Archive for August 17th, 2008

St. Andrews from above.

St. Andrews from above.

Never let weather determine what to do while traveling. Especially in Scotland.

While studying in Edinburgh I wanted to go to St. Andrews for a while yet I could never get the time or the energy to plan and make the trip north. Eventually I figured out the best way to the town (a train to Leuchars then a bus to St. Andrews). With that in mind I was going to go the next day, Saturday. When I woke up I found the familiar sound of rain falling outside my window. I had to remind myself of a piece of advice I was given at the start of my year in Scotland, “If you never do anything when it is raining, you will never do anything”. Fine then, I was going to go anywhere despite the rain.

I walked to Waverley train station, bought a ticket at the automatic machines and got on. I mistakingly picked the same day to travel as a large England vs. Scotland rugby match at Murrayfield Stadium. The streets featured a lot of kilts mixed with men in rose adorned jerseys. The train pulled up to the station, it was packed full of englishmen. So much for sitting down. But they all got out leaving a nice humid atmosphere behind. The train was now empty save myself and a few other people smart enough to get off at Haymarket instead of Waverley.

This was the first time I took the train north. On the train I could finally see the famed Forth Bridge. It is painted the same color as the Golden Gate Bridge, that is to say, red. While the train made its way north through Fife the rained picked up. When the trained pulled into my station the rain decided it would be an excellent time to fall wee bit harder. Since I was in Scotland I did have an umbrella with me. The bus station had a map depicting all of the bus lines in the area. I really could have chose any since every single one went through St. Andrews. I got on the bus with a likely looking number and about ten people getting on.

St. Andrews rolled into view, a few stops went by. Finally there was a stop on Market Street. Market Street is always a good street to be on. One thing I should mention, I had no map nor any conception of where things lay in this Scottish town. Given a choice of left or right, I went right since we came from left. With no idea where I was going I just started to wander. I found a bakery and bought a steak bake for about a pound, the rain was now a fine light drizzle, just wet enough to annoy those with glasses. Walking along I saw the most promising a wet traveler can see: Tourist Information. I was a tourist and as chance would have it I needed information. I leafed through the free brochures on the area looking for a decent map. I found one and struck out into the drizzle.

I was heading in the right direction already. I went to the castle, it was closed for lunch. I figured that the Cathedral would be as closed as the castle so slowly walked towards the pier. Along the way I stopped by a small beach, no surfers were in the water. I strolled down the path taking photos here and there, since I was taking photos a group asked me to take their photo. Something about me makes people ask me to take photos, maybe it is because they see me taking photos. Or I just look like I won’t run off with their camera.

The pier went into the gray sea. The wind blew, the rain had stopped and it was cold. I see now why beaches in California and other places are so idealized. Back down the pier I walked along the beach and only got slightly lost. Just slightly. I counted on the safety of being in a small town where I would eventually reach the edge of town. Back on the main drag I went to the cathedral.

I did not know that the St. Andrews cathedral is an ex-cathedral. It was an impressive ex-cathedral filled with green grass, tombstones and a solitary tower. I went to the now open Scottish Heritage center and got a token to go up the tower. St. Rules tower, this was a tower. Narrow spiral stone steps, slightly damp, worn down in the center. They steps slowly shrank in size, the corridor narrowed and the hand rail did not really exist at any point along the way. When I breached the top (an old wooden door) the sky had cleared. The sun was finally out displaying the entirety of St. Andrews before me through the clear scottish air. It made all the rain worth it. I appreciated being alone on top of the town as a moments rest during an otherwise busy semester at school.

Eventually I had to come down. It was still windy and cold out, but I was in Scotland. I made my way over to the castle. It was now open. I don’t know, I have seen a lot of castles during my trips in Europe and only a few really impress me. This castle did not really impress me, until I found the tunnels. The castle had been a battle involving tunnels that attempted to undermine the walls. But these defenders fought back by countermining these¬†encroaching¬†tunnels. One of the reason I love Europe is that their safety laws often only extend to put up a sign saying that it is dangerous. Down I went. Again I was alone in the silent tunnels of stone. Down I went hunched down using my hands for guidance. The tunnel eventually opened up to what I assumed was a staging room. At the end of the room was a small hole, probably only two and a half feet wide by a foot and a half across. With a ladder. This was where the two tunnels met. This narrow tunnel led to the bottom of shaft with the top featuring a small slitted covering somewhere outside the walls.

The whole thing was really neat.

Leaving the castle the rain was back. Not just any rain but Edinburgh Rain. Edinburgh Rain does not fall nicely, instead it falls horizontal to the ground rendering umbrellas moot and clothing wet. I gave up and got wet. By the time I reached the Old Course the sun was out again, with rainbows too. The Old Course looked surprisingly like a golf course. It was green, there was golfers and some hazards. I moved on.

I caught a bus back to the train station and slept on the way back to the city.

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