Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28, 2011: The Storm and No Golf

The Storm

This is our seventeenth trip to Scotland and the UK since 2000.  We’ve also been to Ireland four times.  The storm on Monday, May 23, was the wildest we’ve seen in our travels. Rains were heavy most of the day and it was quite breezy until mid-afternoon when, what one of the British papers called “the hurricane,” hit.  The winds were up with gusts to 80 miles per hour.  As we drove back from Aberfeldy at the edge of the Highlands we dodged flying branches, downed limbs, wheelie bins loosed by the winds rubbish being flung about.  We arrived home (Merlindale B&B in Crieff) to discover a broken tree blocking our path to the back yard and power which flickered on and off.  
Nationwide damage from the storm was extensive with bridges closed, trains shut down, roads blocked by downed trees, and two deaths caused by trees falling on occupied cars.  In the north the winds along the coast reached more than 110 miles an hour.  Compared to the devastations caused by one tornado in Joplin, MO, on the same day, the Scotland storm was a minor blow.  Here, though, it was a truly epic spring storm, almost unheard of at this time of year.  Locally for us the storm meant a couple of interesting travel days.
On Monday night power was intermittent (a series of trees up the road fell and brought down with them some power lines [photo]) at Merlindale B&B which made preparing dinner problematic.  Since the lower part of the village still had power we all (the Cliffords, South African friend Jane, us, an English couple, and two Belgians we’d met the year before) chipped in for Chinese take away.  Although we’d expect nothing less from John and Jacky, the other guests were quite surprised to be so taken-in by the family.  John and Robin (the Englishman) went down to pick up the food and brought back a box filled with curries, chow miens, foo yungs, and battered and fried pineapple rings in syrup.  With lights blinking and wine flowing we all enjoyed our indoor take away picnic and a couple of hours of craic after.

Tuesday we had no electricity when we got up, but it came on long enough to do a full cooked breakfast for the guests and the family before it finally went off completely.  Anne and I headed toward Killin in the Highlands to check out storm damage and maybe get in a round of golf at the local course.  The roads were mostly clear, but we could see uprooted trees, downed fences all along the route.  Landscapers and tree surgeons were out in force and the sounds of the chain saws could be heard almost everywhere.  In Killin the Falls of Dochart were running fuller than we’d ever seen them (see the next story) and the weather was distinctly fall-like with tempature under 40° F  even though the gusts weren’t much above twenty.  I took a photo of Anne on the main street of Killin in bright sun with snow capped peaks (about 3000 feet tall) in the background.  A block further down the main street the hills were shrouded in swirling mists.  

When we got home from our ventures we all walked up to look at the damage and repair efforts of the local power company.  They were busy trying to cut away a series of trees which had fallen on a car before they could restring power lines.  The promise was the house would get power restored that evening.  With no power there was again no dinner in the B&B.  Off we all went, minus the Belgians, to The Lounge, a new tapas restaurant in the heart of the village.  Over some great small bites, a pool was started at a pound a person to pick the time power would be restored.  Anne won £9 with an 11:30 p.m. guess--the latest of all of us (power eventually came on at 11:35--good guess, Anne). In the large scheme of things, the storm was small, but the stories we have about it will always be big, especially about the openness of our Scots B&B family.
Arbroath Golf Club: No Golf When We Had Golf Planned
An hour and three-quarter drive from Crieff got us to Arbroath Golf Club on Scotland’s east coast just north of Carnoustie.  The course was busy as we sought out the pro to check on our booking.  “We’re the Joneses and have an 11:00 tee time. It was arranged for us by Lindsay Ewart.”  “I’m Lindsay, let me check.”  He checked the computer bookings and hemmed a little, “We’ll fit’s okay,” said Mr. Ewart.  It was fairly obvious that he hadn’t made the booking for us from the email we sent to the club secretary.  “We’ll take care of you, Mr. Jones, that will be £60 for the two of you.”  I said, “I believe it should be complimentary.  We’re writing about the course for our guide books.  Here’s our email confirmation.”  Mr. Ewart looked at the email exchanges and commented, “I do all the bookings here and I never intended that you would get the courtesy of the course.  I don’t have the authority to do that.”  With that we left.
It was obvious that our email to the secretary had been waylaid and the golf shop manager, who probably gets a cut on the booking fees, wasn’t about to give us golf and lose the fees.  Arbroath GC is the first course in Scotland (out of 217 we’ve played) to not follow through on our request for courtesy of the course.   From the biggest courses (St Andrews, Kingsbarns, Gleneagles, Royal Dornoch) to the smallest (Killin, St Fillans, Isle of Skye) all have given us complimentary golf--from the south (Powfoot, Southerness, Stanraer) to the far north (Ullapool, Wick, Durness, Nairn), all have honored their agreements to host us on their courses.  Arbroath GC in Scotland joins one course in Wales and one course in Ireland as the unfriendliness courses out of more than 300 courses we’ve written about.  

