Author Archives: Val_ToWriter

50 Years! Where has it gone?

This post appeared in the St. Andrews monthly alumni newsletter, and I’m so proud they chose mine! It’s with great regret that we won’t even get to go to St. Andrews this summer, let alone celebrate 50 years sincce graduating! The post expresses much of how I feel about St. Andrews and life after — my real life:

Valerie Torgerson Waddelove graduated from St Andrews with an MA in Medieval History in 1970. She reflects on the past 50 years since that day, and how COVID-19 has impacted her and her family. 


How can it possibly be 50 years since I graduated? That sunny day is so vivid in my memories – I can still feel the elation, hugging and congratulating friends outside Younger Hall,  meeting parents, feeling such joy that I couldn’t stop smiling, and perhaps shedding tears because we would now go our separate ways.

It is sad, in this singularly important year for me, that I will not be able to visit St Andrews and to participate in a reunion. Perhaps next April we can celebrate with others, enjoying our emergence from social distancing with a renewed desire to reunite personally.

Yes, it’s true and I feel it in my bones, literally: I am now an old woman, and I don’t mind too much. I can still make the cross-continent flight, walk the streets of the old town, stand in the Quad, hear the bells ring, remember going to classes in those buildings, and be flooded with memories – most sweet, some sad. This year, being sequestered in my home, I will have to let memories suffice, since coronavirus has made us all prisoners – fear and anxiety our constant companions. Thankfully because of my many trips to St Andrews, I can mentally visualise the town, and walk it in my mind, see faces young and hopeful, and old people still spry and smiling.

Mostly I feel grateful and uniquely blessed that I found St Andrews and it lives in me. I remember the University and its traditions, the red gown, walking on the pier, Raisin Monday, the Kate Kennedy procession, dances in Younger Hall and the installing of a Rector (what does he/she do anyway?).

I also remember living in Hamilton Hall for three years and the comradeship we developed. I was so excited the day my friend Sheila’s fiancé gave her the Beatles’ White Album – we listened to it twice! I was semi-adopted by her nearby family and enjoyed their kindness. Some of these friendships have endured, while others haven’t. That’s normal. They are all still young in my memories.

St Andrews challenged my mind with its different way of teaching – that is, different from the way we are taught at US universities. It does what universities should do: it teaches students to think more deeply, to spot and question flawed reasoning, to be challenged by peers and teachers in tutorials and to change one’s mind when the evidence leads in a different direction. I hope this hasn’t changed and that students are still learning to develop minds that will remain curious and questioning. Reading the Chronicle leads me to believe that’s true.

I was an American who was supposed to be there for just one year, but my plans changed, new horizons beckoned and I stayed for three to finish my degree. It wasn’t just the University that contributed to that decision. St Andrews itself with all its elements drew me in. I wasn’t in a great place mentally when I was there, and being in Hamilton Hall, watching the sea change daily or several times in a day (especially from my room under the cupola) the rugged ancient rocks, the medieval buildings, the ruins telling of a turbulent past (now serene) – all of these things helped to repair my uneasy soul. My dad died when I was fourteen, and I had previously buried questions about ‘the nature of existence and the hereafter’. It was St Andrews that helped to bring them into focus. I was able to see life as a flow, that we are like grains of sand on the beach: part of something older and greater than ourselves; something beautiful, individual and meaningful – even though we are finite.

St Andrews continues to have that effect: I almost need a yearly visit to recharge my spiritual energy. This year, however, I will have to forgo that visit.

Life after Graduation

My life has also been a surprise to me. I never used my Medieval History degree. But after the stark realisation that I had to earn money while I was living in London with my husband Paul, I then started to write and design publications once we returned to the US. I loved it and am so grateful I worked in a place that allowed me to develop my talents.

Then children came along. I had my first when I was 30, and three more followed within five and a half years. I stayed home with them, not surprisingly, and loved being a mother – even though I wasn’t sure I knew how to do it. They thrived, and when they were old enough, I returned to university and got a master’s degree in Education and in time ended up teaching technology for middle school students who were ‘gifted and talented’ (that just means they were often smarter than me). Besides the normal stuff I learned and taught Photoshop and Illustrator, programming, robotics, and web page design (from scratch) and loved the challenge and the students.

