Starting university at St Andrews is an unforgettable experience. This year, with life in town having mostly returned to normal after our tumultuous ‘pandemic years’, students can properly get back to doing what they do best: making the most of what the affectionately-named “Bubble” that is St Andrews has to offer.
If this town had a disclaimer to read before entering, it would probably include some of the following: we’ve accepted that few other universities run fashion shows at the number and scale that we do; the pub scene is far bigger than anything we could attempt to call a club scene; and most nights out end with either chips, a trip to St Andrews Shawarma House, or a toastie.
It’s always worth remembering all of the things which make St Andrews such a unique, friendly, and exciting place: full of traditions involving cold water, red gowns, and shaving foam that’ll have you telling your friends at other unis “I swear it’s not a cult thing!”. From classic traditions to underrated favourites, we at The Saint are highlighting four events that all students should put on their pre-Graduation bucket list.
Arguably the most memorable way to begin a year at St Andrews involves dressing in the iconic red gowns of the university and walking with your friends across the Pier on East Sands, participating in one of the oldest traditions that this town has to offer. The most popular Pier Walk happens on the Sunday before the beginning of the first semester, with students of all year groups congregating on the lawn of St Salvator’s Quad to make their way across North Street down to the Pier. This event is a great opportunity for photos in some of the most scenic locations of the town; just make sure you arrive punctually to stay ahead of the inevitably large crowd. Another Pier Walk not to miss is the Gaudie, a torchlit procession that takes place every 30th of April to honour the memory of John Honey, a university student who on that day in 1800 rescued sailors from a stranded ship. Whenever you choose to go on a Pier Walk, know that you’ll be participating in an event that celebrates the communal spirit of St Andrews.
St Andrew’s Day Street Ceilidh
If I had to recommend one event to fellow international students in particular, I would point them in the direction of the nearest ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee). A social event with traditional Scottish dancing and live music, this is a perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture and meet new people. Although there are many great ceilidhs thrown by various different societies throughout the year, with those hosted by the university’s Celtic Society deserving a particular mention, the biggest and most exciting ceilidh arguably takes place in the streets of the town itself. The St Andrew’s Day Street Ceilidh is part of a larger set of celebrations which take place over the course of the weekend closest to St Andrew’s Day (the 30th of November). It brings together students and town residents to dance their way down South Street on a chilly autumn evening. Whether you’re an experienced dancer or can’t tell a Canadian Barn Dance from a Dashing White Sergeant, this ceilidh is accessible to all levels. The music is lively, the energy is contagious, and you’ll soon find yourself wishing that the dancing would last until the early hours of the morning.
There are many great balls hosted by various student groups in St Andrews, and you should certainly attend at least one in your time at university. If you’re looking for the most festive of them all, however, then the iconic Mermaids Christmas Ball would be your best bet. Organised by the university’s performing arts fund, this ball has had themes from A Night at the Nutcracker to Christmas Around the World, and always remains true to the holiday spirit. Taking place at the nearby Kinkell Byre, the ball features live music, DJs, dancing, food, and sweets in the many rooms of the venue, each decorated according to a different aspect of the year’s theme. It’s one of the most popular events of the St Andrews social calendar, often selling out in under a minute, so make sure that you’re persistent on the ever-lagging Union website in order to get a coveted ticket!
Wear your gown incorrectly for your year group? Step on the PH? Guess what? You’ve committed an academic sin! But what better way to cleanse yourself before the start of exams than a one-on-one confession between you and the cold, cold North Sea? With the Pier Walk being the best way to start your academic year at St Andrews, May Dip is undoubtedly the best tradition to end it with. Hundreds of students celebrate into the early hours of the 1st of May with parties and bonfires on East Sands, waiting for the sun to rise. When it does, they cleanse their academic sins in a quite literal sense, by running together into the sea. It’s cathartic, joyful, and more than a little bit freezing - but it will also be one of the most unique and memorable experiences you could ever have in St Andrews.
Whether you’re a brand new Fresher or a final year student, we at The Saint hope to have given you a few ideas for what you’d like to do in the year ahead. There are many more great events hosted in this town and by this university that you won’t want to miss, so keep an eye on the Events section for reviews, previews, and more on all the most exciting events to come!
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew
Photo: Harriet St Pier