What it was really like to go to Scotland’s famous Glenalmond College
Who needed clubbing when you had the Moncrieff?
I left Balerno High School at 16, and spent two years at Glenalmond College in Perth. And the two years I spent there were the best of my life.
If you were lucky enough to attend the prestigious boarding school in the remote Perthshire countryside, then prepare to be mired in overwhelming nostalgia. If not, read all about the most unusual of boarding schools.
Wednesday night Compline
It is probably best to begin by recounting the religious fervour that underpinned the daily life of the school. Each morning – excluding Saturdays – we practiced and celebrated the “one holy Catholic and apostolic church”, whether we liked it or not.
The Scottish Episcopal church is not known for its engaging sermons or inspiring teaching, but I don’t know anyone wasn’t roused by a rendition of Jerusalem or Bread of Heaven.
Neishes and Top Astro
The second religion of Glenalmond was Rugby. Actually, it’s possible that it was only my second religion, but sport was equally impossible to avoid – there is a reason we didn’t have Chapel on a Saturday.
Thing is, for all our time spent doing hill sprints at Neishes or practising our short corners on top astro, we were never really that good. I think the boys’ hockey won the Scottish cup at some point while I was there. And we won the Scottish Rugby plate – or bowl – a couple of times, but never the cup.
At Balerno, houses were a simple administrative tool, allowing for an easy way of dividing us up for registration. Only once a year did we ever have any sense of pride for the house we had been allocated – sports day. Things at Glenalmond could not have been more different to this.
See the above to witness an exceptionally pretentious 18-year-old me describing life in a boarding house (skip to 1:38 and 3:45). I’d like to clarify that I never wrote a play – reimagining Shaun of the Dead does not count – and that I have changed significantly since this video was shot. I swear.
At Glenalmond houses were our homes, our family and unique institutions in the wider context of the school establishment. My dad, my uncle and I were all in the same house – Goodacres. It was recently announced that Goodacres would be becoming a girls’ house and I do not exaggerate when I say this has created a certain crisis of identity in my family.
Living at school was almost always brilliant, provided the water supply was actually working. There was always somebody somewhere prepared to play some touch rugby or a game of FIFA, or to hide with you in the bushes for a smoke.
Girlfriends, boyfriends and the Tree
Public displays of affection were considered a serious contravention to the school rules: a detention would be dealt out to anybody caught publicly holding hands or, God forbid, embracing.
Naturally this had virtually no effect on the inevitable pursuits of horny teenagers. The bell would ring at 2100 to signal the end of prep (timetabled homework) and boys would rush to the tree to meet their other halves. It was then a race to the cricket pavilion, music practice rooms, or Mr Robertson’s economic classroom – anywhere which offered sufficient seclusion and safety from patrolling teachers.
Saturday night provided a brief foray into a world of social interaction. Our sixth form centre – the Moncrieff – was turned into a club. A space that rivalled even the dingiest Wednesday sports nights at university – though to us it was the closest we came to reckless house parties or filthy clubbing during term time.
We were allowed only two drinks, presuming we had a bite to eat as we drunk them. This rule was almost never followed. There is a unique excitement to sinking a warm Tennent’s in your head of house’s bedroom. Drinking irresponsibly is so much better when it’s breaking both school rules and the law.
Off behind the Gannochy
Everyone tried it at some point. Whether you were an addicted smoker sneaking around at break time, one who flirted with the occasional day time ciggy behind the Gannochy, or a strictly Saturday-night-only rule breaker.
Smoking isn’t fun anymore. Smoking isn’t cool anymore. In fact, having to leave work for a smoke break, or sitting on your doorstep at four in the afternoon enjoying your third cigarette of the day has become a bit pathetic. Anyone can pop to McColl’s and grab a pack of Amber Leaf, everyone enjoys the brief respite it brings on a night out. But a subversive cigarette at the top of the front slopes was thrilling – it’s what was so fun about it, it’s what made smoking cool.
I learned a lot in my time at Glenalmond. The teaching was no better than the teaching at Balerno. Bullying existed as at any school. Some people had a horrible time, other people loved it. School definitely isn’t always fun. But nonetheless, I know I was extremely lucky to experience life at a school like Glenalmond, and I won’t forget that.