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Why you should visit St Andrews, the Scottish town that is at its best in winter – before the golfers return and take over

Simon Calder’s Travel

It’s a busy morning on the Fife Coastal Path, just south of St Andrews. A trio of deer eke their way along this wild coastline, mirrored by a brace of North Sea bottlenose dolphins. A Highland cow joins me briefly on a grass-tufted cut through the ancient rock. I skirt a golf course, but there are no golfers. Welcome to St Andrews in winter.

“St Andrews is still St Andrews in winter, with most shops and restaurants open. You just get to enjoy them without the crowds,” says a smiling Douglas Clement, who joins me for a stroll along the East Sands that heralds my arrival into town. Clement is the living embodiment of there being more to St Andrews than just golf: “As a caddie, clients often complained there was no local distillery, so I set up my own.”

Clement’s Kingsbarns Distillery is no longer alone, with Eden Mill and Lindores opening their own distilleries nearby in a bona fide Fife whisky renaissance. Eden Mill boast a sparkling shop on Market Street; I pop in for one of their delicious sherry-tinged drams.

There is no denying that the money that pours from the eight municipal golf courses – Europe’s greatest public golf complex – helps fuel the distilleries (and much more), but even in summer golf is not allowed to dominate. No matter who you are, you cannot play the famous Old Course on a Sunday. Instead, it is turned over to meandering families and dog walkers.

East Sands makes for exceptional coastal walks

(Robin McKelvie)

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St Andrews may be eulogised as the “home of golf”, and the R&A – the local golf club who have gone on to preside over the global game – may be one of the world’s oldest clubs (founded in 1754), but they are really the Royal and Not So Ancient, as St Andrews was the site of Christian burials even centuries before the eponymous saint’s relics came here in AD 877. The Vikings were regular visitors too: indeed, man has thrived here by the wide, protective bay, tucked between two broad sand beaches, since Mesolithic times.

The University of St Andrews wasn’t conjured up just to play Cupid to Will and Kate, either. Founded in 1413 as Scotland’s first university, principal professor Dame Sally Mapstone aims to grow the 10,000-strong student body by 50 per cent by 2030 – remarkable in a town of only 17,000 inhabitants.

It is not just the university’s…

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