Confident, poised and well groomed, if a little snooty, ST ANDREWS, Scotland’s oldest university town and a pilgrimage centre for golfers from all over the world, is situated on a wide bay on the northeastern coast of Fife. Of all Scotland’s universities, St Andrews is the most often compared to Oxford or Cambridge, both for the dominance of gown over town, and for the intimate, collegiate feel of the place. In fact, the university attracts a significant proportion of English undergraduates, among them Prince William, who spent four years studying here, where he met fellow student and future wife Kate Middleton.
According to legend, the town was founded, pretty much by accident, in the fourth century. St Rule – or Regulus – a custodian of the bones of St Andrew in Patras in southern Greece, had a vision in which an angel ordered him to carry five of the saint’s bones to the western edge of the world, where he was to build a city in his honour. The conscientious courier set off, but was shipwrecked on the rocks close to the present harbour. Struggling ashore with his precious burden, he built a shrine to the saint on what subsequently became the site of the cathedral; St Andrew became Scotland’s patron saint and the town its ecclesiastical capital.
On the three main thoroughfares, North Street, Market Street and South Street – which run west to east towards the ruined Gothic cathedral – are several of the original university buildings from the fifteenth century. Narrow alleys connect the cobbled streets, and attic windows and gable ends shape the rooftops, and here and there you’ll see the old wooden doors with heavy knockers and black iron hinges.