Friday, May 20, 2016

Scotland Spring 2016, #2

I’ve finally put down my camera and my golf clubs long enough to put together a post for the travel blog, telling you and showing you a little about our trip.  Before we headed north up the A9 from our home base in Crieff, Merlindale B&B, we did have a chance to grab another of the World’s Best (so say the ads) Bacon Roll at the Horn Restaurant between Perth and Dundee.  I don’t dispute the claim since I’ve certainly had no better or bigger bacon roll (a staple of Scotland’s golfing community).  

Thus adequately fortified we trundled north.
After a night in Dornoch serenaded by the massed pipe bands [see the last blog post], 

The Pipe Major of one of the bands.
Anne and I started the day’s drive to Durness in the far northwest corner of the mainland by driving west along Loch Fleet where while stopping for a  brief look at the ruins of Skelbo Castle,

Skelbo Castle
we spotted a sea lion basking in an unusual position.  

From Loch Fleet the road to Durness goes through Lairg, the village with a world class loo [details in one of my posts of an earlier trip].  We didn’t need to stop at this loo, been there/done that, 

but we did stop to grab some shots of three wild goats just lounging by the side of the road.  
From Lairg it’s 38 miles of single track road to Laxford Bridge.  Driving on single track roads is an acquired taste.  
Typical Highland single-track road.

The narrow road has passing places every quarter mile or so and is not too difficult to drive once you get the hang of stopping or passing appropriately.  

Along Loch Shin
The passing places, though, gives you some great places to pull off for photos even though you’re really not supposed to.  The countryside in this section of Scotland, referred to mostly simply as the Highlands, is very stark yet beautiful.  

Views along River Laxford
Hills of heather and rock are dotted with lochs and lochans (small lochs) and burns or rivers.  There are very few trees left and the land is home to a few crofts (small farms) and sheep—in the spring there are lambs all over.  

At Laxford Bridge we turned north for nineteen miles of mostly single track road to get to Durness.  At this point we were ready for lunch and a real break from the driving.  The trouble is there are no villages between Lairg and Durness large enough for even a pub.  We turned off the main road for a six mile trek to Kinlochbervie, 

once a thriving seaport village.  We discovered that Kinlochbervie is fairly quiet now, but in the hamlet/burg/spot-in-the-road called Inshegra an old school had been converted into a tea room called (duh!) Old School.  We split a delicious fresh crab sandwich and recharged our batteries with lovely lattes.  

Loch na Thull
Back on the single track to Durness the landscape got even more dramatic with loch and lochans coming right up to the road and backing up to massive (for Scotland) mountains.  

This was the slowest part of the trip because of all the photos stops.
When we arrived in Durness the first thing we did was drive the couple of miles west of town to Durness GC, one of our favorites and a truly spectacular, isolated nine hole track.  Much more about the course will come in a post devoted to the golf of the trip.  

Balnaseil Beach with Seaweed Eating Cows
When we pulled into the course’s parking area we saw a herd of black cows meandering the pristine Balnakeil Beach.  We later found out that the cows come down to the beach to eat a certain type of seaweed when there are especially low tides.  After golf and before we checked in at Glengolly B&B, we stopped at a beach parking area to watch a fantastic sky show as heavy winds created beautiful patterns in the clouds.  

It’s times like these that I am so thankful for digital cameras—I couldn’t have packed enough film to capture what nature provided.
That evening we ate at the Oasis Pub at Sango Sands a little east of the village.  

Then we drove back to Balnakeil Beach for a second sky show.  This one featured a rainbow and beach reflections.  

       It was a glorious day!  It ended with torrential rains pushed by 40-50 mph winds hitting the town just as we tucked in to bed at the B&B.  I was already looking forward to the morning’s porridge—a special of Martin Mackay’s—Scottish oats porridge topped with burnt sugar and single malt whisky.  

Oyster Catcher in flight
NOTE: I’m going to be entering shows with some of the photos from this trip and selling them at Highland Games and would like some feedback on which ones are your favorites.  Pick two or three and let me know which ones you’d chose.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Scotland, Spring 2016 #1


I Am Blessed with the world’s most understanding wife.
Anne at Monifieth GC between snow showers.

