Advantages Beautiful location, unique traditions, first class teaching
Disadvantages Cold weather
|Shops & Banks|
I began my degree at St. Andrews in 1999. Whenever I told anyone where I was studying I would be met with a quizzically furrowed brow and a blank expression. Two years later the Prince William Factor transformed it into one of the most famous universities in Britain. However, St. Andrews has long been one of the most eminent seats of learning in the world, and tends to attract people that are too eccentric / alternative / spirited to want to go to Oxbridge. After 17 years of living in Bournemouth it was time to get far away, and I chose St. Andrews because it is truly unique, if not pretty peculiar. On the surface it may seem frightfully middle (or even upper) class, and definitely is a mini-England in Scotland, but underneath there is a wonderful, singular mixed community, which draws from everyone who becomes a part of it.
St. Andrew's is located on the East Neuk of the Kingdom of Fife, surrounded by open countryside and bordered by the North Sea and two fabulous beaches. At one end of the town is the West Sands, which stretches away for 1.5 miles providing the perfect sunset view of the spired outline of the tiny city. At the other end of the town, behind the ruin of the massive 13th century cathedral, is the quaint harbour, pier and the East Sands which are more sheltered for bathing. In between the beaches stands the imposing 13th century Castle.St. Andrews is only 45 miles from the capital Edinburgh, just over an hour' drive to the big city of Glasgow, and only 12 miles, across the River Tay, from Dundee, which is excellent for shopping.
As St. Andrews is a small place cars are not needed, and are difficult to park. Everything in town is easily accessible on foot. There is a bus station in the centre of town with an excellent network and reduced student fares. The local train station is 5 miles away at Leuchars, and the nearest main airport is Edinburgh.
St. Andrews University was founded in 1413 and is Scotland's oldest university, and the third oldest in the UK. Long before that the settlement was the site of religious pilgrimage after the bones of Christ's disciple Saint Andrew were shipwrecked on the coast, and he became the patron saint of Scotland. The four main medieval streets of the town surrounded by the city walls are filled with wonderful historical, architectural and religiously significant buildings, from the magnificent cathedral and castle to the charming fishermen's cottages.St Andrews is a small university (8000 students and staff) in a small town (18,000 residents). The students tend to congregate around the old town, whereas the locals mainly reside down a steep slope known locally as the Travellator, because with a covering of ice in the winter it's exactly like that mean machine from Gladiators. The university buildings, which accommodate four faculties - Science, Medicine, Arts and Divinity - are spread throughout the town, in three main sections - St. Mary's Quad (biomedical sciences, psychology, divinity), St. Salvator's Quad (arts) and the North Haugh (sciences). At first I found the smallness of the town very claustrophobic, and without any means of escape, but soon I was so glad that every time I ventured outside I would meet people I knew, and I was part of a community and not a faceless noone alone in a big city. There is always the downside of course that everyone knows everyone else's business!
St. Andrews is a traditional university, which provides a traditional, yet diverse, choice of subjects. In my opinion the Scottish education system excels above that of England. In Scotland first degrees are four years long as opposed to three, enabling students to gain a greater breadth of knowledge. In the first two years, a broad variety of subjects are studied, with the final decision on which discipline to focus on only being settled in the third 'Junior Honours' year. The modular method of teaching and gathering credits also negates the need for stressful Finals. This system particularly suited me, as initially I applied to study Neuroscience, which obviously I hadn't been able to try out at school, and when I didn't particularly enjoy the Psychology aspect of it, I was able to switch to Physiology with no bother at all.
