Sunday, November 23, 2014


Fall is the time for mushrooms.
      In the next few blog posts I’ll be presenting a few of the stories that will be in my next book of travel stories which I hope to publish in the spring. Sales of Ten Years of Travel in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales have been encouraging.  The next book’s working title is More Travel Stories, but somehow I don’t think that’s quite catchy enough.  I did consider seriously the title Fourteen Years of Travel in Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Road Trips in America and Canada, and Other Travels--I thought hard for us all then pushed the title into the bin (with apologies to W.S. and those among us who get the not so subtle allusion)--in other words, I threw that idea away. If you have a title suggestion for the new book please let me know.

Buchanty Fall 

Buchanty Spout is a waterfall (more a strong cascade) on the River Almond near the little hamlet of Buchanty in central Perthshire, Scotland.  The falls is a favorite spot for photographers, picnickers, water watchers, and fisher folk who watch the salmon leap the falls in the autumn run.  I’ve been down the short 200-yard hike to the falls several times for photos, but have yet to see the “spouts”--deep circular holes in the rocks are said to cause spouting when the water runs high.  

Buchanty Spout
The spring of 2011 was particularly rainy and all the rivers were running quite high.  I decided this would be a good time to see Buchanty Spout in spate and hopefully get spectacular photos.  Anne let me go alone since she knew I really did know the way to Buchanty and the falls--she kens (Scottish for "knows") I have basically no sense of direction and can get lost in a grocery store, so is very cautious about letting me out without a navigator.  She did admonish me with the caveat, “Be careful and don’t fall in.”  And she was correct to give me the reminder since falling into the river along the falls would indeed be life threatening.

The drive to the parking area at Buchanty was a non-event.  On the short hike down to the falls I did take note of the slippery conditions on the trail.  I was slightly disappointed that there was no spouting at the falls, the water was high but not high enough.  I was extremely cautious on the rocks as I took some good photos of the powerful cascade.  I was not cautious enough to notice the moss around the spout hole as I backed away from the rock edge.  The next thing I knew my right foot had slipped on the moss and I tumbled down with my leg mid-thigh in the hole.  Instinctively I saved my camera and lens from damage, but not my leg.  It took a couple of minutes to recover my senses and extricate my leg from the spout hole.  I count myself as very lucky to have been able to limp back to the car with only a bruised shin bone and a major scrape, rather than a broken leg.  
Sma'Glen, the Highland country near Buchanty Spout.

There was no way I could hide either my embarrassment or my bloody pant leg when I got home to the B&B.  Anne was a great sport; she didn’t say, “I warned you.” The photos I took that day, by the way, weren’t that good.

Sneaking onto the Golf Courses

People will do anything to save a buck, bob, quid, or pound.  That includes sneaking onto golf courses without paying.  We’ve had a couple of encounters with these sneaky duffers.  In 2004 we played the second course at Montrose on Scotland’s east coast.  It’s a relatively easy track being a relief course for the Championship Montrose GC and not very expensive.  It was quite a surprise when several holes away from the clubhouse three people walked off the road with their clubs, threw down balls, and started playing in front of us.  We’d never seen that before.  Several holes later the threesome found an easy egress and left.  
Moray Old GC and Lossiemouth Lighthouse.

A year later at Moray Old GC in Lossiemoth on the Morayshire coast of Scotland we had a similar situation.  On the third hole we saw a man park his car by the side of the road next to the course and walk onto the course and start playing behind us.  He seemed to be in a hurry and was pushing us until on the seventh hole he disappeared.  He could have left and walked back to his car, got kicked off the course, or just hop over to some other hole, but we didn’t see him again.  
There are other, more sophisticated ways of sneaking onto a golf course.  A Scottish friend of ours said he could get us on a major golf course for £25 each when the normal price is £150.  We said sure, set it up.  
Crieff Ferntower GC (not the course we sneaked on to).
When the appointed day came we went over to the course and our friend paid the starter £100 “under the table” for the four of us.  We were put into the queue as the Thompson foursome and the starter said when they check us at the turn we had to be the Thompsons.  None of us played well, we were all nervous about being caught as phony Thompsons.  At the turn we did everything we could to avoid the attention of the marshalls (After all, don’t outlaws usually avoid marshalls?). 
Gleneagles Queens course (not the course we sneaked on to).

I don’t know how the people at Montrose or the guy at at Moray could do it.  Our one experience with sneaking onto a course was enough to cure me.

     This next story is in honor of the season and has been published in various newspapers and magazines over the years.  It was first published on November 19, 1978.  Accompanying the story are some seasonal photos.

Thanksgiving Trip, 1964

“Closed.”  “Sorry.” The signs reflected off the glistening streets.  Neon colors splashed from the wet sidewalks.  Arcadia, California, was a lonely place for a stranger on Thanksgiving Day. 

All day I’d been involved with a speech tournament at Humbolt State University.  Amidst camaraderie and competition I hadn’t given much thought to being away from home on Thanksgiving.  But the coming darkness draped around my shoulders the shroud of the loneliness of a Linfield College freshman away from home.  
Canadian Geese at Baskett Slough Nation Wildlife Refuge.

