Classes, Castles and Cathedrals

Sarah Mason University of Edinburgh, Scotland


January 18, 2016

Two weeks in, and I’m finally settling into life here in Edinburgh. 

Last Monday was the first day of Spring term at the University of Edinburgh, and I was immediately reminded of my first day of freshman year back home - this time, on a much larger scale. Just like Denison, University of Edinburgh’s campus is about a 10 minute walk from my accommodation; however, the size of the main campus is considerably larger here. Thankfully, with the help of Google maps, I somewhat successfully navigated my way to my first class. The second big difference in classes here is, once again, their significantly larger size. While I’m used to classes of about 20-25 students back at Denison, all of my classes are huge lectures filled with about 70-80 students. Not getting a grade for attendance or participation is very foreign to me, so that will definitely take some getting used to. Even more, our grades here are based solely on one test and the occasional essay, so I’m a little concerned about motivating myself to keep up with the material when there’s so much to do in the city. Thankfully, all of my classes seem pretty interesting, so it shouldn’t be a huge issue.

Last week I was also able to check off another tourist attraction from my list: visiting the famed Edinburgh Castle. Arcadia had provided us with Historic Scotland memberships which allow free access into many of Scotland’s monuments and castles, so my friends and I managed to get into the castle without paying the steep £17 entry fee. Located on the Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle dominates the city skyline, and is often the image one conjures up when thinking of Edinburgh, Scotland. For history buffs, the castle is also a rich attraction to visit; archaeologists estimate that Castle Rock itself has been occupied since 20th century AD. In the 1100s, the castle was constructed, and first occupied by David I. Since then, Edinburgh castle has housed some of the most famous names of Scottish history, including Mary Queen of Scots, and has been the site of many historical conflicts. On a non-historical note, the castle itself and the views it provided were simply stunning. Some of the highlights of the self-guided tour were seeing the Crown Jewels, as well as walking through the dungeons. Overall, the castle provided a great background on Scotland’s history, as well as some beautiful views of the city, making it an essential stop for anyone visiting Edinburgh.

The relatively small workload of syllabus week also gave me a chance to visit the town of St. Andrews last Saturday. St. Andrews, a town of only about 16,000 is known mainly for it’s world-class university, ancient castle ruins, and the home of golf. Bright and early at 8:00am, my friend and I walked over to Waverley Station to catch the train to St. Andrews. The early ride (and the fact that the sun doesn’t rise until 8:30) provided some gorgeous views of the Scottish countryside on the trip over. Upon arriving, we grabbed a quick breakfast at a cafe and immediately started exploring the tiny town. Our first stop was St. Andrew’s cathedral, which was definitely my favorite part of the tour. The ancient cathedral and graveyard was beautiful against the backdrop of the ocean, and really gave a sense of how old the town was. We got tokens to climb up to the top of St. Rules Tower, which provided views of the entire city. Next on the agenda was the St. Andrews castle. Even though it is now in ruins, the castle was interesting to explore. One part of it even allowed us to climb down into a mine cut out of solid rock for use during a siege in the 1500’s! After a few hours out in the cold, however, my friends and I were ready for a break, and headed to a nearby pub where we learned about and sampled our first Scottish whisky (spelled without the “e” present in American spellings!). By the end of the day, we were completely exhausted, and slept for the entirety of the train ride. While I truly enjoyed St. Andrews, it was nice to return to my second “home” here in Edinburgh.

Until next week - cheers!