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.

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_)

„Tis now the archers royal, An hearty band and loyal“

The oldest Sports Club at the University is the Archery Club, which officially dates back to 1618, although was a sport and pastime likely enjoyed by students since the University’s foundation. We hold many medals in the collection here at the Museums of the University of St Andrews and will take a look at the history of archery in St Andrews, our medals and a closer look at one of the more recent acquisitions.

Students practice their archery at the university physical education centre during Christmas holidays – December 1975. Photo courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library and Special Collections

Bow Butts and Butts Wynd

Two places in the town still bear witness to the history of archery and connections to the sport. Bow Butts lies just behind the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse and is the grassy area surrounding the Martyr’s Monument near to St Andrews Aquarium. The name originates from the old requirement that all able-bodied men must be able to bear arms in time of war, with the bow and arrow being the weapon of choice. It was where the archery range sat, which then later moved further along the Scores to Butts Wynd – where the arrow butts were for practice.

Practice Requirements

All men and boys over 12 years were expected to take part in weekly archery practice and also take part in competitions held annually in the town. By 1457, archery was not held in such high esteem as the new sport of football which came in, which meant James II enacted a ban on playing football on Sundays so that archery was practiced instead. By the 18th Century, the need for having archers had waned and it became a sport and leisure activity which was practised and encouraged by the University.

Archery at Bow Butts, St Andrews. Taken by John Fairweather in 1909. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Library

St Andrews Silver Arrow

The first known St Andrews Silver Arrow archery competition dates to the first recorded date of the Archery Club in 1618, although it likely originated in some form from 1418 when students from St Leonard’s and St Salvator’s Colleges competed to be Champion Archer. The Faculty of Arts announced the competition as an annual event to be held in St Andrews with the aim to identify the Champion Archer of the University. While the tradition seemingly died out in the second half of 1700s, the competition revived in the 1970s thanks to the St Andrews Archery Club and Kate Kennedy Club and is now held annually. The last competition saw Lucy Coutts winning the Silver Arrow in April 2019 at the University Playing Fields.

Silver arrows and medals

The Museums of the University of St Andrews hold a collection of 70 archery medals, including three Silver Arrow medals. Among them are medals won by St Andrews alumni and members of the Royal Company of Archers including Thomas Gourlay of Kingcraig (1642), Robert Fotheringham of Powrie (1712), Adam Murray (1718), and David of Scotstarvit (1707). In 2012, Lt Col Richard Callander, the winner of the competition, was presented with a fine hexagonal shimmering jewel, which will be on display in the Wardlaw Museum.

Medal won by Lt Col R. Callander OBE on 16th June 2012. Photo courtesy of St Andrews Museum Collections

The Silver Arrow 2012 medal

Personalised commemoration of Lt Col Callander is engraved on the verso side of the medal that bears Clan Callander crest, a cubit arm holding a billet, in the centre with motto I MEAN WELL. The inscription below the crest says, ‘St. Andrews Silver Arrow Won by/Lt. Col. R. Callander OBE TD/16th June/2012’.

The recto side of the medal is decorated with the coat of arms of the Royal Company of Archers, serving as the Scottish Sovereign’s Bodyguard since 1822 when they provided the service to the King George IV during his visits north of the border. Today, the company is known as the Queen’s Bodyguard For Scotland, traditionally performing ceremonial duties during royal visits to Scotland.

On the medal, the coat of arms is held up by two archers. The uniform of the right supporter is based on a portrait of Dr Nathaniel Spens by Henry Raeburn held by the National Gallery of Scotland. The uniform of the second archer resembles portraits from Archers’ Hall in Edinburgh and the reconstructed version of the oldest company uniforms from 1704.

A royal design

The 2012 medal possesses also other connections with the royal art world and handicraft. It was created by Graham Stewart, a distinguished designer and gold and silversmith based in Dunblane. Stewart’s innovative, clean-lined, sculptural pieces of silver and high-profile commemorative presentation pieces has brought him international recognition. He exhibited in museums and galleries around the world including the V&A in London, Forbes Galleries in New York City, Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, World Art Museum in Beijing, Museum of Kyoto. His unique style and outstanding works brought him to many prestigious commissions by St. Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral in Edinburgh, BBC, and the Royal Company of Archers among the others. He has created many distinguished collections including for The Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, the V&A London (Rabinovitch Collection), and for HM The Queen.

