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Historic St Rule's Tower Reopens to Public

The historic St Rule’s tower has reopened to visitors, as announced last week by Historic Environment Scotland. The site was closed temporarily for essential masonry work given the threat the climate crisis has posed to the conservation of the historic site. Earlier this year, Castle Sands Beach closed following a significant rock fall and Fife Council staff made a detailed assessment of the overall stability of the area.

Constructed in the 11th century, HES is responsible for its maintenance and conservation, in addition to many other historic sites in Scotland.

St Rule’s, or St Regulus’ tower is located in the grounds of the cathedral of St Andrews, which is also open to visitors. Situated at the end of Market and South streets, it is a collection of ruins. Originally built in 1158, it was the center of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland. During the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century, it was ransacked, ruined, and taken apart, with no preservation action taken until 1826. However, according to Historic Environment Scotland, the tower predates the rest of the ruins, and was retained as a place of worship throughout its existence.

The surrounding site has been reopened and closed multiple times in the last few years. It was partially opened during The Open to allow visitors to see the graves of famous golfers. The Director of Operations, Craig Mearns, said, “I am delighted to announce the reopening of St Rule’s Tower at St Andrews Cathedral following essential restrictions that were put in place for high level masonry inspections and subsequent repairs”.

Visitors will now be able to book tickets and visit Sunday-Friday. It remains the highest look-out point in the town at 33 metres high, with 156 steps up a constricted metal spiral staircase, according to Undiscovered Scotland.

HES believes it is among the first of its kind to conduct risk-assessments to historic sites which may be at risk to the degrading effects of climate change, as well as the general deterioration of original building materials due to the age and location of these sites. The heritage managers have several ongoing projects and inspections throughout Scotland. They announced, “HES has completed detailed, tactile inspections at 25 sites across the country since May, with a further 13 due for completion by Spring 2023”. The West Port entrance to South Street, Blackfriars Chapel, St Andrews Castle, and St Mary’s Church are among the Tower and Cathedral, protected by HES.

Between 2020-2021, seven historic sites in Fife were closed for risk assessment. The cathedral and castle were closed for several years due to HES fears of falling masonry. According to The Courier, St Andrews Labour councilor Brian Thompson was concerned about the adverse economic effects of these closures, “It may result in a significant drop in visitor expenditure”. Despite this concern, HES emphasized the importance of these sites and therefore the necessity of their risk assessment. The cathedral, tower, visitor center and museum are all open throughout the week, with tickets available on the HES website.

Castle Sands Beach is also restricted and closed frequently due to rockfalls and the protection of nesting birds.

Image: Margaret Squires

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