Women and the Water: Fishing Images from the Recording Scotland Collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during the second world war to permanently capture the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialisation.  This is the eighth blog in the series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland Collection.

West Shore by David Foggie (RSW), ©University of St Andrews


Today we would like to introduce a nautical theme from the Recording Scotland Collection, featuring images of both women and men at work in the fishing industry before and between the world wars.

Only a dozen of the Recording Scotland Collection paintings capture such scenes of boats, harbours, and the men and women who made their livelihoods by the ocean.  This is a relatively small number of paintings when we consider that Scotland has a mainland coastline that spans over 6,000 miles and, when you include the islands it reaches over 10,000 miles of shoreline!  That is a magnificent amount of coast, and thousands of stories to tell about the fishing villages and their inhabitants.

David Foggie RSA (1878-1948) is the artist that provides several of the coastal paintings we are featuring today.  He trained in Dundee and furthered his artistic studies in Belgium.  He returned home to Scotland in 1904 and settled in Fife, near Leuchars.  His paintings of Pittenweem help to illustrate the cultural traditions of East Neuk and East Lothian fishing villages, and particularly highlights the role that women played in the fishing industry.

In 1907, 2,500,000 barrels of herring were salted and shipped from Scotland.  This “boom” of herring resulted in thousands of vessels, fishermen and “herring lasses” being employed. Government support and the use of railways for shipping had resulted in a robust industry as long as the fish shoals were healthy. This boom was a high mark for the fishing industry, but it was soon to face the challenges of two world wars and a changing global economy. For centuries, Scotland had been the location best suited for fishing for salmon and herring and had resulted in a thriving trade with European neighbours.

Barking Nets by David Foggie (RSW), ©University of St Andrews

Herring was traditionally caught using a drift net. These nets were stretched out and suspended in the water by corks, where the fish become trapped by their gills when they try to swim into the net.  Drift nets had to be constantly repaired and treated, in a process called “barking and drying.”  We can see the fishermen at work with their nets in the paintings by David Foggie called Barking nets, Pittenweem and West Shore, Pittenweem.  The nets had to be submerged in large pots on shore every few weeks during the fishing season, whereas wealthier and more advanced vessels could treat their nets aboard ship.  The nets were then stretched out on grassy hills, long gardens, alleyways or shores to dry before being used again.  The historic villages still have long and unusually shaped buildings reflecting the need for nets to dry and ropes to be made.


Fishing was a family affair.  We can imagine the work performed by the women captured in May Marshall Brown’s Cat Row, Dunbar and we can see the women seated by their homes in West Shore, Pittenweem.   Women would work by cleaning fishing lines, reattaching, and baiting new hooks before each journey to sea.  They could gather with other women while they did the work, while also minding their children and a thousand other tasks.  If the women were busy handling fish guts, you can imagine how many cats came to beg for their dinner.

Scottish women had limited access to occupations at the end of the 1800s, but seasonal work around herring fishing provided a much-needed income.  Women travelled from the islands to the mainland and back, even venturing south to England following the shoals of herring.  Teams of women worked together gutting and packing the herring into barrels for days on end.  Most could gut fish at a rate of 30 to 50 a minute. The work was hard and dangerous, due to the high probability of cuts and infections.  The women were paid at the end of the season based on the number of barrels they were able to pack.  This might result in receiving £10 – £20 for the season if it was a prosperous year.  If it was a poor fishing season, then they might only make enough money to travel home.  The women understood the work to be hard but enjoyed the companionship and extra income that it afforded them.  It also gave them the opportunity to visit new villages and ports, and potentially make romantic matches.  Women’s Work, Pittenweem captures this communal effort as the women work on the shore.

Women’s Work by David Foggie (RSW), ©University of St Andrews

Salted herring was purchased predominately by Germany, the Baltic nations, and Russia in the early part of the 20th century.  All countries that were severely impacted at the outbreak of war and suffered from inflation and economic instability.  In the 1930s, other countries also built up their own domestic fishing fleets and no longer relied on the Scottish trade. During the wars, men went off to military service and women had transitioned into munitions work or nursing.  Technology also advanced for fishermen who could do more with smaller, more efficient boats and packing facilities.  Tastes also changed, and salted herring was no longer as prized as other types of seafood.  Fishermen (and women) continue to adapt in the coastal villages and find new and inventive ways to continue the traditions of their trade.  It was once popular to present friends and neighbours with a string of herring as a gift.  When was the last time you gave someone a herring?

The various roles that women have performed in Scottish maritime history have not only been captured in paint, but also in bronze.  The “herring girls” are commemorated with two statues in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis and a statue of a woman and child stand in Pittenweem harbour looking out to sea in remembrance of the 400 people who have lost their lives at sea.

To learn more about the history of fishing in Scotland, make sure to stop in at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther.
















Witchcraft and mystery, or, the object that never was in our collection

Witchcraft and mystery, or, the object that never was in our collection

Jessica Burdge and Katie Eagleton


Every museum has at least one object that people sometimes ask about, but which actually isn’t in their collection.  For the Museums of the University of St Andrews there is an added layer of mystery, because ours is a witch skull, and we can’t illustrate this blog with a photograph of it, because it has disappeared.

Lilias Adie, picture courtesy of Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee


More than 300 years ago, Lilias Adie from Torryburn, Fife, was accused of witchcraft. She died in prison in 1704, before the sentence of execution could be carried out, and her remains were buried on the beach weighed down by a large stone, which was said to be to stop her coming back to haunt people. In the 19th century, her remains were exhumed, and accounts you can find online today usually say that the skull was initially in the private collection of a doctor in Dunfermline, then in the University of St Andrews anatomy collection – but went missing sometime in the 20th century. Today, more than 300 years after Adie’s death, there are attempts to find her remains, and to more respectfully remember her and others who were tried for, and convicted of, witchcraft in Scotland.

It’s a story that has all the elements of a mystery story: witchcraft and a disappearing skull. As a result, we receive reasonably regular queries asking where the skull is now, and what records we have of it in our collection in the past?

