Walk 57: St Andrews Linear Walk: The ‘Home of Golf’

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: A 2 mile (3.22km) linear walk

Time to walk: About 1 hour, but we would suggest combining this with a visit to the numerous attractions that St Andrews has to offer, including the fantastic beaches so it could be done as part of a day visit

Difficulty: All on hard paths

Parking: Park at the Leisure Centre in East Sands. It says it’s for customers only, but no-one seems to bother

Public toilets: The Leisure Centre at the start & finish, or in the town

Map of the route:

map

This is a walk for a fine, sunny day when you can take in two magnificent beaches & enjoy the town at its best.

St Andrews lies on the east coast of Fife in Scotland, 10 miles southeast of Dundee & 30 miles northeast of Edinburgh. The town is home to the University of St Andrews, the third oldest university in the English-speaking world & the oldest in Scotland – it was also where William met Kate! It is ranked as the third best university in the United Kingdom, behind Oxbridge

The town is named after Saint Andrew the Apostle & legend has it that his bones are buried here. There has been an important church in St Andrews since at least the 8th century, & a bishopric since at least the 11th century. The burgh soon became the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, a position which was held until the Scottish Reformation. The famous cathedral, the largest in Scotland, now lies in ruins as we’ll see

St Andrews is also known worldwide as the “home of golf”. This is in part because the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, founded in 1754, exercises legislative authority over the game worldwide (except in the United States and Mexico), & also because the famous links (acquired by the town in 1894) is the most frequent venue for The Open Championship, the oldest of golf’s four major championships. Visitors travel to St Andrews in great numbers for several courses ranked amongst the finest in the world, as well as for the sandy beaches

As golfers, we’ve wanted to visit this town for a long time, so let’s see if it lives up to its promise

Let’s Walk!

1. The Leisure Centre in St Mary Street’s a really handy place to park as it’s at one end of the town & virtually on the East Sands. Walk up to the path & head towards the town…

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East Sands is a real family beach & is also connected to the Fife Coastal Path which runs from the Forth Bridge to the Tay Bridge. Several birds species use the beach as a feeding ground. Seals. whales & dolphins are also regularly sighted off the coast

Playtime!

Playtime!

2. Continue along the path towards the harbour…

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…passing the Coastguard cottage & car park…

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…to emerge onto the grassy headland on one side of the harbour inlet

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3. Descend the headland path crossing the small wooden bridge

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The history of St Andrews Harbour is one that spans the centuries & is inseparably linked with the life of the coastal town it serves; indeed at one time the very life-blood of it. No doubt the Harbour’s footings are to be found in nothing more than the unimproved shores of the Kinness Burn, around which the early inhabitants of the town, then still known as Kilrymont, would go about their simple lives of fishing and farming

During medieval times and through to the 16th century the harbour would see significant development with the construction of the original stone built piers & quays to serve the many travellers & merchants of the time; the town developing as an important academic, ecclesiastical & trading centre. Today the 18th to 20th century extensions & developments to the Long (North) Pier & Cross Pier form the well-sheltered havens of the Outer & enclosed Inner Harbours, which are home to a small, but growing, flotilla of pleasure craft & a small fishing fleet that in its heyday would have numbered more than fifty vessels

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The Harbour is managed by St Andrews Harbour Trust, which ensures that the maintenance of it is kept up to an acceptable level; facilities are adequate & regularly maintained; use of the harbour is controlled in a safe & efficient manner & any developments are in line with Trust’s directives

4. Continue round the corner of the harbour buildings & up the stone steps besides the Cathedral perimeter walls…

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On the right at the top of the steps are some old foundations which are all that remains of the Church of St Mary on the Rock

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The Church of St Mary on the Rock, or St Mary’s Collegiate Church, was a secular college of priests based just beyond the precinct walls. It is known by a variety of other names, such as St Mary of the Culdees, Kirkheugh & Church of St Mary of Kilrymont

Founded as a collegiate church in the 1240s, it represented a continuation of the association of clergy known as the Culdees or Céli Dé, “vassals of God”. The church lasted for several centuries, but did not long outlast the Scottish Reformation & today little of the original structure has survived. A cross-shaped church, here’s how it would have looked…

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5. The path is straight ahead between the Cathedral & cliff edge

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As we climb higher the views of the Cathedral ruins become impressive. The Cathedral of St Andrew was a Roman Catholic cathedral. It was built in 1158 & became the centre of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland as the seat of the Archdiocese of St Andrews & the Bishops & Archbishops of St Andrews

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It fell into disuse and ruin after Catholic mass was outlawed during the 16th-century Scottish Reformation. It is currently a monument in the custody of Historic Scotland. The ruins indicate that the building was approximately 119m (391 feet) long, and is the largest church to have been built in Scotland

