Monday, May 19, 2014

Spring 2014 #3: Say a Little Prayer for the Flies on the Stones

Besides the rough, deer are a hazard at Lochranza Golf Course.
Golfers’ Serenity Prayer (from the Rough)

Lord give me grace to visualize the shot Tiger would make from this rough;
Give me the knowledge of my own game to recognize the shot I can make;
and Lord grant me the wisdom not to try Tiger’s shot anyway.
Anne tees off on the 4th at Shiskine GC on the Isle of Arran.

The Golf Round of the Flies

Anne and I played Auchterarder Golf Course on Monday.  

The course is right next to Gleneagles PGA Course where they will play the Ryder Cup matches in September.  The course is challenging yet fair--a good walk.  This round, though, came with a new challenge.  The bunkers were still there waiting to grab wayward shots, the trees which line most holes were flush with new growth, and the rough was sticky and difficult to hit out from.  But an additional challenge was presented by the hordes of Dagger or Dance Flies gathered around the greens and tees.  These flies are called Dagger Flies because of their long proboscis used to spear prey, and although not a danger to golfers, this crop of flies was particularly bothersome.  
Dagger Flies mating on the green at Auchterarder GC.
They are agile fliers,  with a sophisticated internal gyroscope, and in still air hover and twist about.  They are so numerous during the few weeks of this stage that it becomes almost impossible to avoid walking into them as they float.  When the wind blows they smash into you as you walk or set up your shot.  Down the inside of my glasses, in my nose, in my ears, down my shirt wind-driven flies get into everything.  Mouth-breathers like Anne are particularly at risk of sucking in one or two with a breath.  Our round was good and Anne won our match as usual, but we will always remember this visit to Auchterarder Golf Course as the Round of the Flies.

The Stones of Machrie Moor
On the path to Machrie Moor.
It is a three mile (round trip) walk from the main Isle of Arran road to Machrie Moor and a series of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age relics.  The walk up to moor is on a farm track through several fields of sheep.  

This spring the fields were full of ewes and lambs, with the curious lambs playing and almost flirting--always under the watchful eyes of mother--with the walkers traipsing up to see the stones.  
The farm track to Machrie Moor.

The first set of stones near the path is called the Moss Farm Road burial cairn which marks the final resting place of an ancient tribal leader. 
Moss Farm burial cairn.
The cairn itself was about 20 meters in diameter and fragments of pottery and tools have been found buried within.  
The next sight is not so ancient.  
Moss Farm with Machrie Moor site #3 in background left.
The ruins of Moss Farm attract less attention from visitors than does the stone circle across from it.  Besides being a play area for gamboling lambs, the farm ruins at about 200 years old stand in stark contrast to ancient people’s stone work still standing as much as 4000 years later. 

This circle is called Suide Choir Fhionn (in Scottish Gaelic) or Fingal’s Cauldron Seat.  It is a double ring of stones.
Fingal's Cauldron Seat.
But now we have arrived at the moor itself--a broad plain that has been inhabited for the last 8000 years or so.  On the plain are numerous hut circles, cairns, stone circles, and solitary standing stones, but five sites are easily accessed and most prominent. 
Machrie Moor site #3.
The main attractions are site #3, a large seemingly solitary stone, which is actually a part of a large circle, the other stones of which have either been buried or removed.  
Machrie Moor site #2.
The other major site is circle #2 with three large stones (as tall as 18-1/2 feet) and numerous smaller stones.  This circle is very much like the Stenness stones we visited several years ago on the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland.

All the stones of Machrie Moor have been dated to between 1800 and 1600 BC, even though evidence has been found of human occupancy much earlier.  The purpose of these ancient structures can only be guessed at.  Theories suggest that they may have served some astronomical purposes because of their alignments; it is likely that some served as ritualistic burial sites because of what has been found nearby; but most certainly these stones served some ritualistic purpose for the people who built them.  For those of us who visit now, 4000 years later, we question, ponder, marvel, and even gambol with the innocence of the lambs as we view the mysterious Stones of Machrie Moor.

Scenic Scotland:
Lochranza Castle, Isle of Arran.

The small Sannox Harbour, Isle of Arran.

