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Efter tha’ Moorns Nicht and Afair Sunsit: Day Trips across Scotland

Scotland is perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever stepped foot in. Nothing compares to the quaint fishing villages along its eastern coast, ancient religious sites of the south, the painted forests of the west, and the impending glens and mountains of the Highlands to the north. Around every corner of its hills and lakes stand ruins of once strong fortresses, holy sites that drew thousands of pilgrims, and isolated castles in vertigo from the eroded cliff faces that threaten their foundations from falling into the sea. The country’s history is embedded in the soil and woven into the landscape.

At every opportunity I have clambered onto a train or coach and taken off to explore all that Scotland has to offer. While it takes me nearly 22 hours to drive from my home in Ohio to Rice University in Houston, I can drive across Scotland in merely 3.5 hours, making day trips quite feasible and rewarding. Of course I don’t have a car, but I purchased a youth Railcard which grants me travel by train for very cheap and I have found that I quite enjoy travel by railway.

My first destination: St. Andrews, Scotland’s oldest university and town. Visitors are usually drawn here by the world-famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club. However, what called to me was the role of St. Andrews in the history of religion; after all I have no idea what ancient golf would even look like and have no inclination to find out. Its location on a wide bay on the northeastern coast of Fife make it absolutely stunning and an automatic hit for beach-lovers and those who can afford the luxuries of a wealthy and prestigious academic town. If anything I would say St. Andrews is confident, poised and well-groomed…if a little snooty.

St. Andrews from the West Sands beach

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The photograph St. Andrews is known by, showing the Royal and Ancient Golf Club

A piece of St. Andrews oldest golf course

A part of St. Andrews University campus

What I find truly worth the exploration is not the dominance of gown over town but the way in which St. Andrews was founded. They say the custodian of St. Andrew’s bones, St. Rule or Regulus, had a vision in which an angel ordered him to carry five of the saint’s bones from Patras, Greece, to the western edge of the world. Here he was to build a city in his honor. Unfortunately, he was shipwrecked on the rocks close to the present-day harbor. Struggling ashore with his precious cargo, he proceeded to build a shrine to the saint. Today stands the ruins of what once was one of Scotland’s grandest cathedrals. At the time, St. Andrew became Scotland’s saint and the town its ecclesiastical capital.

The ancient cathedral of St. Andrews, where St. Rule landed and built a shrine

A shot through the cathedral window

However grand it may sound, St. Andrews is quite small. Containing three main streets it really was not too difficult to see in a day. My friends studying at the University of Edinburgh with me were saying how they didn’t know what students there did and that they themselves would get bored quite quickly. Nonetheless, I think the long stretches of sand on either side of the town and the quiet atmosphere of the living there would be enough to keep me quite content. I cannot say St. Andrews beats Sir Walter Scott’s “own Romantic town” of Edinburgh, but perhaps today (though I certainly do not believe it so) William and Kate’s romantic city take precedence over Scott’s.

The ruins of St. Andrews castle

East Sands beach

Wind-swept grasses covering the dunes

The West Sands, where a scene from Chariots of Fire was filmed

It seems I got carried away again. I will continue with my day adventures in the next entry. Oban, Stirling, Melrose, Roslin, Turnberry, and Aberdeenshire…you will have to wait to receive your due. Until then, or as the folk of the northwest would say farewell: “Beannachd leat.”

 

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