The St Andrews connection seems to begin on 30th September 1884, when twelve men of the Fifeshire Medical Association met at St Andrews, in the classroom of Professor Pettigrew, anatomist at the University. The first talk was on the history of the University, and the second talk was on Lilias Adie. Dr William Barrie Dow from Dunfermline showed her skull to the gentlemen present, explained his observations on it, and read extracts from the Kirk-Session records. There was then a third talk on the then-recently-described tuberculosis bacterium, including viewing of specimens through microscopes, before everyone repaired to the Cross Keys Hotel for dinner and speeches to celebrate Dr Dow having been elected President of the Association for the coming year (Dundee Evening Telegraph, 2 October 1884, page 3).

It is not clear who owned the skull in 1884 – or, indeed, whether the group took it to the Cross Keys with them – but in the published version of his talk, Dow named Robert Couston (who had not been present at the meeting) as the former owner of the skull. Sometime around the turn of the century, although it is not known where or by whom, three photographs of the skull were taken, and it is these that have recently allowed a reconstruction of Adie’s face to be created by specialists at the University of Dundee. In 1901 and 1904, Robert Couston published articles about Lilias Adie in the Dunfermline Press in which he said that her skull had come to the St Andrews Museum.

The problem is, we can find no trace of it.

From 1838 onwards, the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, who were responsible for the museum at the University, kept detailed lists of objects acquired for the collection, and in those there is no mention of anything that could be this skull. Nor is it included in a complete list of the museum and its collection that was compiled in 1904 when the Literary and Philosophical Society formally handed both over to the University. These records are detailed, but to be sure that the skull wasn’t somehow in the collection without proper documentation, we took copies of the photographs of Lilias Adie’s skull (which has distinctive and prominent front teeth) and compared it with the skulls in the Anatomy and Pathology collection. None were similar. The trail, at this point, goes cold, and we can only conclude that Lilias Adie’s skull was probably never part of the collections at the University of St Andrews.

However, readers who know the history of the University and the history of its museums may have spotted a coincidence of locations here, that might be the key to unlocking this mystery. That is, Professor Pettigrew’s rooms at the University were in the United College Building, only a few hundred metres from the location of the University Museum, which in 1884 was in Upper College Hall.

Perhaps, then, there is no witchcraft and no mysterious disappearance here at all – if statements that the skull was in the University of St Andrews Museum trace back to newspaper reports by someone who wasn’t there, published 15 years later, of an evening in 1884 when a group of medical gentlemen examined Adie’s skull at the University close to – but not in – the University Museum.

The last time the location of Lilias Adie’s skull was known was in 1938 when it was displayed along with other objects relating to witchcraft as part of the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, in one of the two Scottish pavilions. One contemporary newspaper reported that it “grins from a showcase”, and repeats Couston’s statement that the skull had previously been in the collections of the University of St Andrews but gives no details about who at that point owned it (Falkirk Herald, 16 July 1938, page 7). Records of the Empire Exhibition are now held in the University of Glasgow Archives but the Hunterian Museum has no record of Lilias Adie’s skull being deposited in their collection, so it may be that it is still in a private collection somewhere.

The search continues.

Why St Andrews?


The University of St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland, and one of Europe’s most ancient universities. Today, the answer to the question – Why St Andrews? – seems to be rather cliché due to a great importance of St Andrews in the academic world. However, in the first decade of the 15th century it was not that obvious and the subject of consideration of two canon scholars, Bishop Henry Wardlaw in Scotland and Pope Benedict XIII in Avignon, France. Gallery 1, Scotland’s First University, at the Wardlaw Museum presents unique material remnants providing answers to the question Why St Andrews?

Why St Andrews? Bishop Henry Wardlaw’s perspective

While Henry Wardlaw[1] or Henry de Wardlau, who studied canon law at Avignon[2] and was related to the papal court, was granted the bishopric of St Andrews in 1403, this centre of the Scottish medieval Catholic Church was already a burgh with a market town and fairs attracting broad attention. Multiple letters from Benedict XIII to Scotland provide evidence that scholars educated in France were present in St Andrews diocese as early as the late 14th century,[3] however, the local history of studying dates back much further. Scotland’s largest cathedral with a priory was the focal point of the city. [4] For monastic communities, reading was an essential part of spiritual reflection and the library played a significant role in monastic and ecclesiastic life.[5] Books copied from other priories, donated by patrons and benefactors for instance in 1140 and 1150, travelled to St Andrews from other religious houses.[6] This resulted in impressive holdings of works, as described by the authors of the 14th century Registrum Anglie. The St Andrews library was a bedrock of further scholastic community. Two stone book presses,[7] still present in the cloister, are material evidence of what remains from the initial teaching hub. Eight scholars are said to have launched teaching in St Andrews and Bishop Wardlaw describes them in his grant of privileges as ‘venerable men, the doctors, masters, bachelors, and scholars dwelling in the city of St Andrews’.[8] All of these circumstances fuelled the establishment of a studium generale in the years leading up to 1413 when University of St Andrews was founded. [9]

Maquette of Bishop Henry Wardlaw (HC2011.21 ) can be viewed in Gallery 1 at the Wardlaw Museum]

Why St Andrews? Papal perspective


Papal bull of Foundation can be viewed in Gallery 1 at the Wardlaw Museum (image courtesy of University of St Andrews Special Collections)

Only the Pope or Emperor could grant both the university status and the licencia ubique docendi; a license to teach anywhere. Bishop Wardlaw and King James I, Wardlaw’s pupil, asked Benedict XIII to authorise the foundation of the university. The papal approval was sent in six bulls granting university status to the institution in St Andrews (1413).

Pope Benedict XIII (1328-1423) was an individual of unique nature in the history of Medieval Europe and the history of the papacy. He was born as Pedro Martínez de Luna y Pérez de Gotor, a son of a noble family in the city of Illueca in Aragon.[10] His Coat of Arms, a crescent moon (luna), along with the diamond shapes of Bishop Wardlaw, and the lion rampant from the Royal Arms of Scotland, formed the Coat of Arms of the University of St Andrews.


