Why I Love Scotland and the Kingdom of Fife

Scotland and the Kingdom of Fife

Scotland and the Kingdom of Fife

Why I Love Scotland and the Kingdom of Fife

By Ethel DeMarr

Just north of Edinburgh, south of Dundee and nestled between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Tay, lies an idyllic corner of Scotland that has become one of my favorite places among the parts of the world I have seen. Admittedly, being a golfer helps, but there is so much more to love about the area and about Scotland in general. I have listed a few reasons, not in any meaningful order.

HISTORY
For history lovers, Scotland is a wonderland. From the neolithic dwellings in the Orkneys, to Edinburgh Castle and right up to the modern Scottish Parliament building, Scotland reveals a history of conflict and tragedy, heroes and great minds. For the curious, amazing stories abound. I love standing on a wind swept brae and imagining being there 1000 years ago. The experience transcends mortality.

My favorite major city in Fife is St. Andrews, known to most as “the home of golf” and a mecca for golfers world wide. Or if you are a Royalist, you will know that Wills and Kate went to St. Andrews University. However, St. Andrews’ significance goes back long before this current batch of royals and long before the Scots invented games with sticks and balls.

The patron saint of Scotland is St. Andrew who was crucified on a cross which resembled an X. You might have noticed the blue Scottish flag has this X on it. So in the mid 8th century CE, when St. Andrew’s bones were brought to a monastery there, this place became a major destination for pilgrims wanting to be near his remains. Thousands travelled here for four hundred years, until the Reformation. Some might say that is no stranger than golfers traveling all this way to play the game’s hallowed grounds. Pilgrims of all sorts have been coming to St. Andrews for a very long time.

This area became so important that a huge cathedral was constructed and opened in 1140 CE by none other than Robert the Bruce. About the same time, the clergy founded the University, making it the third oldest university in the English speaking world. Sadly, the cathedral did not survive the Reformation but its remains are stunning landmarks of the medieval city.

The area known as the “links”, now the Old Course, was first recognized as belonging to the citizens of the town in 1123! By 1552 the local authorities confirmed citizens’ right to play golf on these links. We know that golf had been played in the 1400s. The golf courses in St. Andrews still belong to the city. On Sundays the Old Course is closed and anyone can wonder all over.

I love thinking about the centuries of students and golfers who have wandered the streets and pubs of this city. The ancient buildings and the lovely old stone walls remind me of the cycle of life and the generations who have lived and loved in these places and the generations who will in the future. Somehow, just knowing you are part of this on going cycle is comforting.

Fresh Fish and Seafood is Abundant in Fife, Scotland

Fresh Fish and Seafood is Abundant in Fife, Scotland

FOOD
OK, so you are thinking that mentioning food and Scotland in one breath is somehow wrong. But let me assure you there is much to love here! Fresh seafood is just the beginning. And, in St. Andrews, one can find top end seafood options bearing no resemblance to the classic “fish and chips”. Try The Peat Inn, The Seafood Restaurant, the Grange Inn or the Adamson for an above average meal.

Fresh truly describes the food in Fife. Head over to Andross Farm Shop for gorgeous local produce, dairy and meats. Or drive to one of the many fish mongers in St. Monans for fresh catch of the day. Just north of Pittenweem, visit the St. Andrews Farm Cheese Shop for award winning local cheeses. In just those three stops, you have the makings of a world class meal. Add one more stop in Pittenweem at the Cocoa Tree for handmade chocolates. What more could you want!

The holy grail of Scottish food for me is sticky toffee pudding. A moment of silence please…

This is the most decadent, moist, sweet cake-like morsel one can imagine. Serve it warm with ice cream (like salted caramel) and it is orgasmic. I pass right over the chocolate options if this is on the menu. If that does not say it all, I cannot offer further explanation.

 

Scottish Whisky

Scottish Whisky

WHISKY
No, I have not misspelled this. This is the way it is spelled in the United Kingdom. No matter the spelling, there is nothing finer on a cool evening than a “wee dram” of Scottish single malt whisky. Each section of Scotland produces it own special type of malt whisky and at Luvians in St. Andrews, the options are seemingly endless. I am always learning about new whiskies and flavors, a pursuit which requires research and long hours. A true commitment to knowledge. Hard work, indeed.