The day wasn’t a total loss--we drove back to our course at St Fillans and enjoyed a great 18 holes [photo].     

Rivers in Spate
One more result of the storm was a change in the burns and rivers.  As heavy rains filtered down from the heights the burns filled up dramatically.  We’d seen this rapid rise Deeside earlier in the month, but for a photographer these results were spectacular.  Buchanty Spout is a small falls or cascade on the River Almond near the two house hamlet of Buchanty.  I’d photographed the falls several times before but the river was well up on Sunday, May 22, higher than I’d seen it before [photo 1].  When I returned on Monday after about two inches of rain over night I was quite surprised [photo 2].  A full river was now a raging torrent.  I scrambled around carefully--a fall into the rapids would easily be fatale.  I did stay away from the water’s edge, but I wasn’t agile enough to avoid slipping on the slimy moss-covered rocks.  I save the camera from damage but not my leg.  I continued taking pictures for a while and then limped sheepishly back to Anne waiting in the car.  Were the images worth the bruises and scrapes?  I’ll have to wait to see.

Through Sma’Glen I stopped to take pictures of a small burn which usually doesn’t have  enough water for good snaps.  This day it looked like a wee river.

The last stop on our river photo tour that day was at the Birks of Aberfeldy, made famous by a Robert Burns poem.  When we’d visited on other trips the Moness Burn was a gently flowing stream.  Now the river was full and the photos were definitely not of a peaceful forest stream.  From the Birks we traveled home to Merlindale B&B in Crieff where I could nurse my scraped leg and clean my moss-stained pants.

The next day we made the drive past Lochearn up to Killin in the Highlands to view the Falls of Dochart on the river Dochart.  

Usually a pleasant photogenic set of rapids, the falls made powerful images with the peaty brown water splashing and dashing among the rocks.  All the rivers in spate were definitely worth the trouble and battering it took for us to visit.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22, 2011: Losts, Frank, and Beatrix Potter

