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Published: August 17th 2011
Final Blog Update 18 August 2011
Wednesday -27 July Day Trip to the Orkney Islands
Today we set out early at 6.30am from our B&B in Tain to drive to the highest point north in mainland UK called John o Groats. Even though it was only about 100 miles, the road was narrow, steep and windy and the scenery was really beautiful in the bright, morning sunshine. The unusually sunny morning made the views even nicer. We followed the cliff tops of Scotland all the way north, looking out over the North Sea. We could see three oil rig platforms in the distance.
We arrived at John o Groats about 8.30am for a 9 am ferry departure. The little harbour was quite dissappointing to look at – not much at all and the only castle on the harbour had been painted to look like Luna Park. The ferry was quite small and had dents up the side from hitting the harbour walls during high seas. Luckily we had picked an idyllic day for a sea crossing to Orkney. We were later to learn that the locals had nicknamed the ferry the ‘Vomit Rocket’ because of the sea sickness caused by the notoriously rough seas. The trip took about an hour and we were amazed at how many islands make up the Orkney’s. The islands are covered with windswept grasses and there is not a tree in sight – too windy and exposed for them to grow. There are hundreds of little stone cottages all over the islands, some falling down, but many still lived in by locals.
One of the main reasons for visiting the islands was our interest in the archaeological digs at Skara Brae where they have excavated an underground village that dated back about 5000BC. This makes the early settlements on these islands older than the Egyptian Pyramids. A lot of research is currently being undertaken and we drove past one of the digs that had recently found a 3000 year old bronze figure. There are also large circles of standing stones just like Stonehenge in southern England - but the stone circles on the Orkneys are much older and very weather worn.
Our tour bus driver also gave us an excellent run down on the strategic importance of the Orkney Islands in World War 2 in providing shelter for the British Naval Fleet. Of course this was all shattered by a sneaky, surprise submarine attack by the Germans which saw a number of the ships sunk in the harbour. Sea walls and ships were sunk in the harbour to prevent other submarines from entering the harbour. These sea walls now allow the traffic to travel between the islands. Apparently when the sea is rough and the wind is blowing they close these sea walls because the cars get washed off. We also learnt that Captain Cook moored his ships in the Orkneys and his ship’s porcelain dinner service is on display in the local castle.
We then visited the tiny Italian Chapel which is now famous because of the amazing art work done by the Italian prisoners during WW2. The bus driver explained how the prisoners had used of sorts of things including old jam tins to make the hanging lights and ship wreck bits and pieces to make the wrought iron altar and choir area in the church. One prisoner had a picture in his wallet of Mary and baby Jesus which he copied to paint a stunning religious background picture for the Church altar. Another prisoner made a small red heart which he set into the concrete floor at the altar for the girl in the village who he had fallen in love with but could not marry because he had a wife and family back in Italy. He wrote a farewell letter saying he had left his heart on Orkney. Of course this all sounds a bit soppy but given this work all happened in an old tin army shelter that was given to the prisoners when they asked for somewhere to go to church, it is really an amazing work of art. It is now famous and Italians and others come to the island just to see what they created from junk as prisoners in WW2.
We had a yummy lunch down on the harbour which I thought stunk from the smell of the lobster pots and fish. Also saw a cute little outfit in a baby shop which we just had to buy for ‘the baby’. After a full day tour which covered the whole island, we headed down to Stromness Harbour late in the evening in stunning sunshine. The ferry sailed back to John o Groats o Groats harbour and we were accompanied by a huge variety of amazing sea birds including puffins and gannets swooping everywhere. Then there was great excitement as people began to spot the large, fat seals on both sides of the boat. They were really entertaining and we were back at the ferry harbour in next to no time. We were kind of sad that it was over but felt so happy that we had made the effort to see another amazing place.
The long drive back to Tain awaited us and we needed to find somewhere to eat. Unfortunately the hotel where we had planned to stop couldn’t provide us with a meal because a tour bus had just pulled in – no room for us! So we just kept driving and at 10.30 we found a pub in Brora, (about 20 miles from our B&B) that was happy to do late snacks. In the bar we met some golfers who had just finished playing (remember it doesn’t get dark here until about 10) and they were also looking for food. So we all ended up chatting and eating hot chips and sandwiches washed down with beers and wine. These golfers were on a mission to play the top 100 golf courses in the UK. Sounded like a great idea and goal for the future. We didn’t leave until almost midnight to head back to Tain –what a fun way to finish a fantastic day.
