Prince William, Middleton visit St Andrews

Updated: 2011-02-25 21:23
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Prince William, Middleton visit St Andrews
Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton visit St. Andrews University in Fife, Scotland Feb 25, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]

ST. ANDREWS - Hundreds of people lined the streets of this college town Friday in hope of catching a glimpse of Prince William and Kate Middleton as they returned for a sentimental journey to the place where they met and fell in love.

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Well-wishers of all ages and nationalities packed the cobblestone streets - six deep in some spots - hoping for the ideal location to capture a snapshot of the royal couple. Local residents hung out of their windows with video cameras; cameramen on tiered ladders hovered over the crowd.

The couple, who will wed April 29 at Westminster Abbey, traveled to St. Andrews to help their alma mater kick off a two-year celebration of its 600th anniversary.

Prince William and Middleton met there as students. They were initially just friends, but an on-again, off-again romance bloomed on campus, developing into the full blown love affair that has captivated a nation.

Prince William called the visit a "special moment" for the couple as he addressed a reception in the university quadrangle as Middleton looked on from her seat on the stage. Middleton, who wore a red suit with black accents, smiled and pushed windswept hair off her face as she gazed at Prince William.

"It feels like coming home," he told the crowd, before unveiling a commemorative anniversary plaque.

Professor Louise Richardson, principal of the university, said it is not surprising the couple found love in this often sleepy seaside town 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Edinburgh on the east coast of Scotland.

"There is something magical about St. Andrews," she said. "We are said to have the highest number of students who find life partners at a university. So, it is no surprise they got together. It is unique here as we are global, but local and small enough to be intimate."

In what is believed to be the couple's first official wedding gift, Richardson said the university is bestowing a scholarship for underprivileged students to a value of 70,000 pounds (US$113,000) which will be announced during the visit.

"This scholarship captures the essence of what we do here at St. Andrews," said Richardson. "It's open to anyone around the world who is smart enough to be admitted here but otherwise may struggle to cover the costs.

Thousands of well-wishers are lining the streets outside the 550-year-old St. Salvator's Chapel in the heart of the campus to catch a glimpse of Prince William and Middleton, who are making only their third public appearance since announcing their engagement in November.

"I've just come here to see the prince and Kate," said Rose King, a second year student in art history from Manchester, New Hampshire. "This is a rare opportunity to witness history. It's great they're coming back.

The couple also viewed the Papal Bull, or decree, issued by Pope Benedict XIII to found the university in 1413.

Workmen prepared a tented stage in the quadrangle, including throne-like chairs. Pubs, shops and cafes in the town have entered into the spirit of the occasion.

The North Point Cafe on North Street lays claim to being the spot where the couple met and romance blossomed. It also sports a life-sized cardboard cutout of the couple in the window.

Owner Linda Cunningham, 39, sat at the table where Prince William and Middleton forged their romance over cups of Chai Tea and chocolate brownies for him and Earl Grey tea and a healthy muesli and yogurt brunch for her. The table is in the middle of the cafe and not in a secluded corner, suggesting they were at ease with their surroundings.

"This is where they met," Cunningham said. "They would come in with friends or just together at this table. They were friendly and expected no special treatment. They were part of the scene here just like any other students."

At the Bonkers gift store in Market Street, staff said Prince William bought Valentine's Day cards during their extended courtship.

"Wills did buy a Valentine's card here one year, either in 2003 or 2004," said Manager Ruth Wood. "We assumed, we hoped, it was for Kate. They were regulars here, often buying each other knickknacks and little gifts. It was sweet. We are delighted to be a small part of their romance."

Royal wedding gifts at Bonkers include a solar powered statue of a waving Queen Elizabeth II, Royal biscuit tins from the era of George V and Union Jack disposable hankies for those overcome with the emotion of it all.

The town is keen to retain its connections with the royal couple.

"They have left a legacy here as quite a lot of people come here on the basis of their time as students," said philosophy undergraduate Edward Noel, 21, from Canterbury, England.

The university starts two years of celebrations of its 600 years ending in 2013 and aims to raise 100 million pounds ($162 million) toward improving teaching and facilities in the school.

Ben McConville contributed to this story.

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