A Day of Lost
Some people party too hardily and end up with a lost day.  We didn’t do anything wrong and had a day of “losts.”  First, when we left Crieff to drive into the Highlands for a week in our timeshare, the B&B was very busy.  John was chatting with a pal who had come to visit and Jacky was busy taking care of guests who were paying and asking directions.  We waited a few minutes to say our farewells but decided we’d get on the road and not interrupt.  Besides, we knew we’d be back in twelve days.  About an hour down the road Anne got a call on our mobile from Jacky.  Both Jacky and John were concerned because they had “lost” us--they hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye.  That was “lost” number one.  “Lost” number two came when we rang in at the B&B we had booked in Stonehaven.  Bill came to the door, but looked stupified when we said we had a reservation.  He said there was no booking, but changed his tune when we showed him the confirmation email he had sent us.  When we reminded him we were the travel guide writers he hurriedly got us into the best accommodation in the house.  The third “lost” of the day came at dinner at the fancy Creel Inn in the wee village of Catterline along the North Sea.  We ordered wine and dinner--crab soups as starters and a main for each of us.  The wine was delivered about ten minutes later, but after thirty minutes we still didn’t have even our starter.  I finally checked with one of the three hovering wait staff who said our meals would be right out.  About five minutes later a waiter sheepishly (after all, we were in sheep country) came to our table and admitted they’d lost our order.  Goodbyes, accommodations, and dinner all lost on this day.  
Golf with Frank
The story of playing golf with Frank at Balfron Golf Club in the Trossachs near Loch Lomand begins with leaving Crieff in bright sun and only scattered clouds.  By the time I reached Stirling, 22 miles away, the clouds were increasing.  At Buchlyvie (I’ll give you the pronunciation later) the rain started in earnest and by the time I reach Balfron GC four miles further on it was a mix of rain and hail.  I sat in the car for five minutes until the rain let up a bit.  Putting on my rain gear and taking five clubs out of my bag so I could carry, I started up the hill to the clubhouse where I was to deliver a copy of Hidden Gems II to the club manager and then play the course for a second time. Brian wasn’t in the clubhouse or anywhere around, but Frank was.  Frank directed me into the small members area and I put the book on Brian’s desk.  Then it was time to decide whether to play in the still dripping rain or bag it and drive back to Crieff.  Frank was considering the same decision.  Finally, I said I’d give it a go and Frank asked, “Fancy a playing partner?” It seems he too had decided to risk the iffy weather. Together we headed to the first tee.
Let me tell you about Frank.  Seventy-years old, he had worked for 44 years on electrical power lines all over Scotland.  He’d been a member of this club for ten years and kept saying he wasn’t a very good golfer.  He was actually quite decent, probably an 18 or 20 handicap and he played strictly by the rules.  He had what he described as a “shinty swing”-- shinty being an ancient Scottish team game played with a hockey-type stick and ball.  Shinty is thought to be the foundation game of both Irish Hurling and North American Ice Hockey.  Frank’s shinty swing was with wide stance and hands slightly apart.  It wasn’t a classic golf swing, but it was effective for hitting the ball a good distance although his short range accuracy wasn’t sharp.  Frank made a good playing partner as he helped me play my way around the course I’d only played once before.  What made Frank most interesting though was his manner of speech.  He had a way of slurring and mumbling that made me think he might be from Yorkshire and a familiar laugh, a sort of “ha,ha,he,he,he,” that took me a few holes to place.  Frank’s speech pattern and laugh was that of the character Jim Trotter from The Vicker of Dibley British TV show.  Once I realized that, I kept waiting for Frank to say, “No,no,no,no...yes.”

Frank congratulated me for winning our match on the 13th hole, even though I hadn’t known we were playing a match.  We finished our round in the dry--it had been spitting rain most of the way around--and in only three hours and five minutes.  We’d been moving so fast up and down the hills of Balfron GC that I’d barely had time to grab a handful of peanuts on the 16th.  Frank introduced me around to the members getting ready to go out, wished me a good rest of my trip, and then invited me come to the course and play again as his guest.  
On the drive back to Crieff I realized that my round with Frank is a perfect example of why we spend so much time in Scotland.  Oh, yes, and Buchlyvie is pronounced “buck′-lee-aye.” 
Beatrix Potter Country

Anne got to plan part of this spring’s trip--the Lake District visit to Beatrix Potter country.  While she got to plan it, I had to drive some of the narrowest, tightest roads in Britain in heavy rain.  First stop on our tour was the village of Hawkshead and the Beatrix Potter Gallery where we saw many Potter original drawings and paintings.  The best of Hawkshead, though, was the Hawkshead Grammar School, a school William Wordsworth attended.  His name was carved into one of the desks, but as the attendant said, “Nobody knows for sure that he was the carver.” 

From Hawkshead the road even got smaller to the villages of Near Sawrey and Far Sawrey.  Far Sawrey was just the ferry point across Windermere Lake, but Near Sawrey was home to Beatrix Potter, author of many more stories than just the Peter Rabbit I knew.  Her home, Hilltop House, and garden were open for touring and the small house was a welcome refuge from the constant rain.  In each room one of Potter’s books was open to a particular page and the game was to figure out what on the page was referenced in the room (ie., a particular view out the window or the fireplace). 

More to my liking was the the Tower Bank Arms (pub), mentioned in many of her stories, and a great place for a half of Guiness and a chicken, bacon, and mayo sandwich.  

The final stop of the day was at the Armitt Museum in Ambleside which featured many of Beatrix Potter’s drawings of mushrooms and fungi--she was considered quite a mycologist until some prestigious society rejected her drawings and she turned instead to children’s stories.  Despite the rain Anne was in heaven the whole day, and I even found things of interest.  I just wish the roads were a little wider.   