I spent my first three years in St. Salvators Hall (Sallies) and my final year in a private flat. St. Andrews is unusual in being able to provide accommodation for many students for the whole of their academic career - about 65% live in Halls, and the older Halls require freshers to share rooms. When Prince William decided to join me in Sallies it all went a bit crazy - little Bob the Porter frantically polished all the bronze plaques before Will and his dad arrived, MI5 agents dressed up as road sweepers to monitor any insurgents in the streets, Prince Edward was lurking in the bushes outside with his camera crew, and there was a sudden large influx of young Americans seeking to be the next Queen. Indeed Willie made a good choice as Sallies is by far the best Hall, bang in the centre of town, with views of the sea, a lovely wooden panelled dining room with stained glass windows, where formal dinners are held regularly, two common rooms, snooker table, reading room, computer room, laundry and very large bedrooms. Single rooms currently cost £3,734 per year, including catering, linen and a team of lovely cleaning ladies.
HALLS OF RESIDENCE
The other Halls are no less well appointed, with the traditional St. Regulus, University, McIntosh ('Chattan') and Deans Court, semi-modern John Burnett ('Atholl') and Hamilton, the modern David Russell, the ship-shaped Andrew Melville, the luxurious New Hall, and the bleak student villages at Fife Park and Albany Park ('Gatty'). From all the universities I've visited, St. Andrews definitely has the best accommodation, and this extends to the private rentals in the town, which are often plush flats in old buildings with high ceilings, and cost an average of £75 per person per week.
Library (North Street) - The university library is excellent holding over 800,000 books, 3,000 periodicals, special collection of rare material, and access to online journals. There are around 800 study stations inside, alongside numerous photocopiers, computers, seminar rooms, CD-ROM databases and very helpful staff. The library opens long hours, and even 24/7 during exam times. There are also many departmental libraries dotted around the town, as well as various museums, including the renowned Bell Pettigrew Zoological Museum located in the Bute Building, which is open free to outsiders.Computers - There are several computer clusters located around town, and in the Halls of Residence which can be accessed 24 hours. Networking to the university inter/intranet system is available free of charge from Hall bedrooms.
Students Union (Market St.) - the physical site of the university bookshop, stationary shop, off licence, travel centre, bar, games room, and the spiritual home of the many societies, from the sensible Debating, United Nations, Christian union to the less serious James Bond and Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Appreciation Societies. On Friday night the Union stages "the Bop" the nearest thing in St. Andrews to a nightclub.The Athletic Union (North Haugh) - home to all sports clubs, the gym, pitches and courts. Being Scotland there are some unusual, and nicely violent, sports to try such as shinty. The worse thing about my university experience was as an avid cricketer, I chose not only a rainy country which is more in to football and rugby, but also one whose university years end before the cricket season begins, which meant a lot of practice and no matches. There is a municipal swimming pool on the other side of town.
Careers Advisory Service (St. Mary's Place) - stock a wide range of pamphlets, and advisors are available for consultations on career options throughout the year. They can help to arrange postgraduate and vacation placements. This is a valuable resource I wish I had made more use of at the time.
St. Andrew's is not short on odd traditions.1. Undergraduates wear bright orange furry gowns. Originally chosen to identify students trying to patronise houses of ill repute, today, despite being a fashion disaster, these are very helpful to keep warm in the winter, and enable students to stop traffic at will - although most drivers unfortunately don't know this - so you may not stop it the way you intended. As students progress through the university, the gown is worn gradually slipping off the shoulders to signal the transition to graduateship.
2. Academic families - within their first few weeks all Bejants (freshers) acquire a mother and father who Tertians (3rd years) or Magistrands (4th years). The role of the academic family is to help new students get to know their way around, and many long lasting friendships are formed. After helping their children settle in, the parents get their chance to reap pleasure from the deal in November each year, on Raisin weekend. The ancient tradition has morphed rather, and now the bash consists of a 'mother's tea party with party games' (not as innocent as it sounds), followed by the father's night on the town. The next morning the mother dresses the worse for wear child in something embarrassing and parades them through the town to the quad, where they are admitted through a group singing the university song 'Gaudeamus Igitur' into the Quad for a huge shaving foam fight. The mother gives the child a Raisin String with a relevant gift on the end to tie to their snazzy gown, and the child gives the father a bottle of wine (originally a pound of raisins), and in return receive a Raisin receipt written in Latin on something impractical which they must carry around - inventive fathers will use police security fences, and hands from the pathology lab are rumoured to have gone missing for this purpose in the past.3. Pier Walk - on Sundays after chapel, begowned students march through the town in a blur of orange and along the pier, which incidentally if one does fall off and die, they are instantly awarded a First.