Banner of the Coat of Arms of the University of St Andrews (HC1160) can be viewed in Gallery 1 at the Wardlaw Museum


Benedict XIII did not reign in Rome, but in Avignon. As the Antipope, during the Western Schism (1378-1417), he reminded in opposition not only to subsequent popes in Rome (Boniface IX, Innocent VII, Gregory XII) but also to other antipopes derived from the Council of Pisa (1409; Alexander V and John XXIII), and to Martin V, unanimously elected during the Council of Constance (1417). Eventually, as the result of the Council of Constance, Benedict XIII maintained governmental recognition of Armagnac and Scotland only.

Through his claims to the papal throne, Benedict XIII was trying to secure his authority in Europe and the foundation of the university was in his best interest. Bishop Wardlaw even claimed grants of privileges to save the authority of Benedict’s Apostolic See.[11] In the petition to the Pope, Bishop Wardlaw bolsters the case to maintain Scottish loyalty and the threat of heresy by improving local high learning for the clergy.[12] From Benedict’s point of view, the University of St Andrews was to be a lucrative deal strengthening his position against the competitors. Sadly for him, after the Council of Constance, the University of St Andrews decided that support of the council was necessary for a united church and it came out in opposition to Benedict.[13]

A plaster cast of the skull of Benedict XIII and a single hair from his head mounted in a microscope slide[14] remind us that origins of the University are linked with the Great Schism and one of the most influential antipopes.

Cast of skull of Pope Benedict XIII (HC789) can be viewed in Gallery 1 of the Wardlaw Museum [15]

Why St Andrews? Students’ perspective

The answer was explicitly stated in the papal document ‘Because of the dangers and troubles to Scots who, because of the absence of universities in Scotland, have to travel to foreign parts to study’.[16] Another reason was the reduction in the cost of studies. As Norman Reid believes, ‘Scotland needed more clergy who were well educated and the provision of a home university would enable that expansion at a more manageable cost than continuing to send all students abroad (…). Not to stem the flow of Scots to foreign universities – what did not happen – but rather to increase educational provision by offering a home alternative’.[17]

According to Reid, Benedict XIII in his papal bulls acknowledged the education received by Scots at the universities that were not obedient to the antipope. Scottish students returning from universities abroad could continue their studies in St Andrews or pursue their education elsewhere, including universities of schismatic obedience, in this case following the Pope in Rome.[18]

The first students of St Andrews are depicted on the medieval University seal, made between 1414 and 1418, showing scholars learning before a teacher, overseen by Scotland’s patron saint. The University seal was used to authenticate official documents.

Digital reproduction of seal matrix from the Bull of Foundation courtesy of Special Collections of the University of St Andrews Library which can be seen in Gallery 1 of the Wardlaw Museum

Written by Dr Kamila Oles, Visitor Services Facilitator, Museums of the University of St Andrews

[1] See https://museumoftheuniversityofstandrews.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/who-was-henry-wardlaw/

[2] McGurk F., ed., 1976, Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1394-1419, Scottish History Society, vol. 13, Edinburgh; Reg Aven 278, 436x-437v, (20 October 1394), p. 20

[3] Ibid. pp.20-23.

[4] Simpson A. and Stevenson S., 1981, Historic St Andrews: the archaeological implications of development, Scottish burgh survey series, Glasgow.

[5] Leedham-Green E., and Webber T, eds., 2006, The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland, vol. 1 , Cambridge; Coates A., 1996, English Medieval Books: The Reading Abbey Collections from Foundation to Dispersal , Oxford.

[6] Duncan A.A.M., The Foundation of St Andrews cathedra Priory, 1140, pp.122-123; Higgitt J., ed., 2006, Scottish Libraries, London 2006, pp. 222-225

[7] Reid N. H., 2017, The Prehistory of the University of St Andrews St. Andrews, in: Brown M., and Stevenson K., eds., Medieval St Andrews. Church, Cult, City, Woodbridge, p. 248.

[8] Ibid. p. 239.

[9] Mason R., 2017, University, City and Society, in: Brown M., and Stevenson K., eds., Medieval St Andrews. Church, Cult, City, Woodbridge, p. 268.

[10] Müller-Schauenburg B., 2019, The lonely antipope – or why we have difficulties classifying Pedro de Luna [Benedict XIII] as a religious individual, in: Fuch M. et al. eds., Religious Individualisation, pp. 1351-1364

[11] The original Wardlaw’s grant of privileges is missing. One of six papal bulls of August 1413, issued for the University of St Andrews, recited Wardlaw’s text; Reid N. H., 2017, The Prehistory of the University of St Andrews St. Andrews, p. 262.

[12] Mason R., 2017, University, City and Society, p. 263.

[13] McGurk F., ed., 1976, Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, p. 13.

[14] Read J., 1973, Pedro de Luna: The Pope from the Sea, History Today, vol. 23, issue 3.

[15] https://museumoftheuniversityofstandrews.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/foundations/

[16] McGurk F., ed., 1976, Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 28 August, 1413, Reg Aven 341, 607v-608v, p. 278.

[17] Reid N. H., 2017, The Prehistory of the University of St Andrews St. Andrews, p. 263.

[18] Ibid. p. 246.

From the Inside Out: Interior images from the Recording Scotland collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and buildings as well as the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part six of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

Lockdown has led to all of us spending a lot of time contemplating the inside of our homes.  Whether it is debating over new paint colours or curtains, or maybe rearranging furniture, we have spent months looking at our interior world.  Little details, like dust or chipping paint, loom large when you are forced to look at them day in and day out.  Sometimes you get up and dust, sometimes you keep watching Netflix.  We have also longed to see new interiors, another home or building that is not quite so mundane.  We dream of visiting shops, restaurants, churches, and museums, simply for something new and engaging.

However, staying inside has also kept us safe and allowed us the opportunity to reconnect with our families and to appreciate what we do have. Staying inside has been a singular and communal effort to protect everyone from Covid-19.  British citizens did the same thing during the World Wars.  From staying together, and turning out lights, they worked to protect each other by the simple act of seeking shelter.  While not as common as the lovely landscapes that make up most of the Recording Scotland collection, a few pieces focus on the interior of a location, and how people live in relationship to that interior.  The quick glimpses can give us insights into the parts of life that were already changing, and those that stood on the precipice of destruction.

