St Andrews Traditions: Part 2 The May Dip

Carley St Andrews Traditons

As I mentioned before, in this first St Andrews traditions post, there are a number of different St Andrews traditions which really influence on what it’s like to be a student at the university. None of the traditions are compulsory, and almost all of them really add to ‘the student experience’. The most infamous of the traditions is Raisin Weekend and the academic families, which really does almost need to be seen to be believed; I promise I’ll post about that (and my experiences as an academic child and as a mother!) at some point soon. However, today I wanted to tell you all about the May Dip.

The May Dip is an annual tradition for everyone in the town of St Andrews, although it’s mainly the student population who participate. In order to celebrate May Day or Beltane, at sunrise on the 1st of May the students gather on the beaches of St Andrews to run into the North Sea as the sun rises over the cliffs. That’s pretty much it.

Girls running out of the North Sea after the St Andrews May Dip tradition
A university image from the May Dip…

The history of the tradition is unclear (as Beltane is a pagan fire festival, which obviously suggests jumping into a large body of cold water…) but it’s necessary for many students, as performing the May Dip is the only way to alleviate any of the curses of St Andrews. (These include committing academic incest, standing on the PH sign outside the quad and wearing your academic gown wrong amongst others…  I know I’ll need to explain all of this too!) Dunking your head under the freezing north sea at approximately 5.30am is not hugely pleasant, but it does make you feel as though you’ve been washed clean of any academic sins or misdemeanour’s from the year so far, and when you’re there with your friends, it is good fun.

Girl in North Sea after completing St Andrews May Dip tradition
This was me, after my first ever May Dip!

Usual practise dictates pulling an all-nighter before the May Dip – there are numerous parties which mean that many participants have been drinking before they run into the sea. I can confirm this is a good idea; May Dip-ing whilst sober is far harder than after a few warming drinks! Students usually start to gather on the beach at around 4am. It used to be that the vast majority of students would dip from the smallest of the three St Andrews beaches – Castle Sands – as this is where the sun rises over the cliffs and the castle for an amazing sunrise – but in recent years, the beach has been closed due to the unstable cliff face above. Dipping from East Sands is now more common, but I must admit, it’s not as scenic as walking down the cliff steps to see the numerous bonfires, the singing madrigals and the Christian Union giving out cups of tea and hot chocolate.

Image of Castle Sands beach at St Andrews
Castle Sands, where I May-Dipped for three years running!

Anyway, regardless of the choice of beach, at a point which someone has decided is ‘official sunrise’ students will start running into the sea. A dip isn’t considered ‘official’ unless you duck completely under the water – but believe me, no one stays in the sea very long! Most people dip in swimsuits and have towels waiting from them as they run out again – but there are occasional folk who get completely naked for their dip – I have had to avert my eyes a few times!  If you’re in your final year, you may find that you end up ‘double-dipping’ – going into the sea twice as friends chuck you into the water, just to make sure that you will pass your degree that year!

A pre-dip party on Castle Sands
A pre-dip party on Castle Sands

The May Dip is so much fun; the anticipation and parties the night before, seeing the sunrise at the beach with fellow students and then the exhilaration from running into the freezing cold North Sea, before a long walk home for a hot shower and bed! It’s crazy, it really is – but the four times I did it, I loved it. It’s just another thing which makes St Andrews unique!

Carley x


4 Comment

  1. […] lucky that Craig is both my work colleague and my friend. He and I met in St Andrews, and whilst he was a year behind me in terms of his degree, he and I stayed in touch once I had […]

  2. […] relationship comes from! However, you will find that a large number of students who do the May Dip each year are doing so because it’s the only way to lift the curse of standing on the PH […]

  3. […] So what should you look for in academic parents? Well, if you already know people when you arrive in St Andrews, they will often offer to adopt you – I adopted one of my academic kids a full year before he even started university! In terms of both academic mothers and fathers, finding someone who can cook you the odd meal is always good – my parents would make dinner for me around once a month in my first year, and it definitely meant that we always had a good chat and that I didn’t have to buy my own dinner! Parents having the same interests as you is always good too – I know a lot of people who have found their academic parents at society meetings or at theatre auditions – so don’t hesitate to ask people if you are at a meeting. Also, try and steer clear of academic parents who seem to be hitting on you – if you want to have a good relationship with your academic parents over your academic career, it’s a good idea to not become romantically involved with your parents – it can become awkward, and committing academic incest (aka getting involved with someone that you’re ‘related’ to – including siblings, aunts and uncles or grandparents!) is a sin which can only be wiped out by performing the May Dip! […]

  4. […] , and it begins at sunrise. Most participants liquor up a bit before emerging in the water, which makes more sense than dipping in the water in the first place.  Some come clothed, others completely bare. What can be more fun than jumping into the ocean at five in the morning in your birthday suit? […]

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