Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Scottish Hols–St Andrews 1

We have been up to Scotland a couple of times already this year, but have always stayed in Dundee. As our rail tour holiday finished on Friday we though we would extend our time in Scotland over the weekend as well. Actually because the train times were less convenient on a Sunday we didn’t head back to Cambridge until the Monday.

The nearest station to St Andrews was Leuchars a small town notable for its airbase – RAF Leuchars, home to the Eurofighter Typhoon and only 6 miles from St Andrews. If you look up the railway station on the National Rail website it is  titled “Leuchars (for St. Andrews)” so it seems they either have a chip on their shoulder or it stops spies from sussing out the existence of the nearby airbase

The journey was about an hour and direct with one stop at Haymarket, which was barely a mile or so down the track from Waverley – the ultimate destination of the train was Aberdeen. The good news (well for a slightly nerdy person like me anyway) was that this train crossed the Firth of the Forth by the Forth Rail bridge. As we passed over the Firth of the Forth I took a few pictures, most had red ironwork of the rail bridge in the way but I did manage this picture of the road bridge. (Which is being replaced.)The first bit of the journey runs near the coast before cutting the corner to Leuchars.

If we had been a little earlier then we could have caught the train direct to St Andrews, but that would have meant catching the train before 1969 when the line was closed.  There is support for reinstating the line from an organisation called StARLink: citing tourism, golf, the students, commuting, the residents (20,000 inc. students) and the difficulty in accommodating cars in the town, with its medieval layout. It is the largest settlement in Scotland without a railway. The BBC reports optimism about the feasibility and at £76m it would be a bargain (the last bit was mine about it being a bargain).

The Firth of the Forth Road Bridge as seen from the Firth of the Forth Rail Bridge

We visited St Andrews Botanic Garden – 18 acres of garden in the middle of St Andrews. Described as a hidden gem of Scotland it certainly managed to impress us. It dates from 1889 when beds were laid out for sleeping teaching and research purposes. Although the first garden wasn’t located here – it moved here in 1960, the site was called Bassaguard (“farm of priests”). it costs money to get in (£2 per adult)  but is well worth a visit – no dogs allowed though.

The downside is that the future of the Garden is under threat as Fife Council want to cut the funding by 50%, there is talk of selling of some land to fund an endowment to pay for its upkeep.

It was an oasis of calm in a fairly calm town and the autumnal colours were blazing all around.

St Andrews Botanic Garden

They say that the longer the lichen the fresher the air, well if this lichen is anything to go by the air up here must be pretty good.  According to this webpage from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh lichens are sensitive to human degradation of the environment, which allows scientists to use them as a proxy-measure for pollution.

The capture nutrients from the atmosphere either deposited in rainfall or direct from the air.

Lichen – St Andrews Botanic Garden

Just to show it wasn’t a fluke here is another type of lichen also doing well.

Lichen – St Andrews Botanic Garden

As it happens Autumn was a rather nice time to view the gardens, the weather was also pretty good. This is a link to a “pictorial map”, you have to hover your cursor to see the names of the various areas. This area is the Water Garden.

St Andrews Botanic Garden; water garden

As well as the outside gardens there are some Glasshouses supporting different environments. (Note the links should work but the Website hides the individual links so hopefully I have managed to uncover the right ones).

Although the weather was pretty good it wasn’t as warm as some of the hothouses. My camera misted up as soon as we walked in and it took a little time to acclimatise. I also had to divest myself of a few layers of clothing.

Glasshouse Flowers – St Andrews Botanic Garden

The blue flowers had an interesting glow from the centre where the petals had a different colour. My first attempts were rather murky as if I had taken the pictures in the middle of a fog.

Glasshouse Flowers – St Andrews Botanic Garden

Glasshouse Flowers – St Andrews Botanic Garden

Glasshouse Flowers – St Andrews Botanic Garden

One of the good things about a university town is that there are loads of places to eat and the food is both tasty and pretty cheap. Don’t worry I won’t be showing pictures of all the places we visited to eat (or the food).  However one of the good things about visiting Scotland is the local Scottish delicacies – such as a yummy macaroni pie. It is a little like a Scotch pie but with macaroni cheese instead. It was served hot and they only had small ones available in the Bakers we visited.

Macaroni Pie – St Andrews

We carried on with our education with a visit to Scotland’s largest and most magnificent church – well the remains – St Andrews Cathedral. There are the vaults – somewhat restored and this is St Rule’s Tower which predates the Cathedral, but was assimilated (although not by the Borg). You can go up it and get marvellous views of the town.

St Rule’s Tower – St Andrews Cathedral ruins

Rather curiously, well to me anyway, the Skull and crossbones seemed to be a popular carving on gravestones.  This is not the pirate flag symbol where the bones are behind the skull – but a symbol of death and mortality. These were the traditional emblems of mortality often found on Scottish gravestones from the 1600s and 1700s. The Christian cross was considered too “papist” apparently by the post-reformation Scottish Kirk, so skulls, crossbones, angels, egg timers and other emblems were used instead.

Gravestones from the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral

I did climb up St Rule’s Tower. It is 33m in height and has quite a narrow stone spiral staircase. You get a bit of exercise – but the view is worth it – well on a fine day.

The view form the tower:  St Andrews, with St Salvator’s Tower – part of the Chapel of St Salvator. The Quad below is the scene of foam fights during Raisin Weekend.

St Andrews seen from St Rule’s Tower

This is a view looking along the coast towards the South. It was a fine day.

The view from St Rule’s Tower – the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral

The area around has more gentle hills compared with the Highlands we had just been visiting.

The view from St Rule’s Tower – the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral

I mentioned RAF Leuchars – well you can see it from St Rule’s Tower across the Eden Estuary. The radiation-hardened hangars stand out on the satellite pictures they are just out of shot in this picture.

The view from St Rule’s Tower – the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral

Scottish seaside towns often had outdoor seawater swimming pools. Certainly the one in Troon (where I used to go for Summer hols sometimes as a boy) did. My brother and I used to freeze after a swim there. One time our Dad went swimming with us and must have forgotten how cold it was (he grew up in Troon). My brother and I used to slowly creep in, Dad dived in. I have never seen him swim so fast, he headed to the other end where he pulled himself out and wrapped a towel around and that was his swimming for the day (well that’s how I remember it.)

St Andrews was no different and here is a link to an old picture of bathers at St Andrews beach. I am not sure this was the spot – but you can see various walls still present.

A quick check using Where’s The Path with an OS map alongside the Satellite view shows that it is marked as a bathing pond. (This is a link to Where’s The Path that should show the OS and Satellite views side by side. For those looking at this in the evening it might not be able to show the OS map though as the number of views is restricted by the OS – mornings are best.

Remnants of the Old bathing pond – St Andrews

Coming next; Scotland’s Secret Bunker

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