Bluebell field at Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Spring 2014 #2:A Highland Week

On this trip we have had a week in Timeshare in Aviemore, Scotland, in the Highlands.  Here’s the report on that week:

Saturday, May 3.   Today we moved from Crieff in central Scotland to Aviemore in the Highlands, a two hour drive or all day with the stops we make.  First stop was at House of Bruar, an upscale retailer for men’s and ladies’ clothing, furnishings, art, and food.  We stop mostly for the food--specialty meats and cheeses for our time in self-catering.  Our second stop took much longer.  We played 18-holes of golf at Kingussie GC, an Old Tom Morris Highland design set in the heath and birches of the low Highland hills.  
Kingussie GC

Teeing off at Kingussie GC
The course is a fun track we’ve play three times before, and one we always like.  It is a bit of work, though, since the course climbs on several holes, but the downhill shots are spectacular.  Anne won our match--it was her sixth straight win.  I’m not playing badly, but Anne is playing like a real bandit.  Check in at Scandinavian Village was easy and our accommodations fine--home in the Highlands for a week.

Sunday, May 4.  After a self-catering breakfast of bacon (Scottish style), eggs, cottage cheese, toast and jam, juice and fruit, we drove up to the Cairngorm Cog Railway station in the national park with some photo stops along the way (Loch Morlich, and a river through Glenmore).  
Loch Morlich

River Luineag
Weather wasn’t very good for a train ride up the mountain so we headed to a new nursery and tearoom in the Insh area south of Aviemore.  Inshraich Nursery and Gardens was a good find, especially because the Potting Shed Tearoom at the nursery specializes in cakes.  
Old planting beds at Inshraich Nursery

The cakes at The Potting Shed Tearoom
Lovely tea and cakes on our first full afternoon in the Highlands.  Dinner was at a local Hotel, Cairngorm Hotel, always good.

Monday, May 5.  Today we headed north about an hour and a half to play one of the best golf courses in the world--Royal Dornoch is consistently ranked in the world’s top ten course you can play.  The course was fantastic as always and better than sometimes because there was no wind and no rain.  
The two of us at Royal Dornoch GC

Bob putting on the 17th at Royal Dornoch
We played with a father-son team from the US mid-west--very nice playing partners who bought caddies for themselves (the bill for golf and caddies for the two had to be £350 or almost $600; we paid $0.00, just arranged to give a copy of our new book to the club).  On the way home, though, we almost ended our trip.  On a two lane section of the main north-south highway, the A9, a car coming at us pulled into our lane to pass a truck.  We were in the middle of a string of traffic and had to sweve left (remember we drive on the left here) and bounce onto and off the verge which I did without losing control of our sporty Mercedes.  It was just about as close as we’ve ever come to disaster in our travels.

Tuesday, May 6.  Golf was more local this day.  We played a James Braid design in Grantown-on-Spey about 20 miles away.  
Anne tees of on a tough par 3 at Grantown GC

The 9th at Grantown GC
Grantown GC is a fine heathland course with parkland features, heathery rough, and Braid’s signature bunkers.  Compared to American golf this is old golf, the course having been designed in 1890.  Anne won again, as she had done at Dornoch, and was now 8 and 0 in our matches--got to get this gal into competitions.  
Packhorse Bridge in Carrbridge
On the way home after golf we stopped for photos of the Packhorse Bridge in Carrbridge, always a photographer’s delight.  Dinner was steaks, chips (called crisps here) and broccoli in our unit.  

Wednesday, May 7.  This day was a quite a touring day with no golf--I needed a rest to build up my strength to try to win a match.  We drove almost to Inverness and then turned west and south along the east side of Loch Ness.  Our first stop was at Gask Ring Cairn, an ancient burial site, inside fenced pastures.  
Gask Ring Cairn