The main images of interiors are from cathedrals and churches.  The paintings show the sweep of high arches and vast empty buildings.  The churches are shadowed.  Colours are muted, and their stained-glass windows are dimmed, if shown at all.  These are reflections on the impact of the war on these places of worship.  Cathedrals were situated in cities, standing tall and imposing, and making clear targets for enemy bombs.  They are shown empty as soldiers perished in distant fields, and families mourned at home.  They can also reflect glimmers of hope.

Carmichael’s lithograph of St. Paul’s Cathedral Church in Dundee has those hallmarks of vast space and curved arches, but it also features a woman and child walking down the aisle.  They are some of the largest human figures featured in the collection paintings.  They are in the foreground, close to the artist.  There is hope conveyed by their presence.  They appear unhurried as they walk along.  This early piece was drawn around 1913 and captures a view of Scotland before the impact of two wars.  Its inclusion in the collection speaks more about the committee that chose it, that they wanted to preserve this view of a Dundee church with its vast hopefulness and light.

“Interior of St Paul’s Cathedral” by Stuart Carmichael (1867-1950), ©University of St Andrews

The watercolour of Iona Cathedral is also another study of a church interior.  This work is soft with muted tones.  The light streams into the building and you see just a hint of colour in the corner of a cloth cover.  No people give movement to the interior.  The empty chairs sit in silent vigil, waiting for people to arrive to listen and reflect.  As J. B. Salmond put it, “perhaps in the revolutions of the world, Iona may be some time again the instructress of the Western regions.”  The image of Iona reveals a location waiting to be populated, like so many church buildings today.

“Interior of Iona Cathedral” by Stewart Orr, RSW (1872 – 1944), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

The third interior featured this week is very different from the first two images.  “A Byre in Benderloch” by George Pirie is no cathedral.  It is a simple barn, full of straw and fluffy chickens.  It is haphazard and crooked in construction.  It lacks sharp details but seems to reflect a refuge for the farm animals.  There is light streaming into the dim space, illuminating the birds within.  The barn would not be a target for enemy aircraft, but this byre could eventually make way for a new barn or fall into disuse as people moved away from their farms.  This was a humble and admiring view of a farm, and the safety it provides through shelter and sustenance.

“A Byre in Benderloch” by Sir George Pirie (1863–1946), image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

Three interiors only make up a small part of the collection, but their views give us pause as we reflect on both the majestic and the mundane. We do not know if the byre in Benderloch still exists, but luckily both St. Paul’s Cathedral and Iona Cathedral have survived the decades, and now their greatest threats are the ravages of weather and time.  Hopefully this week you take another look at your own interior views, maybe take a picture or draw something that can remind you about right now, and then sit back and try to see what it reflects about you.

Roots and Branches at St Andrews

Figure 1. Student at the University of St Andrews studying outdoors (image: University of St Andrews : www.st-andrews.ac.uk/photo-gallery)

As autumn arrives in Scotland, with the beginning of September tomorrow, so the University’s leafy estate transforms and we crunch, kick and squelch through the deciduous fall.

For the University, September also marks new beginnings. The latest cohort of students start their academic life and energies everywhere are focussed on what’s ahead. And from projects focussed on creating green corridors to investment in biomass-fuelled district heating, trees are set to play an important role in the University’s future.

But trees can also tell us about our past – and St Andrews has a unique arboreal heritage, with roots and branches in all sorts of places.

Heading way back to the Carboniferous period, this blog previously introduced the Stigmaria, a fossilised tree root specimen dating from around 340 million year ago. Originally found by an academic on St Andrews East Sands beach, the specimen will be exhibited in the Wardlaw Museum’s “Enquiring Minds” gallery. Carboniferous plant fossils and Stigmaria in particular are common in the coastal area surround St Andrews, indicating a period of history defined by dense forest coverage and tropical climate. The specimen will give visitors to the museum insight as to the long evolution of plant life in our environment, shaping the local coastline (and less tropical conditions) that we experience today.

Figure 2. ‘Future Library, Certificate’, Katie Paterson, 2014, http://boswellartcollection.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/hc2018-22b/

Elsewhere in our collections we see examples of how trees and forests provide inspiration – and indeed raw materials – to the arts. The Museum recently shared a snapshot of Fife-based visual artist Katie Paterson’s work, including this piece held in our Boswell Collection which playfully captures this dynamic. The certificate artwork is part of Paterson’s “Future Library” project, which she describes below:

“A forest has been planted in Norway, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in 100 years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unread and unpublished, until the year 2114.”

The limited-edition certificate artwork – featuring concentric tree-like rings to mark the time passing from tree sprout to book – entitles the holder to a complete set of the printed anthology when it is set to be produced in 2114.

Also marking the passing of time in a very visual way, the University estate is itself home to two of Scotland’s most notable “Heritage Trees”. Just across from the Bell Pettigrew Museum is the ancient St Mary’s Quadrangle, a site well-known for its old and imposing perennials. The Quad is home to a hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) which is said to have been planted in 1563 by Mary, Queen of Scots during one of her visits to St Andrews.This year, Queen Mary’s Thorn is up for Scottish Tree of the Year 2020 run by the Woodland Trust, which is a great honour. Please take a moment to have a look and place a vote!

Nearby is the Holm oak (Quercus ilex), planted around 1740. Pictured below, this imposing Holm oak is the largest in Scotland with a tree girth measurement of some 12ft.

Figure 3. Students gathered near the Holm Oak in St Mary’s Quadrangle (image: University of St Andrews : www.st-andrews.ac.uk/photo-gallery)

In 2004 the University was honoured for its custodianship of these two trees by Forestry Commission Scotland (now Forestry and Land Scotland). At the ceremony, Professor Thomas Christopher Smout CBE, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of St Andrews and Scotland’s Historiographer Royal, described the trees as ‘a special link to the past’.

Professor Smout is particularly well-qualified to mark such an occasion, as the foremost expert on the history of Scottish woodlands. His defining contributions include Scottish Woodland History (1997) and People and Woods in Scotland: A History (2002); as well as 2007’s A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland, 1500-1920, co-authored with Alan R. MacDonald and Fiona Watson. For historian Watson, herself a graduate of St Andrews, woodlands represented ‘an astute choice of subject with which to kickstart environmental history’. It is here that Smout ‘led the way’, establishing in 1992 the University of St Andrews’ Institute of Environmental History – which today offers a postgraduate MLitt in Environmental History alongside research opportunities within the School of History.

