Wednesday, September 26, 2012


At the end of a trip I like to put together a summary of what we did, what we saw, and where we went.  By doing this I find out things that I hadn’t realized.  For instance, on this trip we ate in more pubs than most other trips.  It seems that the Borders and southern part of the country have embraced the Gastro Pub concept more than the central or north.  I also understand why my golf scores are so much rubbish this trip--we played more than our usual quota of difficult golf courses.  With that rationale in mind, here is our summary of this fall’s one month trip to Scotland.

Rental Car: Toyota Auris (now very dirty)
Miles: About 2200
Price of Petrol: £1.40 per litre or about £6.30 a gallon.  With the exchange rate that’s        about....drum roll, please...$10.08 a gallon!

B and Bs Stayed In: 8, including our Scottish home at Merlindale in Crieff.
                                          Robertson and Emma at Ferintosh in Dumfries

18 rounds, 284 holes, 78.5 miles walked on golf courses
16 different courses
                                          6th at Crail Balcomie GC

7 courses new to us, bringing our total played in Scotland to 230 (there are over 570)
5  9-hole courses, 11 18-hole courses
                                          11th at Colvend GC

8 Championship or Open Qualifying courses

11 restaurants, 7 new to us
6 pubs, 4 new to us
15 tea rooms, coffee shops, or cafes, 9 new to us
5 golf course lounges, 4 new to us

Tourist Attractions:
3 ancient sites (standing stones, stone circles, etc.)

4 nature (waterfalls, scenic areas, etc.)
        4 commercial or shopping
8 religious (churches, chapels, abbeys)
                                           Detail at Lincludin Collegiate Church, Dumfries
3 gardens
                                          Logan Gardens, Mull of Galloway

4 historic (castles, museums)
                                          Mason marks, Cambuskenneth Abbey, Stirling 

8 picturesque villages

                                          Wigtown, Scotland's Book Town

1 cultural event (celebration of dance in Scotland in Dumfries)
5 lighthouses
                                                       Corsewall Lighthouse

The Best of the Trip:
Best Golf...Turnberry Kintyre course
Best Food...Brig o’Doon Hotel in Alloway, Crown Hotel in Portpatrick (Seafood Pub of the Year)
Favorite Tourist Spots...Mull of Galloway, Rosslyn Chapel
Biggest Surprise of the Trip...(Anne) playing Turnberry when it wasn’t planned;
(Bob) Ballachulish village near Glencoe, a village we had been by many      times before but where we had never stopped.

All of this, plus seeing many old friends at Merlindale and making many new friends in B and Bs and on golf courses, adds up to one fantastic trip.  See many of you at home soon. 

Monday, September 24, 2012


After more than a week of nice golfing weather, jumper (sweater) weather, and nine golf rounds in the last twelve days (including three British Open Qualifying courses), the weather has turned to winter and I have a chance to get on line and send out this entry--  our usual evenings being spent writing up the day’s golf course and pub notes for the next book. Look for another entry in the next few days that will be our end of the trip summary and photo montage.  For now a little history and a wee tipple.

An Historic Chapel

As fascinating as Melrose Abbey (previous entry) is, other spots are equally intriguing.  For example, Sweetheart Abbey in the Dumfries and Galloway area has an interesting history being built (1275) to memorialize Lady Dervorgilla of Gallow’s husband John Boiliol. 

When Lady Devrogilla died she and the embalmed heart of her husband were interred on the abbey grounds--thus, Sweetheart Abbey.  The new National Trust Robert Burns’ Birthplace Museum in Alloway is filled with original Burns’ documents and memorabilia.

Even more fascinating is Rosslyn Chapel outside of Edinburgh, made even more famous by Dan Brown’s novel and then the movie The Da Vinci Code.  

We have a special affinity for the chapel having played golf with the current trustee of Rosslyn Chapel, Baron St Clair Bond.  The chapel, whose official name is the Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew, was built by William Sinclair, the First Earl of Caithness (the far north area of Scotland) in 1456.  Supported by 14 large pillars, the chapel is most famous for its interior sculptures and carvings, which are some of the best and most intricate in Europe.  After Brown’s 2003 book the crowds visiting the chapel got so large that the Rosslyn Chapel Trust banned interior photography--too many people taking pictures and getting in each other’s and everyone else’s way.  

