Friday, May 25, 2012

The Isle of Arran

The Isle of Arran
“Scotland in Miniature” is what they call the Isle of Arran between mainland Scotland and the Firth of Clyde on the east and the Kintyre Peninsula and Kilbrannan Sound on the west.

The isle has a little of everything you’ll find in Scotland--the Highlands, the mountains, the lowlands, and the beaches--all on an island only 60 miles of small road around. 

Arran is one of our favorite places to visit in Scotland with its seven golf courses, interesting shops, 

castles, ancient standing stones, 

gardens, and whisky distillery.  From Cloanaig on the Kintyre Peninsula to Lochranza on Arran is only a twenty minute ride on the open decked car ferry.  

On this particular visit we stayed in two lodgings--the lovely Lilybank B&B in Lamlash and the Glenisle Hotel also in Lamlash.  We could only book three nights in the B&B and then moved literally next door to the hotel for our last night.  

We love Lilybank especially because the room we get has a grand view of Lamlash Bay 

and the Holy Isle, an island in the bay with its own Tibetian monastery.  On the northern tip of the island in the ferry terminal town of Lochranza is the Isle of Arran Distillery--always worth a tour especially since the tour begins with a dram of the 10 year old single malt whisky and ends with a special taste of the distillery’s Highland liqueur.  

Wort, draff, mash tuns, washbacks made of Oregon fir, worms, special barrels of whisky aging for special people (Prince William, Prince Harry, Ewan McGregor), faints, foreshots, and the smells of the Angel’s Share are all part of the tour.  A visit to the distillery set us up for a round at Shiskine Golf and Tennis Club at Blackwaterfoot on the west coast.  This course became twelve holes when men returning from World War I didn’t want to keep up six holes that were build on the side of Drumadoon hill--an eighteen hole course became the world’s first twelve-hole course--a number many visitors find just right.  

The course is one of the most beautiful in the world on a good day and can be brutal on a day of wind and rain.  On our second time around of this trip a farmer nearby was spreading a residual of the distilling process as a fertilizer which smelled of sweet whisky--what a lovely round that was!  Besides the golf Anne and I enjoy the special shopping on Isle of Arran.  Alone Anne spent time and money in Arran Aromatics for soaps, lotions, and other girly nice smelling stuff. 

I joined her for the shopping at Isle of Arran cheese.  Before we left the Island on the Brodick (the main island east coast village) to Ardrossan (Ayrshire on the mainland) large car ferry 

(a 55 minute crossing), we drove to the small coastal hamlets of Corrie and Sannox, just for the views.  

Four days on the Isle of Arran this trip was just enough to convince us to schedule another visit on our fall trip. 
I Got Screwed at the Machrie Bay Tea Room on Isle of Arran
After some shopping and driving around the south end of Isle of Arran we stopped at the Machrie Bay GC tea room for a latte and a sweet.  We’ve stopped here before and always enjoyed the break.  This day I ordered a latte and a fruit scone with jam and wandered off to the toilet in the back room of the restaurant.  On the way back into the eating area I turned the doorknob and felt a sharp pain on my knuckle--a screw was loose on the door handle and had sliced the knuckle on my index finger.  I got a bandaid from Anne, went back to the toilet to clean up my bleeding finger.  I did tell the waitress about the loose screw and she fixed it.  After the latte and scone I went to the counter to pay the bill which came to £7.05.  I gave the young girl £20.05 and expected £13.00 in change.  The girl thanked me and gave me back £12.95. Do the math.  I looked at her, she smiled and walked away.  I thought I’d teach the girl a lesson and left no tip.  In reality I walked to the car with a throbbing sliced finger having paid £7.10 for our £7.05 lattes and sweets.  In other words, I got screwed twice at the Machrie Bay Tea Room. 
The Weather, What Else!
A week and a half ago we were playing the links at Machrihanish on the Kintyre Peninsula in 40 degree rain with a 30 mph wind.  Yesterday we wilted in the 85 degree windless heat on a long moorland course at Strathmore.  

On the first part of our trip we didn’t have enough warm wool socks; now we don’t have enough short cotton socks.  The Scots are afraid that this spell of fine weather is going to be their only summer.  

We just wash out some clothes each day hoping we have enough of the correct garbs.  Ah, the joys of traveling in Scotland--we love it.    
Golfer’s Querry
Two days ago, as we were playing at King James VI GC on an island in the middle of the Tay River in Perth, Anne asked this salient question: 

“If as they say on the Golf Channel putts break toward the nearby water, which way do they break on an island surrounded by water?”

