You can count the times I’ve been reckless throughout my life in the shades of blue beneath my eyes as I’m standing in front of Buccleuch Place 22B at twenty to eight on this Saturday morning. I’m wearing the warmest jacket I own that isn’t a winter coat, but it offers barely any protection against the merciless wind. Through the thick clouds of sleep deprivation and lack of caffeine, I’m scolding myself for not bringing a scarf – I really should know better by now. But then again, getting up at half past six on a weekend isn’t usually part of my weekly routine, so I can’t expect my brain to run at its full capacity. The reason for my early birdness is the ticket I’m currently holding in my freezing hands, the ticket for a daytrip to St Andrews offered by the university’s International and Exchange Student Society (IESS). Most of the students waiting with me are already chatting away as if they’re not bothered by the time or the cold when a phrase in German catches my attention. While I tried to avoid mingling with my fellow Sauerkraut enthusiasts over the last week, I’ve talked to so many international students from all over the world that I don’t feel too guilty when I jump into the conversation without a second thought. At this point, I don’t know yet that I won’t surface again for the remainder of the day.
The bus carrying our small crowd of curious adventurers arrives in sleepy St Andrews at ten o’clock, but the streets are wiped out as if no time had passed and it were still the early hours of the morning. We’re one of the first tourist groups to arrive at the cathedral, one of the major attractions in the city, which gives us the opportunity to enjoy a sightseeing tour around the ruins and taking photographs without waiting for someone to slowly trudge out of frame. The sun is still on its slow ascend over the rooftops and we watch the morning light’s platinum shimmer on the waves from the top of St Rules Tower albeit we’re already exhausted from the many, many stairs inside the 33 metres high tower. Until 1560, Scotland’s religious landscape was heavily influenced and shaped by the medieval Scottish Church which lies now in ruins at our feet. Its most notorious guest was probably John Know, also known as the founder of the Presbyterian Church, but after the replacement of the medieval Scottish Church by the parish church, St Andrew’s cathedral was abandoned.
Continuing our way from the cathedral along the sea, we head towards St Andrews Castle – or what is left of it. The ruins rise up from the cliffs like a child’s half-hearted attempt to build a gingerbread house but its history is just as depressive as it is bloody. Stories of public burnings, sieges, imprisonments, and murderers keep the stones glued to the rocks of the cliff and despite its impressive history, we keep our visit reasonably short. The seagrass uncovered by the low tide is starting to itch in our noses and we’re eager to continue our explorations where our senses are no longer assaulted by the smell of dead fish and the depths of the sea.
In search of a quiet place to have a coffee, we make our way towards the city centre where the wind is doing an impressive job at keeping more water out of the small fountain than inside. It starts to dawn on me that every city in Scotland seems to have its own marketing strategy when it comes to cafés – while almost every tea and coffee selling shop in Edinburgh claims to have contributed to JK Rowling’s imagination when she wrote the Harry Potter series, in St Andrews, the Northpoint Café advertises itself as The place where Kate met Wills (for coffee!). If you follow the British Royals‘ private lives to a certain extent, you might know that William and Kate both met and studied at the University of St Andrews which seems hard to imagine with how few people we encounter on the narrow streets.
Nonetheless, St Andrews does have its charms, especially the broad beach with its infamous nearby golf course but after five hours of aimlessly wandering the city, we can’t wait to be back on the bus, now bound for Anstruther. There, we were supposed to have the best Fish’n Chips in all of Scotland, but unfortunately, the small restaurant is so crowded upon our arrival that we have to settle for another chip place instead. Hence, we sit down near the harbour where small sailing vessels lie in anchor, munching on our fried fish and prawns, listening to the seagull’s envious chatter above.
So, this is what Scotland feels like.