It’s November. I’m in Scotland. And I’m wearing a t-shirt. Who would have thought that St Andrews, Scotland’s finest coastal town, could be so balmy at the end of autumn? Is it just showing off its reputation as Scotland’s sunniest spot. Where’s the bracing sea air? An hour east of Edinburgh, it is immediately obvious that it has much to offer visitors: a historical gem, a seat of learning and culture (the third oldest English speaking university in the world and continuously ranked in the UK’s top three, even before William and Kate chose it as their home of learning), and magnificent coastal resort renowned as the world’s home of golf. Some pedigree.
It was the monks who first transformed this small medieval town, renaming it St Andrews after the Christian apostle whose relics were brought here, and it soon attracted pilgrims, academics, merchants and even armies.
Its great Cathedral (now ruins), constructed in 1160, remained the largest building in Scotland for over 700 years and established the city at the helm of Scotland’s ecclesiastical life. Little surprise that St Andrew also became the country’s patron saint.
It’s cobbled medieval grid of stone and pastel coloured streets – South Street, Market Street, North Street and Swallowgait (The Scores), along with strategically located ‘ports’(gates) remain largely unchanged since the 19th Century when the town became a holiday destination thanks to the new railway. And then there’s the beaches.
Beaches and nature
St Andrews has two great beaches: East Sands just below the cathedral ruins and the magnificent West Sands, where the famous opening sequence of Chariots of Fire was filmed. I can hear Vangelis ringing in my ears just thinking about it. We saw ponies wandering, unleashed, behind their owner – a happier or more relaxed scene is hard to imagine. To the south of town the Fife Coastal Path is a haven for birdlife, wending its way above cliffs and beaches. To the north, lies the Eden Estuary – the third-oldest nature reserve in the country, and a few miles further the Tentsmuir Forest frequented by seals, porpoises and dolphins.
The home of Golf
St. Andrews is the undisputed home of golf, and ‘Everyone here plays golf,’ according to the Fairmont Hotel shuttle bus driver who took us from course to course. Golf has been associated with St Andrews for hundreds of years and the first records date back as far as 1552 in a charter stating that its townspeople had the right to play on the Links (along with rabbit breeding and cattle grazing).
In 1754, 22 ‘noblemen and gentlemen of the Kingdom of Fife’formed the Society of St Andrews Golfers, later becoming the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Its status and prestige is unmatched and it is recognised as the sport’s ruling body throughout the world. Despite its high profile, the R&A does not own any golf courses and the Links courses are open to everyone– a dream come true for many visitors.
The academy at the Links course has more high tech gizmosthan NASA, which makes for easy coaching with immediate identification of what you’re doing wrong. My instructor corrected my hold on my number 7 golf iron, and with some instant playback video training retrained me to keep my head still while moving my body and not my hand position (with an important 2.5 knuckles on each hand). Immediate results followed with great satisfaction.
King of the Castle
Like its North American cousins, The Fairmont St Andrews proves to be something of a fortress – built to last these easterly winds that bombard the shoreline with relentless repetition. Many a ship has been lost along this wild and windy coast but you find yourself well protected after darting into the cavernous hallway to the warmth of a glowing fire.
Just two miles from St Andrews, The Fairmont Hotel’s 209 rooms have enviable views across the peninsula towards the historic town. It boasts two beautiful championship golf courses: The Torrance and The Kittocks, which wind their way around the 520 acre estate. Re-opened in 2009 after an extensive refurbishment and host to the 2010 Scottish Seniors Open, the Torrence course offers a great test for golfers with its deep riveted bunkers and links design. The Kittocks’ dramatic views and undulating terrain can be played from four sets of tees – ideal for players of all abilities.
For non-golfers the spa has a tempting selection of locally themed treatments using a combination of Aromatherapy Associates and PureLochside products. All its restaurants are top notch including the Italian eatery La Cucina and The Clubhouse, which serves really fresh steak and local seafood.
Take advantage of the Spring offer – from £159.00 per room per night with a third night free for stays until April 30th, 2015