Monday, May 14, 2012

Scotland Spring 2012 #2

Extreme Golf
As we approached the golf course, Duff House Royal in Banffshire, Scotland, we kept an eye on the thermometer in the car.  All the way from Aviemore in the Highlands we had watched the outside temperature range from a high of 9° C to a low of 6° C (about 42° F) where it stood as we got out of the car in the club parking lot.  The wind was blowing in from the North Sea at between 15 and 20 miles per hour fairly steadily--it was a cold, damp wind that put the effective temperature on our skin between 32° F and 35° F.  I put on rain pants, long-john top, golf shirt, and a fleece jumper which meant I was barely warm, but at least I could still swing my clubs with some semblance of normalcy.  Anne had on several extra layers plus cold weather golf gloves and still complained bitterly about the cold.  Luckily it didn’t rain while we were on the course, although it was raining a few miles to the south, west, and east--north there was only the sea.  We both agreed that if it started to rain we were walking off the course.  The course is lovely, a classic 1910 design by Scottish golf architects James Braid and Alister Mackenzie (Augusta National, Cyprus Point, etc.). 

By the time we finished three hours later (we had to move quickly to stay warm) and went into the clubhouse for a warming dram of single malt Scotch, we were both bright red from windburn and chill.  This was probably the coldest golf I have ever played--even colder than playing frozen Arrowhead GC one January at 28°, but with no wind.  Anne did a great job playing survival golf at Duff House Royal, but I still won the match one up.  
The Aviemore Journal
As I sit at the dining table in our Scandinavian Village timeshare unit I can type this post on my MacAir and watch the alpineglow spread across the tops of the snow covered Cairngorm range.  We’ve been here for a week--a week of cold sun, rain and snow, and chilly wind.  It’s been a good week of golf, hiking, touring, driving, and eating.  Now it is time to share some of the images from our Aviemore (Highlands) week.  
On our first day in Aviemore we got enough breaks in the weather to ride the Cairngorm Funicular Tram to the top of Cairngorm Mountain (elevation 4078 feet, the 6th highest in the UK), tromp around in the snow for a few minutes, and then warm up with coffee and sweet in the Ptarmigan Restaurant.

Instead of lunch after the tram we stopped to play golf in spitting snow flurries and sun at Boat of Garten GC, one of the best heathland (heather and birch) courses in the world.  

Even with light flurries at times it seemed warm enough to take off my jumper (sweater), but only for a few minutes.  The next day started with a quick 9-holes at Ballindalloch Castle GC, a course we’d played once before.  After golf we again skipped lunch, this time in favor of a visit to the Scotland Osprey Centre at Loch Garten.  

We get spoiled having osprey on our home golf course, Arrowhead, but the Scots are justly proud of the reintroduction of the species with now about 200 birds nesting.  The thrill for us was viewing a wild male Capercaille, the largest of the grouse family (about the size of turkey), through spotting scopes at the Centre. There are only 1200 Capercailies known to exist.  Although I attempted to take a photo through the scope, the part of the head and beak I shot is not good enough to share.  Tuesday’s golf was at one of our favorite courses, Moray Old GC, one of the top 100 courses in the world. 

Clouds and wind greeted us at Lossiemouth where the course and an RAF base are located, but there was no rain.  

The golf was great and the Tornado jets landing just over our heads was a treat--a VERY noisy treat.  On the way back to our timeshare we drove a few miles of single-track road and then climbed up to the Ardclach Bell Tower, which had been used both for church services and as a prison.  

We stayed around Aviemore on Thursday and did mundane things like lattes and writing, shopping for gifts, getting a beard trim.  I did manage some time for some local forest photos 

and Anne and I visited Loch-an-Eilein with its castle in the middle of the loch.  

After hiking in the cold around the loch, dinner at The Rowan Tree Restaurant was especially welcome.  This was one of the best meals we’ve had in Scotland and we ate with Ewan McGregor, the Scottish actor who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars I, II, and III.  

Of course, he was at another table.  Drats!   I’ve already detailed the Extreme Golf we enjoyed on Thursday at Duff House Royal GC.  The rains came in late that day and they stayed most of the day Friday.  Our first job was to call to cancel the golf we had booked at Forres, but even the golf manager said canceling was a good idea--too wet, windy, and cold.  That left us plan-less.  A found Day--almost like a snow day when we were teaching.  We filled the day by going back to the Cairngorms, or at least to the snow line where I photographed an ancient Scots pine and lovely mountain burn.  

We discovered a wonderful mountain cafe, Glenmore Mountain Cafe. 

