I recently revealed that I have attended the University of St Andrews in the UK and I feel I must now share some of my experience (and by ‘must’ I mean I’m delighted to!). St Andrews is a small town on the east coast of Fife in Scotland. It is about an hour by train from Edinburgh so if you are ever in Edinburgh visiting, I would recommend a day trip to St Andrews (or better yet attend university there 😉 )
Obviously my perspective of visiting St Andrews is a bit skewed as I lived there, but here’s what I can share. St Andrews is known to students as the ‘bubble’ – it really is one. It is also known as a town with only three streets – it technically has more than three streets, obviously. Life there is unlike anything I have experienced before. It’s a small town, but it has everything you might need. It’s full of cafes, charity shops, great local shops and boutiques and interesting restaurants. The house parties are many and the bonfires even more numerous in the summer days. Students bring a crazy energy to this little town that would probably otherwise feel older (a lot of people who reside in St Andrews are retired). Older isn’t bad, but as a fellow student I appreciated the constant effervescent atmosphere of the place. If you want peace and quiet, I would recommend going during the summer when most students are away, and the weather might be on your side during those months (I said might…).
As a student ambassador at uni I participated in the visiting days by giving countless tours to prospective students and their families. A skill I reused whenever someone came to visit. It said a lot with what there is to see and do in the town, so here it goes!
Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and the town was built roughly a thousand years ago. It was a massive pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages as it was believed that the bones of the apostle Andrew were buried there (hence the name). Okay, that’s about where my knowledge of the town history ends. That said, it resumes pretty well the spirit of the town. It’s old and full of history. Everywhere you go in town (except maybe the H&M), you can tell that there is so much history that lies in this place. Some buildings (and probably the cobble stones) are centuries old. The Preservation Trust tries to make sure the town keeps it’s quaint look by stopping any building from being built higher than the tower of the main church of the town (which you can see in the picture below). St Andrews even once housed the parliament of Scotland, when the plague hit Edinburgh in the 1600. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Although it’s small, it is full of life and interesting things to see. The sights include dramatic cliffs and three beaches, each with its own character. West Sands is where Chariots of Fire (and the ensuing Mr. Bean Olympic skit) was filmed. It’s a gorgeous long beach where children (and some students too) play, dogs run and where you could even catch sight of a polo match. It’s fun for long walks and chats and is super romantic for late night stargazing!
East Sands is at the opposite side of the town and is now where the traditional may dip happens. That is also on the side of town where the pier peaks out into the sea.
Castle Sands is a bit of a rough beach near the castle ruins. It’s small and sheltered from the wind by a cliff. That is usually where we had our bonfires and went to ‘tan’ on the few hot days of the summer. It also has a ‘pool’ which is great to go for an after gym dip. Exhibit A…
The town also has really amazing ruins to go explore. The cathedral, which is almost 900 years old, is breathtaking. Sitting on one of the benches or walking around the tombs, you can simply let your imagination wander to times when the cathedral would have stood imposing in its entirety.
The castle ruins are less impressive but well worth exploring! The castle was apparently built circa 1200 and destroyed and rebuilt multiple times…I don’t know the details unfortunately. The site (just like the site of the cathedral) is now maintained by Historic Scotland so it’s a couple pounds to get into the property. A fun bonus: you can even adventure yourself into an underground passageway! I felt like such an explorer…
St Andrews is also the home of golf. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club (clubhouse pictured below) is probably one of the most prestigious golf club in the world. It has a famous policy that only allows men to become members. I have just read, however, that they have apparently announced that the club would soon be voting on whether they would start allowing women to become members. Yes, it’s the 21st century people! There are some cool lesson opportunities for students so I got to learn to play golf…and by play I mean hit the ball…sort of…
The university is of course a huge part of the town as about half the population is working or studying at the university. The University of St Andrews is Scotland first university and the third oldest in the English speaking world, right after Oxbridge. It was founded a few hundred years ago between 1411 and 1413. Yes, it is so old that they are unsure about the correct year. The status of university was conferred on St Andrews by Pope Benedict XIII in 1413 so that is usually the date used. It was an honour to graduate from that university in 2013, the year it turned 600. Crazy!
St Salvator’s (or affectionately known as Sallies) quadrangle is the centre of the university. The schools were built roughly in the 1450s and form the oldest standing building of the university. Many first years will have classes and exams there. There are also lots of receptions held in lower and upper college hall (through the white doors). The Sallies chapel on the opposite side (not pictured) is where Sunday services are held and from where the traditional scarlet procession (of my own nickname) starts. The quad is also where the biggest foam fight in the world is held during ‘Raisin’.
And finally, this is where I studied. The School of English is housed in Castle House. It was named after its location, which is just across the road from the castle. I can say I daydreamed a few times while in seminars, looking out the bay windows and staring at the castle ruins and the fervent sea.
Is that enough to convince you that you must go visit St Andrews? Yeah I thought so 😉
P.S. Are there lots of words you didn’t get? What’s with the scarlet? the may dip? the foam fight? Raisin? Stay tuned for a post about the St Andrews traditions coming soon!