One can devote many days to traveling the Whisky Road and sampling the various offerings. You will learn how the local countryside impacts the taste of the whiskies and how distinct the flavors are from place to place.

 

Men in Kilts

Men in Kilts

KILTS
Short and sweet: Some men are hot in kilts.

 

Fife Coastal Path near St. Andres

Fife Coastal Path near St. Andres

THE FIFE COASTAL PATH
Put on your hiking boots and head out from almost anywhere along the Fife coast and you will find the Fife Coastal Path. This well marked trail hugs the coast line for 117 miles from the Forth Bridge in the south to the Tay Bridge in the north. There are a variety of hiking experiences along the way: urban, rural, steep or flat. I especially enjoy walking between the quaint seaside villages of the East Neuk of Fife: Elie, St. Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail. It is fun to wander through these little villages with their cute cottages, colorful gardens, old fishing harbors and friendly residents.

My favorite hike is from St. Monans to Anstruther for lunch. There are many choices for lunch there, including one of the best fish and chips places in Scotland. I prefer the Dreel Tavern, a centuries old pub steeped in history and old world charm. And the food is good. The path along this part of the trail is relatively flat and on a nice day, one can enjoy great views of the Isle of May and Bass Rock in North Berwick.

One summer we hiked most of the path in just over three months. We spent many days hiking this magnificent coast and exploring its many attractions. The rolling hills of Fife show a variety of colors depending on the time of year; sometimes yellow, sometimes green and often highlighted with red poppies along the fence lines. It is difficult to describe the peaceful feeling that comes from looking out across these ancient hills and out to sea.

 

Golf Dog - Starter on Hole 1

Golf Dog – Starter on Hole 1

THE SCOTS LOVE THEIR DOGS
Dogs are everywhere here. Seems that Scots are always walking their dogs. Dogs are welcome in many pubs and restaurants and on many golf courses. One man we met said “no real Scotsman would be without a dog!” He also treated us to several pictures of his dog, including one of his dog drinking from the bathroom sink. Well, that is a bit much, but you get the idea. One golf course bar featured a sign that read: Dogs welcome; women not.

Unlike Americans, Scots do not bob the tails of their Cocker Spaniels. No childhood trauma for these pups! If I have a second life, being a dog in Scotland would not be a bad gig.

 

Scottish Golf

Scottish Golf

GOLF
And finally, there is golf! Golf in Fife is not just St. Andrews. Although there are seven courses affiliated with St. Andrews, there are at least a dozen good courses within a half an hour of St. Andrews. Many are over one hundred years old and were designed by Old Tom Morris or James Braid. Bookings for tee times are generally not a problem on these other courses and prices are more reasonable than at the St. Andrews courses. For example, just a few miles from St. Andrews, is Crail Golfing Society, founded in 1786 and the 7th oldest golf club in the world. This golf club has two 18 hole courses situated on the picturesque tip of the Fife peninsula.

There are also more modern courses designed by contemporaries such as Sam Torrance and David McLay Kidd. These offer challenging layouts in dramatic settings along the Fife coast.

There is something for everyone – historical links, trendy modern designs and a wide variety of price points.

Unlike in the US, golf clubs in Scotland are open to visitors. Members may have some restricted tee times, but visitors are generally warmly welcomed for golf and into the clubhouse. Also unlike many US golf clubs, the Scottish clubs (with few exceptions) are not solely inhabited by the upper crust. Membership in most Scottish clubs represents a true cross section of the local community. Shop keeps, teachers and tradesmen rub shoulders with the lawyers, doctors and executives.

Ethel and Terry DeMarr at St. Andrews Old Course

Ethel and Terry DeMarr at St. Andrews Old Course

(Sadly, like the US, golf clubs in Scotland also are generally male dominated. I was even escorted to the back door at Troon Royal Golf Club years ago since women could not use the front door (nor could women play there at that time). Women are restricted to certain days and times at clubs. These restrictions generally do not recognize working women. I have heard the conversations in the ladies changing rooms and I expect this will change one of these days.)

 

Read More of Ethel’s Travel Articles:

Notes from Cornwall: National Trails and National Trust.

Notes from Cornwall: Food and Random Thoughts.

Notes from Africa: Visiting an Elephant Orphanage.

 

 

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