No travel writer wants to pass up the chance to travel and write, and so it is that I type this left-handed (my choice; not HomeAway’s!), having become too acquainted with my local hospital last week. But don’t worry – this isn’t about the touristic qualities of the NHS; there are none. Could I have chosen a better place to visit with a poorly paw than St Andrews? I think not. Being at home for the holidays has never been better. I live in Dundee myself, but my ever-developing city is just a 30-minute ride to the tourist great of St Andrews: the town that gave the world golf, but also plays host to one of our most prestigious and historic universities, where Prince William himself earned a Scottish Master of Arts degree. Yet what emerged while I was there, and a little to my relief, is a town with much more to it than sport, study and royal celeb status. Its social history and sense of community is warming – you can trust that coming from a bandaged-up lady with doors to be held open for her.
First on my must-see list was the St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum and Garden, an unassuming little house that holds a whole lot of history, and a stunning green space to its rear. It doesn’t cover the years of golf or stories of past university students, but the tale of St Andrews’ people, fisherfolk who inhabited this area over 100 years ago. Found at the Cathedral end of the town on North Street, its exterior belies what’s inside.
Bottles of old curry powder and sweets from the grocer’s; a green-bottle lined chemist’s shop; a 200-year-old dentistry bench showcasing the gruesome tools of old: it’s full of knick-knacks! I was lucky enough to enjoy a sneak preview before its official opening day, but it’s clear to see that while you learn about the local area, little ones will be kept busy whether colouring, crafting or trying their luck at mangling wet laundry (good luck getting them to do that at home…). A great bet for a rainy day, you might think – but wait till you see the garden.
As I stepped out on that sunny May afternoon, I was shocked to find this pocket of pretty flowers, bird song and… an outside privy? Yep – while I avoided having my photo taken on the strangely double-seated loo, I’m sure some of you won’t (feel free to send your snaps to our social media manager…!). Alongside the mosaics, immaculate lawn and trees, I also spotted the most enormous poppy. It seemed a fitting tribute to the latest temporary exhibition upstairs: the Great War, of which 2014 is, of course, its centenary. Floor-to-ceiling filled with the photos, letters and even embroidery of the time, it’s open until the end of September, and is sure to do St Andrews proud.
On to my next stop, and I was just steps from St Andrews Cathedral, possibly the town’s most iconic sight due in no small part to its size. Alongside the Castle and Botanic Gardens, this is one of best spots to simply sit out in the sunshine and relax with the family. There’s no entry fee for the Cathedral grounds, and – when it’s not too drizzly – there are people lying around having a chat. This is no hallowed graveyard – paradoxically, it’s full of life and laughter.
Climb to the top of the tower for an incredible view of the town, or – like me – take a five-minute walk to the castle. From there, it’s just a few stony stairs down to the coast. No time for sandy toes though – I was off for a beer. Yes, when all’s said and done we’re British, which means we grab the opportunity for something to sip on when the sun comes out.
In my case, I was off to Eden Brewery – handily just a few miles outside of St Andrews in Guardbridge, and open for hourly tasting tours every day. I knew the building before I realised its contents; this was the old paper mill, closed in 2008. Currently undergoing expansion (whisky and gin are next on the cards), I soon learned it had been a distillery, and a brewery, before this incarnation. On a break away in the area? Just grab yourself a glass.
Inside the brewery itself, it’s a typically brewery-like affair. Expect lots of barrels and bottles, gadgets and gizmos, many of which you won’t understand but all of which can be explained by the awesome staff! Hard at work when we walked in, you could instantly see that these guys are part of an important local trade, a team who care about their beer, but also about its back story and its impact on the future. The place is surrounded by photos of the staff who worked here all those years ago, but also of the pigs who eat the spent grain today. Following in the footsteps of St Andrews University, looking to be the first carbon-neutral university in the UK, by the time Eden Brewery make whiskies, they will: 1. use barrels (by making whisky in them); 2. recycle barrels (by making beer in them); and 3. recycle barrels (by making them into amazingly-cool-things-I-want-to-own!). Case in point: the glass holder for our tasting – and what a tasting it was. Bitter to balmy; sweet to smooth; chocolate and coffee to pineapple and coconut: I did not know you could get this much variety from water, hops, yeast and malt – oh! And a whole lotta love.
My personal favourite was the Seggie Porter, a dark and moody drink based on a 17th-century recipe – and named in honour after the initial site, the Seggie Brewer’s. I’m drinking one right now! As for you, simply bag one on your tour, or keep a look-out in the pubs and specialist shops. Of course, you can’t drink on an empty stomach; for that, you’ll want to make for The Doll’s House Restaurant, set in Church Square. Oh the joys of al fresco dining in Scotland. It’s almost bizarre, but we were lucky enough to experience it. And to be met with a menu and setting like The Doll’s House seemed I was being positively spoiled. With a fair selection of choices on the early evening menu (less is always more when it comes to menus), it was very well priced at just £11.95 a head. Preceded by a glass of what can only be described as a Chardonnay for every occasion (though this said by a woman who polished off her neighbour’s beer at the Eden Brewery tasting…), my grilled sea bass with grapefruit salad and dill oil was impeccable.
It was supposed to be followed by Brechin-reared Scottish beef and pomme purée – but only I could forget that cutting steak with one hand ain’t easy. Thus it was my boyfriend gobbled that bit down, and I enjoyed Orkney salmon, curried mussels, artichoke and potato cake, with a red pepper coulis. It was as scrumptious as it sounds – and then some. Safe to say I was pretty pleased with my poorly hand! Although the pudding board looked delicious and another glass of wine could have called, I had to end the day in the only way it seemed sensible: Jannetta’s.
Now, this isn’t a local thing. Jannetta’s Gelateria is possibly one of the UK’s most famous ice-cream shops – and it shows: in the selection on offer (over 100 kinds!) the quality of the ice cream, the customers who’re always there and a history stretching back over a century. This is gelato at its best, whether you’re a straightforward strawberry sort of guy, or an experimental ice-cream eater like me; white chocolate, pistachio and rose wasn’t going to waste. If you’re in for the Scottish count, Irn Bru might appeal… With history under my belt, beer and sea bass on the brain, and lickable ice-cream lips, I headed back across the Tay Bridge. To say I’m chuffed with my local attractions is an understatement – St Andrews is a lovely little town offering holiday activities ready-made. And to think: I was only there for a day, and there were dozens of things I didn’t do. Support local attractions next time you’re on holiday; you can check out a chain any time – and having a holiday home allows you the freedom to live like a local.