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Destination Scotland

St Andrews

St Andrews wedding in the snow
For a town of about 16,000 St Andrews is surprisingly familiar with being placed in the public eye – most recently thanks to a particularly high profile royal wedding. Also being nicknamed the Home of Golf, St Andrews plays host to the game's ruling body – the Royal and Ancient Golf Club – and has seen myriad celebrities come and play some of its world-famous golf courses. St Andrews is also famous for its ecclesiastical history however, having been in the past the centre of religious influence in the British Isles, and a popular place of pilgrimage with an impressive (although now ruined) cathedral.

In terms of its impact on Scots literature and poetry, the small town formerly known as Cell Rígmonaid (rendered in Scots as Kilrymont) has also witnessed history. David Lyndsay's Tragedie of the Cardinall focuses on David Beaton, a Cardinal and Archbishop of St Andrews (and also former student of the university) who was said to have been hanged from a window of the now-ruined castle following his murder.

feet standing on initials PH
Other signs of the reformation can also be seen in the initials of George Wishart and Patrick Hamilton, immortalised in cobbles in the streets of the town where they died. The former is just outside the castle ruins, while the latter lies by the entrance to St Salvator's, the university's chapel. Superstitiously, Patrick Hamilton's initials are avoided by undergraduates of the university – to place a foot on the large 'PH' is to condemn oneself to degree failure, with the only remedy being to take a swim in the North Sea at dawn on the 1st of May (the 'May Dip'). In addition to David Beaton, other notable students of the university have included Gavin Douglas and William Dunbar, as well as David Lyndsay himself. More modernly, Alex Salmond and (famously) the Duke of Cambridge are also among the university's more well-known alumni.

West Sands, St Andrews
Aside from the university, there is much to bring people to St Andrews. Sweeping beaches (one of which can be seen in the opening of the film Chariots of Fire) provide majestic views out to sea, and at the height of summer when the water temperature is 'warm' enough, swimming on West Sands is popular. In winter the view becomes breathtaking as fierce winds whip sand out to sea, as if in battle with the waves attempting to break on the shore.

There are also numerous independent restaurants and cafés as well as a few chains, in addition to a pub-to-square foot ratio higher than any other town in the United Kingdom. Although St Andrews does not boast a night life similar similar to what's available in Edinburgh or Glasgow, for many, that fact is part of its unique charm. The town's small size contributes to this charm as does its relatively remote nature, being accessible only by road (or sea). This often gives St Andrews, in spite of its many claims to fame, an air of existing 'outside' of the world around it and as a result students often refer to it as 'The Bubble'. Although it must be said that this fact is for some all the reason needed to avoid St Andrews for any length of time longer than a daytrip, for many others it is one of the town's prime and most enduring points of attraction – the ability to 'get away' from society at large.

Photos by Gillian Gamble and James Dean Shepherd