Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Walk 165 -- An historical tour of St Andrews

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 54/56 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 196/198 days.
Weather: There was a lot of rain about, but we managed to see most of the sights in between showers.
Location: An historical tour of St Andrews.
Distance: 0 miles.
Total distance: 1379 miles.
Terrain: Town pavements and mown grass.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: ‘Central Bar’ in St Andrews where we drank Theakston’s ‘Black Bull bitter’ and Houston’s ‘Killellan’ – and also had a roast beef dinner which was edible but had nothing else to recommend it! We visited this pub both days, but didn’t eat the second time.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.8, St Andrews Cathedral. No.9, St Andrews Castle.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in the village of Craigrothie. We drove to St Andrews where we parked for free near the waterfront. We walked through the town to visit all the sites and the pub.
At the end, we walked back to the car and got to it just as it started to rain. We drove back to our cottage at Craigrothie.

We did most of our touring of St Andrews on the 1st July when we actually had quite a bit of sunshine — between showers. I had to put the 3rd July date on the blog to keep the Walks in the right order. That day we had to skulk in the pub and a seafront shelter before it turned fine enough for us to explore the harbour area.
The town of St Andrews was established in the 12th century by Bishop Robert, though there has been an important church in the settlement since the 8th century. It became the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, until the Scottish Reformation put an end to that. It is a former Royal burgh. The medieval layout of the town, with its cobbled streets, is still in existence, and we walked through the medieval gates at both the western and the eastern ends of the town.
Now it is known as ‘The Home of Golf’, but more about that in the next Walk write-up.
The University is the third oldest in the English-speaking world, and one of Britain’s most prestigious. It became even more famous in recent years because Prince William studied there. St Andrews is only a small town by modern-day standards, and during term time the University students make up about one third of the population.

The Harbour
When we visited, the harbour contained just a few small boats. It didn’t seem to be very busy. A notice nearby told us a bit of its history:—
The first harbour was built around 1100 and became a bustling commercial port. Vessels traded with Germany, the Low Countries and France as well as other ports in Scotland and England. Trade slumped in the 17th and 18th centuries, but after that exports of potatoes and grain from local farms increased. Until 1914 a passenger boat served Leith, Dundee and other places during the summer months.
The harbour’s wooden Long Pier was destroyed in a storm in 1655. It was rebuilt to half its length using stones taken from the castle ruins. For many years there was a navigation light at the end of the pier.
On Sunday mornings after chapel, the students of the University walk to the end of the pier in their red academic gowns. This ritual is said to commemorate John Honey, a student who rescued seven shipwrecked men from the East Bay in 1800.

The Cathedral
St Andrews Cathedral is the largest in Scotland, but it is in ruins. It is now managed by ‘Historic Scotland’. Since we have been members of ‘English Heritage’ for more than a year, we were allowed to climb the single high tower which remains isolated at the eastern end of what was once a magnificent and ornate church. From the top we had superb views all around. Scratched in the wood of the safety fence at the top were the words, “SCOTTISH FREEDOM”. (Well, you know my thoughts about that — get your Scots out of our English Parliament, and you can have all the freedom you wish!) Several boards nearby told us a little about the history of the Cathedral:—
The original church on the site was known as St Rule’s. A new Cathedral was founded by Arnold, who was bishop between 1160 and 1162. It was built as a ‘fitting place’ for the relics of St Andrew, brought here, legend says, by a Greek monk. Through time the place became known as St Andrews, (who was this St Rule fella anyway?) the saint was adopted as Scotland’s patron and his cross as Scotland’s flag. As befitting the administrative centre of the Scottish Church, the building was to be the largest in the kingdom. It was eventually consecrated in 1318 after an extended building operation, which was punctuated by one major structural disaster, and followed later by others. (The nature of these disasters was not specified.)
There followed more than two hundred years of all-powerful ‘rule’ by the monks of this magnificent Abbey. But by 1559 the interior had been stripped of its rich furnishings in the first phase of the Scottish Reformation. The roof covering was probably removed in 1561. Decay followed rapidly, and although there were thoughts of restoring it in 1634, by 1693 it had decayed to much as we now see it.

The Castle
There has been a castle in St Andrews probably from the 12th century. It was built as the fortified residence of the Archbishops of St Andrews. Religion and politics were very much aligned in those days, and the Archbishops wielded enormous power over the local populace.
But there were undercurrents of dissent throughout northern Europe, and especially Britain, as religious leaders became ever more rich, powerful and corrupt. This culminated in the Reformation in the 16th century.
George Wishart, a Protestant preacher, was burnt at the stake for his beliefs at St Andrews Castle in March 1546. Two months later, as a revenge attack, Cardinal Beaton was murdered at the castle. An information board takes up the story:—
On 29th May 1546 Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews, was murdered by a group of local gentlemen who had taken the castle by force.
The Earl of Arran, Regent of Scotland, besieged the castle but was inclined to do very little at first because his son was inside. In November 1546 it was reported to the French Ambassador in London that Arran was trying to break into the castle by digging a mine; the aim was to tunnel beneath the gatetower and cause the walls to collapse.
Those inside responded by digging a counter-mine, hoping to intercept the Regent’s and render it useless. The counter-miners were guided solely by the sound of digging, and started on three false trails before finally intercepting the mine.
The successful counter-mine was started outside the walls of the castle, a reminder that outer defences once existed. The defenders had very little time to spare, and desperation can be seen in the narrow twisting nature of their tunnel as compared with the spacious and straight gallery of Arran’s mine.
The castle fell in July 1547 after a massive artillery bombardment by a French fleet under the Prior of Capua, with additional firing from St Salvador’s College and the Cathedral Priory. Among those taken prisoner was John Knox, the future Protestant leader, who had joined those in the castle in April.
We very much enjoyed our exploration of the castle ruins. We were quite amused by the digging of the mine and counter-mines — what a carry-on! We could just see them, frantically digging out their tunnels, then listening for the other lot and saying, “Oh no! We’re in the wrong place! Lets dig another tunnel over here!” Like a bunch of kids, except that they were intent on murder. And all done in the name of Religion! The tragedy is that in some parts of the world they are still fighting battles like that in deadly earnest.
While we were looking round, an actor came out dressed as a jailor and tried to involve the visitors in a bit of medieval intrigue. He was very good, and put on an entertaining little show. Colin slithered down the passages of the mine and counter-mines. I decided the steps were too slippery and stayed on top.