falkland  3. Kellie Castle  4. Anstruther  5. Crail  6. Culross 7. Clackmannanshire  8. Gartmorn Dam Country Park and Nature Reserve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St Andrews Swilcan BridgeDon’t make the common mistake of putting an apostrophe before the ‘s’ in St Andrews—Andrews comes from the Old Scottish for the name, Androis, who is the first Patron Saint of Scotland.  This gives you an idea of how old the town and the university around which the town revolves.  Formerly a religious site, it is Scotland’s oldest university town, and the university is the third oldest in the English-speaking world.  This gives the town, a former royal burgh and ecclesiastical capital on the northeastern coast of Fife, an air of elitism, not unlike the Cambridge and Oxford, to which St Andrews is constantly compared.  It is filled with many medieval ruins and many historical structures, as well as a white sandy beach.

The fact that golf, an elitist sport if there ever was one, calls St Andrews its birthplace adds to the snobby air of the university town.  It attracts a number of golf enthusiasts every year to its famed Old Course, being considered the mecca for the sport. 

All this snobbishness is countered by the quaint fishing villages in East Neuk which is just a stone’s throw away from the university.  It is markedly different from the dignified university, and provides a stark yet balanced contrast to the university.

History
Town legend tells us that St Andrews was founded by a Greek monk, St. Rule (or Regulus) who had custody of the bones of St. Andrew and was planning on building a shrine to the saint in another part of the world, when he got unluckily shipwrecked, and proceeded with plan B: build a shrine on the shores of what is now St Andrews, where he was marooned.  The shrine then became the site of the cathedral, and made St. Andrews the first Patron Saint of Scotland. 

History tells us that the town grew around the now-ruined castle of St Andrews in the twelfth century.  The town was one of the most influential towns in the continent for years, but immediately lost much of its clout after the Scottish reformation, when it was demoted from its ecclesiastical capital position.

Layout
The layout of the town centre remains medieval, and many of the historical buildings of the University are concentrated on the main streets: North, Market, and South Streets, which all lead to the ruins of the cathedral.  You will find the Old Course north of the town, and the pretty harbour below the cathedral.

 

Sights
St Andrews CathedralSt. Andrews Cathedral (North Street, +44 1334 472563, £4.20/joint £7.20 (with castle).  Located east of the town, on top of the harbour east of the town, the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral do not do justice to what was once the greatest, largest, and most powerful cathedral in Scotland when it was founded in 1160.  During its era, it was the most important religious site in Scotland, the seat of the bishops and later on the archbishops of the country.  It fell into a steady decline and disrepair after it suffered under the attacks of John Knox’s followers at the beginning of the Scottish Reformation.  Nowadays, only a slab of what was once the altar remains.  This is the very spot where the remains of St Andrew was supposed to be.

Nearby, St. Rule’s Tower, which is all that remains of the Church of St. Regulus, gives an awesome perspective of the whole university town, if you will brave the one hundred fifty seven steps to the top.  The remains of the whole cathedral is enclosed by a sixteenth century wall.

Beyond the ruins, you will find the East Sands, one of the two beaches of St Andrews.
 
Walk towards the north of the cathedral and you will find the remains of another medieval-era structure,
St. Andrews Castle (+44 1334 477196, £5.20/joint £7.20 (with cathedral), which was part of the Palace of bishops and archbishops, before it was ransacked by the Reformers.  These Reformers also used the moated castle as a hideaway for a year, digging up siege tunnels which you can still walk through today.  It was first built in the thirteenth century, but nowadays, most of what remains were parts built during the subsequent fourteenth and sixteenth centuries.View from St Rules Tower

St Salvators courtyardSt. Salvator’s College:  Along North and South Streets, you will find the most number of older and more attractive buildings in the campus which has buildings scattered all over the town.  You can take guided tours, which start here, but you can also opt out to enjoy walking amongst the architectural beauties on your own.

St. Andrews Preservation Trust Museum and Garden: (12 North Street, +44 1334 477629, free (donations welcome).  Sometimes open only by appointment, the museum is tiny, but presents a great illustration of the town’s history and gold heritage.  The sixteenth century cottage that houses it makes it even more charming.

St Andrews Royal Golf ClubOverlooking the two-mile West Sands beach (famous for that Chariots of Fire sequence), and near the Royal and Ancient Golf Clubhouse and the Old Course, the
British Golf Museum (Bruce Embankment, +44 1334 460046, £6) is an in-depth look into the sport, and why St Andrews is now considered a pilgrimage site for all golfers.  It also has an extensive collection of Open Tournament memorabilia, which will surely be a treat to any golf enthusiast. 

 

 

Hotels

        

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St Andrews Tourist Hostel (Inchape House, St Mary’s Place, +44 1334 479911, £12-14/person).  Spartan and equipped with dorm beds (no double beds here), this backpacker’s hostel is very central to the university town, and well-suited to travelers who love to socialize with fellow travelers, as well as self-caterers.

Hazelbank Hotel (28 The Scores, +44 1334 472466, from £42.50).  Originally a 19th century townhouse, the Hazelbank Hotel is a cozy family-run hotel.  The rooms have been refurbished and constantly updated over the years, so you can be sure everything is made for your convenience and comfort.  It’s usually a quiet place at night, but if you’re booking during freshmen week, beware, as the noise can permeate the hotel.

Kinkell Bed and Breakfast (Kinkell Farm, +44 1334 472003, £45).  Its unique location provides guests with great views of the sea, the harbour and the abbey.  The family atmosphere is palpable, and the living room is a welcoming place to relax after a whole day’s worth of walking.


