ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — You are soft. I am soft. LeBron James, Ronda Rousey, J.J. Watt – soft, each and every one. None of us would survive in a medieval prison ... and not just because cell reception is terrible down there.
During Saturday's extended wind delay at St. Andrews, I walked a half-mile east of the Old Course and about five centuries back in time to the ruins of St. Andrews Castle. This majestic locale, on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea, has hosted one form of castle or another since the 1100s, with new buildings regularly constructed atop the bones, both figurative and literal, of the past. (See more detail about the castle here.)
We won't dive deep into history here, except to note that in the 16th and 17th centuries, the castle served as fortress, prison, reception hall, and vacation getaway for England and Scotland's elite, often all at once. There's a terrifying "bottle dungeon" in one corner of the castle, a stone-walled, bottle-shaped room 20 feet below the surface where prisoners were lowered down and left there, for as long as their sentence lasted.
Naturally, this being the Middle Ages, everyone got along quite well and solved their differences calmly and reasonably. Kidding! Everyone was trying to kill everyone else and destroy everything of any value, and that led to one of the Castle's most intriguing features: the secret tunnel.
During one of the many sieges on the castle, spurred by religion and revenge, attackers decided on a novel tactic: dig underneath the castle's nigh-impregnable walls and blow 'em up from underneath. Good idea, not quick enough execution. As the attackers dug a huge hole wide enough to fit pack animals into, the men inside the castle dug outward to meet them. Lacking any way other than listening to figure out which direction the attackers were coming from, the defenders of the castle made two false-start tunnels before finally breaking through and fighting off the attempt at sabotage.
You can still crawl through the defenders' tiny tunnel and follow it through to the attackers', where the tunnel widens high enough to stand up. Here's a video; watch your head:
Yes, it's cramped, claustrophobic and, if you think about living in those days, a wee bit terrifying. On the plus side, there's no wind whatsoever in the tunnels.
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