When you’re eighteen and a freshman in college everything new is an adventure.  A tournament at Thanksgiving only meant a chance to see a new place and meet new people.  Reality, though, has a way of catching up, even with a freshman.
Geese and Mt Hood.

So, here I was wandering the dim streets, alone in a strange town seeking the only inexpensive restaurant within walking distance of my motel.  The garish florescent lighting of the cafeteria blinded me as I sought to adjust from the night.  Servers filled trays with the contempt of those forced to work when they too wanted to be home with their families. 
“THANKSGIVING SPECIAL -- A Complete Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner (with all the trimmings) -- $1.98, drink extra,” read the sign taped to the glass window overlooking trays of limp lettuce.  At the end of the line my tray had on it two thin slices of pressed turkey (mostly dark meat), a scoop of dressing, a scoop of whipped potatoes almost as runny as the speckled gravy on it, a small paper cup of cranberry sauce.  I paid extra for a glass of milk and a cup of coffee.
Two of Canby's wild turkeys in the neighbor's yard.

My hunger overcame my growing depression.  I found myself enjoying the food in spite of the surroundings.  As the plate to mouth motions became automatic my mind strayed out the rain streaked windows.  My thoughts wandered into the darkness and all the way home.  The family would be gathered at either an aunt’s house or our place.  Dinner of plump hot turkey, which I might have gotten to carve, fluffy dressing bulging with sausage and mushrooms, both mashed potatoes and yams with brown sugar, and all the extras that make traditions live would have been cleared away hours ago.  Uncle Lee and Dad would be lightheartedly arguing about who would deal the card game.  Aunt Loretta, Mom, my sister, and the cousins would be cutting the pies, whipping the cream, and sneaking bits of meat off Henrietta Hen’s carcass.  Someone might have pulled out a Christmas album which propriety dictates can’t be played until after Thanksgiving--or at least until the dinner itself was over. 
A car honking outside the cafeteria interrupted my communion.  I finished my coffee and left so hurriedly that I left a tip even though there hadn’t been a waitress.  Back on the damp street I tried to recapture visions of family and warmth.  The moment was gone.  I’d had my Thanksgiving, but would have to wait a few days to share it with those who mattered. 
Our house in Canby decorated in fall colors.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hints for Finding B&Bs

Eilean Donan Castle

In our fourteen years of traveling to Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales we've stayed in hundreds of bed and breakfasts and guest houses.  We do stay in hotels occasionally.  We always stay at the Edinburgh Airport Hilton on our last day of a Scotland trip because it’s so convenient to town (via bus 100) and to the airport for our 6:00 AM flight home. We also stay at the Anchor Hotel in Tarbert, but it’s friendly enough to be a B&B.  We now have our favorite go-to B&Bs in several areas.  The questions I want to answer in this post are: How do I find new B&Bs, and what do I look for in selecting a B&B?
B&B in Carnarfon, Wales

Duirinish Guest House, Portree, Isle of Skye

First, though, I need to let you know the difference between a B&B and a Guest House.  Fairly consistently throughout the UK and Ireland a Guest House is simply a larger B&B.  B&Bs generally have few than six rooms and Guest Houses from six to ten rooms.  That distinction isn’t written in stone (or law, that I know of)--we’ve stayed in Guest Houses with only two rooms and B&Bs with as many as seven.  One website from the St Andrews Tourist Board suggests that a Guest House has at least four bedrooms and is more of a commercial operation than a B&B which is more family run. A Lonely Planet Guide Book site solicited opinion about the difference and got responses from “no difference” to “calling your place a Guest House allows you to charge more.”  From our prospective and the perspective of this post, they’re just different names for the same animal.
Now, how do I find a new B&B or guest House?  A first place to look for accommodations is to use a guide book for the area.  In my golf guide books on Scotland, Ireland, and Wales I list B&Bs where we’ve stayed in the various areas with brief descriptions of the accommodations and contact information (Golf in Scotland: The Hidden Gems, Golf in Scotland II: Scotland and Wales, and Ireland’s Small Greens which is to be updated this winter--all available from us or Amazon).  Guides that I’ve used are the Rick Steve’s series and the Lonely Planet series.  Others may be good, but I can recommend those two from experience.  
Greyhound Inn was a great hotel stay; there were no B&Bs in the village.
Beyond the guide books, the best source is the internet.  Search for accommodation or B&Bs in the specific area you are traveling to.  An internet search will yield a variety of results, from commercial sites (,, to general tourist information sites (,,  The commercial sites usually charge the B&Bs a fee for each booking and the regional tourist sites charge the B&B a yearly fee to be on their site.  I will use the regional tourism sites especially in areas where I travel to only a little (England and Wales), but for most of my internet search I use  
If B&Bs have dinners available it can be a great time.  Dinner with family and guests at Merlindale.
As a senior contributor to Trip Advisor I understand how to get the most use out of the site.  On Trip Advisor you get a list of most of the accommodations in an area, descriptions of the B&Bs, links to websites, comparative ranks and ratings, and reviews by people who have stayed.  First, don’t pay too much attention to the ranks of the B&Bs.  There’s probably little difference between being number one in an area and being six or seven and there are ways to manipulate ranks, for instance, buying advertising garners higher ranks.  
At Greenan B&B in Alloway we had a luxury suite.  Look for things that can make your stay special.
Second, ratings (one to five stars) are not always fairly given.  Ratings are subjective to the reviewer.  The best way to use Trip Advisor is to read a number of reviews for each establishment you are interested in--read carefully.  
This brings me to my second question: What do I look for when selecting a B&B?
I look for several things starting with the “general personality” of the B&B.   Look at photos of the house, and try to look for photos of the area.  For example, in Perth in central Scotland there is a row of B&Bs where each individual building would look very nice.  But if you go to Google Earth and look at the building within its surroundings you’d find the buildings don’t look so inviting when you see B&Bs in a row and across the street is a commercial mall with fast food joints.  
Ferintosh Guest House in Dumfries.

