‘Traditional’ is one of those catch-all words which can be deployed to describe everything from pies to paint colours – something that has been made or done in a certain way for longer than anyone really knows or cares to remember.

Student life at the country’s older universities is fenced in by such traditions and nowhere more so than at St Andrews, famed for its uproarious Raisin Weekend festivities (normally held in October but postponed this year until March 2021 for obvious reasons), the May Morning dip from the East Sands (do participants still sit up all night drinking beforehand as your correspondent once did?) and for the activity pictured here: the weekly pier walk. It happens on a Sunday following chapel and involves congregants and others, most of them clad in the university’s famous red gown, parading along the town pier and back. It’s quite a sight, wonderful or ridiculous depending on how well disposed you are towards the idea of tradition in the first place.

This picture was taken in September 2017 and captures what is usually the best populated pier walk, the one which takes place at the end of Fresher’s Week and ahead of the start of what’s still known as the Martinmas Term. Flushed with enthusiasm and resplendent in a gown they’ll probably only wear this once, hundreds of students join the walk as it processes along North Street from gothic St Salvator’s Chapel, past the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, along The Pends and down to the medieval harbour. Much of the current pier dates back to an 18th century extension, but for centuries before that the harbour was one of the busiest (and easiest) ways to arrive in the town, and welcomed travellers and pilgrims from all over Europe.

And why do the students process so? Theories vary but the best one involves John Honey, a 19-year-old student at the university at the dawn of the 19th century. It was from a service at St Salvator’s Chapel that he set out on January 5 1800 after word had reached the town that a ship, the Janet, was in trouble off the East Sands with a crew of five men on board. Honey tied a rope round his waist, swam out and saved all of them, one by one. His actions are also commemorated in another St Andrews tradition, the spectacular candlelit procession known as the Gaudie.

What to read

Esteemed poet Edwin Muir lived in St Andrews with his feminist wife Willa before the Second World War and both wrote about the town, he in An Autobiography, she (rather disparagingly) in a collection of essays. If you fancy something a little more contemporary, try The Distant Echo by Val McDermid, which opens with four St Andrew students finding a body in a snow-covered graveyard on their way home from a party and then moves forward quarter of a century as bloody revenge is enacted.