The Institute positioned the University at the forefront of developing Environmental History within the UK and Europe and – later working in partnership with the University of Stirling’s Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy (CEHP), launched in 1999 – meant that Environmental History firmly took root in Scotland. With an interest in environment-society relations, Environmental History invites us to consider what is natural about our “natural environment”. As Fiona Watson puts it, it’s about ‘seeing the wood and the trees’. This critical approach is reflected in the title of Smout’s environmental history of Scotland/ northern England: Nature Contested (2000). With analysis covering everything from the supposed ‘Great Wood of Caledon’ to conflicts over contemporary deforestation, afforestation and woodland management, Smout (2002: 63) summarises: ‘if the woods of imagination were the stuff of patriotism and Romantic contemplation, the woods of reality have been contested ground’.

This contested history of the environment remains the focus of many “Enquiring Minds” throughout the University of St Andrews. The Centre for Landscape Studies, for example, is based in the School of Classics but works in partnership across disciplines with an interest in the ‘the importance of the past in understanding present human-environment interactions’. In the multidisciplinary Centre for Archaeology, Technology and Cultural Heritage (CATCH), researchers collaborate on work such as the The Scottish Pine Project, which recently attracted media coverage for new research on semi-natural woodland decline based on tree-ring data – or dendrochronology – collected from submerged pine trees preserved in Scottish peatbogs. As well as modelling future woodland responses to climate change, the team has undertaken innovative cultural heritage research using dendrochronology to date native pine timbers from old buildings and archaeological sites, as discussed by Dr Coralie Mills in the video below

Figure 5. From the Museum Collections, metal sundial manufactured 1660 – 1680 by Hilkiah Bedford

So with trees having something to say about everything from environmental pasts to climate futures, what might they tell us about the present? One former rector (1865 to 1865) – the philosopher John Stuart Mill – invoked the imagery of ‘a tree’ when in his landmark text On Liberty he described human nature as ‘[requiring] to grow and develop itself on all sides’. But to turn tables on a metaphor: we know now that trees function within wider ecosystems (e.g. the mycorrhizal network where fungi link the roots of different plants providing nutrients to those unable to reach sunlight for photosynthesis).

This community plant ecology has even been characterised in relation to the human tradition of mutual aid – under whose auspices emerged support groups like Community Aid St Andrews (CASA) during the COVID-19 crisis. Another active network was an offshoot of the University’s Transition group – aptly-named student-run food cooperative The Tree – which has been supporting the move to more sustainable lifestyles during the crisis by supplying the town’s community with affordable locally-sourced produce. By working together during a difficult spring and summer – even as the trees shed their leaves and the nights draw in, there’s sunnier days ahead.

The closing date for voting for Scottish Tree of the Year is noon on 24th September 2020. The annual Scottish Tree Festival organised by Discover Scottish Gardens runs soon after from 28th September to 1st December 2020. The UK Tree Council’s National Tree Week follows, from 28th November to 6th December 2020.

Figure 6. Trees in St Mary’s Quadrangle, University of St Andrews (image: University of St Andrews : www.st-andrews.ac.uk/photo-gallery)

Meeting the Men of the Recording Scotland collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and the  “feeling” of the nation.  The aspiration was to select artworks that captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part five of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

The Recording Scotland collection provides a window into Scotland during the Second World War, and the experiences of artists in that period.  All the artists were touched by the war, whether it was their own military service or that of loved ones, and the landscapes that they passionately documented were altered. Today, we are featuring just a few biographic excerpts from some of the male artists.

Samuel Peploe (1871-1935) is one of the more famous Scottish artists to contribute to the collection.  He died prior to the Recording Scotland scheme but his painting “Ceres” was purchased from a dealer in Edinburgh for the vast sum of £120.  Today, his paintings go to auction for hundreds of thousands of pounds.  Peploe was one of four Scottish Colourists, known for combining French training with Scottish artistic traditions. Their works were vibrant and bold.  His painting of Ceres clearly illustrates his mastery of bold brushstrokes and colour.

“Ceres” by Samuel John Peploe (1871 – 1935), image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

Aleksander Zyw (1905-1995) was a European artist, born in Lida, Belarus.  He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and travelled throughout Europe as a student.  He developed an affinity for landscapes of the Mediterranean.  When World War II broke out, he was in Paris, and quickly enlisted with the Polish Army.  He saw action and later escaped to Scotland where the Polish Army was regrouping.  He was appointed a war artist for the Polish Army and documented everyday life for soldiers in simple sketches and paintings.  When the war ended, he married a local woman and moved to Edinburgh where he continued to paint.  His works were greatly impacted by his wartime experiences, and he explored various styles throughout his lifetime. In the 1970s he moved to an olive farm in Italy where he remained until his death.

“Holyrood Palace” by Aleksander Zyw (1905-1995), image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

Stewart Carmichael (1867-1950) is considered a leading artist of Dundee. He was a muralist and explored Celtic mythology and Scottish history in his works.  He was a major proponent for art education and an advocate for Gaelic culture in Dundee. As one admirer put it, “If I was asked, ‘What is a Scotsman?’ I could scarcely do better than show my interrogator one of [Carmichael’s] compositions.”

“Dunfermline Abbey” by Stewart Carmichael (1867-1950), ©University of St Andrews

Sir John Stirling Maxwell (1866-1956) contributed a painting of Edinburgh, and in addition to being an artist was also a Conservative MP and founding member and President of the National Trust for Scotland. His works explored the natural landscapes that he worked to preserve through his philanthropic efforts.

John Guthrie Spence Smith (1880-1951) was born in Perth, and due to an attack of scarlet fever lost both his sense of hearing and speech as a child.  He studied art in Dundee and Edinburgh, and eventually, accompanied by his mother, travelled internationally in 1911.  His art was mainly focused on Perthshire, Fife, Angus, and the Lothians.  He proceeded to have an active artistic life, gathering similarly minded friends around him in Edinburgh.