Highland Cows or Hieland Coos
Usually there is a way in to see the cairn, but the Hieland Coos didn’t seem too friendly and we could only get photos from outside the pastures.  Second was a visit to the Falls of Foyer, a tall waterfall that would fit well with the falls on the Columbia Gorge.  I hiked down (steep walk) to an overlook for photos.  
Falls of Foyer
Anne had come part way down and then turned back as the steps got steeper.  After a fist full of photos I slowly hiked back up to the top and met Anne in the Waterfalls Cafe for a latte and apple pie.  
Waterfalls Cafe
My walk had earned me a treat.  Several miles further on we pulled into the car park at Ft Augustus on the edge of Loch Ness.  Here is a series of locks on a canal that connects Loch Ness with Loch Lochy (part of the system called the Caledonian Canals).  
One of the Caledonian Locks and the Lock Inn in Ft Augustus
We had lunch in the Lock Inn where we’ve eaten several times before--nice atmosphere, good pub food.  Last touring stop of the day was at Urquhart Castle (pronounced urk-ert) on the west shore of Loch Ness.  
Urquhart Castle

A large and intriguing ruin, even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits here.  But the crowds could.  The gift shop, where everyone must enter the castle and exit, was jammed with tour groups pushing and shoving because they were on a time table probably to see the Nessie tourist traps in Drumnadrochit up the road.  
Dinner at the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore deserves special mention as one of the worst dinners we’ve ever had in Scotland.  
The bar at the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore
We were seated nicely and ordered mains (bream for me, pork belly for Anne)  with no starters.  We got two bream dinners.  Anne said to take hers back.  They said it would be 8 minutes to fix her pork belly, but they’d give it to her free.  In a minute they returned and said that they had found a pork belly dinner and it would be at our table in 2 minutes but not free now, instead they’d give us desserts free.  
The food at Old Bridge Inn wasn't bad, the way we got treated was.
After the dinners we looked at the dessert menu and the waiter came to the table and asked if he had told us they needed our table.  We said no and he said they did need it now and we could have dessert in bar which was jammed.  At this point I paid the bill and we walked out.  Just wait until you read my review of the Old Bridge Inn on Trip Advisor.

Thursday, May 8.  Called yesterday and got a tee time on another great course, Old Moray in Lossiemouth on the North Sea a few miles for Elgin.  The drive is an hour and a half but the golf is well worth it.  The Old Course is an Old Tom Morris links design and we hit it on another sunny, windless day.  
Anne tees off at the 16th with Lossiemouth village in the background.

One of Tornado fighters training out of Lossiemouth RAF base…they landed right over our heads.
Glorious golf.  Visited before our round with the pro, John Murray, whom we had met first when we played Gleneagles Queens several years ago and since then just about every time we come to Moray GC.  
Gorse is one of the main hazards at Old Moray.
Golf was brilliant--I finally won a match and am only down 8-1 now.  

Friday, May 9, Today.  Rain or heavy showers is forecast for all day, so we’ve done a little touring and a lot of packing (or Anne has).  

While Anne packed I did a little local photography and then together we went to the Cairngorm Osprey Reserve where we could see a nesting pair of Osprey, other birds, and a Red Squirrel (endangered) feeding.  
Red Squirrel
Next was lunch at the Glenmore Cafe where we could watch more birds feeding as we were feeding--interesting place.  
Loch near the Osprey Reserve

This bird isn't feeding; he's waiting our a heavy shower under cover.
The rest of the afternoon has been spent packing and writing and listening to the Coo Coos in the forest beside our timeshare.  Tonight’s dinner will be grand at Anderson’s in Boat of Garten.

Saturday, May 10.  A long drive, about 5 1/2 hours, clear to the bottom of Scotland on the Kintyre Peninsula and Campeltown for golf on Sunday.    

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring 2014 #1: Welcome to Scotland

Ah Scotland!