Thursday 28 July – Driving from Tain south to Cruden Bay.
After a slow start we farewelled the Morgangie B&B in Tain. We had one last look around this tiny old town and stopped in at the local museum where we spent some time learning about the history of the area. The guide also took us out into the adjoining church yard and showed us a local stone that had been carved about 2000 years ago by the Picts, the indigenous people of Scotland. To this day no one has figured out what the carvings actually mean and they remain part of the puzzle of time. So after this little detour we headed back across Cromarty Firth where we could see a few of the North Sea Oil rigs being decommissioned.
As we drove around Inverness and passed Nairn, we noticed a sign to Castle Stuart Golf Club, where the Scottish Open was recently played. Of course we just had to go in for a peak. The club house was beautifully sited overlooking the firth and we were made very welcome. So much so that we had a little shopping expedition and bought some really nice golf gear before heading to Cruden Bay along the A98/A90 scenic coastal route from Cullen to Banff, Macduff and then following the cliff tops on a single lane road to Rosehearty and into Fraserburgh. The scenery on this drive was absolutely stunning. Castle ruins, stone walls, beautifully prepared farming land, cattle and sheep, all with backdrop of the silvery blue sea made it a really great drive. Lots of photos to be uploaded.
Found the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel on the way into Cruden Bay. This turned out to be a fantastic hotel and they really went out of their way to look after us. A table had been reserved in a bay window, and a special meal with gluten free choices including a separately prepared dessert was all part of the service. A lovely evening walk on the ‘really hilly golf course’ checking out the first few wholes finished off the day.
Friday 29 August
Headed up the hill across the paddocks for a 20 minute walk to the local castle ruins on the cliff top. Took another heap of photos to add to the others and sat enjoying the lovely views before heading back to the pub to get our golf clubs in preparation for the big game at Cruden Bay Golf Club.
What a round of golf this turned out to be. We have both voted this course the toughest course we have ever played on. It has it all, amazing hilly links fairways, sneaky burns where you drown your ball because they cannot be seen, huge steep hills to climb up, cliff top tee boxes, hidden greens on about 60% of the holes, rough that is deep and eats golf balls, lightening fast greens where balls run up the slopes, off the green and down 20 foot drops off the side of the green, views to die for and a course marshall that went out of his way to help Aussie tourists. Stuart (course marshall), took me in the course cart, loaded my bag on the back of the cart and towed Graham’s up the steepest of the slopes as well as bringing me back down. He helped us find wayward shots and congratulated us when we hit good shots or great drives.
Graham’s best hole was the 3rd, a short par 4 where he drove the green – does not normally happen at Gungahlin Lakes – unfortunately the putter misbehaved resulting in a par - not an eagle – the gree was almost as long as the fairway. On the highest of the cliff top tees, Leanne managed to hit a cracker of a drive and followed it up with a great shot over the burn and onto the green. Of course she just missed the birdie putt but the par putt was never in doubt!!
The spirit on this course was one of making sure players were made welcome. He told us about the history behind some of the names of the holes which had been the scene of tribal battles a thousand years ago and we ended up having a day that we will remember forever for the hospitality, the incredible layout and difficulty of this course. Leanne shot a XXXX and Graham a XXXXX. After playing here Leanne decided the only way to extend the good memories was to find some nice golf gear in the pro shop. As a result we farewelled Cruden Bay, shopping bag in hand to go with some terrific memories and great photos to remind us of a great day of golf. We then drove on to Aberdeen.
Arrived at Chris and Gail’s and had a really fantastic weekend catching up on old times. They really set the scene for the weekend with a Veuve Bubbles welcome. What can we say except that they are 7 star hosts who really made us feel very special. On Saturday the weather was warm enough for us have drinks outside while Chris cooked a super BBQ of ribs. Chris shared a great recipe for prawns as well as creating a yummy champagne trifle. Shopping in the city held a special treat as it was the day they celebrate William Wallace Day (local hero who saved the Scots from the Poms about 500 years ago!). The Pipe Bands looked super in their kilts and the music was terrific. People were also dressed in the costumes of the olden days making it a lot of fun for the kids.
