Day 15: St. Andrews

Day 15 started with the super-delicious breakfast of fancy porridge from Stuart (at least for me) and of course more tea. Then it was off to the races for a new day. Leaving Stirling, we headed towards small town Dunfermline and their ruined abbey. We had already visited King Robert the Bruce’s buried heart, it was time to see the rest of him.

Religious structures have stood on the site of Dunfermline Abbey for nearly a thousand years. In the 12th century, King David order the construction of the ‘current’ Benedictine abbey. The church would eventually become ground zero for the worship of David’s mother, St. Margaret. The abbey ruins did house a small royal palace for the kings and queens and its grounds contain more Scottish royal tombs than nearly anywhere else in Scotland. The remains of Robert the Bruce (except his heart) are buried under the modern, current church’s altar. The royal palace at Dunfermline also saw the birth of King Charles I, the last king of England to be born in Scotland.  Most of the grounds are in ruins which are fun to explore, but there is also an intact abbey church with an older Norman section and a much more modern chapel that is still in use today. It was a great place to visit.

Dunfermline

Dunfermline

Those stairs used to lead somewhere.

Those stairs used to lead somewhere.

Standing in the ground floor of the royal palace.

standing in the ground floor of the royal palace

Part of the ground floor vaults that still stand.

part of the ground floor vaults that still stand

If you look at the walls, you can see where the doorways and fireplaces once stood on the second and third floors.

If you look at the walls, you can see where the doorways and fireplaces once stood on the second and third floors.

Inside the old church. Those columns are OLD.

Inside the old church. Those columns are OLD.

Exploring the Old Church.

exploring the Old Church

The final resting place of the Bruce.

The final resting place of the Bruce.

After visiting the abbey and a brief (angry) call with one our banks regarding their not letting the Husband withdraw any moneys via local ATMS, we were on our way to beautiful St. Andrews.

My modern-day royal lovers will know St. Andrews as the college town in which Kate and Wills met and dated (and I assume earned degrees). One of the coffee shops in town had a huge banner reading, “Where Kate and Wills Met for Coffee… once.” Loved. We only spent a few hours in St. Andrews but I absolutely loved it and would go back in a heart beat. I would love to use St. Andrews as a base for exploring more of the general eastern area. It’s just such a quaint, quiet, perfect town. While there, we walked just a bit around the historic area near the coast, visiting the old castle ruins, the cathedral ruins, and of course, part of the golf course. Another thing I loved about St. Andrews? It’s right on the coast. As soon as you exit your car, you are greeted with a rush of salty sea air, like every beach vacation I’ve ever gone on, and it’s invigorating. I swear, one day the Husband and I will own a beach house! But I digress…

Our first stop was at the castle which was not actually a royal castle, but rather a stronghold for the rich and powerful bishops of the area prior to the Reformation. Much of the ruins that you visit today are from the castle rebuild of around 1400. Earlier versions of the castle were lost in the struggles with England. During the Reformation battles of the 16th century, several mines were carved into the undergrounds of the castle and you can climb down into some of those mines and counter-mines today. It’s a bit claustrophobic, so the Husband had to venture part of the way without me, but that was alright as I found a large rock bench that offered the perfect ocean view of castle and water.

 

approaching the castle

approaching the castle

the central court- you can climb the walls on the far side to get a great view of the ocean

the central court- you can climb the walls on the far side to get a great view of the ocean

the abbey is just down the street a bit

the abbey is just down the street a bit

There is a public swimming "pool" that is filled by ocean water when the tide comes in.

There is a public swimming “pool” that is filled by ocean water when the tide comes in.

part of the 16th century mines

part of the 16th century mines

After visiting the castle, we headed down the street to the ruined St. Andrews Cathedral next. This cathedral was originally built in the mid-12th century, building upon a tradition and community already worshiping some of Saint Andrews relics at the site. It fell into disuse after the Scottish Reformation and now lacks most of its prior structure.

wall from the nave of the church

wall from the nave of the church

looking back towards the church entrance

looking back towards the church entrance

approaching the altar

approaching the altar

one of many tomb areas

one of many tomb areas

looking towards the back front of the church

looking towards the back front of the church

and again through one of the entrances

and again through one of the entrances

St Rule's tower

St Rule’s tower

St. Rule's tower existed prior to the building of the cathedral and was incorporated into the design.

