Wednesday 4 December 2019

Fife Pilgrim Way Part 5 - Ceres to St Andrews

Fife Pilgrim Way - Part 5

Ceres to St Andrews

The Fife Pilgrim Way is a new long distance walking path, following in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims coming from Culross or North Queensferry to see the relics of St Andrew. Over several weekends I am trying to run the route, and find out a bit about the local history on the way. Last week I ran from Markinch to Ceres. The final leg brings me from Ceres to St Andrews.

Bishop's Bridge, Ceres

Ceres to Craigtoun

A week is a long time in the Scottish weather calendar, and whereas last week I was running through mud, a hard frost had frozen the path and given everything an icy edge a few days later. The Bishop's Bridge in Ceres was looking festive in the frost, the last stop for Archbishop Sharp in 1679 before he was murdered on his way to St Andrews. Even The Provost of Ceres was looking Christmassy with the town's tree blinking away beside him.

The Provost, Ceres
The path heads east out of town, across farmland with inquisitive cows watching you pass by. A slight rise takes you to Kinninmonth Hill, with views stretching back over miles of lush farmland on a crisp clear morning like I had today.

"On yonder hill there stood a coo..."
Fife farmland on the way from Ceres to St Andrews
The Fife Pilgrim Way comes onto the tarmac road for a while as it makes its way to St Andrews. To the north above the road stands Drumcarrow Craig, a rocky lump with the remains of an Iron Age broch at its summit, overshadowed by a TV mast. I was going to run up to it to see what remains, and to see if I could spy Magus Muir and Bishop's Wood to the north, where Archbishop Sharp was murdered in 1679. However a motorcycling event was on the go at the Craig, so I left them to it and continued on my way.

Drumcarrow Craig
Bikes going up Drumcarrow Craig

In 1679 the now impassable Bishop's Road led into the woods here at Magus Muir. Later that year five Covenanters unconnected with the Archbishop's murder were captured at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, and for refusing to give up those that attacked the bishop, they were taken to the woods here and hanged. Their graves stand there beside a memorial to Bishop Sharp. Scottish religion eh, its a bloody history? 

As we come into St Andrews that, unfortunately, is going to be the theme of the day.

The path to Craigtoun Park, around the Duke's Course
Before reaching Craigtoun Park on the outskirts of St Andrews we come across the current source of pilgrimage to St Andrews. Golf. Whatever way you approach St Andrews it is golf courses that you will see before you reach the town. Hotels, museums, gift shops and cafes in town are all supported by the visitors who come to town wearing their uniform of one glove, polo shirt and cream coloured slacks. 

In medieval times St Andrews existed as a town to provide accommodation, sustenance and locals selling trinkets to the many pilgrims that visited here to see the relics of St Andrew. Over a 500 year period from 963AD, visitors came to pray to the relics of this fisherman from Galilee. From the 1400s golf has been played on the St Andrews Links. King James II banned it in 1457 as he felt it was distracting young men from archery practice, and the ban was not lifted until about 50 years later. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews was formed in 1754, eventually becoming golf's ruling authority and codifying the rules. To this day it still has this role for golfers around the globe.

On The Fife Pilgrim Way the first golf course that you walk past is the Duke's Course, named after another Andrew, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who opened the course in 1995. I am sure that those in the Old Course Hotel (that owns the course) may be having some second thoughts now about the wisdom of seeking his patronage. The path winds around the Duke's Course, through the trees at the edge of the fairways and comes around into Craigtoun Country Park. St Andrews first appears in the distance here, our final destination.

St Andrews in the distance, beyond the golf course


The Craigtoun Estate was the property of the Melville family from the 1600's. It was sold in the 20th century to the brewer James Younger. At this time it is estimated that Younger's, based in Edinburgh, was producing a quarter of all Scottish beer. James Younger commissioned the building of a grand, Baronial style house, in pink sandstone. When Fife council bought the house and 45 acres of land at the foundation of the NHS in 1947, they converted it into a maternity hospital. But not just any old maternity hospital. It was designed to have the atmosphere of a guest house with a sun parlour, and two nurseries to take the babies away from the mothers to allow them to rest. It was here that my wife was born, giving her a birth certificate the envy of golfers around the world. Since the 1960s the country park in the grounds has been a popular attraction for visitors to St Andrews.