While shopping, Graham decided to have one last try at getting a game on the old Course at St Andrews for Monday and entered our names in the Ballot – when he checked the result later in the afternoon, guess what the draw said: Monday 4:20pm Graham and Leanne Guymer from Gungahlin Lakes GC. As you can imagine we were stoked so Saturday night turned into an even bigger night of celebration.
Sunday saw us finish a very special weekend with lunch at Chris, Gail and little Mackenzie’s favourite hotel, the Marcliffe at Pitfodels. Mackenzie (now 7) forgot to bring the little toy dog we bought her and that caused a few tears. After settling her down she showed us all how much she loved soup and big chocolate Sunday’s. Eventually all good things have to come to an end and after an amazing Sunday lunch we farewelled Chris, Gail and Mackenzie and we headed to our next B&B the little town of Auchterader in Perthshire and prepare for the big day at Old St Andrews. Mackenzie, a big Happy Birthday to you for the 18th August. Birthday hugs from us.
Monday 1st August
The big day!! After checking out the beautiful Glen Eagles Golf resort and gardens, we headed off to St Andrews (about an hours drive). The weather was of major concern as the sky was dark and the showers were frequent. The weather forecast was awful with predictions of heavy rain. We headed up to the starters area in a heavy shower and we were both prepared for a good soaking. We introduced ourselves to the starter who quickly took our money and asked us if we would allow another couple to join us. They were from the US and had not been able to get a place in the ballot. They had been waiting at the starter’s box since 5.30 am in the hope that someone would cancel or allow them to join another couple. So we felt good saying yes because we knew how sad we felt when we thought we had blown all our ballot chances.
They were great company and had a very experienced tour guide to caddy for them. Graham duffed his shot off the tee and mine was a bit of a flat shot as well. Luckily we improved dramatically after that and started to play some really good golf. My caddy was a lovely young Scottish guy and he was so helpful to the group. These courses have some tricky, hidden bunkers and having a caddy is one way to help avoid them. He was also great on the greens. I have decided I would have a much lower handicap if I had a caddy.
Our golf for the round was good and we had a fantastic time playing the Old course. It was tricky finding our way around the course and without the caddy we would not have been sure which pin we were heading to. Leanne and I had pars on the par 3 8th hole and Graham followed up with a birdie on the 9th. In the end Leanne had a net 73 and Graham had a net 71.
Tuesday 2nd August
While we were at St Andrews for the day our B&B host in Auchterarder organised a game on the Queens course at Gleneagles for Tuesday afternoon. We arrived early for the game so that we could have a walk through the resort hotel. As far as hotels go it was very “posh” and we had a coffee and gluten free cookies in preparation for the golf. It rained all morning and continued into the afternoon. We had the wet weather gear on for the start, but by the fourth hole the rain was lightening. It ended up a beautiful afternoon for golf. The Queens course is supposed to be the easier of the courses at Gleneagles but it was still very difficult. Before we arrived we had been told it was the most beautiful and that was true. The scoring was average but we still had a great game on a very good parkland course.
Wednesday 3rd August
Wednesday was a day for travelling to Gullane in the East Lothian area of Scotland that is located east of Edinburgh. On the way we visited Stirling Castle, a place we have been meaning to visit on two previous trips. The castle is really important in Scottish history because it was a really strategic place that saw many battles and sieges involving the English since about 1200. It has been well restored and really worth a visit.
We arrived at Kilmory B&B in Gullane and it happened to be the weekend of the Highland Games and fair. Within walking distance of the B&B there were three championship golf courses: Gullane 1, 2 and 3. Then there were another 14 courses within 5 miles of the town. Not bad for a little place that had a population of about 5,000.
During our stay we played Gullane No 1 Championship course, North Berwick and Muirfield. Each of these are links style courses with lots of deep pot bunkers and fantastic views over the Firth of Forth.
