Heriot-Watt University is located at Riccarton on the outskirts of Edinburgh, on land the university reportedly bought for £1.
There is only one road leading to the university and it is bordered by two rows of very tall trees that give a wonderful green shade in the summer. The road leads you to the main building and the main entrance to the university. Walking past the statue of James Watt and through the double doors is the first experience most students have of Heriot-Watt University.
Heriot-Watt is probably one of very few universities where a person can walk from any building to any other building, without having to venture outside1. All department buildings are connected by enclosed walkways. The only buildings not connected are the halls of residence, the student and sports unions and the chapel.
Due to planning constraints, no building on campus may be more than four floors high (ground plus three floors). This has to do with the surrounding tree-height and visibility from the road2. Unless you knew it was there, you would never guess from the main road that there is a university there at all. Due to the availability of land, this has never been a problem for the university.
This location also makes the campus a very quiet and secluded place for students while still being close enough to Edinburgh to take advantage of the city and nightlife. There are regular buses to the city leaving from outside the James Watt building. Taxis are not too expensive if shared by a few students.
After queuing at the main desk to get the keys to your room, first year students (freshers) make their way down a slight slope to the first walkway, commonly referred to as the airport lounge. From here a flight of steps leads down past the refectory and the shop and along the main corridor of the university. At the far end of this hall is the first department building, but freshers do not go there yet. They exit one of the doors on the right and try to find their residence hall using a combination of badly-photocopied maps, confusing signs and a bit of luck.
The departments have recently undergone a reshuffle and are now referred to as schools. The current layout is:
- School of the Built Environment
- School of Engineering and Physical Sciences
- School of Life Sciences
- School of Management and Languages
- School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences
- School of Textiles and Design
- Edinburgh Business School
- Institute of Petroleum Engineering
They have also come up with some amusing names - for example the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences is referred to as Infomatics.
The reshuffle has forced some departments to move buildings. For example, the electrical engineers used to be housed in the ground floor of the computing department. However, the university management decided that electrical engineering was more similar to physics than computing, so they got shipped out and the mathematicians shipped in.
There are four main lecture theatres in the main building. One is on the same level as the airport lounge, the other three are on the lower level, on the left as you head towards the department buildings.
Typically only first and second year courses are held in these rooms, as later years tend to have fewer students to justify such large rooms.
The union building is tucked away between the main car park, residences and the loch3. It is a two-storey building, with a bar, café, general room and nightclub on the lower level and the offices of the president and support staff on the upper.
The student union has a good entertainment office and continually book acts to appear all year round. This has included comedy tours with well-known comedians, musicians and cultural events.
The grounds of the university have many secluded walks and amenities. There is a dry riverbed to explore, swans to feed and the mystery of how an Austin Mini came to be stuck on top of a portable building inside the engineering department to solve.
There is also a well-equipped sports union, which features a rockwall, squash courts and a cardio-vascular workout room. Its two main halls are taken over during exam time and it is not unusual to see hordes of students emerging clutching white exam papers and asking each other if the third question made any sense to anyone else.
Right next to the university is the Research Park. In order to interest as many parties as possible, some of the lots for building on are free.