Craigtoun Hospital

Craigtoun Hospital
Craigtoun Hospital continued as a maternity hospital until 1992 when the house and 330 acres of its grounds were sold to the Old Course Hotel. They laid out the Duke's Golf Course in the western grounds, but have left the house to deteriorate and it is now on the Buildings At Risk register.

The route of the Fife Pilgrim Way winds through Craigtoun Park. I resisted the temptation of a trip on the tractor that was taking a be-tinselled trailer around the park, and as the pedallos were frozen into the middle of the pond, I continued on my way to St Andrews.

Craigtoun Country Park
Craigtoun Country Park

Craigtoun to St Andrews

The Den, St Andrews
Bogward Doocot
The path leaves Craigtoun via a wooded den, called "The Den" before going through another den, called "Lumbo Den". By now the path has reached the outskirts of St Andrews, but tries to follow a green route, passing dog-walkers and joggers towards the town centre. Amongst a modern housing development sits the 16th century Bogward Doocot, an incongruous sight. Finally the path emerges at the West Port, the gate built in 1547 to welcome visitors onto the ceremonial South Street that would take them the last half mile to the cathedral.

West Port, St Andrews

St Andrews

St Andrews is not a place I have visited very often. The first time I came was on my first holiday to a static caravan, with my brother, my mum and dad and a couple of their friends. I remember it being windy, I remember clambering about some old ruins and being told absolutely not to use the chemical toilet in the caravan, but to go to the campsite toilet instead.

Late 1970s summer holidays in St Andrews (don't worry, I'm sure it was fake fur)
Since then I have come to St Andrews to fly kites on the beach, to visit the aquarium, to hear poetry at the StAnza poetry festival and to finish a 10K race on the beach that was used in the Chariots of Fire film. Although we come through to Glenrothes often to visit family, St Andrews always seems just a wee bit too far away for a day out, and perhaps I have a degree of inverted snobbery against this pseudo-Oxbridge university town.

The distinctive old town centre of St Andrews today
What my flying visits haven't taught me was how big a part religion played in the creation of the town. Again and again on this Pilgrim Way, any story of religious history soon becomes a story of conflict and control. As a Glaswegian I wrongly felt that we had a monopoly on religious strife Scotland, but I was mistaken. We are mere amateurs. 

The town of St Andrews as it is laid out now was created to accommodate the large number of pilgrims coming from all over Europe between the 11th and 16th centuries. Various myths have grown up about how relics of St Andrew arrived in this remote part of East Fife. In Scottish religious practice we have moved away from the adulation of fragments of bone and other relics of martyrs, but the tangible items that connect you with ancient characters still has a strange pull on me. When I was on holiday in Amalfi the fact that the local cathedral had a toe of Scotland's patron saint was enough to make me visit. St Andrew, as the First Apostle, is revered in Greek and Russian Orthodox religion too. As well as Scotland, he is the patron saint of Greece, Romania and Russia. Patras in Southern Greece has a church with a large quantity of his relics, but some are also to be found in St Mary's Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh

Relics of St Andrew in Amalfi Cathedral
Around the time that Christianity arrived in this part of Scotland, from Ireland, there was much transporting of the bones, hair and clothing of saints all over Europe, arriving in churches as a focus of veneration and miracles. One legend has St Rule (also known as St Regulus) from Patras in Greece being shipwrecked in east Fife in 347AD. Another theory is that the relics were brought from England by St Acca, the Bishop of Hexham in 732AD. Building up a long back story and miracles for these relics helped St Andrew to eventually rise above St Colomba to become the patron saint of Scotland, and move the centre of gravity of religious life in Scotland from the west, to Fife.

The first recorded pilgrim to St Andrews, then known at Kinrymont (the name reflecting the fact that it was the base for a Pictish king), was an Irish prince called Aed, brother of King Tara, in 963AD. Soon the reports of miracles were increasing. In 1260 the Chronica Gentis Scotorum reports tales from 100 years earlier of St Andrews.
"In that place by the touch of the relics, many astounding miracles were worked, and were worked to this day. The blind from their mother's womb received their sight, the dumb were made to speak, the lame to walk and all who piously spoke the favour of the apostle, were immediately, by God's mercy healed from the sickness that possessed them.
Once you put that on the brochure, people flood in. Queen Margaret was a frequent pilgrim, and the demand was sufficient in the 11th century for her to establish the ferry that transported pilgrims across the Forth. 

