“How could you live in such a small place for four years?” exclaim friends and family when I tell them I am leaving for St Andrews. Its three streets host a handful of pubs, a tiny Tesco, and our one club, the Union’s 601. Most people see the move here as downsizing, travelling from exciting metropolises to this unique bubble on the edge of the sea. However, moving from the West Highlands was quite a different story.
The peninsula on which I lived hosted one hundred people, and not one was my age. Without shops, phone signal, and easy mainland access, the mountains of my remote home began to feel like less of the warm embrace that I had loved as a child, and instead held a constricting, frustrating sense of being stuck.
So, upon accepting my place here, I felt at home already. I had, half-jokingly, been advised, “choose St Andrews; you won’t get into any trouble in that speck of a place!” In fact, the thought of an actual high-street, of take-outs, a cinema, and real people my age, excited me. I waited impatiently all summer to live somewhere outside my original “bubble” of quiet.
There is nothing better than being surrounded by people. As not a busy city, but not quite a suffocating ghost-town peninsula, St Andrews strikes the perfect balance. You can sit in the quad while people study on the grass, or walk the streets late at night to see giggling groups stumbling home together in semi-defeat. Perhaps the sense of community in Empire after 2 am on a Friday encompasses this feeling, as, dizzy and tired, we cram ourselves on plastic chairs and feast on hot pizzas.
And there are always people around. The gym is never empty, nor is the library, and the buzz of warm coffee shops has become a welcome change from a lack of connection for so long. Where the humble tea-room on the peninsula played host to an array of mud-splattered yellow wellies and boiler suits with steaming cups of builder’s tea, St Andrews feels almost metropolitan. Girls teeter down Market Street in fancy shoes, pretty purses, and headscarves, striding purposefully to and from classes in which they learn about the world beyond this bubble.
At the risk of sounding like a saleswoman: if you want both quiet and fun, and all the wonderful contrast in between, then live in St Andrews. Comparing it to my Highland peninsula and the vibrancy of New York City, where I have also lived, I might venture to say that it somehow manages to draw aspects from both rural, village-by-the-sea, and fun, noisy concrete jungles. Sitting at the beach which stretches for miles gives you space to think, but you can equally always find friends in a friendly gaggle outside the pub. Instead of carefully planning a boat, train, and car trip to find civilisation, you can hop on the train and be whisked away to Edinburgh and big-city life.
But for some reason, it feels like we will always end up back here; drawn by some inexplicable love of cobbled streets, Pablos, and the ocean of Barbour that weaves its way around the town’s ruins and old shops. Here, we have the accessibility of other, great places, and also the sense of safety in ‘coming home’. And it’s this ability to please everyone – whether you want to browse dusty bookshops, or socialise in the Union Bar – that makes St Andrews so welcoming. Filled with history and pockets of culture, there’s not much that this place doesn’t offer its students, wherever they come from.