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Unveiled: St Andrews, where William and Kate found love

By David Wilkinson for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prince William and Kate Middleton met at the University of St Andrews in 2001
  • The lived together as flatmates for three years, whilst also having a romance
  • An inside look at some of the key locations and moments in their early relationship
  • Kate and William will marry at Westminster Abbey in London on 29 April

St Andrews, Scotland (CNN) -- A tiny, secluded town on the east coast of Scotland with no airport and not even a railway station: If Prince William was looking for a quiet bolthole to spend his college years he couldn't have chosen better.

As it turned out, St Andrews had all the ingredients for a royal love story, too.

For it was here, at the University of St Andrews, that Prince William and Kate Middleton first met in 2001 as Art History undergraduates. They went on to live together as housemates for three years and started a relationship, before graduating in 2005.

The couple will marry at Westminster Abbey on 29 April and will then live on the island of Anglesey in north Wales, but it would seem the ancient place where their romance first blossomed will always holds a special significance for them.

"This is a very special moment for Catherine and me. It feels like coming home," said Prince William when he and Kate returned in February to launch the university's 600th anniversary celebrations.

Flanked by farmland to the west and the North Sea to the east, St Andrews is a mere fifty miles from Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh. It feels a lot further, though, with only three main roads winding in and out of town. To many students, it is known simply as "the bubble."

This is a very special moment for Catherine and me. It feels like coming home.
--Prince William in St Andrews in early 2011
Royal couple's favorite hangout
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In town, the ruins of a castle and cathedral dating back hundreds of years nestle among quaint cobbled streets and alleys lined with gray stone terraced houses.

Down by the small harbor next to the East Sands, one of the town's three beaches, fishing boats are tethered alongside a stone pier. Near the West Sands, two miles of glorious golden beach made famous in the opening scene of Oscar-winning 1981 drama, "Chariots of Fire," is the oldest golf course in the world.

The university's grand academic buildings are interspersed with shopping streets and houses, but it nevertheless retains the feel of a campus.

Each Sunday during term time, some of the university's 7,000 students process down the pier in traditional red gowns after chapel services. Staff and students make up over half the town's population of 15,000.

During the fall and winter months, St Andrews can be a gray, drizzly, forbidding place, where strong winds whip off the North Sea straight across the Scores, the cliffside road home to St Salvator's Hall, Kate and William's student residence during their first year at university.

At "Sallies," evening meals are served on long tables in a grand dining room adorned with wood paneling and stained-glass windows. The formality of the setting encourages students to talk over dinner, before they retreat to the hall's common room, where a grand piano serves as the main source of entertainment.

St Andrews claims the title of the UK's top matchmaking university. Whilst anyone can attend if they make the grade, it's known as a destination for middle and upper-class students, who come from quietly well-heeled families to make appropriately likeminded friends.

Much of the university's social life revolves around balls, dinner parties and events organized by clubs and societies.

The strong, tight-knit community, combined with forced isolation during long stretches of poor weather, might help young couples forge strong bonds.

Whether you give the university's claim any credence, it's a small, friendly place where most of the university's 7,000-strong student body get to know one another at one of the town's many pubs.

The town has no nightclubs or major music venues, but there are plenty of restaurants and drinking holes, including Ma Bells and the West Port, both frequented by William and Kate.

The prince is also known to have been partial to a meal at the Jahangir Indian restaurant, which has a picture of him inside enjoying one of its curries. The award-winning Anstruther Fish Bar, ten miles south of St Andrews, is said to have been a particular favorite of the prince.

But much of the university's social life revolves around balls, dinner parties and events organized by clubs and societies.

Events such as the "Don't Walk" charity fashion show, where Prince William famously saw Kate modeling "that" see-through dress, form the backbone of many students' diaries -- along with Friday night "bops" (dances) run by the Students' Association.

The prince devoted a lot of time outside classes to playing water polo and he also competed in football and rugby tournaments as part of a team called "The Rat Pack."

Whether the event is organized by the Polo Club, the Gilbert & Sullivan Society or the "Harry Potter and Gin Society," like-minded people are brought together to start friendships.

In the case of Prince William and Kate Middleton, it proved the start of something a little more special.

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