Escape to Scotland (8th Week, HT)

Right in the middle of the last week of term, I took a quick jaunt up to Scotland for a postgraduate visiting day at the University of St Andrews, about 50 miles north-east of Edinburgh on the Fife coast. Although the 5am departure was less than ideal, I very much enjoyed the train ride once I had gotten through London and left King’s Cross for the long ride north. A morning train ride is actually quite conducive to study, and I got through a fair stack of articles before allowing myself leisure to watch the scenery change, somewhere about York. The best views are after Newcastle, when the tracks hug the coast and allow wide views of the North Sea looking placid and sparkling.

St. Andrews itself is a pretty little town of about 17,000 people and a town centre about a mile across, landmarked by the picturesque coastal ruins of both a medieval cathedral and castle (and that beach from Chariots of Fire). Its University (est. 1413) is the oldest of Scotland’s four ancient universities and the third oldest university in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge. It also happens to have a preternaturally large Medieval History faculty which appears to be prepared to take me on as a doctoral student, hence my visit.

I met with my potential supervisor and some current doctoral students (the latter in group offices with a suitable look of academic chaos) to get a taste for PhD life and then got a tour of the town and some of the various university buildings sprinkled about. After that, there was plenty of time to wander about and discover gems like the Topping & Company bookshop, which is not only large and nooked-and-crannied, but also has the charming policy of offering tea to their browsing customers. Not just a paper cup, mind you – a full tea tray with teapot, cup and saucer, milk and sugar, and even a slice of biscotti, set out on a stool drawn up to your armchair as you look on with thrilled astonishment. It may be a psychological tactic to obligate customers into purchasing books (if so, I succumbed quite readily), but it certainly made my day!

I also spent a day wandering around Edinburgh, climbing up Calton Hill under glowering clouds, visiting the National Museum of Scotland with its beautifully bright Grand Gallery, and finally making my way up in scattered sunshine to the very top of Arthur’s Seat (albeit with many breaks, ostensibly for photos, but really to attempt catch my breath),  with spectacular views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth below.

I got back to Oxford very late Thursday night, in time to attend my last seminar of Hilary Term this morning. Easter Vacation promises to be very, very busy, with two essays to produce by the first Monday morning of Trinity Term, but I think I shall allow myself a weekend of leisurely grace to celebrate the completion of two whole terms of my Oxford degree. A Sunday stroll on the Port Meadow perhaps?



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