Thursday we spent the morning in North Berwick being tourists trying to find something to do in the pouring rain. We went to the Bird Watch facility on the harbour and while this sounds a bit boring, it was terrific. They have installed cameras on the islands directly off the coast and you can zoom in and watch the Gannets and Puffin Birds teaching their young to swim as well as focussing on the birds nesting on the sea cliffs.
In the later afternoon we teed off on Gullane No 1 championship course in steady rain and after the fourth hole we were feeling quite damp. The course played long and Leanne had a great round going until hitting a hidden pot bunker on the 17th. Even with a ten on this hole she managed a net 70. Graham found the greens a little challenging but drove the ball well. We finished late in the evening and headed to the pub in need of food to recharge the batteries after a tough day.
Friday morning saw us back on another course – the famous old North Berwick links which run along the ocean shoreline looking across to Bass Rock. The views were awesome and the sunny, breezy weather made it look even better. This course has the third oldest original fairways in golf and the layout was really challenging and very interesting. On the 13th hole the approach shot to the green is across a traditional old rock wall with the green hidden directly behind the rock wall. The starter explained to us that a hole like this could not be designed in a modern course because it would not pass the safety regulations. We hit great approach shots over the wall and onto the green - the balls rolled nicely towards the flag. We both finished the round well over our handicaps. It was a tough course playing into the wind but it is one course we would really like to play again.
Saturday – bunker practice, heavy afternoon rain, shopping and a rest day.
Sunday – spent the afternoon wandering around Edinburgh enjoying the city and the street theatre that was part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Monday – another day in Edinburgh – visited the old Royal Yatch Britannia. This turned out to be a lovely way to spend an afternoon before heading to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo at the Castle. The Britannia was much more interesting that we thought. We were a bit amused when we say the old Queen’s single bed in her suite and another miserable looking little bed in of Prince Phillip’s suite. No room for turning over if it was rough night at sea!! After a really interesting tour we enjoyed a yummy afternoon tea on the main deck where they really catered for the gluten free diners. The cakes were yummy and we made the most it!!
The Tattoo was a great experience. The crowds on the Royal Mile were enormous – wall to wall of people. Finally we all started to move – first was the cavalcade of disabled buses and taxis, then all of us on foot moved towards the entry area and into the big new seating structure set up at the Castle entrance. As expected, the pipe bands were splendid and the lighting effects on the Castle really turned it into a spectacular performance. You have to give it to the military – they know how to march, salute and do the drills. Missed our bus back to the carpark and ended up back at the B&B in North Berwick at well after midnight – it was a big day out and we knew we had to be up early for a 9.20 tee off the next day.
Our experience at Muirfield was awesome. Muirfield is run by the Honorable Company of Edinburgh golfers and started in the 1740’s. The Company created the original set of golf rules back in 1744 and Muirfield first hosted the British Open in 1892, so there is a lot of history about this place. We had little idea how exclusive it was until we arrived in Gullane. Our B&B owners who are members at Gullane Golf Club were impressed. Then when we were sharing breakfast with the Irish dad of one of the girls in the British Girls Junior Golf C’ship, he said we must have well connected friends to get a game at Muirfield. The truth was that we booked via the internet earlier this year and our request for a round of golf was accepted. Along with the email advising our request had been accepted, a Visitor Notes of Guidance, including dress code for the playing golf and going into the lounge and dining room of ‘the Gentleman’s Club’ was attached. Once our request was accepted the support from the booking office was really wonderful. As we departed after a great buffet lunch and one glass of excellent wine at a very reasonable price for the driver, we set off for Turnberry All Graham could think of was next time he would not be driving anywhere – it would be a taxi from the golf course to the B&B.
After 3 hours and navigating heavy traffic in Glasgow we arrived at the Fairways B&B, just a nine iron shot from the Ailsa Championship Course at Turnberry. We were surprised how remote Turnberry was. A few small villages, some great golf courses right on the ocean and the car ferry directly to Northern Ireland. Wednesday was a rest day – lucky for us as the weather was awful – heavy wind and rain - predicted to last for 3 days. We drove to Ayr – home of the Scottish poet Robert Burns – not too exciting for us but everything in the town was in his honour. We then drove to Crossrageull Abby which proved much more interesting. Although built in 1200’s there were heaps of towers to explore and climb.
