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St. Andrews/Fife Coast, Scotland

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • The 15th century Scottish Parliament tried to stamp out golf because it interfered with archery practice.
  • St. Andrews had set the golf round at 22 holes but eliminated its own shortest holes, producing the 18-hole game.
  • Dunfermline was Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace (1835) and site of the first of 2,500-plus Carnegie libraries worldwide.
  • Scenes from the film “Chariots of Fire” (1981) were shot in the coastal areas of northeastern Fife.
  • Economist Adam Smith (1723), author of capitalism’s bible, “The Wealth of Nations” (1776), was born in Kirkcaldy.

More than a golfer’s Mecca

Fife is a region in east central Scotland, often called the Kingdom of Fife, recalling an era when it was one of several Pictish kingdoms in this area. In more recent times, meaning the Middle Ages, Dunfermline in Fife was Scotland’s capital.

These facts did not make Fife famous. It gained fame because of a stickball game we call golf and the historic St. Andrews links, which are on the Fife coast on the North Sea. It is not certain where golf originated, except it wasn’t Scotland. It arrived in the country by the 14th century, and Scottish enthusiasts made the game their own, over the centuries setting standards adopted worldwide.

It didn’t hurt that at St. Andrews and other coastal sites, the greens were a natural phenomenon. The exposure to coastal weather, poor soil and trimming by nibbling rabbits produced the short grass golfers needed. Rabbit holes might have been the first golf holes, too.

For all that St. Andrews is the golfer’s Mecca, visitors don’t have to have the slightest interest in golf to like Fife. St. Andrews is historically important, having once been Scotland’s ecclesiastical capital and still home to the country’s oldest university (1413). It’s a pretty town, besides, with its medieval layout still visible. Robert the Bruce and other Scottish royalty held court in Fife, specifically in Dunfermline. Visitors can see the royal palace, abbey and monastery.

Other historically important, or interesting, attractions dot the area, but, for some visitors, the coastline itself is their reason to choose Fife. The region is surrounded on three sides by water, with the Firth (estuary) of Tay on the north, Firth of Forth on the south and the North Sea to the east. Fishing remains part of the economy, and fishing villages line the coast. A particularly popular part of the coast, part of the Fife Coastal Path, is a series of villages in the Neuk (nook or corner) of Fife.

Aside from golf, good choices for the active traveler are walks — which can be multiday affairs — and activities that take advantage of all that water, such as canoeing, waterskiing and windsurfing.

Things to do for Venturers

  • If you like off-road driving, you have options in the area around Auchtermuchty, Dunfermline and St. Andrews.
  • If you are not claustrophobic or too easily spooked, take a walk through the mine and countermine, meaning the tunnels built under the St. Andrews Castle walls during a 16th century siege. Attackers and defenders met and fought in these underground spaces.
  • Get in some shooting practice at Clay Target Shooting Centre in Leuchars near St. Andrews.
  • Attend a Highland Games event in Fife, even enter a competition. If your schedule works, attend in Ceres, site of the earliest known games (1314).
  • Walk the a 32-mile leg of the Fife Coastal Path, from Lower Largo to St. Andrews, and allow about three days for this so you can meander in attractive places. Stopping points include historic palaces, abbeys and churches, plus picturesque fishing villages. Then there are Mother Nature’s contributions of rugged scenery and wildlife that can include dolphins, seals and sharks. The full Fife Coastal Path is 93 miles.
  • Go waterskiing on Townhill Loch in Townhill Country Park outside Dunfermline.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Take a day ferry from Anstruther to the Isle of May, a nature reserve, to see puffins, other seabirds and seals.
  • At St Regulus church in St. Andrews, climb the spiral staircase to the top of its tower for great views of the town and its surroundings.
  • There are several stables in Fife. Arrange for a mount that suits you and see some of the countryside on horseback.
  • Do the de rigueur sightseeing tour of St. Andrews, which includes the 12th century St. Rule’s Church, campus buildings on the 600-year-old university, three medieval streets and the ruins of the city’s castle and cathedral, In July and August, look for reenactments of historical scenes at the castle and cathedral sites and in Church Square.
  • If you are a culture vulture (of sorts, anyway), attend StAnza, Scotland’s Poetry Festival, held every March in St Andrews.
  • Take the “witches tour” of St. Andrews, a night-time “ghost-led” walking tour that reveals St. Andrews’ bloody history.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Play golf at St. Andrews. If you cannot book a tee time there, move to plan B and try one of the other 40-plus courses in Fife.
  • Explore the charming fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife, then stay on for dinner at a local fish restaurant. Photograph the harbor at Crail, one of the fishing villages, at high tide.
  • Visit Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace, a weaver’s cottage, in Dunfermline. The Carnegie Trust also gifted the town with its Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Library and Pittencrieff Park.
  • Play tennis at Kinburn Park in St. Andrews.
  • For kicks, shop at the milelong Links Market, called Europe’s longest street fair. It is a one-week event held around Easter in Kirkcaldy.
  • Dunfermline was Scotland’s medieval capital. The royal palace, abbey and monastery survive. Robert the Bruce and 11 other Scottish kings and queens are buried in the abbey. See the attractions here that inspire the city to tell visitors they can see 900 years of history in a day.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult VisitScotland at