Chariots of Fire
During our Hogmanay Hootananny in Pitcarlie House we found ourselves a short drive from a lovely spot of Scotland. Located between Dundee and Edinburgh is the coastal town of St Andrews and it’s West Sands Beach. This provided the perfect spot for a brisk walk and chance to blow out the cobwebs of the night before. It was a perfect Scottish morning – sunny with a chance of frostbite as the North Sea winds swept across the surf and onto our faces.
The eagle-eyed viewer might recognise this beach as it played a prominent part in the opening sequence of the movie Chariots of Fire. Vangelis’s Anthem of the same name booms while all the actors including Ben Cross and Nigel Havers run across the sand and incoming tide. Powerful stuff.
After a walk up the beach we had a look around the next door neighbour – the Old Course of St Andrews – considered the oldest golf course in the world with the first society formed here in 1754 thanks to the patronage of Archbishop John Hamilton.
The town itself is not wholly consumed by the beach and the golfcourse. It serves yet another purpose, an older purpose – as a university. The University of St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland – formed in 1413 as part of a papal bull to the Augustine Order.
The town itself is named after St Andrew the Apostle and was once the ecclesastical capital of Scotland. The St Andrews Cathedral, now in ruins thanks to John Knox and the Scottish Reformation of the 16th Century, was once the largest building in Europe.
The Wheel on the Lock goes round and round
We decided to take the more southerly route back from the Kingdom of Fife towards Ayr. Our first hurdle was the need to get across the Firth of Forth – the huge estuary that takes a bite out of Scotland at the neck. This would be our first time trying out the new Queensferry Crossing – construction had only finished in August 2017. This is an amazing looking three towered cable-stayed bridge. An early example of this architecture would be the Brooklyn Bridge.
Bit of an easier journey today then that which faced by pilgrims to St Andrews back in the 11th Century who had to use a ferry founded by Queen Margaret or even the Romans (who called it Bodotria) under Emperor Severus who had to use a pontoon of 900 boats to cross north and prosecute their war against the guerilla tribes.
Once across the water we took a massive swing right and West towards the town of Falkirk. There are a number of quirks about this exact spot in Scotland that gave rise to such a large town being present here. It is almost equidistant between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was part of the Antonine Wall – a series of forts and earthworks that stretched across Scotland and marked the northern frontier of the Roman Empire in 142 AD (20 years after Emperor Hadrian built his wall further south). In July 1298 it was here that William Wallace finally was defeated by the English King Edward I.
Finally and more recently it is located at the strategic junction between the Forth and Clyde and Union canals – which led to it becoming the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in Scotland in the 18th and 19th Centuries centred around the Carron Ironworks. At one point this was the largest Ironworks in Europe thanks to its contracts with the British Army and even the Russian Imperial Army under Catherine the Great.
Our first stop in Falkirk was at the Falkirk Wheel.
21st Century engineering and design was used to reconnect the two canals and link Edinburgh to Glasgow by boat after almost 70 years of being apart. It was opened by Queen Elizabeth herself in 2003 and this impressive structure, a rotating boat lift, replaced the previous 11 lock system that was used to link the waterways.
It was one of those clear Scottish days so it lent itself to a great photo opportunity for those who can climb a short hill..
As we were departing the Wheel there was a subtle nod to our next destination…
Tools and Horses
A short drive from the Falkirk Wheel is the Helix – a parkland built to connect a number of communities in the area. We were headed to pay homage to the main attraction – a pair of sculptures by Andy Scott.
30 metres in height and weighing 300 tons each due to their steel make, The Kelpies represent and pay homage to the horse-powered heritage across Scotland.
You approach them along a canal, and even from the car park you can see them. By the time you make it to the base of the statue you are really taken in by their size and presence. Surrounding them is part of the canal and with the amazingly clear day we had we were able to take a heap of great photos. We have at least two on the walls of our apartment.
The visitor centre had a few different takes on the sculptures including a copy of the Beano comic that featured them and some Lego.