Welcome to Cirencester: The Oxbridge of the agricultural world
People think the RAU is a glorified boarding school for well-to-do farmers. Here’s why they’re wrong
Established in 1845, the Royal Agricultural College is an internationally-renowned agricultural institution that is home to 950 undergraduates at any time. Now with University status as of 2013, The Royal Agricultural University is often referred to as the “Oxbridge of the countryside”, and has been home to notable alumni such as Jonathan Dimbleby, Sir Henry Cecil and Captain Mark Phillips. Being the first agricultural college in the English-speaking world, it is an establishment teaming with heritage.
To outsiders it appears a bubble of sex, scandal, port and ponies. But has anyone really listened to the real inside story of our beloved Cotswold uni? It is about time you all heard the truth, from an alumni who “lived the Ciren dream”. Everything from sunny afternoons on Bledisloe lawn to Wednesday nights at the sacred shit pit that was The Rock.
“He’s from Ciren he’s true blue, he’s a piss pot through and through, he’s a drunkard so they say, he tried to get it up but it went the other way so down, down, down, down.”
So what do you picture when you think of The Royal Agriculture University? Morally deficient rich kids dripping in cash, destined to inherit glorious estates? Or the “future” of English farming heritage? Cirencester comes with dramatically mixed reviews when it comes to the type of person who goes there.
Yes, there are stereotypes, but aren’t there anywhere you go? It just seems a little bit too easy to pick on the RAU. So, considering the amount of negative press it has been getting recently, I would like to show you what you will really find when you scratch the surface – like any other uni – it’s an institution of life long friendships, fun and incredible memories.
How it all started
From the tender age of nothing, my parents knew exactly where I was heading. I was horse mad, naughty and skipped school to go hunting. I was destined for the RAU.
So the day came, I was on my way to The Royal Agricultural University. We were welcomed with a very organised starter-pack in our rooms completed with wellington boot key ring, beer mats and a wristband for £5 entry to the only nightclub in the Cotswolds – The Rock (set above a small shopping centre, it had a pole in a cage). Looking back, the starter pack should have come with a sick bag, condoms and a helpline number.
To give you an idea, our Freshers initiation was an obstacle course compiled of being face down in the college’s local pack of beagle’s supper, whilst being drenched in sheep spray and downing a pint of fish guts. Let’s just say I had to bin my pony club jumper afterwards.
On arrival, we were sternly advised by older students not to use the kettle provided in halls as nine times out of ten, someone would have pissed in them. However, we did have some pretty ridiculous views across the countryside from our bedrooms. If you ever made it to breakfast, the dining room on campus was a bit of a show piece, with lists of honoured students embellishing the wall and what seemed to be an endless supply of mini Nutella packets.
Like many others, I thought it would be a really brilliant idea to get a puppy whilst I was a fresher. Ludo, the Husky-cross-Collie stuck by my side for my remaining two years at Ciren – he had to endure many a drunk cuddle on our return from The Rock.
To give you an idea of the different creatures I lived with, by third year I was in a house with three other girls, two dogs, one rabbit (plus her three baby bunnies) and two gerbils. This was considered completely normal. I also had a horse up the road at the university stables at one point. There was a slight hiccup with one of the rabbits being eaten by one of the dogs, but other than that we were one big happy family. We would spend our evenings frying eggs on the wood burner – signal in Ciren is crap, so there was no flicking through Facebook or Instagram to pass the time.
I’m sure there aren’t many universities that offer courses with modules such as “Ponies”, “Tractors” and “Pheasants”. Okay, so they were obviously far more complex than they sound – but I do remember my friend looking pretty red in the face after falling out of her “Wine Industry” elective.
My course was BSc (Hons) International Equine & Agricultural Business Management, ridiculed as “the pony-patting course”. The highlight was definitely the international trips, like going to Kentucky in my final year. I learnt a hell of a lot about the American racing industry, I also picked up pretty quickly that chasing bourbon with anything other than more bourbon is VERY important.