A recent student of the Archery Club practising firing at a target. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Sports Centre

Archery Today

The Archery Club at the University is still a thriving club, although they practice now both indoors and outdoors and use more modern looking bows! They continue to take part in national and international competitions, and the Silver Arrow competition is still competed for annually. It is one of over 50 sports clubs at St Andrews which students can join and shows how sport forms the backdrop for many students’ experience of University. Alumni continue to be involved with many of the sports and show the lasting ties of collaboration, comradery and competition that sport binds everyone with.

We are always keen to hear from students, past and present, so if you would like to get in touch with us and regale us with your stories, please email them to us at [email protected].

Words by Sophie Belau-Conlon and Dr Kamila Oles


DIY Dad’s: The Lengths They’ll go to for Raisin Weekend!

Academic families play a huge role in the traditions we love in St Andrews. With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday, we’re looking at academic fathers and families, and how memories of them are preserved in our collection.

Hat Worn on Raisin Monday, 1978. Made and Photographed by Janet Russell. Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums Collection

Academic Dads come in many guises, not least the costumes they give their academic children on Raisin Weekend. The tradition of older students adopting younger students and guiding them through their first year at the University has become integral to the St Andrews way of life, and one that will long continue.

Traditionally, Academic Fathers will ask first year students to be their children, or Freshers will approach older students to be their Academic Mothers. Over the years however, this has evolved and there are no strict rules on Academic Adoption: all paths can lead to the perfect family! Over the years, these families have grown larger, and often students will become very close to not only their academic parents and siblings, but their academic aunts, uncles, and even grandparents! These experiences may be as short lived as Freshers’ Week and Raisin Weekend, or they may continue into lifelong friendships and form the backdrop to their student experience.

Raisin Monday, 1975, Peter G Adamson. Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library Special Collections

An infamous part of Academic Family tradition is the scavenger hunt of Raisin weekend, hosted by Academic Fathers. Students are sent to explore the town and find a variety of items, completing various challenges and overcoming obstacles along the way. The day finishes with drinking and festivities, before Raisin Monday begins. On the Monday, Academic Children would offer their Academic Parents a present to thank them, before being dressed up in costumes and sent to St Salvator’s Quad for the final event of Raisin Weekend: the foam fight.

Along with costuming his academic children before the foam fight, an Academic Father would write a Raisin receipt to thank them for their present. The present he received was traditionally a pound of grapes or raisins, quite a rare and expensive gift, but this has now evolved into a more appealing grape based product – wine! The returned Raisin receipt was to be presented by the academic children in St Salvator’s Quad before the foam fight started. Originally, these receipts were written in Latin on parchment, as can be seen on this one, from 1977. The raisin receipt traditionally says:

Raisin Receipt, created by Frances Shaw, 1977. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums Collection

“Ego civis (name of parent), tertianus/a (if they are a third year) or magistrandus/a (fourth year) or alumnus/a (if they are a graduate) huius celeberrimae universitatis Sancti Andreae, qui (subject the parent studies) affirm, a te, meo/a bejanto/ina carissimo/a qui (subject the child studies) student, unam libram uvarum siccarum accepisse affirmo pro qua multas gratias tibi ago.”


The Simmet Raisin Receipt presented by David Bisset in 1978. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museum Collection

Over the years, Raisin receipts have evolved and one of the challenges of Raisin for academic parents is to see how ridiculous an object they can make the Raisin receipt – if the Latin motto can be written on it, then the chances are it can and will become a Raisin receipt! From tee shirts to tractor tyres, if it can be taken to St Salvator’s Quad then academic children but must be ready to attempt to bring it to the foam fight. As with Dad’s and their love of DIY, academic fathers have put their hand to many different projects and created memorable Raisin receipts over the years.