St. Rule’s tower existed prior to the building of the cathedral and was incorporated into the design.

looking back towards the castle

looking back towards the castle

Empty tombs. In one area of tombs like this, there was an obnoxious family of tourists allowing their children to play and climb inside the sarcophagi. I gave them my best side-eye, because, come on, how do you let your kids climb in and out of someone's grave?? Also, trivia for you- that hole in the center is for the decaying remains to exit the tomb and enter the ground.

Empty tombs. In one area of tombs like this, there was an obnoxious family of tourists allowing their children to play and climb inside the sarcophagi. I gave them my best side-eye, because, come on, how do you let your kids climb in and out of someone’s grave?? Also, trivia for you- that hole in the center is for the decaying remains to exit the tomb and enter the ground.

With both of those major sights done, we headed down the village streets towards the most famous golf course in the world. They say that St. Andrews is where golf was born. It was a sport of kings and queens, and now you too can play the Old Links that have been in use for 600 years. We walked just a bit of the course to head down to the main clubhouse so that the Husband could pick up some sort of golfing memorabilia with the St. Andrews logo on it. I stick to mini-golf myself, but the Husband does occasionally play the real game. Although I think mostly those excursions are just an excuse to miss work and drink beer with a bunch of guys… but that’s just between you and me! ;-) If we had more time, we could have played a bit on the mini-course they have where anyone can putt 9 or 18 holes, but maybe next trip. It looked pretty crowded out there! Hungry from all that walking we headed back into town for lunch at a deliciously modern little restaurant tucked away in a back street. It was so good and the local ale that I had was exceptional. After lunch, we were off to the next town, Pitlochry, for the evening. We stayed at the Craigatin House and Courtyard and could not have had a more lovely stay. They were quite a bit larger than I anticipated for a guesthouse, but our room was excellent, the hosts were amazing, and breakfast was delightful. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again. After checking in, we headed out for a walk around the town and ended up taking a footpath that takes you out by the local river dam and salmon ladder. The Husband tried to educate me on fish ladders and we spent a bit trying to find any fish currently moving through the river (spotted a couple!) before heading to dinner at this odd restaurant that blended Italian and Scottish. Despite dinner being odd, Pitlochry was a lovely town with a great main street teeming with shops and plenty of spaces to explore. It was getting late by the time we finished dinner, however, so we walked back out to the guesthouse and settled in for the evening. I think the Husband was pretty excited by that point, because we were about embark on “his” part of the trip- whiskey distilleries!

looking out over the golf course

looking out over the golf course

part of the Old Links

part of the Old Links

a couple of golfers finishing up

a couple of golfers finishing up

Day 14- Small Town Scotland

On the morning of the 18th, we were up and on our way to the town of Stirling, less than an hours drive from Edinburgh. Those of you who remember your Scottish history (via Braveheart, natch) will remember that it was the Battle of Stirling Bridge where my ancestral kinsman, Andrew de Moray, teamed up with his friend William Wallace to defeat the English forces in 1297.

To begin our tour in Stirling, we braved some small winding streets that were under construction to climb a steep hill where upon sits Stirling Castle. The castle was far more stark than some of the others we visited, but there were also fewer visitors which is always a plus in my book. Many of the buildings that are currently standing come from the 15th and 16th centuries, though there are some earlier areas. This castle is where many Scottish monarchs were crowned, including Mary, Queen of Scots in the mid-1500s.  Of course there was an audioguide, but this one was fairly wordy and I found myself fast forwarding through certain parts as I made my way through the chambers and halls.

approaching Stirling Castle

approaching Stirling Castle

where the gardens used to be

where the gardens used to be

Ready to eat?

Ready to eat?

Many of the rooms in the central castle were restored to what they may have looked like in their heydays.

Many of the rooms in the central castle were restored to what they may have looked like in their heydays.

Part of the kitchens, I loved walking around in here.

