Then and Now: The May Dip
Every year on the first day of May, as the sun begins to rise above St Andrews, students can be found on East Sands in varying states of undress, running frantically into the sea, shrieking as they enter the icy shallows. In doing so, they are fulfilling one of the University’s best-loved traditions. Bizarre to some, loved by many, Alumni Relations Intern, Daisy Sewell, wanted to celebrate this year’s Dip by looking back to commemorate its very chilly history and see how it has changed over the years.
The May Dip is my favourite event in this town’s unique calendar, bringing together students at 4am around bonfires along the beach, shivering and smiling after enduring the chill of the North Sea. If you’re very brave (mad), you might even go into the water more than once.
Running into the sea on that May morning supposedly cleanses students of wrongdoings such as flirting with members of your academic family or stepping on the PH. Undergoing this early morning ritual is also thought to bring luck to students sitting exams later in the month.
The tradition’s origins are not really known but it has certainly evolved throughout the ages. Paula was a student at the University of St Andrews from 1980 to 1984 and remembers her May Dips:
“For my first May Dip, all I remember is my friend, Caroline, waking me up in my room in David Russell and dragging me out of bed. We cycled to Castle Sands, where the Dip then took place. You always had to swim a length of the Castle Sands’ pool, it wasn’t just a case of running in and out! In 1983, I remember bonfires on the beach and Maypole dancing in the castle, we wore our red gowns. It snowed later that day, an indication of just how cold it was.”
Times have changed since then. The Maypole is no longer a feature of May Day celebrations and it is now not uncommon for people to enter the North Sea wearing nothing but a brave smile. However, whilst Paula does not remember anything like this, her sister, Maureen, was a student at St Andrews in the 1970s and remembers:
“We did our May Dip on West Sands – absolutely freezing, of course – and yes, many people stripped down to nothing. Madness!”
Today, the Dip is enjoyed by nearly the entire student body at one point or another during their St Andrews career. Lauren Gage will be taking part in her final dip before graduating in June. She tells me her favourite part of the tradition:
“I love the town throughout the evening. It’s so cool that everyone stays up all night and the town is just buzzing right through to the small hours. Also, I love the sunrise bit of it. But mostly it’s just the fact that it’s just lots of people, all sorts of students, doing a really weird thing together because it’s fun.”
My own memories of the May Dip are filled with the smell of bonfires on the beach, the buzz of overcrowded house parties and the sense of the bizarre, ludicrous nature of the morning, of being awake with everyone on the beach whilst the rest of the world lies asleep. Perhaps most of all I remember feeling cold but content and inordinately proud for having made it until 4am and braving the ridiculous chill of the ocean.
So, for this and preceding generations of St Andrews students, the May Dip is a time of heightened delirium in lowered temperatures and an unforgettable experience.
For any students who plan on braving the Dip, I thoroughly recommend you do as I do and bring your dressing gown with you. You can thank me later.