David Bissett’s academic daughter Elaine Kilgour proudly wearing the Simmet Raisin Receipt. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums Collection

As the Raisin receipts have evolved, so has the nature of the weekend’s festivities. What we now know as the foam fight started off as students throwing flour at each other, after comparing Raisin receipts in St Salvator’s Quad. The costumes worn by students protected their clothes have also evolved, growing more elaborate over the years. One such costume resides in our collection, from Raisin Monday 2016.

The lengths they’ll go to! Raisin receipt made of a wooden pole inscribed with black pen. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums Collection
Basilisk Costume on display in MUSA. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums Collection

Looking to acquire one of the colourful creations for the collection, staff from the museum asked students leaving the foam fight and walking past the museum, then MUSA, if they were happy to donate their costume. Luckily one academic family were happy to oblige! Later in the day, however, the staff were approached by a furious student, who stormed into the museum, demanding her basilisk costume was returned to her. The academic parent of the children who had donated the costume had heard it was in the museum and had come to claim it! She was offended that her children had given it up so easily, after all of the effort she had put into making it. After staff explained that it was being exhibited in the collections, her manner changed, and she was happy for staff to keep her basilisk costume. This will be displayed in Gallery One of the Wardlaw Museum.

The costume and the memory of how it came to be in our possession is fondly talked about among the Museum Staff and reminds us all that academic families will forgive any misdemeanour of their children!

For the staff at the Museum, these stories bring the history of St Andrews, and the objects associated with it, to life and we would love to hear more of them. Do you have any fond memories of your time in an academic family? What was your raisin receipt? And are you still in touch with your academic family? Let us know through our social media channels (Facebook or Twitter) or email these in to us at [email protected].

Words by Mia Foale and Sophie Belau-Conlon

Three is the Magic Number: Stories of St Andrews Students

St Andrews is a town of threes: the infamous three streets, the three beaches, and the three colleges. Here, we have three members of staff from the Museum, all united by their common experience of studying at the University, reflect on their experiences of life in St Andrews over the past decade.

This marks the start of our Student Experience campaign, where we will be looking at what makes the student experience at St Andrews so special. Our museum showcases the history of the town and the university, and in a time where our community is scattered in ways we have not before experienced, we want to take the time to reflect not only on what unites us, but what makes our university, its heritage and its members both past and present, so special.


Matt graduated from St Andrews with a MA in Mediaeval History and Spanish with an integrated year abroad in 2009. Matt has been an integral part of the Museum Collections team for several years and worked at MUSA and now the Wardlaw Museum as the Learning and Access Curator.

What is your best memory of St Andrews?

Just one? Well, like so many I left St Andrews with the memory of a girl… This one had done her year abroad here when I was in my second year. She danced around my mind for nine years before I plucked up the courage to tell her I rather liked her, though given she lived several thousand miles away I didn’t expect much to come of it. Anyway, she’s no longer just a memory, she’s sat right opposite me with a ring on her finger and a baby in her tummy!

What is your favourite St Andrews tradition?

It’s not a University tradition, but the Picture House used to have a single showing of The Muppets’ Christmas Carol every year and students would pile in to sing along, shout out lines, join in. I’m not a fan of Christmas, but this was raucous, good-spirited fun. Sadly, I’m not sure if they do it anymore!

What is different about St Andrews to other universities?

There’s real community here that I’m not sure you get in quite the same way elsewhere. The place is so small that it’s easy to bump into people and have a chat, easy to pop round to someone’s house for a cuppa, and there are traditions that foster the community, like the academic family tradition.

What having graduated and returned to St Andrews, how has St Andrews changed?

View from St Rule’s Tower, St Andrews. Image Credit: Photography by Nuwandalic, creative commons and licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The town itself is a lot less unique; in my day there was no Sainsbury’s or Nando’s or H&M or Starbucks, fewer high street chains, more local businesses. I particularly liked The Ladyhead Bookshop and Tea Room on North Street, which had really good soup and cakes, was right friendly and really cheap, but that’s long gone. I also used to enjoy the Toasty Bar on a Friday night, which popped up in that little alleyway beside the Baptist Church and did what it says on the tin, served toasted butties for 50p each. Their Mars Bar toasty was particularly good, but I’m not sure if that runs anymore. I’m never out later enough to find out!