Some things don’t change – come what may

We had just returned from three weeks in Spain (Andalucia) where my youngest daughter now lives when news of the virus in China was emerging. I’m glad we were able to visit her and see Spain before it was locked down. She is a graphic designer, works remotely and loves Spain. Her decision to move there came after walking two Caminos (Camino de Santiago de Compostela). I walked the second one with her. She has given us a new culture and country to explore.

Now the Camino is empty, the beautiful squares eerily quiet, devoid of the usual chatter and laughter of family and friends.

Now I’m old. My wonderful children have grown, and I have 13 grandchildren. We had hoped to travel to Idaho at the end of April to be with my daughter for the birth of her seventh child (our 14th grandchild) but world events will prevent that. In fear of this unseen enemy, family get-togethers on Sunday afternoons are now via Zoom; at least our spread-out family is together, which would rarely happen in ‘real life’. We don’t even see my daughter and her family who live nearby in person.

I love the life I have. I couldn’t have predicted 50 years ago how it would turn out. I do know that St Andrews – the old gray town, the University, my friendships and the view out of my window – will always have a special place in my life. That will not change – come what may.

Day Trips from St. Andrews

St. Andrews is a great place to stay as a base for visiting nearby sites.  Families can spend a leisurely day at the beach followed by ice cream at Janetta’s on South Street in view of the ancient Cathedral, and take a more ambitious excursion the following day.  Where to go?

The closest city is Dundee. It’s less than a 30 minute drive by car or bus. The bus isn’t a bad option; they leave about every half an hour from St. Andrews bus station (and other places), and take you into Dundee City Center. This option also means no parking fees or finding a place to park. There you can shop (all major stores available in pedestrian settings), or visit any number of historic sites.  After visiting the Dundee’s Visitor web site, I am amazed by all the attractions in the area — specifically Angus, the county in which Dundee sits.

Arbroath Abbey, Angus, Scotland

Arbroath Abbey, Angus, Scotland

One of the major attractions are the ships: the 175 year-old Frigate Unicorn, Scotland’s only example of a wooden warship; the RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, the ship taken to the Antarctic by Captain Scot from 1901-1904. A ‘Heroes of the Ice” museum tells the story at Discovery Point and includes state-of-the-art audio-visual and computer based multimedia presentations, alongside displays of actual artefacts that belonged to Scott and the brave crew who sailed with him.

Further afield (about an hour’s drive) there’s Glamis Castle, the girlhood home of the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth’s mom.  It’s over 500 years old in places, and is still the home of the current Earl of Strathmore, Michael Fergus, and his family. Its setting in the rural county of Angus, about 20 miles north of Dundee, is both scenic and serene.  The grounds of the castle are gorgeous with both formal and natural gardens, walks, and picnicing areas.  (Food is available to purchase, too.)  The House itself is impressive and quirky, both in architecture and stories; it is one of my personal favorites.


Even being familiar with the area, I was surprised by the number of things to see and places to go in Angus. Stately homes, well-maintained ruins, ships, pedestrian areas and parks, and golf courses. And in case of emergencies, one of the best hospitals in Scotland. One of the places I’d like to visit is the fairly recently renovated Verdant Works, a 19th century jute mill.  “Work in the Dundee jute mills of the 19th century offered little but drudgery, exhaustion, low wages and constant danger. Most of the workers were women and children (they cost less to employ) and employment law was virtually non-existent.” With a booming shipping industry in a large empire, jute was in demand, and an important source of employment in Dundee. The modern Verdant Works includes a wide range of displays including film shows, multimedia computers and hands-on activities. It sounds like a great day out for all the family.

Verdant Works re-enactors

Verdant Works re-enactors


The Edinburgh Tattoo takes place in the forecourt or “esplanade” of the Castle. This is a totally Scottish event, displaying the best of Scottish music and dancing. It’s takes place annually in August. Performances of the Military tattoos are by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth International military bands, and display teams — and fireworks!

