Supporters hope revived ‘Way of St Andrews’ will attract tourists

St Andrews Cathedral is included in the eponymous Way. Picture: Jane Barlow
St Andrews Cathedral is included in the eponymous Way. Picture: Jane Barlow
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MOST pilgrims to St Andrews are waving a golf club. But now a plan has been set in motion to revive a medieval religious pilgrimage route to the historic Fife town.

The Way of St Andrews, which will start at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh’s York Place and finish at the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, once the largest church in Scotland, winds along 100km of paths between the two locations.

It takes in part of an old route out of Edinburgh known as St Margaret’s Way, which is now a well-used cycle route, as well as parts of the Fife Coastal Path. Supporters hope it will prove as popular as the famous Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

The first pilgrimage will take place in July, with around 60 pilgrims taking part. Hugh Lockhart, a parishioner at St Mary’s Cathedral, came up with the idea after hearing about the famous Camino – immortalised in a 2011 film called The Way, starring Martin Sheen and James Nesbitt – along which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flock each year.

“It captured my imagination, the idea of walking through the countryside and arriving at this fantastic church, and then I heard that St Andrews had once been a great place of pilgrimage before the Reformation, so we decided to give it a go and see what would happen,” he said.

“The route to Santiago started with just 68 pilgrims and it now attracts over 200,000 per year. We thought it was something that might bring people to Scotland, and we hope that after we do the first one in the summer, people will start to do the pilgrimage on their own at any time of the year.”

The pilgrimage, which will arrive in St Andrews on 5 July to coincide with the New Dawn conference – a Catholic family conference taking place in the town’s Madras College – has the backing of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland. “He was very enthusiastic about it and is keen that it be open to everyone of every religion or belief as much as possible,” said Lockhart.

Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development at Glasgow Caledonian University, described The Way of St Andrews as an appealing tourist attraction. “You have to admire the creativity and inventiveness of doing something like this,” he said. “Walking is a major activity and a big product in Scotland. This is slightly different from the walks that people come to Scotland to do such as the West Highland Way and the Southern Upland Way because it has a pilgrimage focus.”

However he added: “I think it might be some time before those who run the Camino de Santiago de Compostela will be worried by this, but given the right promotion, and given time, it could be successful.”

There are already a number of medieval pilgrim routes in Scotland. In 2008, an attempt was made to revive a route from the island of Iona to St Andrews, named the Pilgrims’ Way, while a 75-mile long pilgrim route in Ayrshire, which stretches through the Ayrshire coast to where St Ninian founded the first Christian mission, is currently seeking European funding. If funding is granted, the route will be called St Ninian’s Way.

The Way of St Andrews takes in a number of medieval routes which at one time would have been used by pilgrims who flocked to Scotland in the 11th and 12th centuries. The town was then viewed as an important religious centre dominated by the cathedral – at the time the most magnificent church in Scotland – and the 11th-century St Rule’s Tower up until the time of the Reformation. The Crusades to the Middle East also meant that pilgrimage routes to Jerusalem had become increasingly difficult.

“We think that many of the original pilgrim routes have been turned into bus routes by now,” said Lockhart. “But the route, particularly from Earlsferry up to St Andrews is almost certainly a route that pilgrims would have gone on. You get a real shiver down the back of your spine when walking on it.”

Lockhart added that although there were sites of religious significance along the way, such as St Fillan’s Cave in Pittenweem and Chapel Green near Lower Largo, a space once occupied by an 11th-century chapel used by pilgrims, the main focus of the walk would be spiritual peace.

“We hope that people will come for the peace and quiet, and use the pilgrimage as a way to get away from their mobile phone and enjoy the walk,” he said.

1 St Mary’s

The Cathedral of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Designed by the prominent ecclesiastical architect James Gillespie Graham in 1814, it has been enlarged, rebuilt and remodelled many times over the years, with the last major structural changes commencing in the 1970s. Pope John Paul II visited St Mary’s in May 1982 as part of his pastoral visit to Scotland.

2 Earlsferry

Earlsferry came into importance in the mid-11th century when it became the landing place for pilgrims crossing the Firth of Forth on their way to St Andrews. Established by local earls, the ferry crossed the Firth of Forth to North Berwick, a distance of 7 miles, which led to the village’s name. There are the remains of a small chapel on Chapel Ness, built for the use of pilgrims.

3 Chapel Green

Just past Elie golf course, Chapel Green was named for an 11th-century chapel used by pilgrims travelling to St Andrews.

The chapel ruins are still in existence, with one gable wall facing out towards the sea. It is believed the chapel may have been built by Queen Margaret, following the death of her husband, King Malcolm, in 1093.

4 St Fillan’s Cave

St Fillan, who was born in Ireland and came to Scotland around 717AD, was believed to have spent much of his life as a hermit in the cave, where he prayed and wrote in the secluded gloom by means of a light which glowed from his left arm. Within the cave is a holy well, and a small altar.

5 St Andrews Cathedral

St Andrews Cathedral dominated the history of the medieval church in Scotland from its construction in the 12th century until the Protestant Reformation in 1560. In the grounds, St Rule’s Church, with its 33-metre tower, was probably built around 1130 as the first place of worship for the newly arrived Augustinian canons.