“Taynuilt Church” by John Guthrie Spence Smith (1880-1951), ©University of St Andrews

When the Committee was making initial offers for artwork, they sent out requests to known artists, both male and female. A total of 63 artists were approached with many expressing interest in the project.  In the end it would be 47 artists portraying 23 Scottish counties that entered the collection.  The paintings span Scotland, but there were still hundreds of little scenes in the lowlands, highlands, and islands that could have been added to the collection.

While dozens of other artists contributed to the collection, these few biographical sketches show the breadth and width of experiences that lay behind the artworks.  Their main unifying characteristic was their long-time residency and their commitment to better understanding what it means to be Scottish.

Featuring Fife: Then and Now Images of the Kingdom of Fife

“Ceres” by Samuel John Peploe (RSA), oil painting depicting the historic village of Ceres in Fife, © University of St Andrews

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part four of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

Numerous images from the Recording Scotland collection highlight the beautiful scenery of Fife.  Whether it was due to the committee head, Sir James Irvine, being based at St Andrews or just simply the excess of lovely images, Fife was a focus for many artists then as it remains today.

“The Forth Bridge” by Robert C. Robertson (1890 – 1942), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

One of the great fears of the time was that German bombs would destroy the precious parts of Scotland. Early in October of 1939, German Luftwaffe flew up the River Forth to attack the battlecruiser HMS Hood.  Bombers made successful hits on several naval vessels nearby while passengers looked on in horror from the train traveling over the bridge.  Luckily, British aircraft were able to bring down several German planes at Port Seton and Crail, even capturing a pair of German prisoners of war after fishing them out of the water. The prisoners were taken and held at Edinburgh Castle.  The raid also marked the first time that Spitfires battled in the skies. As a result of the Forth Bridge Raid, barrage balloons and early air raid sirens were introduced, creating a frightening but necessary soundtrack to the era.

Even the famous golf courses of St Andrews had to be altered to ensure that enemy forces could not land or come ashore on the long fairways.  Poles, humps, and trenches were strategically placed around the courses to help protect the countryside.  Some amused golfers consider the changes improvements to the course as it increased the challenge.

“St Monance Kirk” by John Guthrie Spence Smith, Oil painting featuring the historic 13th century church in the village of St Monans, Fife, ©University of St Andrews

A year later a bombing raid also damaged university buildings and St Mary’s Quad. The University Museums collections hold pieces of the shrapnel which resulted from the damage.  The threat to Fife was real, even as Polish soldiers took refuge in the community.  The displaced army became a curious part of the St Andrews landscape as they enrolled in classes and sang on their way to church.

The fears of invasion and destruction preyed upon the minds of citizens, which influenced the Committee to find views of Scotland that preserved, inspired, and recalled those places worth protecting.  Today, the work of capturing images has evolved to include the digital renderings of the very same landscapes.

Kilconquhar Church, photography by ©John Murray Jr, images courtesy of Welcome to Fife


(Left) St Monance Kirk & (right) view of Ceres,  photography by ©John Murray Jr, images ©courtesy of Welcome to Fife

On Instagram, @WelcometoFife is the page curated and filled by photographer John Murray Jr.  These beautiful images give us a modern-day insight into many of the the very same places that were shown in the Recording Scotland collection in the 1940s.

Bridges on the Forth by Ellianna Morton, ©Ellianna Morton

Recently we have been lucky enough to be invited to feature some artworks from a new generation of artists who have been recording Scotland!  These young artists who participated in the University of Edinburgh’s summer workshop “Capturing Lives in Scotland’s Communities-An Arts Award Explore Online Project.”  Students aged 11-18 worked with university museums staff to learn about different themes and media styles.  The St Andrews University Museums helped during the landscape week with information about the Recording Scotland collection.  While these pieces are not part of our museum collection, they give us a sneak peek at up and coming artists and we could not resist sharing their landscape artworks.

Here is the University of Edinburgh Museum’s Community Outreach Coordinator Laura Beattie’s explanation of the student art.

“During our week on landscape painting, we looked at many different landscape paintings and discussed the different techniques used to make them: some were abstract, like Karen Goode’s Untitled work from Duncan of Jordanstone’s College of Art and Design, which elicited many different responses. Some of us found it scary or threatening while others found it calming. We also looked at work which aimed to be more representational, like those in the University of St Andrews’ ‘Recording Scotland’ collection. We agreed that, given the context of the collection, it was important for the works to be at least somewhat realistic. Our young artists then went on to create their own landscape artworks inspired by the works we had looked at.”


Over the next few Recording Scotland blogs we will feature the art from four of the students who participated in the program.  They have all captured views from their own lives and communities and represent a new generation of artists who are recording their Scotland.




From Girls to Immortals: Meet the Women Artists of Recording Scotland

Photograph of “The Immortals”, Katherine Cameron is pictured second from left in the middle row alongside other notable “Glasgow Girls” artists such as Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (back row), Image from WikiCommons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Immortals!.jpg

Riddell’s Court, Lawnmarket by Katherine Kay Cameron, ©Ewan Cameron Watt, image reproduced by University of St Andrews with permission by E. Cameron Watt

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part three of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

The Recording Scotland scheme provided an opportunity for male and female artists from across Scotland.  Here we feature just a few of the female artists who contributed to the collection.

Katherine Cameron (1874-1965) came from a large, artistic family in Glasgow.  Following her brother, D. Y. Cameron, she studied in Glasgow and later Paris, perfecting her techniques in etching, watercolour, and oils.  She is most known for her work in capturing landscapes and flowers. She was a member of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists, which provided a supportive network for meeting and exhibiting work. The group known as the “Glasgow Girls” were female artists trained in the 1890s and socialised with popular figures like Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  The group of artists playfully called themselves “The Immortals,” referencing their love of Celtic mythology or possibly the immortality bestowed by creating artwork.  Cameron married wealthy art collector, Arthur Kay in 1927. Two of her pieces purchased for the scheme were originally printed as illustrations in “Haunted Edinburgh” in 1928.  Hundreds of her works are held by major institutions including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Cross Wynd, Falkland by Anna Dixon, Watercolour (1920-1942), courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

Anna Dixon (1873-1959) was another prolific artist of birds, flowers, and figures in landscapes. Dixon enjoyed painting in France and the west coast of Scotland.  Her artwork was known to feature crofts, donkeys, horses, and children.  Of the pieces chosen for the Recording Scotland collection, her painting of Cross Wynd in Falkland highlights the domestic lives of the citizens.

