Saturday, 26 April 2014

St Andrews in the afternoon

St Salvator, the highest point in St Andrews
So, St Andrews is a really old little town which has come straight out of some Harry Potter film, or some film with Hugh Grant and Kirstin Scott Thomas acting in it. It is immaculate, perfectly preserved, full of old buildings and stories of people having been causally burnt and slaughtered because they were the wrong religion at the wrong time. But more of that anon. St Andrews is of course a university town as well and it is where William and Kate famously studied and met each other. We were told that after they had done art history there, there was such a massive increase in people wanting to study art history at the university that they had to move the department to a bigger building. This is celebrity culture working for an ancient university.

Richard Falconer and Oisin
To see St Andrews, Oisin and I decided we would take a ghost tour of the place. Can i recommend that if you want to see the history of a town, the best way to do it is with a ghost tour. We were the only people on the tour and Richard Falconer was a really really really lovely bloke who knew all about ghosts. How did he get into this, i asked him. He said he saw ghosts when he was younger and didn't know that they were ghosts. It was only later that his parents told him that the people he used to described had been dead a long time.

Because St Andrews is filled with religious and political violence, it is unsurprising that ghosts filled the place. We began actually at Trinity Church which was built over a graveyard, and where John Knox preached his first sermon. After this he so managed to get everyone's blood up that they went through the town and smashed all the statues and religious icons. This would never happen if they had TV cos they would have just not bothered coming out and watch Corrie while having chips and beans. Anyway, when they extended the church they did not bother exhuming the bodies and just built over them. As a result many of the buildings in the area - pubs, bookstores, restaurants - were haunted by ghosts as well as poltergeitsts. Do i believe in ghosts? I think that ghosts are an after image of people who have gone by - like echoes from a time before - or perhaps even to come. Oisin actually made a very accurate observation which was, going on the ghost tour actually made you not afraid of ghosts because he described them so matter of factly. Although i have to say that we were completely terrified later that night in the rather unghostly Premier Inn we stayed in and both of us had weied dreams. In my dream someone i had known in the past was very grumpy with me for what appeared to be no fault of mine - actually it was his fault that he was in the state he was in. He also looked really terrible. I felt quite sorry for him.

The walk of the Veiled Nun
People are insane and proof of their insanity are some of the things people thought people were capable of doing when they were upset. In the 16th century, this woman decided that she did not want to be married, so she ran away to St Andrews, slit off her eyelids, lips and slit her nostrils and her suitor, after persuing her and finding her was completely heartbroken as well as horrified at what she had done to herself. He returned and died insane and she later died of her self inflicted wounds. She now haunts this passageway with a lantern and it is thought that if you saw her and she lifted her veil and showed you her face, you would go insane and death would almost certainly follow.

Incindentally, these two beautiful places - this passage and the picture of the little chapel above - were frequented by Mary, Queen of Scots, who was later killed by Elizabeth I. I have to say that the architecture in St Andrews is second to none...

St Andrew's Cathederal's ruins
So the day was very misty and perfect for the ghost tour. This was where the White Lady is seen haunting the place. The cathederal ruins were one of the largest i have ever seen - if not the largest. We heard about the monks and the Reformation, and the burning of the various peoples and assasination of numerous Cardinals... around St Andrews there are crosses which mark areas where people were burnt at the stake. At the height of the witch hunting something like 68 people were killed a month. Imagine living through such a terrible time. In Ireland in constrast, very few witch trials occurred. This makes me think that there must be a difference in the Irish and the Scottish temperament.

At St Rule's tower
Honestly i cannot recomend the tour highly enough. Richard was so deeply interested in his subject - so genuinely interested - and it is a great way to learn about the history of the place. I also think it is probably a good way to learn about history - in a way all history is about the marks, the traces which people leave behind... like ghosts...

With Pa and Ghin at St Andrew's Cathederal

We later met up with the rest of the family.

Ghin on a pillar in the graveyard
The graveyard was immense and rather ungraveyardy. It had long resigned itself to status of tourist attraction. Groups of tourists wandered around the place in a completely irreverant manner, mostly unconcerned that they were walking over the bodies of dead people. There was also a rather surreal quality to the remaining towers. There was the distinct sensation that we were standing amongst the remains of what was once a clearly busy, thriving centre of activity. Monks and traders and scholars and people who worked gardens, came and went on the boats below, the gulls calling and screaming constantly - i had never seen such a collection of herring and great black-backed gulls - and then - these graves. It seems that in the 1700s the go ahead was given to use the cathederal ruins as a quarry - so people began to build the rest of the town using the cathederal. Then they decided that they would make the grounds into the town graveyard as well - so in the 1800s that began to happen/

I think it is the impermanence of life which strikes you. Later as we walked the path back into town by the shoreline, Richard said that these castles which had been so bitterly fought over later fell into disuse and at one stage a farmer began to graze his sheep and plant potatoes in one of the fields. Imagine that, he said. People defended these places with their lives and then a few decades later it turns into a potato field.

So to all those warmongers and people who think that fighting over anything is worthwhile, i say, catch yourself on. It all becomes a potatoes field one day... and you - you will be buried in that potato field. Do the right thing man.

Pa at Tom Morris Younger's grave
Tom Morris is the patron saint of golf. It seems that if you are stuck out on the Old Course having hit your ball into the rough, and a young golfer dressed in tweed comes along to help you find the ball, that would be Tom Morris. He died at the age of 24 after having won the Open three times. But it seems he died of a broken heart. His wife and son died at childbirth and he was away and did not know that until he returned from a tournament. Tom Morris then caught a cold and died of pneumonia - but it is popularly thought that he was so sad that his dearest had perished that he followed soon after. My dad was astonished that he was so young when he died.

Goodbye to the Cathederal... there's Oisin's signed copy of the Ghost Tour of St Andrew

On the way back the sun came out and the mist lifted...

So we headed back to the Old Course

Here's Pa at the Clubhouse

The East Sands
I have to say that if i had to choose how i spent my time at St Andrews, it would have included walking along this beach. This is the beach which the Chariot's of Fire was filmed on BTW. I took two selfies on the trip - such self restraint i think - here is one of them....


Here we go! Fore!

What's with the red shirt?

My dad took a golfing holiday to China with the Teo Chew Huay Kuan - or association. Is my dad Teo Chew. No he is not. He is Cantonese and Hokkien. It is like saying a French-English person has gone on an Italian Society tour with Italians. Anyway, on the tour, all the golfers wore this shirt. My dad therefore wanted to wear this shirt here, at St Andrews, so he could let everyone know that the Teo Chew association, in which he has friends, was at St Andrews. Much of my trip was composed of surreal moments like this. Other surreal moments are mostly unpublishable. But they still cause much amusement, nonetheless.

Here is my dad who could not be happier that he had finally been to St Andrews...

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