One who accepts my foibles, 
will put on a down jacket to play golf with me in the freezing cold,
who is willing to try any hair-brained activity I think up.
I Am Blessed with a great family when I didn’t get a choice.
I Am Blessed with more friends who recognized my birthday than years I am old.
I Am blessed with the ability to look back on a career where
I got to touch positively dozens of lives.
I Am Blessed with the opportunity to travel to an adopted land,
It's spring in Sma'Glen about 10 minutes from our home base in Crieff.

visit my adopted family,
Anne and our adopted sister Jacky at the Lounge for dinner.

      just because I want to.
I Am Blessed with the chance to engage in a second career
where I can play a game,
write about it, 
and get to play more…for free.
Monifieth GC on Scotland's east coast.

I Am Blessed to have known some loving pets—
George, Myko, Waveet, Attica, and others.
And I Am Truly Blessed to have both the mental and physical faculties
       to still enjoy where life takes me. 

And Speaking of Blessed…

When in Dornoch in Scotland’s far north, Anne and I heard about a special local lad.  Michael, an energetic seven year old, was on his way home from chanter practice (beginning bagpipes) when he ran across a major road without looking.  He was struck and suffered severe head injuries.  At first it wasn’t known if he’d survive.  When his life wasn’t any longer in danger, it was questionable whether he’d ever walk or speak. Today, he is relearning speech and is starting to walk again.  The whole Dornoch community has been super supportive of Michael and his family—Michael’s mother works in the local school cafeteria.  
Michael flanked by his father and mother and backed by nine massed pipe bands.
        On the one evening we were in Dornoch on this trip our B&B host told us about Michael and about a pipe band march to be held as a fund-raiser for the family.   When we went out to watch the pipe band march we were surprise to see the town of 1200 filled with 3,000 to 4,000 people lining the main street.  
Dornoch waits for the bands.

Nine pipe bands from all over Caithness and Sutherland (the two Scottish northwest shires) were massing at one end of the street.  The combined bands marched down the street then turn back on themselves and marched back up to the top.  
And here they come. Talk about loud!

The pipe major takes his job seriously, seriously.

They did this for several sets of marches while volunteers walked through the crowds collecting donations.
It was inspiring to watch the broad community come together in support of a local lad.  And for us, it was absolutely thrilling to listen to and watch the combined bands.

The Weather

We picked up our rental Toyota Auris Hybrid at Arnold Clark’s near the Edinburgh airport and started to drive to Crieff where we spend most of our time when in Scotland.  We hadn’t driven but a few miles when it started snowing…on April 25th.  This was the start of our spring trip.  
Sma'Glen and the River Almond.

The next day on the golf course at St Fillans we were putting on the third green when it started sleeting.  The showers didn’t last long, but I had had on only a short sleeve shirt and vest.  
The Highlands

On the third day of our trip we were scheduled to play Monifieth GC on Scotland’s east coast near Carnoustie.  It was a day of take off your jacket when the sun was out because it was warm, put on your jacket when a cloud covered the sun, button up your jacket when it started snowing or sleeting, take off your jacket when the shower passed and the sun came out again.  
The Highlands, the next day.

Finally, as we were half way up the 18th hole it started snowing hard enough to pile up on the green.  We picked up our white balls and walked in.  
Glen Quaich

In Durness in the far northwest corner of Scotland we didn’t have any snow, but we did get drenching showers that came at us sideways from forty mile an hour winds.  And with temperatures about 4C (38F), the wind chill was well below freezing.  On the Orkney islands we had the same cold rain and wind. And then it changed.  
A small Highland village, Amulree.

We are now in the Highlands at our Aviemore time share and we’ve gone in two days from the low 40s to the mid 70s (which feels like 80s).  But who said anything about climate change! 

A Special Whisky Tasting

On our way from Crieff to the north we planned to take a special whisky distillery tour, part of the Speyside Whisky Festival.  We booked a tour of Speyside Distillery near Kingussie.  
Speyside Distillery

The distillery isn’t usually open for tours, but was opening as part of the festival.  Last year we had been introduced to the distillery’s product on a special whisky tasting tourist train, so were anxious to tour the distillery.  

A Copper Pot Still

Pot Still Details
The tour wasn’t as formal as most organized tours.  Instead, we got to wander the working distillery and take photos which is usually not allowed. At the end of the tour we got to taste five different Speyside Distillery products.  These are very special whiskies, absolutely not available in the US with only limited availability in the UK.  Most of the distillery’s production is sold in the Orient where it is very popular.  The rest is sold in Europe.  
The whisky served by the Royal Family.

Some of the most special of the whiskies are reserved for the Royal family who serve them at State functions and in their residences, such as Balmoral Castle and Holyrood Palace.  As I said, this was a special tasting.

Note: I've notice my hiccup pattern has recently changed, from three in a row to four.  Is the extra hiccup a perk of turning 71?