The West Sands – St Andrews

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This spell of dry sunny weather has been refreshing. What better way to get rid of the winter cobwebs than a walk along the West Sands at St Andrews.

This uninterrupted 2 mile (3km) sandy low gradient beach with a 30m wide dune zone extends from the Swilcan Burn to the Out Head, (the mouth of the Eden estuary). It skirts and protects the world famous St Andrews Links golf courses.

The West Sands has for centuries been an area of recreation for locals and visitors. Animals grazed the Links, Salmon stake-net fishing provided a living for fishermen. In the days of sail many a cargo vessel run aground on the West Sand, embayed in St Andrews Bay during storms. A great place for bathing, horse riding, dog walking, and the classic British “Day out at the beach”. Motorcar and motorcycle races took place on the sands in the early 20th century, even aircraft operated sight-seeing trips from the sands from time to time. In 1981 the sands served as the set for the opening scene in the movie Chariots of Fire. During the 2012 Olympics Torch relay this was reenacted and the sands were also featured in the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony. On many a windy day windsurfers, stunt kites, kite surfers, kite boarders and sand yachts can be seen out at the north end of the sands. Sand yachting was a popular activity in the 1970s on the sands and today a local outdoor activity company Blown Away continues this along with offering many other adventure experiences on land and sea.

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The Links and the West Sands are an internationally important landscape and diverse ecosystem. They are part of the Firth of Tay – Eden Estuary Special Area of Conservation and Marine Protected Area. There are many protected species within the area.

Of historical note: In 1864, following a severe storm a record-breaking specimen of a Bootlace Worm (Lineus longissimus), was washed ashore on the West Sands measuring over 55 m (180 ft) long.

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The effects of climate change, coastal erosion, flooding, and coastal storm surges are a constant threat to the area. In 2010 severe damage to the dunes, flooding of the golf courses and adjacent lands and erosion of the old municipal landfill at the Out Head occurred. A dune stabilisation programme is in operation with areas fenced off to public access whist the Marram Grass has time to stabilise the dunes.

There are many wonderful beaches along the “golden fringe” of the Kingdom of Fife. The West Sands is a must visit.

Das Boot- Epic German WWII U-boat movie

Dass Boot

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Truly one of the world top 100 films. Das Boot is a gripping classic WWII fictional story. It is based on an autobiographical novel by German World War II photographer Lothar-Guenther Buchheim, and tells the story of the German submarine Unterseeboot U-96 a Type VIIC U-boat.

Commissioned on 14 September 1940, U-96 was stationed in Saint Nazaire on the French Atlantic coast as part of the 7th U-boat Flotilla and member of eleven wolfpacks. U-96 had a colourfull career, conducted 11 patrols, sinking 27 ships totalling 180,206 gross register tons (GRT) and damaging four others totalling 33,043 GRT. On 30 March 1945, U-96 was sunk by an American air raid whist in the submarine pens in Wilhelmshaven, Germany. During her entire career, she suffered no casualties to her crew.

The movie, made in 1981, documents the lives of the fearless Kapitänleutnant (Captain) and his inexperienced crew as U-96 patrols the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea in search of Allied vessels. At times the submarine and her crew are both the hunter and the prey. It is well filmed and portrays the cramp and grimy conditions and everyday life in a WWII German U-boat. With an iconic theme track, you like a good war yarn and interested in U-boats….. this movie is a must watch. It is in my top 10.

I was lucky as a deep-water marine archaeologist to have investigated nine German U-boat wrecks in the Western Approaches to the English Channel some years back. Find out more about my life and career at www.rovarch.com

Dunino Den – Spirits, myths and legends

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I love being a Fife Ambassador. With this spell of cold sunny weather I have been able to get out and about and explore our wonderful Kingdom of Fife. A wee gem and not far from my home town St Andrews is Dunino Den. Dunino is a small village in the East Neuk of Fife, 6 miles SE from St Andrews.

Just outside the village on the left hand side heading to Anstruther is a signpost to Dunino Church. Follow the single track road, turn left before the Bely Farm (Possibly named after the Sun God Bel, ruler of the Celtic Underworld) road entrance and you arrive at a large car-park next to the church. The present church was built in the early part of the 19th century but historical research and archaeological investigations revealed the remains of an Pictish church or monastery. Stones from a stone circle in adjacent farmland were discovered in parts of nearby walling. During the 1st century AD, Fife was one of the seven kingdoms of the Picts, named after “Fib”, who was one the seven sons of the first Pictish King, Cruithne. In the graveyard of the church there is a 9th century 1m high rectangular stone. On the top surface is a carved 17th century sundial. At present this is covered in coins left by visitors for good luck.

Down the side of the church there is a wide grassy path that leads to woodland and a large sandstone outcrop where in the gorge the Dunino Burn flows through. This is Dunino Den also known as Druids Den, a ritual landscape shrouded in spiritual myths and mystery. The large sandstone outcrop is known as Bel Craig or “The Pulpit”. Craved on the top of this outcrop is a shallow well and a footprint. These indicate that this place may have been used for the inauguration of a Celtic chief or King. Local folklore says be careful what you wish and dream for whilst standing next to the well and footprint as they will come true.

Cut into the rock outcrop is a steep stairway that leads to a wooded area at the bottom of the gorge. On the face of the outcrop going down this stairway is a carved Celtic Knot. This carving is recent as it is not weathered. Further along on the outcrop face is the weathered incised outline of a wheel-headed 2m Celtic Cross. The date of this is uncertain. Coins are also visible placed in the cracks of the outcrop face.

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Strung and hanging from many of the trees in the den are strings are dream-catchers, beads and ribbons left by the many “spiritual” visitors to this spot. The den certainly has a stillness and a feeling of calmness about it. It is visually interesting and the trees and plants are all interesting, especially this time of year when the snowdrops, bluebells and daffodils are out. I saw rabbits, crows and a Buzzard. It’s a unique area and is well worth a visit.

Enjoying Whisky – the water of life

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I enjoy a good malt whisky or three. There is nothing more relaxing than enjoying a good malt whisky in my local pub, the Keys Bar in St Andrews, Fife. This friendly, welcoming family run free house has over 240 different malt whiskies to suit all tastes and pockets. As you can see by the photograph, armed with one of the many whisky books in the Keys, I am enjoying a wee dram and trying new ones.

Fife has a long connection with whisky both in the growing of barley and distilleries. The first written mention of Scotch whisky is in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1495. A friar named John Cor was the distiller at Lindores Abbey making whisky for King James IV. Although there was a decline in the number of distilleries in Fife during the 19th century, they are making a comeback. Cameronbridge Distillery near Windygates is the largest grain distillery in Scotland. Whiskey distilleries can be found at Guardbridge, Eden Mill Distillery, Kingsbarns, Kingsbarns Distillery, Cupar, Daftmill Distillery and in the planning are distilleries at Lindores Abbey and Inchdairnie (Glenrothes).

Exploring the Kingdom of Fife

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With winter almost over and Spring on the way. What better time than to start exploring the Kingdom of Fife. I am a Fifer born and bred and fortunate to live in my ancestors’ home town, St Andrews. My maritime career spanning decades has taken me all over the world, but home  to me is St Andrews and Fife. There is plenty to discover and do in Fife and I never stop learning interesting facts and stories of the unique and diverse history of the Kingdom and of its people. As a Fife Ambassador I am going share with you through this blog my explorations, discoveries, stories and facts of the Kingdom.