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

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Days 12- 13: Hello, Scotland

And so on Monday morning, we were up early to hit the road for our drive up north. We decided to stop along the way at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, built in the second century as a guard-space for Roman forces and territories, shielding them from attacks from more northern barbarians. It was a very cool and windy day, but I wish we had had even more time to enjoy the fort and see more of the sites along the wall. Again, on that upcoming backpacking trip (HA!) we’ll be hiking the wall to see some of the sites. Caution for those who visit, it is a long and uphill walk from the parking lot to the actual fort ruins, but it is well worth it to see the foundations of the buildings that remain and to see the views that stretch out over the valley. It’s easy to see why this area was chosen as a defensive spot, but it’s also beautiful to take in as well.

approaching the fort and wall

the view from the fort

walking the ruins of the fort

walking the ruins of the fort

part of the latrine area

part of the latrine area

part of the wall

part of the wall

After realizing that we needed to be on our way if we still intended to visit a couple of border abbeys before finding our Edinburgh hotel, we snapped off a few more pics and made our way back to the visitor center for a quick bite to eat before we headed out. It seemed to take forever before we finally crossed the border into Scotland, marked most unceremoniously by a small “Welcome to Scotland” billboard. But not far past the border, we found our first Scottish stop- the ruins of Jedburgh Abbey.

Jedburgh Abbey was founded by Augustinian monks in the 12th century. The abbey was continuously patronized by various Scottish kings over the years, but as it was in close proximity to England, it was also often the target for attacks from the English and faced destruction many times. By the late 16th century, it had seen it’s better days and was beyond repair. Eventually, the remaining monks were left with a shell of what the abbey had once been. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the abbey and cloister complex. Again, the Brits and their audioguides did not let me down. This was also the first place we made use of the Scottish Explorer Pass which I recommend to anyone who may be spending more than a couple of days in Scotland. For a small fee, you can purchase the pass and gain free entry into a bunch of sites all around the country. It was a solid plan of savings for us. There is a corresponding English Pass, but that one wasn’t as useful for our purposes, so we didn’t purchase that one.

 

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

looking down the roofless nave

looking down the roofless nave

the remains of a 12th century tomb

the remains of a 12th century tomb

remains from a private chapel, tombs

remains from a private chapel, tombs

taken from the second story landing

taken from the second story landing

Back on the road, we headed to Melrose Abbey, another ruined border abbey not far from Jedburgh. Melrose was a Cistercian church and cloister that was also founded in the 12th century. Several early Scottish kings were buried at Melrose and the heart of Robert the Bruce (you guys have all watched Braveheart, right?) is also entombed in what used to be the Chapter House by the abbey. The abbey has a ton of interesting carvings on the tombstones in the graveyard by the church as well as on the church itself in sculptures and gargoyles. Of course, my most favorite depiction is one of Melrose’s most popular, a bagpipe playing pig gargoyle. And yes I did purchase a magnet with Wilber’s likeness on it to bring home. Thankfully, the lady running the shop did let me buy it since we were there until closing and they had started to close up the register a few minutes early. Craziness! Don’t people know I need to spend money on pigs?!  I did think that Melrose was slightly more interesting than Jedburgh. It was a larger church and had a lot to view. You could also climb one of the remaining towers and get some great views of the immediate area. I love climbing ruins!

approaching the nave entrance to the abbey

approaching the nave entrance to the abbey

a bagpipe playing pig

a bagpipe playing pig

walking down the nave

walking down the nave

the high altar

the high altar

a small chapel off of the altar

a small chapel off of the altar

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part of the transept; that door that is halfway up the wall once led to the monks’ living quarters and against the wall where there is a change in stone and color is where the stairs that led to that door once stood