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St Rule’s tower is located in the Cathedral grounds but predates it, having served as the church of the priory up to the early 12th century. The building was retained to allow worship to continue uninterrupted during the building of its much larger successor. Originally, the tower & adjoining choir were part of the church built in the 11th century to house the relics of St Andrew. The nave, with twin western turrets & the apse of the church no longer stand

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Today the tower commands an admirable view of the town, harbour, sea & surrounding countryside. Beautifully built in grey sandstone ashlar, & (for its date) immensely tall, it’s a land & sea mark seen from many miles away, its prominence doubtless meant to guide pilgrims to the place of the Apostle’s relics. In the Middle Ages a spire  on the top of the tower made it even more prominent. The tower was originally ascended using ladders between wooden floors, but a stone spiral staircase was inserted in the 18th century

6. Continue along the coastal path towards St Andrews Castle

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The castle sits on a rocky promontory overlooking a small beach called Castle Sands. There has been a castle standing on the site since the times of Bishop Roger (1189-1202), son of the Earl of Leicester. It housed the burgh’s wealthy & powerful bishops while St Andrews served as the ecclesiastical centre of Scotland during the years before the Protestant Reformation

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The castle also served as a strong & grim prison. An especially striking remnant of this role is the bottle dungeon, a bottle shaped pit dug 22ft down into the rock below the Sea Tower & accessible only via the narrow neck opening through a trap door from the floor of tower vault. Into this prisoners could simply be lowered, or dropped & forgotten

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The castle’s grounds are now maintained by Historic Scotland

7. We’re entering the more built up area of the town now & many of the properties along this street are associated with the University

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Across the bay now we get our first view of the magnificent West Sands Beach along which many of the golf courses stretch…

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West Sands is the largest & best-known beach in St Andrews & is, surprisingly, one of the sunniest & driest places in Britain. The south end of the two mile long sandy beach featured in the opening sequence of the Oscar-winning film, Chariots of Fire, while the north end is popular with kite surfers & overlooks the Eden Estuary Nature Reserve, home to birds & seals

8. On the green here is the first monument we recognise from watching golf on the television from St Andrews…the Martyr’s Monument

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Martyrs’ Monument was built to commemorate four men executed in St Andrews during the 16th Century for their Protestant beliefs. St Andrews, which at that time had the largest cathedral in Scotland & one of the most celebrated in Europe, was, somewhat inevitably, drawn into the events leading up to the Protestant Reformation.
Patrick Hamilton was first to be burnt at the stake, in 1527, after he promoted the doctrines of Martin Luther. Henry Forest was executed in 1533 for owning a copy of the New Testament in English. George Wishart was burnt at the stake for defying the Catholic Church & Walter Myln followed in 1558, having advocated married clergy

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In the end, their cause prevailed: St Andrews Cathedral was sacked & desecrated by a mob in 1559, following an inflammatory sermon preached in the town’s Holy Trinity Church by John Knox, & Scotland became Protestant following the Reformation of 1560

9. Finally we arrive at our destination, bang in the middle of town…The Home of Golf, The Old Course St Andrews

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There it all is stretching out in front of us, the 1st tee & 18th green sharing the same fairways &, in the distance the famous Silken Bridge

1st tee

1st tee

All four of the above group were obviously nervous as they all carved their first shots out of bounds on the right

18th green with the famous 'Valley of Sin'

18th green with the famous ‘Valley of Sin’

10. St Andrews Links is regarded as the “home of golf”. It has one of the oldest courses in the world, where the game has been played since the 15th century. Today there are seven public golf courses: the Balgove, Eden, Jubilee Course, Strathtyrum, New, the Old Course (which is widely considered one of the finest, and certainly the most famous and traditional, courses in the world), & the new Castle Course, sited on the cliffs a mile to the east of St Andrews

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The courses are owned by the local authorities. St Andrews is also home to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, one of the most prestigious golf clubs & until 2004 one of the two rule making authorities of golf. In that year, the Royal & Ancient Club passed on its rulemaking authority to an offshoot organisation, The R&A

Standing here it’s impossible not to really feel the history & recall the champions that have stood where we are now standing. We didn’t have time to fully explore, but it’s a place we will return to

11. To finish the walk it’s possible to go down the side of the 1st fairway & turn right onto the beach just before the Swilken Burn which drains into the sea here. You then have the opportunity to walk 4 miles (2 each way) along stunning West Sands, before then either retracing your steps the way we came or through the middle of the town itself

So there we are…a short linear walk along a superb coastline with much history attached. Whilst the weather in the photos looks great, it can change at a moments notice as we found out on our way back, so carry a waterproof

And was standing on the 1st & 18th worth the wait – most definitely!

Go Walk!