A folksy place with decent soup, sandwich, and apple strudel.  Most importantly, though, was the viewing area for the endangered Scottish Red Squirrel, endangered because the American Gray Squirrel is killing them off. 

It was a marvelous lunch with three squirrels feeding and frolicking and numerous birds trying to get in on the action.  What a week!  Not the kind we had planned, but the kind of week we’ll never forget.     

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Scottish Weather
As I said in the last post, I am going to comment on the Scottish weather: “Admiral, there be weather here!”  When we left home, Portland was just coming off a stretch of fine weather, finally.  In Amsterdam we landed in heavy winds and rain.  But we stepped out of Turnhouse Aiiport in Edinburgh into clouds, sun, and breeze--better weather than we’d left at home.  One afternoon doesn’t really answer the question of what weather will we have.  But Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were sunny with clouds as well.  The breeze, though, has made it cool--mid to high 40s.  As far as we are concerned this is almost perfect weather for both touring and golfing.  The Scots though are hoping for some warmer and even drier days--April here was the rainiest on record. 

I will say that driving west to Inveraray through snow capped peaks (between 2500 and 3500 feet) on our first Saturday was lovely enough to shoot over a hundred photos of the mountains.  The first full week has been clouds, sun, and cool temperatures.  We loved that!  Now we have moved to the Highlands, Aviemore in the Cairngorm National Park.  As we left Crieff light snow flurries accompanied our packing the car and we walked to dinner in more light flurries.  Tonight is to be minus two degrees--and this is May 5th!  The prediction is that it will be the coldest May on record. Oh well, we have winter fleece  jumpers and warm golf gloves.  Though we may have to buy orange golf balls for the snow!
My, What a Difference
Four inches often seems insignificant--I know certain of our friends are now saying, “Four inches can make a lot of difference!”  You know, we all have some of those friends.  I will say though that the four inches we gained by upgrading from economy to Premier Economy on Delta was well worth the dollars spent.  I was able to stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me without jamming into the seat ahead’s structure.  Our seats were able to recline further and the people in front of us could recline fully without smashing their headrest into our noses.  The trays came down without rubbing across our shirt fronts and we could get up and down in our seats so much easier than we could in economy. 

Anne pointed out also that we got on earlier--a definite advantage with how tight overhead storage space has become--and off sooner--a definite advantage just because after nine and a half hours we’re ready to get off the plane. Four inches.  Highly significant to a high jumper.  And as Anne and I will now attest, important to the comfort of the traveler.    
A Scottish Kirk
On the edge of Loch Awe in the west of Scotland we visited Saint Conan’s Kirk (church).  We knew little about the kirk, but had some idea that it had some interesting features.  Location was one of those features.  Sited on the edge of the loch with a view to the snow covered hills to the northeast, Saint Conan’s was indeed lovely in the cool spring sun. 

St Conan was reputed to have lived in the Glenorchy area and was a disciple of St Columba who brought Christianity from Ireland to Scotland in the 600s.  St Conan became tutor to two sons of the King of Scotland and eventually a Bishop.  The church we visited is not particularly old, having been dedicated in the 1930s, but the original church on the location was begun in 1881 and finished in 1886.  
Some of the most interesting features of the kirk include the tall Celtic Cross, the Cloister Garth, the Bruce Chapel, and a set of modern gargoyles.  

The Celtic Cross was erected on a knoll at the west end of the kirk by the builder in memory of his mother.  The cross is a fine example of funerary sculpture.  

The Cloister Garth, the best entrance into the church, serves no specific purpose.  Instead, the cloisters copy the design of larger Scottish abbeys simply for the love of beautiful design.  The Bruce Chapel contains a more than life-size effigy of King Robert the Bruce, the first king of a united Scotland. 

The effigy is made of wood with the face and hands of alabaster.  Below the figure of the King is a small ossuary which contains a bone of the King himself taken from Dunfermline Abbey.  Bruce’s body is buried in Dunfermline, his heart is buried in Melrose Abbey in the Borders, and a piece of him resides at St Conan’s--he was a King who certainly got around.  On the exterior of the kirk is a set of unusual modern gargoyles or waterspouts.  Figures decorating churches which are not functional spouts are called grotesques, regardless of how nice they may be.  The three gargoyles at St Conan’s are figures of two large-eared rabbits (likely Scottish hares) and one that looks like it was meant to be a hippopotamus. 

Usually we’ve seen carved-stone faces, demons, dragons, angels, lions or such animals.  Hares and hippos of metal are unique.  
Saint Conan’s Kirk is a thing of beauty being preserved for future generations and is a fine example of the sites we visit throughout Scotland.