Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Upon accepting my offer to study at St Andrews almost 4 years ago, a few responses from those around me became recurrent. Aunties and grannies clucked, “maybe you’ll meet a prince” and I smiled politely in response, while my parents beamed on my behalf as I blushed profusely. However, amongst some of my high school peers who were heading to the veritably bustling cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, my sanity was questioned: “St Andrews? But isn’t it like only three streets – and has no nightlife!?”
Indeed, I must begrudgingly admit that St Andrews – a town which outside of term-time consists largely of retirees and young families on day-trips – does not host a plethora of bars and clubs akin to that of a buzzing metropolis. However, any St Andrews student quickly becomes fully versed in why nightlife is not exclusively synonymous with nightclubs.
Yet, what I cannot concede is that St Andrews, by essence, is “like only three streets”. What a cold and callus image that phrase conjures! A characterless trifecta of grey pavements and even greyer weather. And, while the weather can indeed stretch its wintry tendrils into grim territory, I am here to reassure you, dear fresher, that St Andrews is, perhaps unsurprisingly, more than three lifeless streets – both literally and figuratively.
So, has everyone got comfortable walking shoes on? A jacket to diminish the bite of the North Easterly wind (a Barbour is a preferred choice around here)? Good, then let’s begin our tour. Passing the Cathedral to East Sands, we arrive at the location of an iconic Freshers’ event – the Pier Walk. I clearly remember my first Pier Walk: equal parts self-conscious and excited, I found myself in a sea in of red gowns and unfamiliar faces; disorientated while trying to find my way back to ABH; and whole-heartedly disagreeing with anyone who dared to suggest that St Andrews feels like a small town. However, with time, you will become familiar with the town’s entanglement of meandering lanes and twee-ly named wynds where the 21st century intertwines with the 15th, and those same unfamiliar faces will merge into those of friends as the Pier Walk transforms into the location of photos snapped and shared on Facebook or distributed on the family Christmas card.
To those still unconvinced, take solace in the fact that St Andrews gains its “bubble” status, not only on account of its poor transport links, but also through students’ choice: a night-bus to Dundee or an excursion to Edinburgh - although not unheard of - often relegated for another night spent in St Andrews.
It is in this sense that St Andrews’ insularity is its greatest virtue. American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once wrote “time flies over us, but leaves its shadows behind”. And, as I enter my 4th year, St Andrews’ “three streets” have, indeed, morphed into a city of shadows: time turning every street, lane, and wynd into a map of memories.
For example, due to the aforementioned nightclub status, every St Andrean – ever the aficionado at creating their own fun – is able to point to a flat, unassuming to the unknowing eye, at which the best after-party, or birthday party, or Friday night of their university career took place.
Similarly, Market Street will no longer be viewed as a simple shopping street, but instead where friendships were forged with classmates in coffee shops; where a girl will board the 99 Bus to DRA and excitedly announce that she had just seen the ever-adored A-lister, Bill Murray; or, indeed, where my dearly departed co-editor bumped into the not-quite-so-universally-adored Piers Morgan, before sending a photograph of them together into The Saint’s group-chat.
North Street will become where you bear witness to hordes of students superstitiously diverting their path to avoid walking over the PH stones – or, if lost in conversation, where they may leap as if having stepped on hot coals upon realising where they stand. And, while one way to cleanse yourself of this academic sin (which allegedly condemns you to exam failure) is to run around the Quad undressed, neither The Saint, nor the University, I’d imagine, condones this. Instead, students who have stepped on the PH (or are just plain masochistic) can run into the North Sea at dawn during the annual May Dip, turning the beaches of St Andrews from a tourist’s photo op and into a place of tradition, ritual, and rite of passage.
And, while inevitably some of time’s shadows are tableaus of awkward Freshers’ Week interactions outside of 601, of even cringe-worthier fashion choices, and days filled with self-doubt (which, at the time, I’d wished nothing more than to forget), eventually they come to illustrate the greatest learning curves. And, why are we at university if not for an education? While we may be seeking this through our respective degree programmes, I have sometimes found myself unaware that the greatest lessons that I shall leave university with have occurred outside of the lecture halls.
Thus, while the maxim “time flies” is barely some ground-breaking adage, it nevertheless holds true in retrospect – although, try telling that to a student at the beginning of a 30-page article. Ergo, as time ticks constantly on your wrist, time in St Andrews can pull and stretch like sticky toffee between teeth, yet feel equally as fleeting - however, always scattering a plethora of shadows in its wake. So, while I can’t guarantee that you will meet a prince, what I can guarantee is that by the end of your time here, these three streets will hold four years of memories.
Laura Beveridge - Editor-at-Large