It’s a shame, but it makes my pre-2003 interior photos that much more special.  The chapel boasts of more than a hundred Green Man carvings (sculptures combining a face with leaves or vines and symbolizing, among other things, rebirth) and carvings of Maize (corn), aloe, and trillium which were at the time the chapel was built (almost forty years before Columbus’s first voyage to the New World) supposedly unknown in Europe--lending credence to the stories of a Sinclair voyage to the New World in the 1300s.  Now Masonic and Knights Templar connections fuel even greater interest in Rosslyn Chapel.  

With all the interest in the chapel, the money from both trusts (such as Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland) and visitors has been put to good use.  The chapel has a new state of the art Visitor’s Centre and has begun an extensive program of restoration and preservation of the exterior carvings. 

Rosslyn Chapel is one of the premier visitor destinations in Scotland, even if no interior photography is allowed.

Collecting a Taste of Scotland

Haggis and black pudding may not be our favorite dishes, but another taste of Scotland is not only worth having while in Scotland, it’s also worth taking home and collecting.  Uisge Beatha, The Water of Life, Scotch Whisky.  I had always like Scotch whisky, although in college it was whisky and 7 Up or whisky and soda--always the blended stuff (Johnnie Walker, Vat 69, Teachers).  It wasn’t until we started traveling to Scotland that I really discovered my taste for Single Malt Whisky.  In 2000 we brought a couple of bottles home, then went to the local liquor store and bought more.  Not that I’m a heavy drinker--a couple of fingers a night is my usual limit--but I do enjoy the collecting of various whiskies and having several bottles to choose from when I want a dram or offer a dram to guests.  
                      One of our favorite places to buy whisky, The Corn Exchange in Crieff.

Visiting the distilleries is always an entertaining enterprise and so far we’ve visited 29 in Scotland.  There have also been a few adventures in my whisky collecting experience, especially when trying to bring home whiskies I can’t get in my local store.  

Once, early in our travels, I was almost caught by US Customs in violation of our quota which is four and half bottles of spirit.  I was carrying five and listed “whisky” on our customs declaration without specifying the number of bottles.  The agent saw that I had declared whisky and asked, “How much?”  I lied, “Five bottles, but one is a half.”  She said, “Okay. This time.”  That was the last time we tried to bring more than four bottles back.  

There was once when I tried to bring back an unusually shaped bottle, sort of like a crock-style large flask (if that makes any sense) of special Caol Ila (Islay whisky).  It’s the only bottle we’ve ever had that leaked.  We lost about a quarter of the contents, but thankfully it was sealed up well in bubble wrap and plastic bags (Anne does a great job of packing) and no whisky got on anything else in the suitcase.  No, I didn’t lick the bubble wrap.

The biggest disaster we’ve had transporting booze has been the time we got stopped by TSA in Newark with a special bottle of rare Ardbeg (Islay) whisky.  From Edinburgh my carry-on had been sent as baggage under strict British security rules, but when we got delayed in Newark overnight, the backpack became carry-on again.  At five in the morning with only three hours of sleep the night before, my travel-addled brain didn’t register that I had whisky in the wrong place.  The TSA agent was very nice about it and gave me several options: (a) give it to someone (we knew nobody in Newark); (b) go back through the check-in line and ship it as checked baggage (we didn’t have time before our flight); (c) drink it (at that time in the morning even I couldn’t face the best whisky); or (d) throw it in the bin with all the other I-forgot -to-throw-them-away liquids.  I couldn’t do it, so I asked the agent if he would do the honors.  He placed the bottle ever so gently in the bin.  I do hope he recovered the whisky later and shared it around--it would be a shame to think it went to waste. 

On this trip we are bringing home just three bottles: a Pittyvaich (closed distillery) 18 Year Old by Rare Malts, a 20 Year Old Braes of Glenlivit whisky, and a special bottle I just bought this afternoon (that’s why it’s not in the photo) of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky, a commemorative recreation of the whisky from the British Antarctica Expedition of 1907.  The Nimrod Expedition (named for his ship) was the first of three Antarctica expeditions lead by Ernest Shackleton.  The whisky was found almost a hundred years later buried under Shackleton’s McMurdo Sound cabin.  After 18 months of analysis the whisky is reported to be an exact match for the Shackleton whisky and “sheer heaven” to drink.  I hope so, but we’ll see.

