It was sunny again this morning as we packed jeans and running shoes still damp from last night’s downpour into a carry-on bag and boarded the bus for our next destination.
We left the winding cobbled streets of Edinburgh for the Scottish Highlands, driving across the Queens Ferry Crossing bridge spanning the River Forth, and into the “kingdom” of Fife, through Craigleith where so much of the cream sandstone used to build the nearby cities was quarried. The landscape soon became far less populated, since 4/5 of Scotland’s 5 million people live in the central belt from Glasgow to Edinburgh. En route, Colin provided us with facts about the major cities we passed: Dunfermlie, the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie and location of Queen Margaret of Scotland’s abbey; Auchtermunty, home of the singing duo The Proclaimers; and the market centre of Cupar, where the unicorn on it’s market pole (as opposed to a lion) denoted that the town was authorized to trade beyond its own borders. The county of Fife is largely agricultural, growing barley, wheat, oats, soft fruits (berries), and vegetables. The fertile soil is a big reason why Scotland could be self-sufficient.
Our first stopping point was the mediaeval town of St. Andrews, on the North Sea. The beach here beside the golf club is the one that was featured in the movie “Chariots of Fire”
Neither Ted nor I are golfers, which is just as well since our tour, guided by local resident and St. Andrews University graduate Ken, focussed more on the religious history of the town. We walked in a strong North Sea wind from the Ancient golf course into town to the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral, which once held a few bones from St. Andrew, who was martyred by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross (hence the X on Scotland’s flag). While we toured the ruins, a piper on the street above us was playing “Highland Cathedral”! We’ve seen churches older than St. Andrews in great condition in other cities. This church is in ruins not because of a disaster, but because it was so shoddily built – for show instead of durability, while the Cardinals and Bishops built their own grand palaces with church funds. Once the relics were taken from the church, attendance – and donations – quickly stopped and there was no money to make the constantly needed repairs, so the building crumbled. Stones from the ruins, many marked with a symbol indicating they had been consecrated, later turned up in buildings all over town. Ken called St. Andrews Cathedral the world’s first building supply store !!
We stopped briefly at the remains of St. Andrews Castle, the “home” in which the cruel and intolerant Cardinal Beaton lived while he was Archbishop of St Andrews.
Below the castle, on the strand, is a large rectangular excavation reaching into the North Sea, with a dark rock bottom: an early public “swimming pool” that has its water refreshed twice daily by the tides, and is warmed by the sun hitting the dark rock.
From the castle ruins it was just steps to St. Andrews University, founded by papal bull in 1413, making it the third oldest university in the English-speaking world, after Oxford and Cambridge. The grounds and buildings are spectacular.
Outside one of the university’s gates, Ken showed us the cobblestone initials of a student who was burned for heresy. That commemoration method was used for many of the church’s victims.
Between the church’s purge of reformers and burning of witches by overzealous churchmen, there were more people killed in St. Andrews than in most other places. The St. Andrews Martyrs Monument commemorates Protestants who were martyred in St. Andrews during 1520-1560. Legend has it that the land on which the memorial stands was originally 4 holes of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s 22-hole golf course, reducing the course to 18 holes, which is the model for all modern golf courses.
Leaving St. Andrews we continued north across River Tay past the newly revived Dundee waterfront boasting a Victoria & Albert Museum and the docked Antarctic explorer ship Discovery, and on through Perth and a quick pitstop in Pitochry, the seat of Lord Atholl and nearest town to Balmoral Castle. Pitochry is a picturesque Victorian-style town with more of the ubiquitous coal chimneys, although, being far less densely built up than Edinburgh, the stones have not become as smoke-blackened.
Our drive continued through The Highlands, which are a mix of meadows suitable for grazing sheep and cows, heather covered slopes (the short purple bloom season is nearly over), rocky hillsides and the 284 mountains over 3000 feet, collectively called “The Monros”. Hikers can explore the magnificent landscape freely, since Scotland has no laws against trespassing; just remember to stay away from the domestic animals and close gates behind you. We also crossed the River Spey, which feeds water to more than 60 whiskey distilleries.
Late afternoon we reached our destination for the evening: Inverness, the capital of the highlands region. We’re not exploring the town – just staying for dinner and overnight, but what a great view we have of the castle just across the River Ness.
We ended our evening with a story-teller in his plaid, regaling us with the story of the battle in the Culloden fields, which we will visit tomorrow on our way even further north.