Travel adventures are the only kind of surprises I like. When I have a day off, there’s nothing I like to hear more than a friend coming up to me and having this conversation:

“Emma, how would you like to go on an adventure?!”
“I’d love to! Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise!”

Which is exactly what happened this Sunday. Sarah, one of my (many) flatmates, informed me I was invited on a day trip to a mystery location. My instructions were to dress fairly warmly, bring a packed lunch, and not to forget my camera. By 10:30 on Tuesday morning, Sarah, Ayumi, Jack, and I had hit the road.

Unfortunately for Sarah, her chosen destination wasn’t particularly difficult to identify owing to the road we had to take to get there. The A91 from Stirling goes along the Ochils and doesn’t really pass through any large settlements until you reach the coast. All the road signs were pointing in the direction of St Andrews… so we were fairly confident we knew where we were going.

After an hour’s leisurely drive through the countryside (and a battle with the car’s stereo system), we reached the coast. Although it’s just a small town, I was impressed I remembered enough of St Andrews to navigate us towards the car park by the beach. We parked up and decided to take a walk on the sand and, as the tide was out, have a look in the rockpools and scramble on the rocks themselves.

Cool kids climb on geological formations while boring their friends with how they were made – thank you, GCSE Geography

It’s almost coming up to a year since I first visited the town. You can probably tell from those photos that although it was May, we had much better weather this time around. The clouds came on and off but for the most part, we were treated to the warmth of the sun. I think this trip marked the first time in around 7 months that I’ve worn sunglasses and was certainly one of the few times I’ve worn them in Scotland!

We got a beautiful view of the West Sands. Although we didn’t venture up there, I still managed to get a some shot of of the beach, golf course, forest, and the rolling hills on the other side of the River Eden beyond the peninsula.

We stopped climbing on the rocks just in time to avoid getting cut off from land by the incoming tide (whoops) and as it was lunch time, wandering into the town centre seemed like a good idea. We discovered a beautiful bookshop called Toppings & Company which demonstrated an overwhelming amount of care and attention for every book on its shelves that you don’t really find with bigger booksellers like Waterstones or Foyles. They seem to have a strong community with lots of readings and clubs, and were even playing classical music and offering customers tea or coffee. If I was a local, I’m sure I’d be there 24/7.

We entered Tailend, one of the top 10 chippies in the UK, and the others purchased their fish and chips to eat back by the coast. I stuck with my pasta (I’ve been ovo-lacto vegetarian since the new year and loving it!) and we found a bench to sit on to enjoy the sea view… which, of course, also meant meeting the beady-eyed stares of greedy seagulls after our food. We had to get a little territorial a few times!

Next up was a visit to the St Andrews Aquarium! The aquarium is only small but still houses a lot of different animals. This was hugely exciting for me because I love any opportunity to practice my wildlife photography!

After purchasing our tickets, we started out in the tropical area which was a lovely temperature change from the slight chill I had got from sitting outside to eat lunch. We saw poisonous frogs, catfish, turtles and terrapins, piranhas, dwarf alligators…

and caiman…

…pipefish and skate pods…






and so many kinds of colourful fish.


They had all the old favourites too, like clown fish…

and seahorses.

Around another corner, we discovered this rock turtle. It was so well camouflaged from the other side of its tank, we practically jumped when we first spotted it. It looked entirely prehistoric and, by resting up against the wall, just like Godzilla’s nemesis, Gamera.

Outdoors, we met the aquarium’s three harbour seals.

And arrived just in time for their lunch!

We had timed our visit around several of the animal talks and learned that entire harbour seal enclosure is filled with natural seawater that is pumped directly into the aquarium. In recent years, harbour seal populations have declined as much as 90% as a result of human impact, pollution, and diseases that have swept through pods.

We also stopped to give a brief hello to the Humboldt penguins who were looking just as cute as the seals.

Back inside, we discovered more reptiles, like this very handsome iguana…

…and this Burmese python.

Truthfully, the more we saw of the aquarium, the more applicable it felt to actually call it a zoo. The tipping point came when we rounded a tank containing rays and dogfish and found an enclosure for meerkats. I don’t know about you but the last time I checked meerkats lived in deserts – the least aquatic biome possible.

Nevertheless, a group of meerkats live at the aquarium (which Google informs me should be referred to as a mob or a gang).

While feeding them, a keeper told us that although it is unorthodox to keep meerkats at an aquarium, it was actually down to a matter of convenience. The aquarium was trying to open an African themed exhibit but as the building sits on natural rock face, they were unable to remove a huge hunk of rock that currently sits in the enclosure.

Meanwhile, a zoo in England had three meerkats that had been kicked out of their group and needed rehoming ASAP (meerkat politics apparently gets messy). The aquarium had the enclosure ready and agreed to take them on.

Meerkats have very quick pregnancies and a year later, there were a lot of babies. I’d say we saw upwards of 15 meerkats bounding around and foraging for insects and seeds in the sand.

Exiting via the gift shop, we took another walk into town past the infamous Patrick Hamilton initials. The initials in the cobbles are placed approximately where Hamilton was burned at the stake in 1528 for spreading Lutheran ideology.

Really rather morbid to walk over. Legend has it among the students of St Andrews that it’s extraordinarily bad luck to dance on the initials and that doing so will make you fail your degree.

Feeling a little peckish, we stopped at Luvian’s for some wonderfully delicious (and cheap!) ice cream before walking down to the end of the street to see the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral as the sun set. Unfortunately the gates had closed so we couldn’t go exploring but it was lovely to see all the same (and with blue skies as well!).

With that, we turned to walk back up to the car and wend our way home. I was shattered by the time we arrived back in Stirling and in bed by half 10! Enormous thank you to Sarah for organising such a fun and impromptu surprise trip out to St Andrews!

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