The Town’s Ruins

So many of our blog posts have been about places we’ve gone outside of town.  But St Andrews itself has some historic sights to see, as we’ve hinted at when we talked about St Andrew’s Day.  The town is home to both a castle and a cathedral, but unfortunately both have suffered the ravages of time and are now ruins.  We visited them as a family in late November.

Actually, we didn’t entirely visit them as a family.  Sometimes a teenager doesn’t want to spend time with the family, and that happened on this particular November day, so four out of five of us went.  You’d think that centuries-old ruins would be exiting to a modern teen, right?  Even if it was raining that day.  Right…?  It seems that teenagers living in a foreign country are, well, teenagers.

St Andrews Castle

The castle has a storied 450-year history, including playing a part in various points in the Protestant Reformation.  (You can read more on the Historic Environment Scotland website.)  The castle abuts the North Sea, and was once a pentagon, but is now mostly ruined walls.

Front wall of the ruined castle, taken from the Historic Environment Scotland website
View from the castle’s front wall, of its other (ruined) walls, North Sea in the background, Mom in far center

One of the most interesting things about the castle was what happened when it was under siege in the 16th century.  In response to the execution of Protestant preacher George Wishart, Protestants in town invaded the castle and executed the Cardinal who had killed Wishart.  They then held the castle against a siege from the Regent, who attempted to defeat its walls by digging a tunnel under them.  The rebels got word of it and dug their own countermine to meet the Regent’s troops underground and send them back the other way.  They succeeded, and both tunnels survive to this day.  If you’re willing to duck and scramble along some uneven stone footing, you can enter them today.  Like this:

Dad in the portion of the tunnel dug by the sieging troops of the Regent. Thus this part of the tunnel is large enough to stand up in. The portion dug by the rebels was hastily dug and much more cramped.
Mary Ella at the point where the two tunnels struck one another. The sudden change in height is because the tunnels weren’t made in coordination, but one to surprise the other, and thus going by guesswork and sound.

St Andrews Cathedral

There are some nice photos of the cathedral ruins in our St Andrews Day post, and a link to an online 3D reconstruction of it as well, so you can see what it might have looked like before it became a ruin.  But today it looks like the photos shown below.

The cathedral once covered all the ground from the viewer to the far wall, and had an even larger spire in the center, which has not survived
Mary Ella approaches what was once the cathedral entrance; the above photo was taken from in that entryway, facing this same direction
The far wall, up close

The cathedral has a graveyard with stones from many centuries, but its most obvious gravestone is the one for the golfer Tom Morris.  The two Tom Morrises (Junior and Senior) were big names in the history of golf.  The older was the first professional groundskeeper, and created the Old Course at St Andrews, as well as many other courses throughout Great Britain.  His son was probably the first person to make a living exclusively from playing golf his whole life, starting by betting on games when he was younger, until the sport matured enough that he could make a living from tournament prize money.  Several members of the family are buried here, and the monument over their graves was erected by donations from golfers.

Monument over the graves of the Morris family

Needless to say, St Andrews gets a lot of golf tourists for most of the year.  Not for the graveyard, but for the golf course.

Tourists for church history purposes are less common, but if you do the castle and cathedral tour, you can still get a fist bump from John Knox.

Five solas FTW

Perhaps more exciting to the typical visitor, you can climb the tower of St Rule, from which you can see most of the town.  You can take some really fun pictures from up there as well!  The blue arrow points to our house (approximately).

View south from St Rule’s tower, our house indicated
View west from St Rule’s tower, with the cathedral ruin on the right
If you want to follow:


  1. Granddaddy | | Reply

    We didn’t climb the Tower of St. Rule, so these photos have new perspectives. Someday the former teen will go back, and will cover all this ground and remember it all fondly — no doubt of it. When I read about poor Wishart and the vengeance taken on the cardinal, I thought how sad and how awful, the terrible things people did to one another, all thinking it was warranted by Christ. And how glad I am that Notre Dame in Paris has not suffered the fate of St. Andrews.

  2. Nana | | Reply

    It’s interesting that the ruins weren’t destroyed and something else built there. Here if a historic building is damaged or isn’t maintained it is often torn down. Or it’s restored, with modern additions and improvements. Except for pueblos in the south west I can’t think of any other “ruins” in the US.

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