A settlement called Kilrimont has existed on the site of St Andrews since the dark ages. By 1150 St Andrews had assumed the leading role in the Scottish Church and by 1413 it was home to St Andrews University, the first university in Scotland. Perhaps most momentous of all it became, also in the 1400s, the place where people first started hitting small balls into holes in the ground.
Today's St Andrews is famous throughout the world as the home of golf. As originally played it had origins in a continental game a little like croquet. It was clearly well established here by 1457, for in that year King James II banned golf because it diverted too much time away from the much more useful pastime of archery practice. The ban seems to have been largely ignored.
The key date in the world-wide spread of golf was the formation in St Andrews of the Society of St Andrews Golfers, in 1754. This became the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in 1834, or simply "The R&A".
There are six golf courses sharing the promontory of links land that sticks out into the River Eden estuary immediately to the north west of St Andrews. The most famous, and sought after, is the "Old Course"; but the others are also very popular. Overlooking the Old Course, and in some ways forming part of it, is the magnificent Old Course Hotel.
St Andrews is a place of pilgrimage for golfers from all over the world, and this is reflected in the golf and souvenir shops in the town, and in the quality and range of accommodation on offer. St Andrews is also the home of the excellent British Golfing Museum.
Despite this fame, the town of St Andrews actually revolves as much around its university as its golf courses. While the latter lie to the north west of the town, St Andrews University forms a large and integral part of it. If you think of medieval St Andrews being built around the university colleges you start to get an idea of the way they are woven into the fabric of the town.
Also essential to any understanding of St Andrews and its development is some understanding of the role of the church in Scotland. The extensive ruins of St Andrews Cathedral once the largest cathedral in Scotland, lie immediately to the east of the centre of the town, overlooking the harbour. Along with St Andrews Castle, which housed the bishops, this reflects St Andrews' leading role in the church in Scotland for five hundred years. The Reformation swept that all away and led to the steady decline of the town over the following three hundred years.
Things started to look up once more in 1842, with the appointment of Hugh Playfair as Provost. He caused the medieval streets to be widened, the university to be expanded, and he undertook major improvements to the harbour. Much of the look and feel of today's St Andrews dates back to this period.
Today's visitors to the cathedral can also visit the excellent Cathedral Museum or climb St Rule's Tower, which offers magnificent views. There is more to St Andrews than its golf, its university, its castle, its cathedral, its medieval buildings and its Victorian streets. Visitors can also enjoy the sights and sounds of a traditional Scottish harbour, just to the east of the cathedral.
And beyond the harbour lies the attractive beach of East Sands. Other attractions include the St Andrews Aquarium, out towards the golf courses, and the Botanic Garden. St Andrews is also the finishing point for the Coast to Coast Walk from Oban, 128 miles to the west.
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