Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Week in the Highlands

Our Highlands adventure started on a Saturday with an overnight stop in Stonehaven, just south of Aberdeen on the North Sea.  Leaving our castle suite in Kilconquhar we crossed the Firth of Tay into Dundee and the suburb village of Broughty Ferry.  In Broughty Ferry we stopped for a visit at Broughty Castle 

which houses an interesting local museum.  Rather than take the main north/south A90, we stuck to the small roads and were rewarded with good photo opportunities 

and a bowl of Smokie Chowder (smoked fish, veg, and just the right spice) at Lunan Farm Shop & Cafe 

in the dunes by Lunan Bay.  Our main objective for the day was Dunnottar Castle just south of Stonehaven.  The castle, one of the most photographed in Scotland, was the setting for Zeffrelli’s Hamlet  (1990).  

It’s a short hike out to see the castle, then a dramatic hike down and back up if you want to visit the castle.  We had been there before and this time just wanted pictures from various vantage points around the castle peninsula.  From the castle it’s only two miles to Stonehaven 

and our B&B (24 Shore Road) on the harbour.  

Dinner was just along the harbour at the Ship Inn (a different Ship Inn than the one in Elie--there are numerous Ship Inns and many are nowhere near the sea).  

I had a delicious dish of Argyll Mussels and Crab Claws (brown crab from the west coast).  

Later we walked back to the Ship Inn from the B&B for an after dinner drink in the bar and some night photos.
Sunday we had scheduled golf at Braemar GC near Balmoral Castle where the Royals take up fall residence--the flag was up on the castle which means the Queen is there.  Before we got to Braemar we stopped at the Falls of Feugh in Banchory 

to watch the salmon leap.  Golf at Braemar was a race to stay ahead of a men’s competition--we completed the 18 holes on Scotland’s highest golf course in two hours forty minutes, 

and finished two holes ahead of the first men’s group.  Surprisingly, we both played fairly well, but had very tired legs that evening.  It was okay to be tired because our timeshare unit at Craigendorrach Hilton in Ballater was a Five Star place to rest--
Our living room at Craigendorrach Hilton.

two bedrooms on the main floor and kitchen, dining room, living room, and deck upstairs.  
Our Monday golf was at the Alford GC in Alford about 45 minutes from Ballater.  This was a working day--revising our second Scotland golf guide and adding more courses--so we took notes, photos, and analyzed the course for writing about later.  

After golf we made one of the “finds” of the trip when we visited the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve.  We took a short trail to the Burn O‘ Vat: a small waterfall hidden behind a tunnel of rocks. 
The crawl space into the Vat.

The Vat.

The Vat is the area hollowed out by thousands of years water cascading through the gorge.  I tried to get photos, but was never fully satisfied with my efforts and kept returning to try to get better photos.  

Our next golf was probably our best of the trip.  The big courses we play (Crail, Strathmore, Lundin, Scotscraig, Crieff Ferntower) are all great, but the 9-hole Tarland GC was a true hidden gem.  
Anne's bundled up against the cold.  It was about 40° F.

The tree-lined course is lovely as its plays over rolling hills with a local church dominating the views on the 1st and the 9th holes.  The only drawback was the zombie barman/starter who spoke in monotone grunts and seemed not to understand the simplest concepts, like we had a letter from the golf manager which said we were to play for free.  If his ear had fallen off in the middle of a series of grunts I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Thursday was a day of driving.  It was a little more than an hour to get to Fraser Castle and its gardens, but it was worth the effort.  

When we had visited before much of the castle was closed as a wedding venue, so we saw much new to us.  Next was a return look at Loanhead stone circle in Daviot--

an ancient double circle used either for astronomical or religious purposes or both.  It was a serious lot of driving for these two sites, plus one small Pictish carved stone, 
One of numerous tree tunnels we drove through.
but much of the drive was lovely even on a gray day.
Friday, after golf at Aboyne GC, we had lunch at the Falls of Feugh Restaurant and again visited the falls.  The difference in a week with only one day of rain was dramatic.  

The river was quite full, heavy in peat (makes the water's color brown), and the salmon had no chance to make the leap.  
After a little shopping on Saturday in Braemar and a six mile drive out a single track road to see the Linn of Dee 

(a small gorge on the upper River Dee), we played a late round of golf at the Ballater GC.  

We were the last two out on the course and had to walk in the last two holes--it was too dark to see where we hit our balls.  It was a great week of sightseeing and golf in fantastic autumn weather in the Highlands, but it was a hurried drive home to Crieff on Sunday for an afternoon choir concert in the 15th Century Innerpeffray Chapel. 


Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Week in the Kingdom of Fife, Part 2 plus

To continue the story...    
Anne with her rally cap on trying to win our match.
Wednesday was a day off from golf: a touring day.  From our castle apartment we made a beeline--at least as straight as we could on the back roads of Fife--for Starbucks in St Andrews.  While having our lattes and sweets we had entertaining conversations, first with a young girl who saw my Nikon D7100 and wanted some advice on camera choices, and second with a girl from Portland who was in her second year at St Andrews University.  The weather, which had been quite showery, started to turn a little better as we drove out to the St Andrews Botanic Garden.  
The fall colors are starting to show.

St Andrews Botanic has a nice hot house section.

Even in late September there were still plenty of blooms to photograph, especially in their themed hot houses.  Next was a visit to one of our favorite golf courses, Crail, in order to book golf for the next day.  While in Crail we stopped for photos in their small harbour.  

Finally, after a walking tour of the village of Kilconquhar, we had dinner in the local pub, the Kinneuchar Inn.  