4. After Easter every year the elitist male only Kate Kennedy Club parade through the town dressed as knights, bishops and other figures from the towns past, and due to a self-enforced lack of the fairer sex, the prettiest boy has to dress up as Kate and sit in a chariot bedecked in daffodils. The whole town lines the streets to watch, and this is a lovely occasion.5. May dip - At sunrise on the Celtic Festival of Beltane (May Day) students traditionally go for a dip in the freezing North Sea accompanied by a singing madrigal group. This is surprisingly popular, although I never quite made it myself.
Hob-nob - PW wasn't the first big name to graze the cobbles of St. Andrews. Sean Connery has a cottage near the castle, there are always plenty of famous golfers knocking around and a bevy of stars such as Michael Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Jordan, Beefy Botham turn up in October each year to play in the Dunhill Cup. The Royal & Ancient Club is the official home of golf and a lot of students only come here to make use of the excellent courses at bargain student rates.
THINGS TO DO
Relish in the arts - St. Andrews has a tiny independent cinema, The New Picture House (North St.). It may only have one and a half screens, and gets films a little later than the rest of the country, but it has an unique atmosphere and at £1.20 in my day was a cheap night out. St. Andrews also has the tiny, sophisticated Byre theatre, which stages regular high quality productions.Balls - there are balls and ceilidhs (traditional Scottish dances) practically every week, from Hall, to society, to sports club etc.
There are also a several tourist attractions in town such as the small Sealife Centre, town museum, golf museum, castle and cathedral to visit, at which students receive reduced entrance fees.
St. Andrews is famous for having the most pubs per square metre of anywhere in Britain, and with Scotland's late licensing laws they are nearly always available. There are over thirty to chose from all with unique characters.Ma Bells (The Scores) - a favourite with anyone famous whose in town, this fashionable pub overlooks the sea and the Old Course, and does the best White Russian in town.
Lizard Lounge (North St.) - the funkiest pub, verging on club, with an underground bar and often live DJ.West Port (South St.)- swanky wine bar, with an unsurpassed range of alcoholic beverages, and trendy sofas on which to enjoy them.
Drouthy Neebors (South St.) - Scottish theme pub, decorated with fiddles, poems and bottles. Always busy with a homely atmosphere.The Central (Market St.) - With a huge bar in the middle this is reminiscent of Cheers, but with much more character, and is an excellent day time watering hole.
Balaka (Market St.) - this award-winning Bangladeshi claims to serve the best curry in Scotland, and is reputedly a favourite of Sean Connery's. This is quite an expensive restaurant (£25+ per person) and they make it blatantly obvious they prefer the likes of Sir Sean to students, but the food is exceptionally good.
TOP FIVE EATING PLACES
The Doll's House (Church Sq.) - A quirkily decorated, intimate restaurant. Two course set lunches are a bargain at under £10, with delicious nouveau cuisine crossed with traditional Scottish dishes, all made using local produce.North Point Café (North St.) - Wonderful home baked cakes, muffins, soups and huge Chai lattes, with a side on view of the cathedral.home baking and fine cuisine.
When I moved to St. Andrews I could not believe how cold it was. Being a soft Southerner I found it hard to endure the icy wind blowing in from the North Sea (which once actually froze my eyeballs in my head), and the ever present Har, so I would seriously advise investing in a super-thick duvet. The weather is only lovely from June-August when all the students go home. I got so fed up with being cold for four years I promptly moved to South Africa after graduating to warm up.
For more information see www.st-andrews.ac.uk
When I look back on my university days, I am so glad I chose to go somewhere so special. I feel privileged that I was part of a unique place of learning in such beautiful historic and natural surroundings. I will always look upon the little Scottish town as one of my dearest homes.
© 2005 V.L.Collyer
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