Part of the kitchens, I loved walking around in here.

After spending the grey morning wandering the castle turrets and kitchens (my favorite part), we ventured out to the William Wallace Monument, a 19th century tower that stands in honor of Scotland’s favorite son. When you get to the monument park area, you take a small minibus up to the monument itself where you then climb 246 steps up a very narrow spiral staircase to the top of the monument. If you are smart, you stop on each of 3 landings that offer small mini-museum exhibitions on Wallace and his life. They even have artifacts, including William Wallace’s sword on display. Fun fact: William Wallace’s sword stands a whopping 5’4″, nearly as tall as moi! It really was huge. Once you make it to the top of the monument, you are greeted with 360 degree views of the stunning Scottish country side.

This is your view of the monument at the Visitors Center.

This is your view of the monument at the Visitors Center.

The monument overlooks the battlefield of Stirling Bridge, where Wallace saw his greatest victory.

The monument overlooks the battlefield of Stirling Bridge, where Wallace saw his greatest victory.

In stead of taking the minibus back down to the visitors' center, we walked through the woods on a hiking trail. It was steep but lovely.

In stead of taking the minibus back down to the visitors’ center, we walked through the woods on a hiking trail. It was steep but lovely.

Leaving the Wallace Monument, we headed just out of town to visit a small Scottish village called Dunblane. Dunblane’s cathedral is a parish church whose oldest parts date from the 11th century. Just some of the claims to fame for Dunblane Cathedral include its being the final resting place for King James IV’s mistress Margaret and her sisters (all of whom were believed to be poisoned) and having choir stalls that date from the 1400s. It was a brief visit, but this is the stuff I love to see- those off-the-beaten-track places where it’s you and two other tourists just appreciating the hundreds of years of history that this place has seen.

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The 15th century choir stalls

The 15th century choir stalls

The Scottish Thistle.

The Scottish Thistle.

The lower bell tower dates from the 11th century.

The lower bell tower dates from the 11th century.

From there it was on to Doune Castle. Doune Castle is known largely for its prominent use in several movies and TV shows, including Monty Python’s Holy Grail. In fact, the audioguide here is narrated by one of the Monty Python cast members who sidebars into scenes from the movie while telling you about the history in various parts of the castle. The main forecourt of the castle was closed off while we were there because of recent filming of the television series, Outlander. The castle seems to get a lot of modern use for a building that is in ruins! Much of what stands of the current castle dates from about the 14th century, although there had been a castle on the site for over a hundred years earlier.

approaching the castle

approaching the castle

looking up at the tower from the courtyard

looking up at the tower from the courtyard

part of the kitchen where servants could pass food

part of the kitchen where servants could pass food

I strongly desire a home with a wall-to-wall fireplace.

I strongly desire a home with a wall-to-wall fireplace.

The Great Hall, complete with central hearth fire basket.

The Great Hall, complete with central hearth fire basket.

Bedroom. Looks cozy doesn't it?

Bedroom. Looks cozy doesn’t it?

Privy.

Privy.

The river that flows by the castle

The river that flows by the castle

A view from the ramparts, nothing but Scottish countryside and sparking blue skies.

A view from the ramparts, nothing but Scottish countryside and sparking blue skies.

Having completed our sightseeing for the day, we headed back into Stirling to check in to our bed and breakfast for the evening and to grab dinner. In Stirling, we stayed at Ravenswood Guesthouse, owned by the delightfully Scottish Stuart, who is crazy like the Husband and runs marathons and competes in triathlons and the like. The accommodations were fantastic and the house is warm and inviting and the rooms spacious. Breakfast the following morning was also one of my favorites as Stuart makes this thing called Fancy Porridge which is basically oatmeal with honey and nuts and dried fruits… and it may have just been the best breakfast I had on our trip. For dinner, we headed down the street to an Italian diner. Food was good, ice cream desserts were better! I didn’t even know mint sauce was a thing, but apparently it is and it’s really good when served over chocolate ice cream. For future reference! Day 14 was quite a full day of touring some pieces of Scottish history, so we had no trouble falling asleep that night once we were settled in back at the guesthouse.