Robertson and Emma at Ferintosh GH are super friendly hosts.
Look for comments about the friendliness and helpfulness of the B&B hosts--stories in the reviews can be very telling.  B&B websites that give specific details--such as menus, things to do in the area, other traveler links to check out--can be helpful in giving a feel for the B&B.  Pay attention to website information or reviews that describe the amenities and descriptions of the rooms.  All these will create a picture for you or give a personality to the B&B. 
Next, use location as one of your criteria for selecting a B&B.  Do you want to be in town or within easy walking distance of town?  Parking may be more of a problem and the location may be noisier.  Or do you want to be out of town where it is apt to be quieter?  
The Log House in Ambleside (Lake District, England) is a well respected restaurant that rents room.  Breakfast was wonderful and we didn't have far to walk to dinner.

Be careful, though, a “ten minute walk to town” for a Scot may take you twenty or more.  At Strathy Point B&B in northern Scotland you are really isolated--twenty to thirty minutes to drive to the nearest food--though the B&B hosts will provide dinners upon arrangement.  But isolation is also the beauty of the location.  
Special features will make a difference in the quality of your stay in a B&B so look carefully for things like good parking--though we continue to go back to a B&B in Aberystwyth that has only on-street parking because of its perfect location just above town.  The view is another special to look for.  
Lilybank B&B, Lamlash, Isle of Arran

Our bedroom at Lilybank looked out to the bay and the Holy Isle.
Lilybank’s (Lamlash, Isle of Arran) bedrooms look out to the bay and the Holy Isle and The Wing in North Berwick has a lounge with a wonderful view of Bass Rock.  Also pay attention to those B&Bs which cater to you special needs, for example main floor rooms for those with mobility problems.  
The main entry at The Warren in Machrihanishg.
The Warren in Machrihanish has a special drying room for golfer’s who end up with wet gear and Grammar Lodge in Campbeltown is nicely set up for cyclists and golfers. 
Good off-street parking can be an overlooked plus.  Merlindale B&B in Crieff.

Check out menus provided in websites for the B&Bs--they can tell you plenty about the quality of your stay.  
Breakfast in the lovely Merlindale dining room is a chance to visit with other guests.

The Blueseas Hotel (only seven rooms) in Penzance is a place to stay just for the breakfast (the best we’ve had), though everything else is good as well.  
This is half the sideboard breakfast area at the Blueseas in Penzance, Cornwall.
In the final analysis, though, it will be the people, your hosts who make a B&B great.  Read reviews for comments about the hosts, their friendliness and helpfulness.  Milestone House in Dingle, Ireland, would be an interesting stay anytime, but Barbara and Michael make it a great stay.  Barbara has organized dinners and concert tickets for us and Michael sends us to the local golf course with a fresh loaf of his famous soda bread.  At Dunromin B&B in Kilkenny, Ireland, Tom and Val organize morning Irish sing-alongs for the guests.  
When you’ve done your research, taken your trip, and found the perfect B&B or Guest House, spread the word.  In Scotland we have one of those perfect places.  
Built in the 1860s, Merlindale B&B in Crieff is a lovely remodeled Victorian home.

Our bedroom at Merlindale.
Merlindale B&B in Crieff (central Scotland) has it all.  The rooms are huge and lovely.  The breakfasts are huge and delicious.  And the host, John and Jacky Clifford, are wonderful, gracious, and helpful.  We recommend Merlindale to everyone we know.  Another perfect stay is at The Boathouse in Laughne, Wales, where Anne is a marvelous host/cook who runs one of the loveliest B&Bs we’ve ever stayed in.  

We have stayed in hundreds of B&B in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales and only seldom have we been disappointed with our choices.  Every once in a while we find a place that we wouldn’t go back to, but by doing our research diligently more often than not we book into great stays.  Hope you have the same good fortune.  
The Scottish Highlands