A last note on whisky collecting.  While staying at the Neidpath Inn in Peebles we saw two display cases of old rare miniatures.  The owner didn’t name a value, but I’d estimate from the age and rarity of some of the wee bottles several thousands of pounds Sterling were mounted on the wall.  Anne won’t let my collection approach anything near that.  Damn!  

Thursday, September 13, 2012


We are back in Crieff at Merlindale B&B (our Scottish home) after a three day excursion to the Borders area.  We’ve played some entertaining golf at Bridge of Allan, Torwoodlee, and Minto, but we’ve also done a good bit of touring which becomes the subject of this photo rich entry.  


                                   Melrose Abbey from the Main Street through the Village

Founded in 1136 by King David I for Cistercian Monks, the ruins we visited in the Borders town of Melrose are of late 14th century architecture.  The abbey has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. 

Edward II destroyed the abbey during the Scottish War of Independence.  King Robert the Bruce rebuilt it.  In the English Civil War Cromwell destroyed the abbey again.  
                                                                The Abbey at Night

This is the abbey now under the care of Historic Scotland (a national trust).  

The ruined Melrose Abbey is lovely to visit--towering facades, fascinating gargoyles and corbels, and special attractions.  
                                                                     The Cloisters

Two features to seek out at the abbey are the pig with a bagpipe and the heart of King Robert the Bruce.  The carved figure of a pig with a bagpipe is intriguing.  
                                                  The Pig with a Bagpipe Gargoyle

Appearing in other venues as well, the pig supposedly represents the local Scots whom the French masons thought smelled “like pigs” (according to the Historic Scotland stewart).  While the body of King Robert the Bruce is laid to rest in Dunfermline Cathedral, 
                                             Robert The Bruce's Heart Is Buried Here

his heart which was carried to the crusades was buried someplace at Melrose Abbey.  Found in the 1920s, the heart after medical examination was reinterred in a special ceremony in 1998.  Melrose Abbey is one four Borders abbeys (Dryburgh, Kelso, Jedburgh, and Melrose) built in the 12th century which should be on any list of places to visit. 
                                                           Corbels or Grotesques


Sometimes mistakes can work out for the best.  We planned our Saturday around attending the Highland Games in Peebles.  We toured Melrose Abbey in the morning and then drove into Peebles to see the games only to find out when we got to town that the games were on Sunday when we were booked for golf at Minto 25 miles away.  We filled the rest of Saturday wandering the great gardens at Kailzie,

but I kicked myself for getting our scheduling wrong.  All my fault.  

On Sunday after golf we drove to Peebles where we were to spend the night at the Neidpath Inn.  As we checked in our host said, “Well, you’re just in time for the parade of the bands.”  
                                                         The Parade of Bands

When we asked what he meant he told us that at the end of the games--remember, the Peebles Highland Games were on Sunday--all the bands march from the park down the main street through town, and that the bands should start coming down the street any time now.  
                                                 A Variety of Locals Enjoy the Parade

We may have missed the games, but we had never seen a parade of pipe bands at any of the Highland games we’d attended.  This was a special treat!  

The best part was standing on a pedestrian island in the middle of the street and having the playing band divide around the island--
                                                        In the Middle of a Band

it was stirring to be in the middle of a band of Highland bagpipes and drums!   Seeing the games would have been nice, especially since our very first Highland Games had been in Peebles in 2000, 
                                                     Look Who Gets to Carry the Trophy
                                                         The Drum Corps

but seeing and hearing (and almost being in) the pipe band parade was a special treat. 
                                                       The Tail End of the Parade

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Let Me Tell You About...


If your flying experiences have been like ours then you know how uncomfortable Economy Class travel can be--cramped seats, no leg room, poor service.  So when we had a chance last spring to upgrade for $100 a ticket to Economy Comfort on Delta from Portland to Amsterdam we took it.  Four inches of extra leg room, wider seats, priority boarding, and early off were worth the bucks.  

                                         Anne waiting in the airport.

