Category Archives: Scotland travel
St. Andrews is a great place to stay as a base for visiting nearby sites. Families can spend a leisurely day at the beach followed by ice cream at Janetta’s on South Street in view of the ancient Cathedral, and take a more ambitious excursion the following day. Where to go?
The closest city is Dundee. It’s less than a 30 minute drive by car or bus. The bus isn’t a bad option; they leave about every half an hour from St. Andrews bus station (and other places), and take you into Dundee City Center. This option also means no parking fees or finding a place to park. There you can shop (all major stores available in pedestrian settings), or visit any number of historic sites. After visiting the Dundee’s Visitor web site, I am amazed by all the attractions in the area — specifically Angus, the county in which Dundee sits.
One of the major attractions are the ships: the 175 year-old Frigate Unicorn, Scotland’s only example of a wooden warship; the RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, the ship taken to the Antarctic by Captain Scot from 1901-1904. A ‘Heroes of the Ice” museum tells the story at Discovery Point and includes state-of-the-art audio-visual and computer based multimedia presentations, alongside displays of actual artefacts that belonged to Scott and the brave crew who sailed with him.
Further afield (about an hour’s drive) there’s Glamis Castle, the girlhood home of the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth’s mom. It’s over 500 years old in places, and is still the home of the current Earl of Strathmore, Michael Fergus, and his family. Its setting in the rural county of Angus, about 20 miles north of Dundee, is both scenic and serene. The grounds of the castle are gorgeous with both formal and natural gardens, walks, and picnicing areas. (Food is available to purchase, too.) The House itself is impressive and quirky, both in architecture and stories; it is one of my personal favorites.
Even being familiar with the area, I was surprised by the number of things to see and places to go in Angus. Stately homes, well-maintained ruins, ships, pedestrian areas and parks, and golf courses. And in case of emergencies, one of the best hospitals in Scotland. One of the places I’d like to visit is the fairly recently renovated Verdant Works, a 19th century jute mill. “Work in the Dundee jute mills of the 19th century offered little but drudgery, exhaustion, low wages and constant danger. Most of the workers were women and children (they cost less to employ) and employment law was virtually non-existent.” With a booming shipping industry in a large empire, jute was in demand, and an important source of employment in Dundee. The modern Verdant Works includes a wide range of displays including film shows, multimedia computers and hands-on activities. It sounds like a great day out for all the family.
The Edinburgh Tattoo takes place in the forecourt or “esplanade” of the Castle. This is a totally Scottish event, displaying the best of Scottish music and dancing. It’s takes place annually in August. Performances of the Military tattoos are by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth International military bands, and display teams — and fireworks!
The word “Tattoo,” is derived from “Doe den tap toe”, or just “tap toe” (“toe” is pronounced “too”), the Dutch for “last orders”. Translated literally, it means: “close the (beer) tap”. The term “Tap-toe” was first encountered by the British Army when stationed in Flanders. The British adopted the practice and it became a signal, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums or Pipes and Drums each night to tavern owners to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their lodgings at a reasonable hour.
In fact, August is a pretty busy month in the Scottish capital because concurrent festivals takes place. The International Festival brings the very best in classical music, theatre, opera, dance and visual art from across the globe to Edinburgh for three exhilarating weeks. Then there’s the Fringe Festival, the world’s largest arts festival with over 40,000 performances and more than 2,500 shows packed into 250 venues across the city. It’s a blast, with musicians playing in the streets, mimes, magicians — a little bit of everything with a good deal of talent. Then there’s the Art Festival when the city’s galleries, museums and visual art spaces present the best in modern and contemporary visual arts world for the whole month of August.
Nature lovers who also enjoy walking might well enjoy the taking on a stretch of the 117 mile Fife Coastal Path. St. Andrews to Elie is a pleasant walk and one can make stops along the way. Another coastal attraction is the daily excursion by boat from Anstruther to the Isle of May. It leaves tourists on the island for about six hours so they can explore the unusual flora and fauna, including the famed puffins, before returning. This might be a good time to take in the fish and chips at The Anstruther Fish Bar, reputedly the best spots for fish and chips in Fife.
Perhaps more quaint is Crail. The harbor is old, but still busy, used mostly by fishermen. The walk leading to the harbor begins at one end of the town and follows a walkway which winds ‘round the edge of town, looking over the rocky coast, and sheltered on the other side by retaining walls or backs of houses that must enjoy splendid views of the ever-changing seascape. The winding lanes of the village could be from a different century; little has changed in this fishing village, but thankfully much has been preserved.
In nearby Elie, the Watersports Centre offers all kinds of opportunities to test the waters. Since the North Sea is pretty chilly (cold in fact), wetsuits are advisable for many of the activities, and available to rent. Then the adventurous can try sailing, canoeing, pedal-boating, or para-sailing.
Horseback riding is a popular sport in the area. One neat idea I came across is a two-hour Pub Ride offered by the Barbarafield Riding School on a farm near Cupar, Fife. They have lots of other activities too, and lessons. Another facility is a bit further afield, also in the countryside: The Scottish Equestrian Centre.
While out in the countryside, a little clay shooting can be fun for some: The Scottish Clay Shooting Centre is the closest to St. Andrews. A more family oriented activity center where shooting is just one of the items on the menu is Cluny Clays. This facility about a half hour from St. Andrews offer activities for all age levels and interests aside from shooting. They even have an extensive indoors play area for children.