At the far end of St. Andrews, Scotland, just before plunging into the cold North Sea, sits the ruins of an old cathedral and castle. The cathedral site is actually the ruins of three churches, built between 1130 and 1318, that underwent a good deal of bad luck, and then, ultimately, destruction in 1559 during the Reformation of the Scottish Church. By the end of the 17th century, the cathedral was being used primarily as a quarry, providing building material for the developing town of St Andrews, and then as a cemetery, which it remains today. It is still possible to stand at one end of the cathedral and see how massive and grand this complex must have been at one time. The view from the top of St Rule’s Tower is enough to take your breath away.
Resting adjacent to the old cathedral are the remains of St. Andrews castle. One clear summer morning, my daughter, Ashleigh, and I were out for a walk when we decided to stop at St. Andrews castle for a little Scottish exploration. Although little of the original castle remains, there are some interesting, noteworthy features that are well worth a visit. The castle has a pretty gruesome past, with a dungeon prison to match. It is shaped like a bottle with a narrow, high neck, and a deep, wide bottom, ensuring a hopeless stay for prisoners, with no chance of escape.
Slowly making our way across the castle grounds, we stopped to read about the existence of a “mine” and “counter-mine.” Production of the mine, planned as an effort to stealthily break into the castle by digging an underground tunnel from the outside in, was thwarted in 1546 by a group of defenders digging from the inside out. The counter-mine eventually met the attackers, resulting in a raucous underground battle of swords (by candlelight, nonetheless), stopping the invasion in its tracks. I don’t know how long it would have taken to dig by hand through solid rock in order to ensure a stealthy attack, that obviously failed, but you’ve got to give someone credit for the creativity involved there. And because there are several “false start” counter-mines, you can imagine that planning where to meet the attackers took quite a bit of skill and patience. I think I would have been tempted to run around to the other side before it was all over and just let them know that no one was going to break into my castle. But that’s me.
After discussing all this with my three-year-old, we decided the mines were a must-see. There is a small set of stairs on the southeast side of the castle grounds that leads to the counter-mine entrance. Ashleigh and I made our way down the stairs and into the tunnel. It was much smaller and darker than I had anticipated, and she quickly decided she was having nothing to do with that. Being that she is rather fearless in most endeavors, this really surprised me, but Ashleigh agreed that she would give it another try if we came back armed with Dad and a flashlight. Three hours later, we successfully emerged from the counter-mine with a smiling little girl, and a dead flashlight.
St. Andrews, Scotland is a fantastic place to spend the summer months. It is very family friendly with no lack of activities, sites, and local hikes. History, mystery, and adventure abound at every corner, and it is an easy drive from Edinburgh. Check it out.
General Tourism Information:
What to See and Do:
St. Andrews castle http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/standrews/standrewscastle/index.html
How to Get there:
Easy Jet makes connections to Edinburgh from almost anywhere in Europe.
From the US, fly to London (Gatwick), then connect on Easy Jet.
For Amazing views: St Andrews Golf Hotel http://www.standrews-golf.co.uk/
Or rent a piece of home instead: http://www.saint-andrews.co.uk/Business/a_self.htm
After several years of nearly perpetual travel, the author now lives in North Carolina with her husband and their two children. Growing up, she traveled extensively around the United States, but it wasn’t until college that the author began to travel internationally. She met her husband in graduate school and, after discovering a shared love of life on the road, they embarked on the first of many amazing adventures together. The author has a PhD in Oceanography, and spent ten years working in environmental microbiology research. She quit her job in 2007 to travel around the world with her husband and 3 year old daughter. During that time the author began documenting the details of such extensive travel with a small child. Today she is an advocate for encouraging families to get out and see the world together. The author is currently planning a new adventure for her family where she is looking forward to including her sweet little boy in all the fun.