May 11, 2011: Stones and Kirks

A major tourist attraction in Scotland, and certainly an attraction for us, is the nation’s antiquities both pre-Christian and Christian.  The countryside often seems littered with both old kirks (churches) and standing stones or stone circles. On this trip we’ve already visited quite a few of these sites.  To me they are interesting for the history they represent and most are photogenic as well.  This entry will catalog a few of the standing stones and stone circles and a couple of kirks of interest.

Early in our trip I stopped on the way to golf at St Fillans to visit the Wester Tuyllybannochar stones.  The two stones stand about 100 yards from the main road in a field used mostly for pasture.  They are likely marker stones rather than burial stones and align with another stone, the Lawers stone, about a quarter of a mile away.  This type of marker stone we’ve seen in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, and I’m sure we’ll see some in England when we spend more time there.

In Portlethen north of Aberdeen, we visited a fairly unique stone circle.  Ian Cruikshank, our host at Portlethen Golf Club, told us about a small stone circle which had been relocated during the building of the area’s industrial park.  We drove a few blocks from the course to see the Cairnwell Ring Circle which had been moved 175 metres in 1995 to the southwest from its original site.  Typical of many of the stone circles in Scotland, Cairnwell consists of an outer stone circle and an inner cairn or burial mound.  During the original excavation in 1858 five cremations had been discovered in the cairn.  It’s very gratifying to see that Scotland will preserve it’s antiquities even if it has to move them to save them.

Another unusual stone circle is the Cullerie circle which consists of eight small cairns enclosed in a larger circle.  The site probably dates to between 1800 and 1200 BC.  It is suspected that the area’s dwellers noticed earlier burial cairns around and decided to build one for themselves.  

The Tomnevarie stone circle near Tarland is a recumbent stone circle where the main or largest stone is laid horizontally.  Once thought to be an altar for sacrifice, the recumbent stone is actually an astronomical aide to help local Neolithic farmers plot the seasons.  This circle is sited on a hilltop over looking the village and local golf course.  Picnic tables on the path up to the circle attest to its striking location.

The Midmar kirk stone circle is another unique circle, not so much for its construction but for its location.  The large circle is sited immediately behind the local parish church. The stone circle is about 4000 years old while the kirk was built in 1787.  Whether the siting of the kirk in the same location as the circle was intended to send the message that Christianity triumphs over paganism or simply out of respect for the historical importance of the location is a matter for conjecture.  

Beside stone circles we’ve also visited a number of churches or kirks of historical significance.  The kirk at Coull, a village of about four houses, has a lovely location and is said to contain some interesting carvings on its old graves.  We had difficulty finding more than a couple of the old stone monuments, but enjoyed the visit anyway.  We can’t always find everything we’re supposed to, but we try always to find something of interest.

Tullich Kirk was another example of not finding everything we expected to find.  This kirk, with its round outer wall (so the Deil/devil would have no corner to hind in), was supposed to house a pictish symbol stone, but we found none.  It is an interesting kirk, though, with plenty of photo opportunities.

The Dinnet Auld Kirk was a drive-by find.  We saw the lovely building while looking for a falls on the River Dee and went back later for a closer look.  What we found upon closer examination was that the 1875 built kirk had been converted to a private home in 2005.  We can only guess at the cost of that conversion.

A final kirk or church visit so far is the Crathes kirk near Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s private Highland residence.  This is the church the Royal family attends when spending their holidays in their Highland estate (complete with its own private golf course--only Royals and guests allowed).  The most interesting find in the church was a set of snap shots taken by the Royal photographer of William and Kate’s wedding.  I tried to sneak a photo of the snaps (photography wasn’t allowed), but the picture didn’t turn out.  
After three more days in the Highlands we are off to visit the English Lake District so Anne can hunt up Beatrix Potter sites.  Cheers!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 17, 2011: Weather Again and What to Eat