This trip we again booked through Delta, but we would be flying an older Boing 777 run by KLM.  The option for Comfort Economy Class came up in the last 24 hours and at a price of $185 a seat.  That’s quite a bit for four inches of leg room, but it allowed us to get the only two seat row in a plane configured 3-3-3.  We took it.  When we got ready to get on the plane in Vancouver we found out KLM’s Comfort Class doesn’t include priority boarding, instead we ended up boarding last.  

                                         KLM 777

Our two seats did have a mile of extra leg room (bulkhead seats), but the seats were so tight I had to pop down into the seat between armrests which didn’t move and only after pulling out my seat belts.  Once in the seat I discovered that they had forgotten to pad the seats (I swear my butt cheeks could feel the welds of the seat braces) and that they tray table would only lower to about a 45 degree angle--for meals I’d have to hold a tray in one hand and eat with the other--there would be absolutely no chance to write.  All this lovely “comfort” for only an extra $185 per seat per flight!  The attendants quickly got tired of Anne and my complains and found a poor sap who would trade his empty three seat row for our uncomfortable two seat row.  Still in Economy Comfort we could at least fit in the new seats and put our trays down usably.  Comfort was still hard to find on this flight as KLM kept the air temperature at just below sauna level.  The food, normally not good on most flight, was spectacularly bad on this flight--we found practically nothing edible.  It's okay, though, both of us have ample fat reserve so that we didn't starve. We both have to say, though, that the KLM flight crew did the best job they could in trying to make us comfortable and they really doted on the fellow who got stuck sitting on the welds for eight and a half hours.  The lessons here are: pick your seats carefully and know what you’re picking.  

Note: There are websites which will rate seats on various aircraft so you can check out your seats before you sign up for them.   Check out these sites:,,,


The weather here in Scotland has been shiite all summer!  In fact, records show that it has been the wettest spring and summer since 1912.  The Wednesday we arrived was cloudy until we got on the M9 (motorway) and were about halfway from Edinburgh to Crieff; then the rain lashed down in big drops so hard that the wipers on our Toyota Auris rental could barely keep up.  The storm only lasted for a couple of miles though and then it turned to a steady drizzle.  

                                         Crfieff in the Rain.

We got to Crieff and our B&B and upacked just before the next storm hit.  Lightning, thunder, torrential rain!  From the kitchen we watched as the patio filled up and the water creeped up close to the doorwell.  As we got ready to start bailing out the kitchen the storm passed.  This was the heaviest rain we’ve seen in 21 trips to Scotland.

                                         Crieff town square.

We’ve since found out how bad the summer has been.  At Gleneagles Kings Course there are major lakes where there have never been lakes before.  

                                         Gleneagles Kings Course.

Our course, St Fillans, is a quagmire of mud and muck and to play you must wind your way around the wet parts adding at least half again to the distance of the holes.  

                                         Anne in one of the dry spots of St Fillans GC.

Courses are closed.  The bridge at the Falls of Dochart in Killin will be closed for a month for repair.  At Bridge of Allan the locals were isolated as every way in and out of town were flooded.  

We’ve had several nice days for golf and touring, but we also came in soaked after the last 11 holes were in the rain on the Kings Course at Gleneagles.  For the weekend we head down to Melrose in the Scottish Borders to play three golf courses new to us.  The forecast is decent, but as my nephew the weatherman says, “Anything beyond 24 hours is science fiction.”


                                          Fall Veg for sale at House of Bruar.

Talking to James the caterer from the tea room at St Fillans Golf Course (where we’re members) we heard these details.  One day a member of the club brought in a brace of pheasants he had recently shot.  James immediately put pheasant soup on the evening’s menu.  In another instance, a neighbor gave James a deer he had shot foraging in his crops--a legal poach in Scotland.  James dressed the deer, sold half to the chef at Deil’s Cauldron (a restaurant he and Marion used to own in Comrie), the rest  he put on the evening menu as venison liver and onions, venison stew, venison medallions with pepper sauce, and game pie.  A great creative use of local products.  Too bad British Health and Safety (as well as our FDA) would never see it that way.  Here everyone just stays shut up and eats the bounty. 
                                         Anne journaling at the Red squirrel in Crieff.