Independent learning week in beautiful Scotland

Aoife Fisher explores some destinations available in Fife and overall Scotland as scenic choices for activities to do during Independent Learning Week.

With Independent Learning Week (ILW) fast approaching, you might be wondering how to make the best use of the week.

Originally called ‘Reading Week’, this mid-semester break was removed by the university in 2012. However, students struggled to cope with their workload without a gap to catch up, especially in the face of increasing deadlines in weeks six, seven and eight of the first semester. After much discussion between the Students’ Association and the university, the break was reintroduced as Independent Learning Week last year. Both parties agreed that the week was not intended to be a holiday, but rather an opportunity to get back on track with work.

Several St Andrews students were asked how they plan to use the opportunity.

It seems that Independent Learning Week is generally enjoyable in first year. With less stress at the sub-honours level, freshers can enjoy the liberty of traveling home or go on holiday.

First-year Johan Laurie said, “I think I’ll go home to see my family for the week. I haven’t seen them since I came here and that feels like ages ago.”

A second year student, who wishes to remain anonymous, remembered a similar experience in her first year. “I think I went home to spend time with my family,” she said, later adding “I didn’t do much work, and one of my friends actually stayed here and just slept a lot.”

Elen Young, also in her second year, enjoyed Independent Learning Week last year, traveling down to London with uni friends and then spending a few days at home.

However, despite the carefree memories of students such as Ms Laurie and Ms Young, the option of going home or abroad is not as easy to take with increasing pressure from courses, particularly in third and fourth year. A third-year, Beth Staines, reminisced on her ILW experience, which seemed to really include a lot of independent learning in the library. She said “I had four essays due in on the Friday, so I legitimately cried and wrote essays…It was the worst week of my life.”

As students transition into honours modules during their third year and it would appear that the pace does indeed pick up.

Gautam Bagga, a third year, said, “I think that last year I basically just worked in the library.” However, as he noted, it is important to strike the right balance between work and relaxation so, he confessed, “This year, I’m flying back home to India.”

Another third year, Callaway McCarren, said “I stayed in St Andrews and did work sometimes”. This year, Raisin weekend falls at the beginning of Independent Learning Week. Culminating in a foam party on Lower College Lawn, it offers the potential for a fun start to the week. Whether you are a fresher or academic parent, starting off your ILW with Raisin Weekend could be well worth the activities and memories made, despite being unproductive for coursework.

Alternatively, if you are lucky (or organised) enough not to have an overwhelming amount of work by Learning Week, definitely consider the possibility of taking a break from the so-called ‘bubble’ that is St Andrews. A city break in mainland Europe is certainly appealing to some students. However, with financial concerns being an issue for many students, there are still plenty of options close to home. Look no further than Fife for an exciting break! Freshers or students who’ve spent too much of their ILW time in the library might not realise, but there are many attractions on St Andrews’ doorstep.

The Fife Coastal Path is an experience not to be missed. It winds from the Firth of Forth in the south to the Firth of Tay in the north for 117 miles. There is a range of walking levels on offer, from easy and flat to challenging and wild. So, regardless of whether you are looking for a peaceful break or a wild adventure, the Fife Coastal Trail will have something to suit you.

Mid Fife, known as ‘the heart of Fife’, holds a few attractions worth seeing too. The small village of Aberdour is situated between two beaches and even has its own 13th century castle and 12th century village church called St Fillan’s. It also has some unique and quirky art galleries. Burntisland boasts a 15th century castle, with a sandy beach and a volcanic plug to accompany it as a dramatic backdrop. The postcard-ready Wemyss Villages – East Wemyss and West Wemyss – are located on the Firth of Forth’s north shore and memorable for their caves with Pictish carvings.

The East Neuk of Fife is also an unmissable experience, with many beautiful fishing villages. Elie offers water-sports activities for a range of abilities in a beautiful seaside town. Anstruther and Crail, meanwhile, offer world famous shellfish and seafood. Pittenweem, still an active port, has an eclectic mix of shops, pubs and restaurants. And St Monans, on the Fife Coastal Path, appeals to tourists with its quaint houses and harbour, as well as the ruins of Newark Castle.

If you just really need a break from the Kingdom of Fife, the Scottish Highlands and Islands are an incredible and nearby place to visit, perfect for a three day weekend or mid ILW day trip. With breathtaking scenery, including mountains and lochs, it really is the Scotland you would imagine based on the movies. Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, is a great gateway to the rest of the Highlands, and a mere eight miles from the famous Loch Ness. At 20 miles long, it is the largest lake in Scotland. You might even see the mythical Loch Ness Monster. Additionally, the area surrounding it offers more tourist attractions, natural wonders, and lots of places to eat.

The Great Glen Way also starts in Inverness. It stretches for 70 miles to Fort William in the east, and crosses through some of Scotland’s most amazing scenery. If you are interested in history, the Culloden battlefield is definitely worth visiting.

The Cairngorms, in the Eastern Highlands, are another popular tourist attraction. The Cairngorms National Park has five of the highest mountains in Scotland. There are forest trails, rivers, lochs, places to observe wildlife, picturesque villages, and many distilleries.

Finally, the Scottish islands are breathtaking in their own right. The Outer Hebrides, or Western Isles, are a chain of islands with a unique way of life. Including the beautiful Isles of Lewis, Harris and Barra, the Western Isles offer a range of activities. With museums and monuments, sea views and watersports, wilderness and authentic Gaelic culture, there is something for everyone. The Inner Hebrides, meanwhile, include Skye, Mull, Dura and Islay. Skye in particular is famous for its astounding scenery and medieval castles; well worth a visit.

If you are in search of a countryside getaway this ILW, this list definitely offers a vast variety of options. But, if you have had enough of the countryside while living in St Andrews, consider a city break to Edinburgh. With buses and trains running regularly, it is easy to get to Edinburgh city centre. Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, countless pubs, bars, and restaurants are only a few of the things that the beautiful city has to offer.

So, have a productive week whether you spend it learning independently in the library, learning independently in another city, or enjoying the beautiful towns of St Andrews, Fife, or beyond!

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