Thursday saw us tee off at 3pm on the Ailsa Course with a really interesting couple from Switzerland. It was a really beautiful course that had the lot: terrific fairways, a bit of tough rough on the sides, stunning uphill par 3’s with heaps of deep bunkers protecting the greens, amazing holes on the cliff tops and a charming old light house to give the place great character. The wind blew and we had to deal with rain on the last 3 holes. It was a great course and we voted it the Number 1 course of the trip. We would love another round on this awesome course which hosted the 2009 British Open.
We awoke on Friday to sunshine and a later prediction of rain and strong wind. All day we kept an eye on the weather because we had another 3pm tee off, this time on Turnberry’s Kintyre course. As it turned out we arrived at the tee in sunshine and were paired up with two young boys from Ireland. These 15 & 17 year olds (off 10 and 14 handicaps) quickly told us their home club was Holyrood (Rory’s club). The boys were fabulous to play with. They were so keen to learn about Australia. They also kept us entertained with a mixture of awesome drives and a few wild ones. We played a similar round – it was difficult focusing on the golf shots when the weather turned really windy just as we hit the cliff top holes. We were taking 3 clubs extra and not making enough progress. My buggy was picked up by the wind and upended into a pot bunker – sand everywhere in the clubs!!
Kintyre course appeared flatter and easier on the first few holes but like any good course it kept the best holes hidden. We were amazed at the scenery and the par 4 that dropped over to a green half way down the cliff on the ocean front. A hole we will never forget both for its scenery and Leanne’s par which should have been a birdie but she missed the short putt!!!! We would say that anyone visiting Turnberry has to play both these courses to really appreciate how good Turnberry golf really is. They also make it a lot sweeter by offering twilight rates that are heavily discounted at 3pm.
Saturday 13th August. Happy birthday to Mum - also time for us to drive back to London. We took the scenic route following the remote southwest coast of Scotland. It was steep, windy and the rivers were in flood (banks broken) following heavy overnight rain. It took three hours to make it back to the border at Gretna Green. Once we reached the motorway we made excellent time arriving at Stephen and Karen’s place in time for an early dinner.
Sunday – Stephen and Karen showed us that you really can have a backyard BBQ in London. Paul, Charlene, Kayla and little Yasmin joined in and we had a lovely time catching up. We couldn’t help but notice how much sunnier and warmer it was in London compared to our 6 weeks in Scotland.
Monday 15th August. Caught a train into Vauxhall station and met up with Carla and Brent for breakfast. They had just returned from Belgium and Amsterdam and were heading off to Wales for a week of mountain biking. It was really good catching up and sharing travel stories. After saying our goodbyes we walked along the Thames into Westminister enjoying the views along the way.
Spent the afternoon packing our gear for our 10pm flight to Bangkok. We had a lovely weekend with Stephen and Karen and we had the opportunity to celebrate Stephen and Leanne’s August birthday’s. We packed up the tiny blue car which we nicknamed “The Tardis” (cause it was amazing how much gear was stuffed into that little car) and headed to the hire car place to return it after travelling 7,000 kilometres around Britain.
Arriving at the Qantas counter saw us hit a small snag – according to the scales we were 6kgs over weight and they wanted to hit us up 200 pounds excess luggage charge. Now that is a lot of Aussie dollars so we did some nice talking, explained that was not possible as we had weighed them when we packed and we were sure they weren’t that heavy - (Message to Stephen and Karen: we are sure your scales are right and Qantas need to recheck their scales!!!). To cut a long story short, he was really helpful and gave us a ‘Clints Bag’ (oh the embarrassment) and told us to pack 5kgs of heavy stuff into that and we could take it on as hand luggage and he would waive the charge. Luckily we were underweight in our carry -on luggage and that helped. Arrived in Bangkok on time after a great flight. Have planned our final round of golf at the Bangkok Alpine Golf Club for tomorrow (Thursday).
Well that’s all for now. Enjoy the travel blog – no photos this time cause they are mostly photos of golf courses - we will catch up with everyone when we arrive home on Saturday.
Cheers Leanne and Graham
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