The weather has turned.  From an outstanding stretch of fine weather we are now rather dreich.  In fact, we believe that the Lake District of England is always rainy--at least, we’ve never seen it otherwise.  The forecast is for light showers, but the showers come in sheets.  All throughout Scotland and England we hear two comments. First, if you can see (Ailsa Craig, The Berwick Law, the ben, Goatfell, the Cairngorms, Nevis, the Ochills, the fells, or in the Lake District the house across the street) it’s about to rain; but if you can’t see (Ailsa Craig, the Berwick Law, the ben, Goatfell, the Cairngorms, Nevis, the Ochills, the fells, or in the Lake District the house across the street) it is raining.  The second comment is if you don’t like the weather wait (five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, or in the Lake District three days) and it will change.   We visited Hill Top House, Beatrix Potter’s home in Near Sawrey, and there was no place to park, the waiting line to get in was a hundred yards of dueling umbrellas, and the locals were saying, “Pleasant weather, I say.”  The Scots would at least complain about the weather then find the nearest pub with football on the tele.  The English are indeed rather stoic.  
If the weather isn’t the best on this trip, what about the food?  Mealtimes have been interesting.  When we arrived at Merlindale B&B, where we are family, we discovered we’d walked into diet central.  John and Jacky were on a protein rich, no fat, no carb, no sugar diet.  Since there is almost no fat free food available in Scotland even at the larger grocery outlets, Jacky has had to work without much commercial help.  To Jacky’s credit I will say that she has made limited food choice as tasty as possible, but after two weeks Anne and I were craving fat.  We suggested that we’d eat out one night, ostensibly for our writing.  Jacky saw through the ruse and asked if we felt we needed real food.  We had to admit that we were feeling a tad deprived.  “Good,” she said, “So are we.  Let’s get take-away.”  That night we gorged on battered fried fish and chips and all manner of decadent Chinese fare, including battered fried pineapple for dessert.  At weigh-in the next day Jacky had still lost significantly.     
While traveling we’ve mostly eaten either pub food (decent and sustaining) or Italian where we split a small pizza and a main course.  The most unusual food we’ve eaten on this trip, though, was “Hotbed Soup” at Acorn Bank Gardens near Penrith, England.  When Anne asked the catering manager at the garden what “Hotbed Soup” was we found out that it was lettuce and herb soup and that the lettuce had been grown on a bed of straw and compost that gets very warm, thus a “hotbed.”  I can’t describe what lettuce soup tastes like except to say it was silky, delicious, and absolutely full of flavor, but completely devoid of calories.  I don’t think we’ll ever see it on another menu.  

Hotbed Soup can only be matched by an eating adventure from last fall’s trip to Scotland.  On our way to the Isle of Skye we stayed in the west coast village of Gairloch with its fun and lovely nine-hole course.  For dinner the Gairloch Hotel was suggested by our B&B hosts as a good bet for fresh seafood.  The location of the hotel dining room couldn’t have been better as it looked out onto Gairloch Bay.  The menu overflowed with interesting seafood choices, but what stood out was the special Seafood Platter for about $22.  I thought that was a reasonable price for what was advertised as a “large platter of fresh local seafood.”  “I’ll have that,” I said to the waitress as she took our order.  A short while later she came out with a turkey platter piled high with nine different types of seafood and four salads: four langostines, three types of crab, mussels, clams, squid, salmon, haddock, another white fish I didn’t recognize, and herring. For salads there were two slaws, green, and again something I didn’t recognize.  The whole restaurant gasped in unison as she laid out my feast.  One gentleman commented, “No sweet for you until you clean your plate.”  I didn’t even come close, although I put a healthy dent in the fish dishes.  Later the manager apologized because the waitress hadn’t told me the platter is usually for two or more to share.  