May Marshall Brown (1887-1968), born May Mary Robertson, was the daughter of an Edinburgh wine merchant.  She studied at Edinburgh College of Art and later married the artist, William Marshall Brown, who was 24 years her senior. His influence is witnessed in her style of work. May Marshall Brown is best known for her watercolours of fishing villages and boats.  As she explained to the committee, “I mainly paint boats, sea and fishermen working, since the war I have not had a chance to continue the work, as one is so much disturbed by military at the shore, even when one has a permit to paint.” She was able to sell three paintings, and her late husband posthumously contributed four to the Committee. Brown was the artist who contributed last week’s piece, “Cat Row, Dunbar.”  We will also learn more about one of William Marshall Brown’s paintings of the Oronsay Priory in a future post.

Ann Spence Black (1861-1947) provided seven paintings to Recording Scotland collection. Born in Dysart, Fife she was seemingly self-taught. She lived in Edinburgh and spent time painting the east coast of Scotland, and the areas around Culross. Black is one of the oldest contributors to the collection, being well into her 80s at the time of the Second World War.

“Crail Harbour” (1920 – 1942), by Ann Spence Black, Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

The artwork contributed by women makes up about twenty percent of the collection which leaves the lion’s share to male artists and their representation of Scotland.  It is also interesting to note that the female artists tended to be in the later decades of their lives. Many of the women were in their late 50s, 60s, and 70s when they were submitting works.  Some of them, like May Marshall Brown, were also carrying on the legacies of others by sending works for consideration from departed family and friends.

The decades had been hard for these women artists who witnessed not only one war but two, but they persevered in their art and interests.  For them and other women artists of this period in particular for Katherine Cameron and the rest of the Glasgow Girls It is not impossible to imagine they remembered fondly their “immortal” days before the turn of the century and hoped to secure a place in history by submitting these tender pieces to posterity.

Castles, Crofts, Cathedrals and Cats: The themes of the Recording Scotland collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of paintings and sketches collected during World War II to permanently capture the “feeling” of the nation. Each piece of artwork was chosen because it was an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialisation. This is part two of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

In the late 1940s, James Bell Salmond (1891-1958), a St Andrews alumnus and World War I veteran, was asked by Principal Sir James Irvine to write text to go along with a series of watercolour paintings from the Recording Scotland collection publication.

Salmond had been an active student at St Andrews and graduated with a degree in Political Economy in 1913. He began his professional life as a journalist and editor. Not long after, he enlisted in the First World War and saw action on the Western Front and was wounded. At the time he was known for writing poems about his wartime experiences in the Scots dialect and editing the hospital newsletter from his bed. He returned to Dundee to continue editing newspapers and magazines, ultimately establishing himself as a prominent citizen.

A photograph of the ‘Night Birds’, a concert party of the 4th (Reserve) battalion of the Black Watch which Lt. James Salmond was a member of. This image is from a souvenir programme of a wartime concern in St Andrews  which took place on 8th February, 1918. Salmond is on the third row from the bottom and is second from the right. Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, Id No. 6980654, https://livesofthefirstworldwar.iwm.org.uk/lifestory/3885079

When the Second World War broke out, Salmond served with the Homeguard in Dundee and became the Keeper of Muniments (the university’s institutional archive) and the warden of St Salvator’s Hall in St Andrews. Salmond spent time over four decades writing histories of the military and golf, two novels, and his works of poetry. As he liked to put it, he was a “journalist reporting/ A thing or two in rhyme.”

It was not a surprise when Sir James Irvine asked Salmond to write the text that would join several of the Recording Scotland paintings. As Salmond explained he endeavoured to “re-people the pictures.” The stories or vignettes in the book came from the location histories or his own personal encounters across Scotland.

Watercolour titled ‘A Speyside Croft’ by Alexander Macpherson, dated 1920 – 1942. ©University of St Andrews

In the early years of the Recording Britain plans, categories for artwork were hoped to capture fine tracts of landscapes, towns and villages, parish churches, and country homes and their parks. We see similar impulses in the Recording Scotland collection, with a distinctly Scottish flair.

The images chosen for the collection do reflect a myth of Scotland during this time period. By not focusing on the modern accents in the images it creates a timelessness, and further promotes an idealised image of society. This nostalgia avoids the distasteful advancement of time and could be used to inspire soldiers and citizens alike to continue the fight to protect the homeland.

This watercolour depicts the picturesque Castle Stalker on a tidal inlet off Loch Linnhe at Appin, Argyll. Titled ‘Castle Stalker, Appin’ by William Stewart Orr, dated 1920 – 1944.  Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

Castles can reflect the more majestic history of the nation – defence, wealth and familial ties while churches can reflect the more religious aspects, and the crofts the agricultural industries sustaining the population. Each image can reinforce the traditional values that help influence citizens and improve morale. However, the paintings did not always reflect the grandest locations, but rather the local and obscure places that better characterise life in Scotland.

One of the great ironies in the collection is the very absence of war. The images that were selected avoid documenting in fine detail the presence of the war. Rarely do you see soldiers or military structures. Some of this can also be attributed to difficulties faced by civilians traveling near military areas to receive permission. Many artists lamented bureaucratic red tape as wartime restrictions gave them limited access to areas controlled by the military and navy.  This caused some confusion at times and frustration in keeping them from places they wished to paint.

Some of the paintings, by the time they were published, proved that time had indeed overtaken them. “Cat Row, Dunbar” by May M. Brown is one such piece. A picturesque street in the seaside village of Dunbar, known for all the cats that called it home. In 1937 the street, as we see it painted, was demolished as part of the Town Council’s clearance programme and replaced with modern houses.

“Cat Row, Dunbar” by May Marshall Brown (1887-1968) ©University of St Andrews

Salmond in his account laments the loss of the fisher quarters, old cellars, an old pier, the Rock House, and all the cats. He reflects on the once prosperous herring fishing and suggests that the Scottish answer for why the fishing might have failed was because “despite the warnings of the Kirk, Dunbar men would go fishing on the Sabbath.”

