City of the Scarlet Gown

We unveiled Irish Breakfast Tea this morning, and there really isn’t anything we can say about that except to express our profuse gratitude at finally opening something that will wake us up over breakfast. We love the variety of leaf teas this Advent Calendar displays but we’re desperately short of black tea and we’ve put off buying it expressly because we’re confronted by a calendar full of the stuff.

Thus, sufficiently awake and free of cotton-wool for brains when we looked up from hunting for Christmas cards -minimal luck, the selection was worse than sparse so late in the month -it was to help show St. Andrews off to visitors. Even on grey December days it’s easy to boast about. We had been traipsing through the Castle and were wending towards the cathedral in three o’clock twilight, and the sky was the loveliest wash of orange and grey whenit came home to us again how lucky we’ve been these last seven years. Part of it is the lifestyle of the people, and part of it’s the smallness of the town, and not a little of this is because of the sea and the fact that its in our blood even though we, like Coleridge hale from the city and cloisters dim. But there’s something more than that, an inarticulable something that we can’t seem to express. We alighted at Leuchars station one May -just to visit -and knew in our bones we’d come home. Andrew Lang says this best, so we’ll let him have the last word.

Almae Matres 

Andrew Lang

ST. ANDREWS by the northern sea,
    A haunted town it is to me!
A little city, worn and gray,
  The gray North Ocean girds it round;
And o’er the rocks, and up the bay,
  The long sea-rollers surge and sound;
And still the thin and biting spray
    Drives down the melancholy street,
And still endure, and still decay,
   Towers that the salt winds vainly beat.
Ghost-like and shadowy they stand
Dim mirrored in the wet sea-sand.
St Leonard’s chapel! long ago
   We loitered idly where the tall
Fresh budded mountain ashes blow
  Within thy desecrated wall:
The tough roots rent the tomb below,
  The April birds sang clamorous,
We did not dream, we could not know,
    How hardly fate would deal with us!
O broken minster, looking forth
    Beyond the bay, above the town!
O winter of the kindly north,
  O college of the scarlet gown,
And shining sands beside the sea,
   And stretch of links beyond the sand,
Once more I watch you, and to me
   It is as if I touched his hand!
And therefore art thou yet more dear,
   O little city, gray and sere,
Though shrunken from thine ancient pride
   And lonely by thy lonely sea,
Than these fair halls on Isis’ side,
  Where Youth an hour came back to me!
A land of waters green and clear,
   Of willows and of poplars tall,
And, in the spring-time of the year,
  The white may breaking over all,
And Pleasure quick to come at call.
   And summer rides by marsh and wold,
And autumn with her crimson pall
 About the towers of Magdalen rolled;
And strange enchantments from the past,
    And memories of the friends of old,
And strong Tradition, binding fast
   The ‘flying terms’ with bands of gold, —
All these hath Oxford: all are dear,
   But dearer far the little town,
The drifting surf, the wintry year,
   The college of the scarlet gown,
   St. Andrews by the northern sea,
      That is a haunted town to me!

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