Where is your favourite place in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

I’m not sure. Alongside The Ladyhead it used to be the Whey Pat, which at that time was old fashioned, the beer was cheap, the folks behind the bar wore ties and waistcoats. Or perhaps Taste, where some of us used to go after the Christian Union meeting on a Friday night. It’s a place I associate with community, friendship and having my worldview challenged, although I did also once get a coffee bean stuck up my nose. I’m not sure why I put it up there in the first place.

What was your favourite thing to do in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

Spending time deep in conversation with friends, over a cup of tea or a pint. The only thing that’s changed is the location – it used to be the Whey Pat, now you’re more likely to find me in the Cri.


Sophie graduated from St Andrews with a MA in Mediaeval History in 2011. She has since returned to the area and lives close by in Fife and has recently started working as one of the Visitor Services Supervisors for the Wardlaw Museum.

What is your best memory of St Andrews?

There are so many to choose from! Having to pick just one is hard and could write a whole book on my memories.

One that does stand out is being part of the Fencing team and fencing for the University as part of BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport). It was amazing to be able to take part with such a diverse group of fellow students and it formed the backbone of most of my time and experiences as a student. Whether it was training 3 or 4 times a week, travelling to competitions and playing werewolf on the bus, or socialising outside practice and meeting for post practice lunch at Northpoint, all contribute to a general happy memory of my time at St Andrews!

What is your favourite St Andrews tradition?

St Andrews is known for traditions and having taken part in so many was fantastic. My favourite would have to be Academic Families and more specifically adopting my academic children. I have fond memories of all Raisin Weekends and really enjoyed sending out my academic children on a scavenger hunt on Raisin Sunday before playing games and then dressing them up Raisin Monday (as the three musketeers and my Lady) and sending them off to the Foam Fight. They returned after, in high spirits, and I was a very proud academic Mum.

Raisin Monday Foam Fight on Lower College Lawn, 2016.

What is different about St Andrews to other universities?

The fact that St Andrews is affectionately called the Bubble really sums up the uniqueness about the town. You cannot walk down the Market Street without seeing someone you know and waving. I think that how the University is integrated within the town and with the local community is not something any other university has. St Andrews may not have really any nightlife in the form of nightclubs, but it does have host of other pubs and cafes and places to go and meet people and socialise with friends. Join a society and get to know a group of people with similar interests and you can make friends for life.

St Andrews sticks with you, and I know many people who have returned to this unique town, perched on the East coast of Fife, not the easiest to travel to, but rich in memories and experiences.

What having graduated and returned to St Andrews, how has St Andrews changed?

The basic essence and spirit of the town has not changed, and landmarks remain a constant. A few shops and places to go have gone, such as Butlers (now Blackhorns) and my favourite sandwich shop, Cherries, is now CombiniCo. New places have appeared though, and you are still spoiled for choice on where to eat or have a drink!

And most importantly my favourite pub the Whey Pat may have had a face lift, but the nachos remain the best and I can still walk into La Rendezvous and just order my ‘usual’.

Where is your favourite place in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

St Andrews Cathedral. Credit: Creative Commons, Ancient St Andrews by Pastor Sam is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Being a Medieval Historian, I have a love of old buildings and St Andrews has so much history and fascinating places to see. As a student, I always enjoyed walking through the Cathedral grounds or seeing the Castle and enjoying the view close by with the sea. These remain two of my favourite places in the town and allow me to switch off and take in the atmosphere, trying to imagine what life must have been like in the past for residents of the town and how it compares to life today.

What was your favourite thing to do in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

Argh, I have so many favourite things to do it is so hard to choose! I think just having a walk through the town and absorbing the atmosphere still must be the best thing to do. Whether I head along to the harbour past the Cathedral or stroll along by the Castle to Castle Sands or even go for a leisurely walk along Lade Braes Walk (especially during Spring with the blossoms!), each place in St Andrews holds a special place in my heart and can never grow old. And of course, seeing the Old Course and West Sands as you enter the town just stirs my heart.