I’ll end this entry with a story from the food chapter in the soon to be published Ten Years of Travel in Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales.
Deep Fried What?
Fish and chips is the staple Scottish fast food and chippies (fish & chip shops) are all over the place.  Their menu of fried delights isn’t limited to haddock and cod, either.  You’d be surprised what you can find on a chippie menu.  Sausages of various kinds are prevalent.   Deep fried Mars bars are popular--I’ve tried one and it is so rich and sinful, but it is delicious.  Not all things, though, are meant to be deep fried, as we found out one evening in Anstruther on Fife’s Firth of Tay coast.
After golf at Crail Balcombie Links Anne and I were looking forward to trying out the Anstruther Fish Bar, reputed to be the best fish and chip shop in Scotland.  On this Friday night we had difficulty finding a parking spot along the harbour, but eventually got parked.  We could tell the Anstruther Fish Bar by the line of patrons extending out the door and along the store front.  The Anstruther Fish Bar has enough space inside for about 20 to sit, and one line serves those eating in and one serves those taking away.  We asked and found out that the wait would be about two hours for eating in or over an hour for take away.  That was too long for us.  We wandered down toward where we’d parked; there was another chippie down there.  
There wasn’t much of a line at this chip shop (that should have been a clue).  We ordered one order of haddock and chips and one order of an item on the menu that caught my attention, deep fried pizza.  In a couple of minutes we had our orders and went out to the harbour-side picnic table in front to eat our meals.  There was nothing especially good about the fish and chips, but the deep fried cheese pizza slice we had was spectacularly awful!  Imagine a slice of greasy thick crust oily cheese pizza, dipped in heavy batter, and then dropped in the deep fat fryer until it finally floats to the surface.  It is then scoped up with tongs, shaken to remove 10% of the clinging fat, slid into a paper box, and served.  I have no idea who was the first to try the concoction, or who thought of selling it, but whomever it was deserves to spend eternity in culinary Hades.  A bite or two each was more than enough to turn our stomachs.
On another visit we did make it back to Anstruther Fish Bar and it is as good as its wall of awards attest.  Oh, by the way, the menu there doesn’t include deep fried pizza.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

May 7, 2011: A Working Day in Scotland

        For Anne and I another day of work in Scotland.  I suppose, though, that means little to most of you.  Let me describe our day on May 5, golfing at Alloa Golf Club, a typical day of work.  [Written while having a latte and sweet at Red Squirrel Cafe on the High Street in Crieff, Perthshire, Central Scotland.]
The wake up alarm rings at 7:00 a.m. so that we can be ready for breakfast served in the main dining room at Merlindale B&B at 8:30.  Breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, porridge, fried bread, mushrooms, and toast is served by John.  We eat while visiting with today’s other guests: Ray, the curator of nearby Drummond Castle’s garden, and an Australian couple, teachers on sabbatical (after 10 years of service in a job a worker in Australia is entitled to two months paid leave).  After breakfast we have a few minutes in our room to organize our gear for the day--clothes, shoes, cameras--which is particularly important today because the forecast is for rain.  
The trip to the Alloa golf course, known locally as Schawpark, is a fifty minute drive past the Gleneagles Golf resort and down Glendevon to the Yetts of Muckhart then through the Pool of Muckhart and the village of Dollar to Alloa.  On the other side of that village we find the course, a club begun in 1891 with the course redesigned by famed Scottish architect James Braid in 1935.  In the golf shop we meet our playing partners for the day, Andy Mcleod (past Captain) and Maureen Mitchell (current Ladies’ Captain).  Even though there is only a light mist falling, a Scottish harr, we don our rain gear because we know what’s coming.
As we go round the course Anne quizzes Maureen and I question Andy about the history of the club and course.  As I play, sometimes good and sometimes rubbish, and Anne putts, we take some photos, make some notes about the holes, and generally analyze the course’s playability.  Schawpark is quite a lovely tree-lined course playing over several rolling hills (some blind shots) with views of the Ochill Hills which because of the rain and clouds come into and out of sight.  With the round over we put our wet gear into the car and head in to the clubhouse lounge for a drink (for me a half lemonade and half orange drink).  We are then taken upstairs to the restaurant where the caterer has stayed longer to serve us sandwiches, salad, and chips.  Delicious.  With good-byes and thanks to Maureen and Andy we start the drive back to our Crieff home.  
In the Merlindale kitchen over a dram of single malt Ardbeg whisky Anne and I write our course notes in our golf journal.  We have to decide which holes characterize the club and make some decisions about how to describe the Schawpark course.  Notes done we help set the table for dinner and spend the rest of evening eating and in conversation with our adopted Scottish family.  It was a great day, but typical for us as we work on revising our first Scotland golf book. 

Photos: Bob putting at Schawpark, Anne eating in the clubhouse.

