The night began at 1am.
“Alright”, I said over the phone, “I think it’s time to go.”
“Yeah. Did you take everything?” she asked.
“Yup, I got my towel, camera and a change of clothes.”
“Perfect, let’s go!”.
We met up at the end of the hallway and looked at each other with mad excitement.
“This will be fun”, I said grinning from ear to ear.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this! Have you called Lizzy and told her we’re on our way?” she enquired.
“Yeah, she’s expecting us. There are a few others there as well.”
We walked out of our university residence hall and towards Lizzy’s place. The road to her place had no street lights, adding to our fear and excitement. We felt like silent ninjas moving unnoticed in the night. Every swaying tree made a magnified sound, giving us a start once in a while. After 15 minutes of walking in anticipation, we reached her place. I looked up at her window, there was a light shining through and the distant sound of laughter was echoing across the place. We walked up the stairs to her apartment, the music and laughter getting louder and louder with every step.
“Girls, you’re here!”, she greeted us with open arms. Following the customary hellos and hugs, we walked in to her living room to find a few of our classmates sitting around the dining table, playing cards and sipping wine as the music blared in the background.
“Anuja, Veda, you’re here!”, came the warm greetings.
We settled in, me with beer, Veda with Coke, and played silly card games almost forgetting that this was just the prelude to the night.
At 3.15am, Lizzy announced that it was time to leave. We picked up our bags and the group walked out of her compound. We began making our way to our destination, Castle sands, one of three beaches in St Andrews. As we got closer to the beach, we noticed other drunk revellers walking in the same direction. It didn’t seem like early hours on a weekday anymore, it felt like a drunken Saturday night. It was 10 minutes to 4am now and we were nearly at the beach, there were hundreds of us there. From university students to media reporters to the police, everyone was trying to find their way down to the beach. We joined the queue next to the castle ruins that would get us on to the narrow stairway leading down to the beach.
I could feel the adrenaline pumping fast and knew the others were feeling the same way. We pushed, shoved and finally made it to the beach. The sea gleamed magnificently under the moonlight ahead of us. All around us there were people getting ready for the ritual to follow. There was a big bonfire some way off throwing light on the proceedings. A few fire-eaters amused the crowd on the other side. We kept out eyes glued to sea, checking the horizon for the sign we were awaiting.
“Okay”, said Lizzy, “So, it’s Veda, you, Dan, Rebecca, Stan and I who are in right?”
“Yup”, I replied.
“Well, it’s nearly time, let’s strip.”
On her command, we disrobed. Veda and I were undressed down to shorts and tees, the cold wind hit me all over, catching me in the throat. I gulped a few times and rubbed my shoulders to try to adjust to the weather. I turned to my right to find Lizzy in a bikini, the girl had guts. It was nearly 5 now and I could feel that the anticipation level was at an all time high all around.
“Let’s move closer to the water”, Veda said and we all followed.
“It’s almost time, let’s link hands and form a chain”, Dan commanded, so we did.
The first rays of the sun shot past the horizon and reached us.
“Now!”, someone roared and we began running towards the water. My feet protested as the first wave of the freezing cold water reached them but I continued to run. We were waist deep in the water now, I could feel the sharp rocks under my feet more clearly than ever. And then it happened, a huge wave covered us from head to toe with the freezing North Sea. We screamed and shouted, initially in shock but a moment later, in joy. “This is brilliant”, I thought to myself. Veda and I grinned at each other and splashed some water about.
“Okay, it’s done. The curse has been removed, let’s head back.”, she said. We linked hands again to steady ourselves again and made our way back to the beach.
“I can’t believe you guys did that!”, said Stephan as he handed us our towels.
“It was brilliant, it was amazing!” we replied.
We looked at each other and said in unison, “Let’s do it again!” and laughed. We stood on the beach watching hoards of other students run into the sea and out again. The warm sand underneath my feet gave me some perspective and the cold suddenly hit me again.
“Let’s go again now.”, shouted Dan and we obeyed.
Once again, I could feel the rocks cutting through my feet and the icy cold water persuading my body to freeze but we pushed on. This time some of us tripped on the rocks, getting nicks and cuts that would hurt really bad the next day. But for now, we were enjoying the moment. Dan came over and decided to dunk Veda and my heads below the water. “Dip, dip, dip”, he shouted as he pushed our heads down. A few moments later we made our way back and wrapped ourselves in our towels again. We continued to shiver and watch the revelry around us for a while.
“Alright”, said Lizzy, “let’s go again one final time!”
“Are you mental?”, asked Stephan in disbelief.
“We must!”, I replied and we were off again for one final dip. We got back out of the water and noticed the sun was charging on in its mission to rise now.
It was time to go home and everybody concurred. We pushed, shoved and made our way up the narrow path as hundreds of students continued to walk down to the beach to do the ceremonial St Andrews May dip. Veda and I said good bye to the others and hailed a cab. The ride back to the hall was a silent one, we were too tired and in awe of what had just happened to talk. We got out and began walking to our rooms.
“That was amazing”, she said.
“It was brilliant”, I agreed.
We grinned and went to our own rooms. I didn’t bother to shower, I didn’t have the energy to. I just managed to get out of my wet clothes and collapse onto my bed.
“Brilliant” I thought again and I went to sleep.
It’s been a year since the May dip but we still discuss the day fondly and frequently. What an experience it was, adventure, fun and tradition, brought together in a uniquely St Andrews way!
PS: Some names have been changed.