The word “Tattoo,” is derived from “Doe den tap toe”, or just “tap toe” (“toe” is pronounced “too”), the Dutch for “last orders”. Translated literally, it means: “close the (beer) tap”. The term “Tap-toe” was first encountered by the British Army when stationed in Flanders. The British adopted the practice and it became a signal, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums or Pipes and Drums each night to tavern owners to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their lodgings at a reasonable hour.

Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Edinburgh Military Tattoo

In fact, August is a pretty busy month in the Scottish capital because concurrent festivals takes place. The International Festival brings the very best in classical music, theatre, opera, dance and visual art from across the globe to Edinburgh for three exhilarating weeks. Then there’s the Fringe Festival, the world’s largest arts festival with over 40,000 performances and more than 2,500 shows packed into 250 venues across the city. It’s a blast, with musicians playing in the streets, mimes, magicians — a little bit of everything with a good deal of talent. Then there’s the Art Festival when the city’s galleries, museums and visual art spaces present the best in modern and contemporary visual arts world for the whole month of August.


Fringe performers

The Town

The earliest recorded name of the St. Andrews area is Muckross. (Glad it changed!) After the founding of a religious settlement in Muckross in around 370 AD, the name of the town changed to Cennrígmonaid (Gaelic) which translates to Kilrymont. According to legend supported by some facts, St Regulus or St. Rule brought the St Andrew’s relics (the saint’s arm, kneecap, three fingers and a tooth) from Greece to Kilrymont, where a shrine was established for their safekeeping and veneration. This is when the town became St. Andrews.

It was already an important religious center and a bishopric by the 11th century.  The first church and monastery was on St. Mary’s mount, on high rocky spot above the harbor. The largest cathedral in Scotland was built in 1160, and the relic were transferred there. Even before the Cathedral was built, St. Andrews was center of pilgrimage in medieval Scotland and one of the most important in Europe. That as well as trade with the “Lowlands” (Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg) and the vigorous fishing industry made St. Andrews affluent until the Reformation.




In the Fresh Air

Nature lovers who also enjoy walking might well enjoy the taking on a stretch of the 117 mile Fife Coastal Path. St. Andrews to Elie is a pleasant walk and one can make stops along the way. Another coastal attraction is the daily excursion by boat from Anstruther to the Isle of May. It leaves tourists on the island for about six hours so they can explore the unusual flora and fauna, including the famed puffins, before returning.  This might be a good time to take in the fish and chips at The Anstruther Fish Bar, reputedly the best spots for fish and chips in Fife.

Perhaps more quaint is Crail.  The harbor is old, but still busy, used mostly by fishermen.  The walk leading to the harbor begins at one end of the town and follows a walkway which winds ‘round the edge of town, looking over the rocky coast, and sheltered on the other side by retaining walls or backs of  houses that must enjoy splendid views of the ever-changing seascape.  The winding lanes of the village could be from a different century; little has changed in this fishing village, but thankfully much has been preserved.

In nearby Elie, the Watersports Centre offers all kinds of opportunities to test the waters.  Since the North Sea is pretty chilly (cold in fact), wetsuits are advisable for many of the activities, and available to rent.  Then the adventurous can try sailing, canoeing, pedal-boating, or para-sailing.

Horseback riding is a popular sport in the area. One neat idea I came across is a two-hour Pub Ride offered by the Barbarafield Riding School on a farm near Cupar, Fife. They have lots of other activities too, and lessons. Another facility is a bit further afield, also in the countryside: The Scottish Equestrian Centre.

While out in the countryside, a little clay shooting can be fun for some: The Scottish Clay Shooting Centre is the closest to St. Andrews. A more family oriented activity center where shooting is just one of the items on the menu  is Cluny Clays. This facility about a half hour from St. Andrews offer activities for all age levels and interests aside from shooting. They even have an extensive indoors play area for children.