Sign of the Times: Sign seen at Milngvie GC, “Caution: Slippery Banks.”  With the current world economic situation I thought that would be obvious!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May 3, 2011: Three Topics

Topic One: The Weather
     Scotland’s weather has always been a world-wide joke. if you can’t see the Ailsa Crag it’s raining, if you can see it it’s about to rain. Scots in the summer don’t use tanning oil; they use 3-in-1 to keep from rusting. And it stopped raining for 20 minutes yesterday, and if you missed it you missed summer. Not this year!
When we arrived in Scotland last week they had already had almost three weeks of good weather. We’ve had sun and 60° every day we’ve been here and, more importantly, no rain. This makes it one of the longest recorded stretches of good weather in memory. The weather in Scotland has always for us (April, May, September, October) been better than Scotland’s reputation. In a five-week trip we’d usually get rained out of golf a couple of days and we’d play in lighter rain a couple of other days. The rest of the time would be a mix of sun, clouds, wind, and showers. This year is decidedly different. The forecast for the weekend holds a chance of rain, but even that is getting less and less with each forecast. If it keeps up like this, Scots might even begin wearing sun glasses.

Topic Two: Golf
     So far on this trip we’ve played 81 holes of golf on five different courses (one of them new to us). That means we’ve already walked 22-1/2 miles with another course and another five miles scheduled for tomorrow. Two things are different this year compared to past years. First, Anne isn’t playing a full round because of the right shoulder replacement she had at the end of January. Although the recovery is coming along, as her doctor says, “textbook perfectly,” her movement still must be restricted until August--to let the tendon which had to be cut heal completely. She gets to walk the course and can chip and putt gently from about 100 yards in. It’s very frustrating for her to be at some of her favorite golf courses and be so restricted, but she knows it’s for the best in the long term. Second, although I always enjoy playing golf with my dear, the other day I play with the deer. Two young Red Deer bucks had laid claim to the tee at the seventh hole of St Fillans GC. [See the photos on my Flickr page.] Not even when golfers teed off five feet away would they move. The two had moved about twenty yards onto the fairway when I was to tee off on that hole. I was so worried about hitting one of them that I duffed my drive left into the rough, or at least that’s the excuse I used. Only a week into the trip and the golf is already quite interesting.

Topic Three: Leaving the Cat from Ten Years of Travel in Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales (to be published in June)
     “Good-bye, George. Be good and don’t get into any fights. We’ll be back in…(fill in the number of days or weeks).” “Blah, blah, blah, George, blah, blah, blah,” is what he really hears. We leave for morning coffee or golf in the afternoon or dinner out, and George, our 12-year-old cat, shows no signs of care even if we wake him from one of his four or five house beds (our bed, the sewing room window, the computer room window, a dining room chair, the top of the furnace) and throw him out. Get out the suitcases and George’s world turns upside down.
     It was really a mutual adoption. George was abandoned by his original owners behind the house across the street. The people across the street neutered the orphan, named him George, and let him live with their other outside cats. George started spending more and more time in our front yard and I befriended him with Tender Vittles® every morning. After talking to the neighbors and George finding out that we had better food and that he liked being able to come into the house, we took George to the vet for his shots and he was ours--or I should say, we were his. George really does rule the house and we live at his beck and call.
     That's what makes it so hard on George when we leave. He doesn’t approve or agree with our plans to leave. Oh, we take care of him. Whether we go overnight or for six weeks, we pay the neighbors to care for the house and for George. He’s fed twice a day. He’s let into or out of the house three or four times a day. He’s played with and fussed over and cared for even when he’s had to be taken to the vet because he and a neighbor cat had a disagreement.
     All that doesn’t change the fact that when the suitcases come up from the basement poor George doesn’t know if we are leaving for a weekend, and week, or a month--and how much is six weeks in cat years, anyway? As we leave for the next trip, I’d love to be able to say we’ll be gone only this long and you’ll be well cared for, and have him acknowledge, “Thanks, Dad. And don’t bother with the timer-programmed radio; I don’t care for that station anyway.” Instead, I know I’ll get the sulking, the running in and out, and the cold shoulder, because all George will hear is “Blah, blah, George.”

Photo: Anne at the Angus Art Gallery Tearoom.