looking down on the graveyard from the tower

looking down on the graveyard from the tower

transept entrance

transept entrance

the heart of King Robert the Bruce

the heart of King Robert the Bruce

So, once we had been kicked out of Melrose Abbey, we continued on our merry way to Edinburgh, where we would be spending the night. Edinburgh is delightfully divided between the Old Town (the medieval part) where most of the touristy attractions are and the New Town (the Georgian era part) where most of the beds and breakfasts are. It took us a bit to find out B&B for the evening because there were no signs or markings of any kind on the street or doorway. We were hesitant in our knocking, fearing we would accidentally intrude on some poor Scottish man with nothing on but his kilt, but fortunately we found the right door and were greeted warmly by the daughter of the benefactors of 14 Hart Street. She showed us to our lovely and very spacious room on the ground level and kindly provided us with several recommendations for dinner that evening. We ended up choosing one of her selections, a small bistro just around the corner and had an excellent meal.

The following morning we were up early to have breakfast and venture out towards the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare for tourists. We started our morning (after a venturesome hike) at Edinburgh Castle, home to Scottish kings during the Middle Ages, and home to military regiments from the 17th century on. I will admit to not absolutely loving Edinburgh Castle. It was incredibly crowded and not much of the oldest parts of the castle remain. It now relies heavily on its military history which isn’t really my thing. You can, however, visit the Scottish crown jewels, so there’s that.  Oh, and you can visit the room where Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to King James. Also fun!

overlooking the city of Edinburgh from high upon Castle Rock

overlooking the city of Edinburgh from high upon Castle Rock

behind the main gain, looking up towards the inner areas of the castle buildings

behind the main gain, looking up towards the inner areas of the castle buildings

There were a LOT of cannons.

There were a LOT of cannons.

One of the restored fireplaces inside the royal apartments.

One of the restored fireplaces inside the royal apartments.

from one of the inner courtyards

from one of the inner courtyards

After visiting the castle gift shop where I picked a lovely set of Scottish teas (Scottish breakfast tea, Thistle tea, Heather tea, Whiskey Flavored tea…), we ventured down the Royal Mile stopping in a couple of kitsch souvenir shops and making our way towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Her Majesty QEII when she’s in Scotland. Holyroodhouse has been home to monarchs for over 500 years and still houses them from time to time today. We opted out of the tours of the Queen’s art gallery and gardens and instead choose to visit just the palace itself along with the ruins of the abbey on site. Unfortunately they do not allow photos inside of Holyroodhouse, so you’ll simply have to take my word for it that the rooms and apartments are every bit as sumptuous as one would expect in a modern royal palace.

The remains of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey

The remains of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey

part of the abbey

part of the abbey

interior of the abbey... you wouldn't believe how many other tourists were striking sexy poses over the ruins of tombs while we were out there...

interior of the abbey… you wouldn’t believe how many other tourists were striking sexy poses over the ruins of tombs while we were out there…

The abbey predates the palace and ended up being incorporated into the building

The abbey predates the palace and ended up being incorporated into the building

the forecourt of the palace

the forecourt of the palace

more forecourt

more forecourt

On our way back down the Royal Mile, we stopped in some famous whiskey shop that is known for its personalized recommendations based on customer preferences. Of course, the Husband insisted on having a special bottle picked out for him. That done we found a nice Italian restaurant for lunch where we could dine on American Champagne (ie Coke) and people watch the colorful characters out and about. After lunch, we took a tour of the Real Mary King’s Close which basically takes you underground the streets of Edinburgh to the remains of the medieval city that was later built upon. It’s a highly interesting tour which takes you through various living and business spaces where ordinary Scots lived and worked centuries before. This was probably my favorite activity for the day. After a brief respite that evening, we then ventured back out for a ghost tour of Edinburgh by night. Our guide was absolutely fantastic, theatrical and humorous. And the Husband even earned special honors of bringing up the rear of the group wherever we went to ensure that all souls made it through. (He was the tallest living being on the tour afterall.) Having spent time in the underground (haunted) vaults within the city, the Husband and I grabbed some quick take out (after a small hangry episode on the way back to the hotel) and headed back to 14 Hart to rest up before heading out for Stirling the following morning.