St Rule's Tower, all that remains of the old church in St Andrews
By 1160 St Rule's Church was not large enough to meet the demand and a cathedral was commissioned. It took 150 years to finally complete. After storm damage in 1270 it had to be partially rebuilt and was eventually consecrated in 1318, with King Robert the Bruce present, four years after his victory at Bannockburn over the English forces. By now St Andrew was established as the patron saint of Scotland and Robert the Bruce no doubt invoked saintly influence in leading him to victory. The Declaration of Arbroath, sent in 1320 by Scottish Barons to Pope John XXII, invokes the high position of St Andrew as the First Apostle to make their case for a distinct Scottish identity, a people protected by a saint of high regard. By an act of the Scottish Parliament his saltire, or diagonal cross, had to be shown on soldiers' outfits when they faced the English in the 1400s, and his image began to appear on coins and seals.

St Andrews Castle, viewed from the Cathedral

St Andrews Castle
As befitted their increased power and position in society, the bishops of St Andrews built a palace, or castle, to live in to the west of their new cathedral. The cathedral rivaled any in Europe, 12 metres longer than the one in Santiago de Compostela that still draws pilgrims to the relics of St James. The town was reconfigured, with the processional routes of North Street and South Street, city gates and walls built.

The ruins of St Andrews Cathedral 

The ruins of St Andrews Cathedral 

The ruins of St Andrews Cathedral 
By the 16th century the popularity of pilgrimage was falling away. The university, founded in 1413, was now a big draw bringing many students to the town. But it was the Reformation that turned everything upside down. 

A fiery oration from John Knox in the exhibition at St Andrews Castle
After Cardinal David Beaton's strict suppression of Lutheran ideas, burning to death four Protestant martyrs in the streets of St Andrews, he himself was murdered in 1546 by Protestant nobles, stabbed then hung from the window of his castle. The Reformers occupied the castle for a year, inviting a young John Knox in as a teacher to their children, then persuading him to become a preacher. He gave his first ever sermon in 1547 in the Holy Trinity Church in St Andrews. 

Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews, rebuilt since John Knox's time
The castle was besieged for a year before being attacked and destroyed by French canons. For a while Knox was imprisoned on a French galley ship, but eventually he returned to St Andrews in 1559. One of his fiery sermons is supposed to have so inflamed the congregation that they marauded down South Street and destroyed Blackfriars Chapel

Ruins of Blackfriars Church, St Andrews
With the Protestants in the ascendancy the cathedral ceased to be a place of worship in 1560. Sculptures and stained glass were destroyed and the cathedral fell into ruin, the stones becoming a quarry for local builders. It was from here that John Knox fired up the Scottish Reformation. Although he has a statue at the highest point of the Glasgow necropolis, atop a 60 foot Doric column, his body lies in the ground behind St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh. John Knox died in Edinburgh in 1572. A simple plaque marks the spot, under car park place number 23. 

Spot where John Knox's grave lies, in the car park behind St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh
In the late afternoon, after spending a beautiful winter's day in St Andrews, I headed towards the beach. The Martyrs' Monument on the front at St Andrews near to the Old Course Hotel, commemorates Patrick Hamilton and three other Protestant martyrs that died in the town, a suitably unadorned monument. 

The Martyrs' Monument

Looking towards West Sands and St Andrews Links

The end

Despite visiting Fife for decades, spending a few weekends running the Fife Pilgrim Way has led me to explore much more of the history of this area. A history of saints, kings, martyrs and monks, but also of farmers, footballers, miners, communists, mill workers and family members. The scenery may not have the drama of the Fife Coastal Path, but the stories that I met along the way were not just a history of Fife, but of Scotland's people. I would heartily encourage you to go and have a look.

So where to next??

Fife Pilgrim Way Links

  • Part 3 - Lochore to Markinch - Lochgelly to Lochore, then through Kinglassie and along the River Leven to Leslie, Glenrothes and Markinch