Good food with the locals.
The golf we had arranged the day before was at the second course at Crail, the Craighead Links.  Anne and I had played the course several years ago and had heard that the course had been much improved.  
Crail Craighead course plays where the Firth of Forth meets the North Sea.

Anne playing the 3rd at Crail Craighead.

We talked to the club secretary and asked if we could check out the improvements.  He comped us today’s round--they really like what I’ve written about their courses.  After golf it was off to another garden; this time the walled garden at Kellie Castle.  
Kellie Castle from the walled garden.

Fruit on the garden wall at Kellie Castle.

Again there was much in bloom to photograph.  Dinner that night was at one of our favorites in the area, the Ship Inn in Elie. 

Lamb shank for me and steak and Guinness pie for Anne.
Our last day in Fife was golf on the most difficult course of this part of the trip.  Lundin GC along the Firth of Forth is another Open qualifying course. 
One of the toughest holes at Lundin plays around the trees.

The course is long, the holes are tricky, and the wind seemed always to be in your face.  Often Anne had to hit over more gunk (marram grasses, heather, gorse, and other nasty stuff) than even her best shots could reach.  This was exhausting golf.  I had enough energy after golf to walk out on the Lundin Ladies‘ course 
Lundin standing stones on the Ladies' links.

to photograph the three large (13 feet tall) ancient (about 4000 years old) standing stones in the middle of the second fairway.  The rest of the day was spent packing for our move to the Highlands.  But that’s fodder for the next post.  

Our Encounters with Tegenaria Gigantea. 

      We've seen them before and don't like them.  They're large and they're fast.  Twice on this trip--at the B&B in Stonehaven and our time share in Ballater (Highlands)--we've had face to face confrontations with Tangenaria duellica (or gigantea) aka the Scottish house spider.  

They aren't poisonous, but they are 1-1/2 to 2 inches across.  For a common house spider they are uncommonly fast and tend to run straight at you.  With a great deal of to-do and screaming, we dispatched both of our adversaries.  If you count the legs in the photo you will see that you there are only seven; we found the eighth on the bathroom floor in the B&B from our first attempt on its life the night before.  Give me a slow, plodding Black Widow any day.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Week in the Kingdom of Fife, Part 1

Note: This blog post has been delayed because Craggendorrach Hilton in Ballater chose to solve their internet complaints by eliminating Wi-Fi., and punish the customers rather than solve the internet reliability issue.  Juvenile decision-making if you ask me; just like the US Congress.
Fife: a county of Scotland consisting of the peninsula of land between the Firth of Tay on the north to the Firth of Forth on the south and from the North Sea on the East inland to Dunfermline and the M90 motorway.  The Kingdom of Fife contains the Home of Golf, the city of St Andrews, and a multitude of great golf courses, such as the Old Course, Kingsbarns, Crail Balcomie, Leven, Lundin, and a plethora of lesser known courses.  This post is an accounting of a week Anne and I spent in the Kingdom of Fife on this trip.
Our move from our B&B home at Merlindale in Crieff (central Scotland) to Fife began inauspiciously.  Five miles away from Crieff I remembered that we hadn’t brought copies of our books that we would need to give to golf courses we were scheduled to play.  Back track, start over.  Our drive to our new digs in time share was only about an hour and a half which left plenty of time for sightseeing.  

We wanted to tour the abbey at Balmerino, but found the structure was fenced off as too unstable for safety.  Next was a visit to the village of Leuchars, home to an RAF base, to find a cup of tea and more importantly a public toilet.  The only tea room open was a hole-in-the-wall so small it had no public facility.  No toilet meant no tea.  

We toured a local church (St Athernase) with interesting architecture instead.  We found toilets and lunch--in different rooms--at The Balgove Larder just outside of St Andrews.  

In St Andrews, after watching a couple of golf matches tee off on the Old Course, it was a quick tour of the huge ruined St Andrews Cathedral and a latte in the local Starbucks.  Late that afternoon we checked in to our Unit 8 at Kilconquhar Castle (pronounced kil-con-ker).  
Kilconquhar Castle with our unit on the left side.

Our bedroom in Castle Unit 8.

The apartment had three bedrooms upstairs and kitchen, dining, and living room downstairs.  All Five Star! This would be our home for a week.
Our first day on Fife started with a round at Charleton Golf and Country Club in the village of Colinsburgh.  

The course, owned by Baron St Clair Bonde, provides employment opportunities for locals and stress-free golf for visitors.  After golf we drove along the southern coast of the peninsula looking for photo opportunities in the small harbours of St Monans and Pittenweem.  
Pittenweem Harbour

St Monan's Harbour

St Monan's Harbour

     Monday’s golf was more challenging (but still fun) at the Open qualifying course Scotscraig in Tayport on the Firth of Tay coast.  

The links course is lovely and has some very tough holes.  Near Tayport is an interesting church in the hamlet of Kirkton of Barns.  

The small kirk is picturesquely sited on a hill and displays some fascinating gargoyles and grotesques.  A drink before dinner in the castle’s White Cockade Bistro provided a relaxing break.
Tuesday’s golf--yes, this trip is really about golf--was at a course new to us.  Dunnikier Park GC in Kirkcaldy is a very enjoyable municipal course. 

 Not nearly as tough as Scotscraig, Dunnikier Park proved to be a fun track--enough of a test to be interesting, yet easy to get around even the first time.  For dinner that evening we drove down to the harbour at Anstruther to enjoy the award winning fish and chips from the Anstruther Fish Restaurant.  

Anstruther Fish Restaurant

Anstruther Harbour at night.
On weekends lines will be two hours long for eating in and an hour long for take-away.  The fish and chips is that good.

The rest of the week in Part 2.