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St Andrews Castle

Saint Andrews Castle, past residence of bishops and archbishops of Saint Andrew and the focal point of the church in medieval Scotland, stands to the north of the coastal royal burgh of Saint Andrews, in Fife, Scotland. Sitting on a rocky promontory, the Castle overlooks a small beach called Castle Sands, as well as the North Sea. It is naturally defended by sheer cliffs on the seaward side, and by rock-cut ditches to the landward side. The Castle is not a large one, however its history is truly prominent, convoluted, and bloody, mostly due to the fact that during the Middle Ages, it became the principal administrative centre of the Scottish Church.

History of Saint Andrews Castle

Saint Andrews Castle was originally known as ‘Kilrymont’, meaning ‘church on the head of the King’s mount’, whereby a religious community is known to have existed since the early eight century AD. It is theorised that the name ‘Saint Andrews’ was adopted when relics of the saint were brought to Fife as part of the foundation of the first Benedictine community (at nearby Dunfermline), and that this led to its increasing prominence as a religious centre. By the 1100s, the site was fortified, and from around 1200 it started to be adopted as the main residence of the bishops and archbishops of Saint Andrews. This took place after Bishop Turgot had founded the Parish of Kirk in the 12th century, and after his predecessor, Bishop Arnold, began the erection of Saint Andrews Cathedral. It was Bishop Roger of Saint Andrews, son of the Earl of Leicester, who ordered a stone castle to be built there in order to be used as his official residence. Previous to that, the holders of the Episcopal See had resided either in the Monastery of Culdees (now Kirkhill), or in the house of the Prior, adjoining the Cathedral, however with the strengthening of the See’s power, it was important that he also had a habitation for himself. (more)

Castle today

At present, Saint Andrews Castle is under the care of Historic Scotland and are entered through a very interesting visitor centre with wheelchair access and a handsome display on its history for visitors. Some of the best surviving Castle fragments are displayed in the centre, which also has a shop.

Access to the bottle dungeon, the mines and the upper floors of the castle is not available to visitors The modern visitor will still see the scars of centuries of decay and abandonment on Saint Andrews Castle, yet the sense of grandeur and unusual surviving features are more than worth the journey.

Little of the early Castle can be traced through the existing ruins, in fact almost nothing remains of the earlier structure which suffered badly during the War of Independence when it was destroyed by the Scots in 1337 in order to render it unusable by the English. Remnants of Bishop Tail’s restoration remain apparent in the north and east thick curtain walls and rock cut ditches on the landward side. The two massive circular gun towers, called blockhouses, built by Archbishop James Beaton following the Battle of Flodden in 1513, are still apparent as well.

The structure of the Castle included five square towers providing residence for the Bishop, his household and guests. Further accommodation was provided in outer courtyards to the south and west of the main castle.

The bottle dungeon, a bottle-shaped pit dug 22 feet down into the rock below the Sea Tower and accessible only via the neck opening through a trap door from the floor of the tower vault, is still a striking remnant which one can go into. Other heritage highlights are the mine and the counter-mine tunnelled through the rock during the 1546 siege, which children in particular will enjoy exploring. Although these might be slippery, they are very safe.

The superb setting on the coast and long sandy beach were the location for the opening scenes of the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’. Its peninsular position is amazingly commanding. Local tradition and legend also have it that there are subterranean caves hallowed beneath the foundations of the Castle, not to mention mysterious passages.

It is quite easy to arrive at Saint Andrews, as the nearest railway station is at Leuchars, just 6 miles away, and there is also a local bus service available. There are also organised tours from Edinburgh, since Saint Andrews is only a bit over an hour by car from the capital city.

Opening Hours of Goodrich Castle:

1 April – 30 September – Monday to Sunday from 9.30am to 5.30pm
1 October – 31 March – Monday to Sunday from 10.00am to 4.00pm (or earlier in bad weather)
Last entry is 30 minutes before closing. Monument may close for lunch.
Text: Melisande Aquilina