Now that I am no longer a student, I have more freedom to wander about and it means more to take those walks as I no longer live in the town and take in the atmosphere and uniqueness of St Andrews.


Mia is currently studying an MLitt in Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture, whilst working as part of our visitor services team. She hopes to continue to study at St Andrews for her PhD in September, and graduate later this year.

What is your best memory of St Andrews?

I have so many fond memories of St Andrews, and I only hope to make more in the future! All of my best memories of St Andrews so far are on the beaches: long walks on West Sands, bonfires on East Sands, or reading on Castle Sands. I’ve spent so much of my time on those three beaches this year, especially with my friends, that most of my happiest memories of the town seem to come back to those three spots.

What is your favourite St Andrews tradition?

I didn’t know much about the St Andrews traditions before I joined the university, I’m ashamed to admit! Now that I know the history of the Pier Walk and the Gaudie, I love the story behind the tradition, and how it continues to unite the student and local communities two hundred years on: it’s such an incredible story of bravery and resilience in the face of fear and adversity. I also think the May Dip is a brilliant tradition, and I don’t think anyone should pass up on an attempt to cleanse their sins, academic or otherwise! Unfortunately it did not take place this year, however I am looking forward to being involved with it in future years. I think there are so many tiny traditions that individuals and friendship groups hold as well: I think our most consistent ones were a Pret almond croissant on meeting a deadline, and “seabriefs”: walking to a particular spot by Castle Sands to catch up on each other’s news of the day!

The Gaudie procession of St Andrews pier.

What is different about St Andrews to other universities?

I think the St Andrews traditions make it a really special place to study, I think you’re very aware as a student here of the history that you become a part of when you study here. The location is also so special, and the community is so close: I think what can be misunderstood as a small university in a remote location instead is an incredibly tight knit, supportive community in a beautiful part of Scotland. I’ve never known a university with quite as many fashion shows either!

What having graduated and returned to St Andrews, how has St Andrews changed?

I have not yet graduated from my Mlitt at St Andrews, and I am returning in September to continue study. The way that my Mlitt has played out was not quite how I expected – I did not expect to spend much of the second and third terms away from St Andrews, for example! Having said that, I hope when I return it hasn’t changed too much – I am expecting it to maybe be quieter, but I am optimistic that the student community will rally and continue to be close and maintain all of the traditions that make it a wonderful place to study – even with social distancing! I am sure what I love about St Andrews will change as I continue to study over the years here, and as I learn more about the university and the town. I think as the Wardlaw Museum opens, that will fast become a favourite place for me to spend my time, and not only because I’ll be working there! The view that overlooks the sea is so beautiful, and it’s such a peaceful, wonderful location to showcase St Andrews fascinating and colourful history.

Where is your favourite place in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

The three beaches are definitely my favourite thing about St Andrews. There is a bench that overlooks Castle Sands, outside of the School of English that I find a particularly peaceful place to sit. If I had to pick a singular spot that I think is the most important to me in St Andrews however, it’s the end of the Pier. The view is incredible, and I have some amazing memories of time spent there. I think the story of the Gaudie has only made me appreciate it more, and I can’t wait to visit it when I return. I think in the future these spots will still be my favourites, although I would like to think after many more years of study I might become loyal to one particular beach!

What was your favourite thing to do in St Andrews? Now you’re no longer a student, has that changed?

There are so many things I love doing in St Andrews, I couldn’t possibly pick one. Studying in Martyrs Kirk, getting coffee and pastries from Taste and running down North Street to a class because the queue is always longer in there than you can ever imagine it being. I’ve mentioned the beaches so much, but bonfires on the beach, and sitting on the edge of the Pier on a sunny day. Tuesday nights at Whey Pat, losing a game of Pool in the Union. St Andrews is a small place, but it’s a special one, and there’s so many friends to meet, and so many wonderful moments to be had, that it’s an incredible place to study. The only way I can see that changing in the future is through me exploring more beautiful places I haven’t found in the town yet, and creating more wonderful memories with friends old and new.