The Golf Gods

Scotland, as the home of golf, is also the foundation of golf course architecture.  And Scottish architects are the Gods of Golf.  We’ve played courses designed by Willie Auchterlonie (he designed St Fillans GC where we are members), Willie Fernie, and Willie Park Jnr.  In Scotland’s early history there were lots of willies hanging about.  But the most famous of the course designers are Old Tom Morris and James Braid.
Two members putting at Forfar GC.
Old Tom Morris (1821-1908) grew up in St Andrews and was a caddy and apprenticed as a ball and club maker to Allan Robertson.  Eventually, Old Tom Morris served as golf professional at Prestwick (home to the first British Open tournament) and at St Andrews Old Course, noted as the Home of Golf.  He won the Open four times and was responsible for numerous golf course innovations including turf management, grooming of hazards such as bunkers, yardage markers, separate tee boxes for each hole, and standardizing 18-holes as the length of a full round.  As an architect Old Tom designed hundreds of courses in Scotland, England and Wales. 
Anne tees off at Alloa GC.
We’ve been lucky enough to play many Old Tom Morris designs including Alyth, Cruden Bay Lahinch, Machrihanish, St Andrews New, Pwllheli, King James VI, Tain, and Nairn.  
Teeing off at the Old Course in St Andrews.
On this trip we’ve already played Forfar GC and will later play Royal Dornoch and Moray Old--all Old Tom’s design work. Noted as the Father of Scottish Golf, Old Tom Morris was the main influence for perhaps Scotland’s most prolific architect, James Braid.
Anne waits for our starting time at the Gleneagles Queens course.

Braid (1870-1950) was from Ellie, Scotland, on the Kingdom of Fife’s northern coast.  Clubmaker and professional golfer, James Braid won the Open five times before retiring to become the professional at Walton Heath in England and prominent course designer.
Gleneagles Queens

Braid is credited with being the father of the dogleg hole and designer of more than 440 golf courses in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, and even a couple in America. 
Looking back at the 17th on the Queens course.

We’ve played more than fifty James Braid courses including Pennard, Boat of Garten, Downfield, Fortrose and Rosemarkie, Powfoot, and Berwick upon Tweed (Goshawk).  In our first week on this trip we’ve played three Braid courses (Forfar, Schawpark, and Gleneagles Queens) and have plans to play Crieff, Fortrose and Rosemarkie, Lochmaben, and Dumfries County.  
Anne chips over a set of Braid bunkers at Forfar.

One of the joys of golf for me is to try to learn the design elements of the famous course architects and one of my greatest golf challenges is to try to get out of a Braid deep steep-faced bunker.

B&B Cuisine at Merlindale

The breakfasts at our Home in Scotland B&B, Merlindale in Crieff, are huge and delicious: porridge or cereals, fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, fried bread, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, toast, homemade jams, coffee or tea--all or part every day.  That’s the breakfast for all the guests, but because we’re family (aunt and uncle to the kids) we also eat many dinners with the family.  We do our share of cooking and we get to experience some authentic Scottish meals prepared by John (mince and tatties, bone or vegetable soup, stovie potatoes).  But the real treats are the dinners, for family and friends, prepared by Jacky, a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef.
Ailsa Clifford waits for the dinner--the birthday Paella.

The meals this trip have been particularly fantastic because John and Jacky are on a special South African diet where good fats are emphasized and carbs are a no-no.  For my birthday dinner the day after we arrived Jacky made a seafood and chicken paella, one of her specialties.  Delicious is too common a word for this meal.  
Roast pork belly.

Carved roast pork belly over carrots and turnips.

But as special as that was, the next night’s dinner was off the charts.  Jacky made a roast pork belly with potatoes and a baked veggie dish.  The pork belly was tender and tasty and the crackling was fought over by everyone at the table.  
The veggies before roasting.
Even the roast vegetables--to be honest veggies are not my favorite--brought me back for seconds.  
Dinner is served.

I know that what we have at Merlindale, the family connection, makes our stay extraordinary, but good B&B eating experience abound in the UK.  We’ve had special breakfast buffet in Penzance, super soda bread in Dingle, fresh berry compote in Ayr, whisky porridge in Durness, and kippers in Peebles.  One of the reasons we keep traveling is that the next stop might just be the next great food adventure. 

A St Andrews' golfer exhibits all that's wrong in golf fashion.

The First Tee Prayer (found in a golf course toilet in Boulder City--I did get strange looks standing at a urinal writing).

Our Father who art in Augusta
   Nicklaus be thy name,
Our Kingdom come thy will be done
On greens as it is on fairways.
Give us this day our share of birdies
   and forgive us our gimmies
   as we forgive those who gimmie against us.
Lead us not into the deep rough
   and deliver us from sand traps
For we drive for power and
   putt for glory forever and ever.