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Academic Traditions at St Andrews

On this easy town trail, discover an ancient university, which observes some very strange traditions.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 33ft (10m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Ancient streets and golden sands

Landscape Historic university town and windy seascapes

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 371 St Andrews & East Fife

Start/finish NO 506170

Dog friendliness Can run free on beach - may not like busy streets

Parking Free parking along The Scores, otherwise several car parks

Public toilets Several close to beach


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1 With the Martyrs Monument on The Scores in front of you, walk left past the bandstand. At the road turn right, walk to the British Golf Museum, then turn left. Pass the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club on your left, then bear right at the burn to reach the beach.

2 Your route now takes you along the West Sands. Walk as far as you choose, then either retrace your steps along the beach or take one of the paths through the dunes to join the tarmac road. Walk back to the Golf Museum, then turn right and walk to the main road.

3 Turn left along the road and walk to St Salvator's College. Take a peek through the archway at the serene quadrangle - and look at the initials PH in the cobbles outside. They commemorate Patrick Hamilton, who was martyred here in 1528 - they say students who tread on the site will fail their exams. Now cross over and walk to the end of College Street.

4 Turn right and walk along Market Street. At the corner turn left along Bell Street, then left again on South Street. Just after you pass Church Street, cross over into the quadrangle of St Mary's College. Join the path on the right and walk up to reach Queen's Terrace.

5 Turn right to reach the red-brick house, then left down steeply sloping Dempster Terrace. At the end cross the burn, turn left and walk to the main road. Cross over and walk along Glebe Road. At the park, take the path that bears left, walk past the play area and up to Woodburn Terrace.

6 Turn left to join St Mary Street, turn left again, then go right along Woodburn Place. You'll now bear left beside the beach. You'll get good views of the Long Pier, where students traditionally walked on Sunday mornings. Cross the footbridge and join the road.

7 Bear right for a few paces, then ascend the steps on the left. These bring you up to the remains of a church and on to the famous ruined cathedral. A gate in the wall on the left gives access to the site.

8 Your route then takes you past the ancient castle on the right. A former palace/fortress, it was at the forefront of the Reformation - John Knox preached here. Pass the Castle Visitor Centre, then continue along The Scores to return to the start.

St Andrews is famous for two things - as the home of golf and of an ancient university. A small town on the Fife coast, it has an atmosphere all its own and feels quite unlike any other town in Scotland. Its isolated location - there is no station here - is considered to be one of the reasons why Prince William chose to study here - a decision that prompted a massive increase in applications, largely from young women hoping to nab themselves a future king.

The university was established in 1410 and is the oldest in Scotland, and third oldest in Britain - after Oxford and Cambridge. The first faculties established here were theology, canon law, civil law, medicine and arts - with theology being of particular importance. In medieval times students could enter the university as young as 13, and a system of seniority soon arose among the student body. New students were known as bejaunus, from the French 'bec-jaune' or fledgling, and were initiated into the fraternity on Raisin Monday, when they were expected to produce a pound of raisins in return for a cheeky receipt. The tradition persists today, with bejants, as they are now known (females are bejantines), being taken under the wings of older students who become their 'academic parents'. On Raisin Sunday, in November, academic 'fathers' take their charges out to get thoroughly drunk. The next day, Raisin Monday, the 'mothers' put them in fancy dress before they and their hangovers congregate in St Salvator's quad for a flour and egg fight.

Elizabeth Garrett, the first woman in Britain to qualify as a doctor, was allowed to matriculate at St Andrews in 1862 but was then rejected after the Senate declared her enrolment illegal. Following this the university made efforts to encourage the education of women, who were finally allowed full membership of the university in 1892. In 1866 Elizabeth Garrett established a dispensary for women in London, which later became the famous Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital.

The university is proud of its traditions and, as you walk around the streets today, you might well spot students wearing their distinctive scarlet gowns. These were introduced after about 1640 and some say they were brightly coloured so that students could be spotted when entering the local brothels. They are made of a woolly fabric with a velvet yoke. First-year students wear them over both shoulders, gradually casting them off each year, until in their fourth and final year the gowns hang down, almost dragging behind them.

Other university traditions include a Sunday walk along the pier after church, which continued until the pier was closed for repair, and a mass dawn swim in the sea on May morning (1 May). Given the particularly icy nature of the waters, this is not an activity to be attempted by the faint-hearted.

While you're there

Hill of Tarvit, at nearby Cupar, is an Edwardian mansion house. It has lovely French-style gardens and you can follow a woodland walk through the grounds. The house contains some fine Flemish tapestries, Dutch paintings, porcelain and elegant items of French and Chippendale furniture.

What to look for

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club is the governing body for the rules of golf and overlooks the world-famous Old Course. It's a bastion of conservatism and the clubhouse is not open to visitors; women guests are permitted to enter only on St Andrew's Day. The modern game of golf developed on the east coast of Scotland. It was banned by James II who feared that it distracted men from their archery practice, leaving them unable to defend the country.

Where to eat and drink

There are loads of pubs in St Andrews catering for all those eternally thirsty students, as well as plenty of cafés. A very popular spot is Brambles on College Street, a licensed café which serves soups, snacks, and great home-made cakes as well as more filling main courses. Fisher and Donaldson on Church Street is a bakery famous for its fudge doughnuts (they're very sweet, so hang on to your fillings).


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