A Freshers' Guide to the Wonderfully Strange Traditions of St Andrews
Updated: Sep 8, 2021
The University of St Andrews was founded in 1413, making it the oldest university in Scotland. Most universities have some traditions that students uphold, but none are quite as strange and wonderful as those you will encounter in St Andrews. These traditions will most likely play an important part in shaping your time in the town as a student and could, quite possibly, become some of your fondest memories. By the time you have graduated from St Andrews, you will have a range of unusual stories to tell, all thanks to the strange traditions that have emerged during the University’s 608 years.
The Pier Walk
The Pier Walk will likely be the first St Andrews tradition you participate in as a student. It takes place every Sunday after the chapel service, so you will have the chance to complete the walk yourself on your very first weekend in St Andrews.
Students will walk along the pier before climbing up the ladder at the end of the pier, at the top of which they will be able to begin walking along the higher portion of the pier. Be warned, the walk looks deceptively easy, but as I learned during my first year, the higher part of the pier can be a scary prospect if it is windy.
At the beginning of every academic year, third-year students adopt freshers and help guide them through their first year of university. A family usually consists of a mum and dad, known as your academic parents and their adopted children. However, some families are larger than this and can also contain aunts and uncles (usually friends of your academic parents) and even cousins (academic children of those aunts and uncles). Academic families are a great way to make friends outside of the classroom, but you shouldn’t worry if you do not find a family straight away. If you are struggling to find a family, you should ask friends and classmates, as they may have parents who are still adopting. You will spend Raisin Weekend with your family and attend the foam fight with them.
Raisin Weekend is bound to be one of your most memorable experiences as a fresher. This weekend takes place during reading week in October, and children will go to their academic parents’ house on the Saturday morning to begin a long weekend of games. These are usually drinking games, but of course, you do not have to drink if you do not want to. If you decide that you do not wish to participate in Raisin weekend, in previous years, the university has run movie marathons and other events which you can attend.
Then on the Sunday morning, children will head over to Lower College Lawn dressed up in a costume that their academic parents have made.
It is there that children will take part in a giant foam fight. Raisin weekend is bound to be fun and exciting, but you must ensure that you are hydrated and do not exceed your drinking limits.
This tradition takes place the night before May Dip and commemorates the bravery of one of the University’s previous students, John Honey. In 1800, a ship named the Janet of Macduff, ran aground off East Sands. The ship was wrecked, and attempts to rescue those on board had failed. John Honey, however, had other students tie a rope around his torso and began to swim out to the shipwreck. Honey swam back and forth to the ship five times, each time rescuing a member of the crew. Unfortunately, on his final trip to the ship, its mast broke and fell on Honey’s chest. Honey made it back to the shore but died years later due to unresolved health issues from the incident.
To commemorate Honey’s bravery, students head down to the pier and lay a wreath at the sight of the shipwreck. Students also carry torches with them on their pier walk.
May Dip is the perfect opportunity for students to wipe away any of their academic sins accumulated over the year.
Students will either rise insanely early on the morning of May Dip or do an all-nighter to run into the sea at East Sands. After running into the freezing water, many students head to Northpoint Cafe for pancakes and coffee afterwards.
The traditions of this town will form some of your fondest memories of your time in St Andrews. You can participate in as many or as few of them as you want, but you should always remember to stay safe while you're taking part in them and have a good time.
Alexandra Baff - Features Editor