Whether it was a cat or a cathedral, the Recording Scotland captured not only the images of the era but many of the thoughts and concerns of the artists and authors that surrounded the collection.

Today happens to be International Cat Day, so in honour of the long gone cats of Cat Row, go ahead and take another picture of your favourite moggy.

The Seaside University

Jenn is a MSc Marine Ecosystem Management student at the University of St Andrews, having just completed a degree in Zoology (with modules in Mandarin). After living in the South African desert, she learnt how to dive and never looked back – becoming a PADI Divemaster within a year. Research interests include shark conservation and physiological adaptations to extreme environments (deserts, polar regions, cave systems, and astronauts in microgravity!) She is currently writing her thesis in lockdown, and getting distracted by cycling trips and baking cookies. In this blog she will be talking about what it is like to study at St Andrews!

It’s Scotland’s year of Coasts and Waters, and I’ve never been so far from the sea.

Well, that’s not entirely true! Coming from Newcastle, I’ve always lived physically near the coast (a 52km round-trip by bike to be exact, and yes I have made this journey in the midst of lockdown; so desperate to see the waves again), but the current global pandemic has made me feel that the next steps in my goal of becoming a marine biologist are notoriously uncertain and hard to reach right now (like the sea)!

With restrictions being lifted, competition for now-opening-again jobs and grants are going to be really high, and although I have a preliminary plan of my next few steps (involving amazing people in amazing places) impostor syndrome is sometimes all too real! However, I need to remind myself that: what I lack so far in dive numbers and the number of tropical places I have visited (am I the only marine biologist who hasn’t been photobombed by a whale shark?), the skills I have learnt this past year will definitely put me in good stead to reach my goals, or enable me to further my knowledge and experiences.

Studying marine biology at St Andrews has been a truly unique experience, not least the fact that most of my cohort are now scattered all over the world, studying online, instead of spending the summer writing our theses together by the beaches (*cries). I am currently part of the second ever cohort from the MSc Marine Ecosystems Management degree, and I have loved every part of it (before lockdown)!

(Left) MSc Marine Ecosystems Management 2020 cohort. (Right) Why it takes marine biologists so long to hike anywhere

I first studied Zoology with Industrial experience at the University of Manchester, alongside modules in Mandarin Chinese (pandas are actually my favourite animal!), British Sign Language and computational modelling. During my undergraduate studies, I worked as field assistant at the Succulent Karoo Research Station, in South Africa – tagging populations of small mammals to measure socio-ecological responses to drought. However, after living in the desert for a year, I missed the ocean terribly! At the first opportunity, I headed to Asia and learnt how to dive. I was instantly hooked and never looked back – becoming a PADI Divemaster within a year! Although I never had the option of studying marine biology classes, I made sure my dissertation was ocean themed: examining the ecophysiology of Greenland shark hearts. My interests are definitely in shark physiology and adaptations to extreme environments, particularly when it concerns oceans, the Arctic, deserts or even microgravity (space physiology!).

(Left) The new Scottish Oceans Institute – our MEM home! (Right) View from St Rule’s Tower on the first day

So why choose the degree I did? I had already received an offer from Kings College London to study MSc Space Physiology, and an interview at St Andrews for their known Marine Mammal Science course. However, the MSc Marine Ecosystems Management degree (i.e. being a MEM) would really push me out my comfort zone. Studying marine mammal behaviour and physiology sounded personally much easier to me than studying ecology, mathematical modelling, GIS and management / politics. The MEM course would make me learn new things, push me out of my comfort zone, and give me all the necessary skills that one needs as a scientist (data handing, communication, mapping programmes, and fieldwork!). And plus, shark are not marine mammals; everyone on my course was interested in different species.

(Left) The pier (it actually was super sunny in first semester!) & (right) winter sunrise at 7:30am

Meet PinniFred, an anatomically correct, 3D-printed skeleton and life-size replica of a grey seal pup. Here, we were taught how to catch and ‘prepare’ such an animal if we were to put a biologging tag on it. Tasks included: which vertebrate to inject anaesthetic in, and how to intubate an animal without getting bitten by his (sharp realistic teeth)!

Sure, I learnt about maths and statistics during my undergrad, but at St Andrews, the modelling course in the ‘R’ programming language soon brought me up from a complete beginner, to someone that could confidently know how to create complex code – something I never thought I could do! I learnt about the ocean in such a holistic overview; feel able to apply this knowledge to other aspects of marine biology I wish to pursue, whether it be in research, conservation or management. The course also gave me a real-world insight into how conservation and management is conducted. Protecting the oceans in terms of communicating the urgent problems to current political leaders, laws, and writing management plans for other people is way more complex that I first assumed! However, the practical components were always my favourite aspects, and included oceanographic sampling in the frigid North Sea, bird-ID skills, biotelemetry presentations, and of course the common ‘how to properly intubate a seal’ class.

I was most looking forward to the field course in polar ecology in Antarctica – a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience that would fulfil my love for extreme environments. Of course, dreams of spotting whales and trekking on the icy desert were crushed a mere few days before we set off (as well as my now-previous thesis topic) as covid-19 spread, forcing me swap the newly bought ski pants for shorts in the +16-degree Newcastle summer. And after only a few days (weeks) of devastation, it was time to woman up, restart my thesis, and reflect on my amazing time at St Andrews.

(Left) First pier walk of the semester (postgrads get fancy capes too!) & (right) other postgrad perks: our own library

St Andrews is truly nestled into the coastline, making it such a special university at which to live, work and study. Waking up in an apartment overlooking the sea, going to lectures in glass-fronted rooms which were literally 1m from the sea, and going on the (very occasional) sunrise run along the ‘Chariot of Fire’ beaches; were the best memories. This environment, and the MSc MEM course itself, gave me the confidence to: volunteer as an editor/illustrator at the science communication NGO “The Marine Diaries”, network with one of my diving IDOLS (Cristina Zenato :D), and to develop a project regarding limpets in space at the European Space Agency. St Andrews truly is THE seaside university; I will certainly come back one day!

(Left) Scotland diving (a metaphor for my next steps: unclear) & (right) the MEM bestie and me 😀

Written by Jenn Thomson

You can follow her here on Instagram (@jennelizabeththomson) and Twitter (@Jenn_Thomson_)