I am not a naturally adventurous person, so I was probably overly impressed when one of my friends told me they’d visited Craigtoun Park. As a stereotypical South Street resident, I had no idea the park even existed, and when they told me it contained a miniature Dutch Village I was gobsmacked. However, my excitement quickly faded as they described its condition – it was, I was told in a forebodingly deadpan voice, ‘not great’. After some research, I was left with a dilemma. Last year, this paper called Craigtoun Park ‘the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon’, which I couldn’t exactly square with my friend’s warning of the tiny, deteriorating Dutch village at its centre. With this in mind, and with an increasingly profound understanding of just how small the centre of St Andrews is, I set off on the long walk to see the village for myself.
A lot must have changed since last year. But before we get to the unfortunate village, I should mention that I didn’t arrive in the optimal conditions to appreciate the beauty of a park. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Scottish weather should know that sunny afternoons aren’t exactly something to be taken for granted, and so it might not have been the best idea to set out under a sky that, if it were a crayon, Crayola would call either Manatee or Outer Space. In any case, it definitely wasn’t the best idea to leave without an umbrella, and so I admit I wasn’t in a very forgiving mood by the time I arrived.
But let’s start by saying that the park itself is beautiful in a rugged, Scottish sort of way. It’s full of solid but thoughtful stonework which bears its neglect gracefully, and there are more than enough distractions from the greyish, dilapidated Dutch elephant in the room. The trees are often substantial enough that, from some angles, you can’t see the village at all. But you really can’t escape it forever. Jutting out of the water in varying degrees of mould and water damage, the village misses the faded grandeur aesthetic and is instead just plain ugly. What was once an entryway into the village has been plastered with signs warning would-be visitors away, referring to it rather ambitiously as a construction site. This is a holdover from three years ago, when what was supposed to be the first stage of a wider restoration project was completed. So far, the project has restored the boathouse, although cracks are beginning to re-emerge after only three years.
That really is a shame, because there’s obvious potential for the village to look good. Unlike certain other structures in St Andrews – the one I’m thinking of rhymes with Shmannochy – the shape of the village is fine, and it could be a genuine attraction if restored properly. The most obvious problem is the paintwork, although there are evidently much bigger problems below the surface, which delayed the 2017 restoration. If the current state of the village is any indication, then it might be a while before we see the whole village returned to its former glory. I’d still recommend a visit to Craigtoun Park – as I’ve said, the village is only a small part of a beautiful place, and I’m told that there’s a miniature train during more normal times. And the village is still worth a look, in a morbid sort of way. In any case, some extra attention might be just what the village needs to get its long-awaited restoration.