At Ciren, hierarchy was law. The Freshers being bottom-feeders and third-years considered to have almost God given powers. I recall a girl asking me what year I was in, before completely pie-ing me after realising that I was a Fresher. I swear I almost apologised for being a whole year younger than her, just because of the way she looked at me.
It would probably be fair to say that Cirencester is a bit of glorified boarding school, except you can get completely plastered and run around naked, if you really wanted to. The characters I met fell into five separate categories:
1. BNOC: A BNOC at Ciren probably had an older sibling in the year above, wore red trousers and rocked a signet ring. Said “mate” a lot.
2. Hedgehog: A drinking Rugby Football Club that had the most outrageous nights of initiations and drinking. 2% of the University were ever invited, and a lot less were accepted.
3. Altern: Didn’t want people thinking that they complied to having anything to do with the RAU. Liked to give off the impression that they did party drugs on the reg and wore bright bomber jackets and air maxes.
4. Farmer: Shoffel, steel toe cap boots.
5. The “I swear I’ve never seen them before”: The people who just appear out of nowhere in third year, leaving you wondering where the hell they’ve been all this time.
The social aspect
The RAU had three social hubs. The Tythe Barn, The Rock and The Tunnel Inn. Being smack-bang in the middle of the countryside left us slightly limited when it came to nights out, but I think that’s what made it so special.
The Tythe was our onsite pub, our every night go-to set in the heart of campus. It was kind of weird if you were drinking anything other than a snakebite or cider black. The Tythe held some weird and wonderful social events. To name a few, Deano the beloved male stripper would pay an annual visit for RAG week, the Bavarian night that got completely out of hand, and the rap battles that went on in the girls’ loos (yes boys, that’s why we go in pairs).
The Rock was quite possibly the grottiest nightclub I’ve ever been too, it was rumoured to be up there with Britain’s worst nightclubs. BUT, it became one of our most beloved places in Cirencester, nothing screams fun times more than getting a sugar high off a VKs, spending most of your night in the smoking area and dancing to chart toppers, it really never got boring.
The Tunnel is an idyllic pub set in the neighbouring village of Coates, where you received hearty scowls from locals and the best cheesy chips ever. Tunnel nights were my absolute favourite. Every Thursday we would all congregate to the tiny “function barn” next to the pub (I’m not kidding, it was TINY) – it always rained, had a “local talented DJ” and the bar was stickier than the floor…not much else but we made it special because we loved it. If you were lucky enough to be friends with the bar staff, you got a free drink on the sly. BUZZING! We only really left the bubble to go to Badminton or Cheltenham.
So, the burning question, why are RAU students perceived as arseholes? Let’s be brutally honest, some of them just are, however, arsehole + Ciren student = fuel to the fire. Ciren students have retained this bad-boy, pompous image mainly down to the fact that the university itself is considered a “bubble” with a champagne-swigging appearance.
The RAU itself needs to integrate more with the town of Cirencester itself. The more integrated the students are with the locals, the more the stigma will be broken down exposing the fact that the majority of the students are friendly, helpful and most importantly not all pricks.
When graduation finally came around (how some of us got there I don’t really know), seeing everyone’s parents was genuinely fascinating – “Oh that’s where you got your receding hairline!” Or “Oh my god so-and-so’s Dad is FIT!”. It was a day full of generic hat throwing, awkward hugs with the “I swear I’ve never seen them befores” and old boy fathers trying to re-live their Ciren youth by abusing the free champagne and becoming too sloshed to make it to supper.
Naturally, we all decided to go to The Rock to give that pole one last whirl and tell each other how much we loved each other (bla bla bla!). I really did love my time at Cirencester. You look at graduation pictures of previous years and you never quite imagine you are going to get there because you can’t ever see it all ending, however I think we all got the last week itches to get out of there as we were “so over it”. Please.
With regards to life after Ciren if you are ever looking for an ex-Ciren student straight out of the Cotswolds, you can typically look in the SW6 area.
When all is said and done, Cirencester isn’t just a university. It became my home-from-home and holds an extremely special place in my heart.