University of St Andrews New Hall (North Haugh, +44 1334 467000, from £49.50).  Only open from June to September, New Hall is one of the accommodations offered by the university during student holidays.  The rooms are small but clean and en-suite (though the showers are not particularly good), and there is free Wi-Fi.  If you are a light sleeper, this is not recommended, as the rooms are not sound-proof. It is already considered a bargain among all the other accommodations in the area. 

Brooksby Guest House (Queens Terrace, +44 1334 470723, £50-60) combines the luxuriousness of a boutique hotel with the charms of a small B&B, and the result is a clear winner among guests.  The rooms are all spacious, with comfortable amenities, and the location is central enough that everything is five-minute walk away, without being too central that the noise keeps you up at night.

Six Murray Park (6 Murray Park, +44 1334 473319, from £70).  This Victorian guest house features streamlined bedrooms designed for modern comfort. They also offer a reasonable package for golfers. 

Five Pilmour Place (5 Pilmour Place, +44 1334 478665, £85-105).  This small B&B with six en-suite rooms enclosed by a lovely walled garden is a hidden gem, particularly recommended for those in St Andrews for a round at The Old Course.  The décor is a mix of country-style furnishings, with vintage items and contemporary pieces, but everything feels like home.  Get sightseeing advice from the friendly hosts.

 Whimsical yet never too whimsical to forget that it is a B&B and not a circus prop, the
Aslar Guest House (120 North Street, +44 1334 473460, £96) combines personality with professional hospitality.  It gets fully-booked months before the Open Tournament, as it attracts many loyal guests, so book early.

 



Kellie CastleKellie Castle (Pittenweem, +44 8444 932184, £8.50).  Supposedly haunted, the Kellie Estate apparently dates back to the 12th century, and has gone under different owners, from the family of the Earls of Kellie, to the Lorimers.  In fact, it was renowned Scottish architect, Robert Lorimer, who was responsible for much of the restoration of the castle, which had been abandoned for a time when the Kellie lineage ceased in the 19th century.  He was also responsible for many of the furniture that visitors can see here today.  Visitors can also get a glimpse of the Victorian walled garden, with its collection of rare old-fashioned roses that are in full bloom during the summer.  The organic walled garden also has fresh produce available for visitors to buy.

 



Falkland PalaceSituated on the lower slopes of East Lomond hill, Falkland is a charming conservation village filled with authentic and well-preserved structures dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  The tiny village, with a population not exceeding two thousand, grew around the Falkland Palace (Falkland, Cupar, +44 8444 932186, £10.50).  Built in the sixteenth century, the palace was favored by the Stuart monarchs as a countryside retreat.  It was also the childhood home of Mary, Queen of Scots.  Even though it fell to ruin after Oliver Cromwell’s staff set fire to it, after restoration, it retains its position as one of the most magnificent examples of Renaissance architecture in Scotland.  The surrounding grounds are a pleasure to walk through, and here you will also find the oldest Royal Tennis Court built for James V in the sixteenth century as well.  It is still in use.


Hotel
 Ladywell House (Falkland, +44 1337 858414, £35-55).  Tucked in a quiet area of Falkland, this B&B prides itself on its spacious rooms, gourmet-style breakfasts, and all-around country feel.  No TVs here—which might bother other visitors—but the rooms are comfortable enough that you won’t even notice it.


Crail HarbourCharacterized by a harbour built of stone, cobbled streets, fishermen’s cottages in every corner imaginable near the cliff,  and tourists and artists both enamored by the charming atmosphere, Crail is a remarkable contrast to the high-brow university town feel of St Andrews, which is located north of the East Neuk.  East Neuk is a cluster of fishing villages south of St Andrews and extended to the Largo Bay. 

There’s not a lot to do here except relax and enjoy the atmosphere.  It’s a pretty village sustained by fishing and tourism.  If you’re lucky (and the fishermen are, too), you can buy fresh seafood from the fishermen if they dock after a successful trip to the sea.  There are plenty of kiosks who can cook them for you by the harbour, which you can eat alfresco. 


To gain a deeper understanding of the village and its fishing heritage, you can visit the Crail Museum and Heritage Centre (62/64 Marketgate, +44 1333 450869, free).

 


 

Anstruther HarbourFriendly, quirky and decidedly old-fashioned, Anstruther used to one of the country’s busiest harbours, but now the small town (yet the biggest of all East Neuk fishing harbours) is a thriving tourist destination.  It is home to the Scottish Fisheries Museum (St Ayles, Harbourhead, +44 1333 310628, £6), which is a comprehensive illustration of Scotland’s fishing history, housed in a complex of timber-framed buildings that date back from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.

A boat ride from the harbour will take you to the ruins of Scotland’s first lighthouse situated on the Isle of May.  The first lighthouse was built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather in 1816.  You might want to check ahead if you plan to visit Isle of May with the ferry (+ 44 1333 310103, £19) that will take you there.  
 

 



CulrossWe have the National Trust for Scotland to thank for avidly preserving this former royal burgh, Culross (Coo-rus as the very few locals would say) since the 1930s.  The result is a picturesque town filled with many perfectly preserved historical structures, winding narrow cobble-stoned lanes—a dream of a town. 

While you can see a lot by just wandering around, and everywhere you turn here you will find a treasure, there is a definitive list of historical buildings (£8) that you must see.  The huge ochre Culross Palace is a sixteenth century merchant mansion (not a royal settlement though) built by George Bruce, a merchant who made his mark in the local industries of coal mining and salt production in Culross back in its heyday.  It is a pretty impressive lodging, with furnishing and other novelties sourced from Bruce’s travels all over the world. 

In Back Causeway, you will find another seventeenth century house called Study, which is famous for its study situated on top of a projecting tower.  You can only enter the house, though, through guided tours.  Nearby, you can see the ruins of the Cisterian Culross Abbey, located on top of the hill.  Adjoined to the ruined abbey is the choir, which has been the Parish Church of the town since the seventeenth century.