Happy Museum Monday. We’re back this week to share another of our recent cultural day trips with you. This week, we’re sharing last month’s visit to St Andrew’s to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
We had booked in to visit St Andrew’s Castle, which is under the auspices of Historic Scotland. Visitation is by pre-booking only at the moment, which was free to us as Historic Scotland members, but prices are fairly reasonable and have been reduced to reflect parts of the Castle currently being closed off.
Located in the town of St Andrews (as the name implies) on the coast in Fife, the Castle dates back to the 13th century and is now a ruin. During its history, it has been used as a bishop’s palace, a fortress, and a state prison.
You enter the site via the Visitor Centre, which includes a small exhibition all about the history of the Castle. It’s a nice little introduction, especially as it includes pictures to show what the Castle would have looked like before it was destroyed. Several scenes created with mannequins also add to bringing the history to life. My two boys were moderately interested in the exhibition. My younger boy especially seemed to be channelling his grandfather, who likes to read ALL the labels and panels in any exhibition.
We had also printed off the St Andrews Castle Explorer Quiz prior to our visit, which has twelve questions to find the answer to, starting in the exhibition, so that helped to keep them engaged with the exhibition displays. Since the exhibition is indoors, we had to wear our masks.
We then moved on to the outdoor area, with the Castle ruins themselves. In the outdoor areas masks were not required, and it wasn’t particularly crowded since the number of visitors are being controlled at the moment. They do however ask you to wear your masks in some of the ruins’ enclosed spaces, and allow people to pass first in some of the narrower parts such as on the stairs. The tunnels under the Castle were also out of bounds, due to social distancing restrictions.
We stayed at the Castle for just over an hour, then took a walk down to Castle Sands, a small sandy beach that sits below the Castle walls, where we had a picnic we had brought with us.
After lunch, we wandered over to St Andrews Cathedral, which is now also a ruin and also cared for by Historic Scotland. Again, there is a small indoor exhibition – mostly of gravestones, medieval sculptures, and relics – and since we could get in for free we had booked in to have a look.
But to be honest, the boys were not very interested so we didn’t stay long at the indoors exhibition, and the tower – which is also part of the paid ticket – was closed, so instead we had a wander around the Cathedral grounds.
The scale of the Cathedral is pretty impressive, even in its ruined state, having been Scotland’s largest and most magnificent Medieval church. I had downloaded the quiz for the Cathedral too, but the boys said one quiz was enough for the day so we just left it at that.
We finished off our trip to St Andrews with a visit to the famous Jannettas Gelateria. There was a long queue outside, but we managed to get seats indoors and were soon tucking in to bowls of delicious ice cream. My husband, who studied in St Andrews, highly recommends the apple pie ice cream (which sadly I couldn’t eat as it has gluten in it).
In summary, the boys loved exploring the Castle ruins, so I would say it’s worth paying to visit. At the Cathedral, skip the indoors paid exhibit and have a stroll around the grounds (unless the tower is open and you really want to go up). Take a wander down to the beach for a paddle or some stone skimming, depending on the weather, and don’t forget to stop by Jannettas for ice cream. St Andrews doesn’t have a train station, so if you’re coming via public transport as we did, you’ll need to get the train to Leuchars and then get the shuttle bus from there in to St Andrews centre.