Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Brora Golf Club

Brora is only eighteen miles north of Dornoch but playing golf there is like stepping back in time. Brora is a fun wee course with free-roaming sheep and cattle all about assisting the green keepers. Electric fences are used to keep them off the greens. The rough is light, the holes fairly short which would allows most to score at their handicap. The par 3’s are excellent with each playing in a different direction. You will probably have quite a good score going through the first 14 holes, but the last four will test your game. The 17th and 18th are particularly challenging. The 17th may be one of the finest par 4’s in Scotland. It plays 460 yards from an elevated tee directly toward the lighthouse on Tarbet Ness and directly into the prevailing wind. The fairway is rippled and there are a couple of huge mounds of rough in the center, making players choose a route. It takes two good swats to get near the green that is protected by gathering pot bunkers. A truly great and challenging hole. The finisher is a 200 yard par 3 that plays uphill and into the wind. The front of the green is protected by a deep swale which repels the poorly struck shot. It was quite gratifying for me to make my par in front of the gaze of the members from their seats in the clubhouse. As Pacific Grove is to Pebble Beach, so Brora is to Royal Dornoch, fun and a worthy inclusion in any golf trip.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I've been wondering if at my ripe old age something would start to change after living here long enough. I knew better than to expect to gain a Scottish accent, I've known enough people that have lived here for longer than we plan to and have not picked anything up. Despite that, the internal conversations in my head have a strong Scottish flavor. I do find myself phrasing questions in a slightly different manner, and there is an odd lilt I hear coming out on occasion. We have both picked up the some local phrases, Stan moreso than I. He's very good at cheers, where I still say thank you. Just get on with it has become a favorite for both of us. And I find myself ending phone calls with bye now.

I never, ever, would have expected what happened the other night, though. I have mentioned the combo washer/dryer. I am still mystified when the thing runs water into itself at the beginning of the drying cycle. And then 20 minutes in spins so hard (harder than during the wash cycle) that it knocks dishes into the sink and I'm certain every unit in the building violently shakes for 30 seconds or so. And if things get too dry, and this is a big if, they look as though they were crushed. The horrifying incident I am referring to occurred when I took the sheets and pillowcases out of the dryer. The dreaded too dry. The pillowcases were crinkled worse than anything I've ever pulled out of a tightly packed suitcase. The sheets were an equal mess, only bigger. I sat downstairs staring at my bedding, knowing what was coming, but trying to reason my way out of it. Here it comes . . . .

I ironed my pillowcases. This? This is the bit of Scottishness I have absorbed? I very quickly put the sheets on the bed and covered them with the duvet before this could get completely out of control. I shudder to think what might be in store for me next time I wash the bedding.

Bye now.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Orkney Magic

Four days off. For the non-retired, that's quite a treat. We had decided to spend the Summer Solstice on Orkney, so with another rental car we were off again. Our first night was at a B&B somewhere between Mey and Gills Bay. A wonderful place run by a couple from Edinburgh who had chucked it all and were running an eco friendly B&B in the middle of nowhere, Creag na Mara. We were hoping they would offer us permanent jobs, but no luck. Dinner that night at the Castle Hotel in Mey was made memorable by the wee man behind the bar. Lucky Charms, anyone?

All our B&Bs, by the way, did have us fill out papers and did have keys. Order was restored to my world.

The ferry crossing was smooth, but it was ice cold and windy outside. I had to buy a hat as soon as we got to Kirkwall. Anyone who knows me knows I don't do hats readily, but it was wet and cold and rainy. Despite this, my radar unerringly zoomed in on Sheila Fleet's shop. Three times total. In two days.

I have long wanted to go to Orkney with Stan. It's hard to put my finger on, and though I quite doubt I could live there long term, there is just something about it that draws me back and I wanted to share that with him. Whatever it is that I so love about Scotland, multiply that several times and you have the people and landscape in Orkney. We did the stone sites, which we had all to ourselves, the Pagans having done their thing long before at sunrise and the buses not having arrived yet. Without going all woohooey on you, there is something magical and mystical and utterly awesome about those stones. I guess to some they are just rocks, but not me. The rest of the island is just as amazing, iron age villages, the Italian Chapel, and the rolling hills melting into the shore. And, of course, the ever present sheep. And did I mention Sheila Fleet?

Back to Kirkwall to find bright sunshine and plenty of daylight left to sit outside with a pint and worry about getting sunburn at 7:00 in the evening. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


We went to the west coast on our car journey. I put on my shorts and trainers in hopes of seeing the sun. At the very least I would be comfy while driving. The drive was great and there were patches of sun interspersed with patches of cloud and patches of rain. As they say the weather was a bit unsettled. We stopped for a forgettable lunch in Gairloch and then went ot Inverewe Gardens.

Inverewe Gardens is a remarkable place. It is the grounds of an old estate, Mackenzie family I believe. There are plants and trees from everywhere. There are winding paths through the estate that must cover 25 acres. The azaleas were in bloom, as were the rhododendrons. There is a walled garden with roses and thousands of other plants. There was a pond with blooming water lilies. The forest walk had trees found in North America. It had eucalyptus from Australia. There are even palm trees. They say this is where the Atlantic current ends so it has a moderate climate that is conducive to growing a wide variety of species. Really quite brillant!

We paid our fee and set off to tour this beautiful place. As we got just outside I noticed one of the gardeners with a helmet and some kind of net across his face. I figured he must be spraying something. We got out to the garden proper and I was besieged by midges (pronounced Midgeeeees). Midges are like a cross between a mosquito and a pit bull. They are small and don't warn of their attack like mosquitos. They land on your skin and send in armies of things like chiggars to chew up your skin. They are like poison oak with wings. They attacked every area of bare skin they could find. They set on me like, like, like ... Darin on a burrito, or Lacey on a plate of ribs, or Julie on a cheesecake, or Bobby on dinner. They are voracious and did not stop chewing on me until I was screaming surrender and sprinting back to the car. They trailed me. I think they were organizing a mission to pick me up and carry me back to midgeeee headquarters. But I made it to my car. As sson as the door closed they formed up on the wind screen to send me a message. They landed en mass on the wind shield and spelled out...
"You Are In Scotland,
Wear Proper Clothes, You Twit."

My legs maybe scarred for life and the itch is fierce. Oddly enough, they did not like Julie quite so well and she was unscathed. I must be a delicate flower. Next visit to the west, no shorts for me and I will find a full body bubble or I will just stay in the car.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Good Hippie B&B

We drove to the west this weekend past. We had no specific purpose other than to see what we could see. Julie has been over there a couple of times, but it was my first trip. The scenery is spectacular! You get bits and bobs of everything scenic - Sea cliffs, white sandy beaches, stunning vistas of islands, fog shrouded munros, tree filled river valleys, and desolate moors.

Sightseeing in Scotland with Julie is a different kind of trip. It involves stopping for second breakfast, elevensies, first lunch, second lunch, tea. You get the picture. I am not complaining. After many miles of single track roads with passing places, any time to get out of the car is welcome.

As it neared supper time we cruised into Ullapool. Ullapool is a small fishing village that is port for one of the large car ferries that takes folks out to the Hebrides. Being a jumping off point or a land fall point, the main street, all of a half a mile, is lined with B&B's. We parked the Festiva and strolled for a place to stay. We passed a few establishments all looking much the same. White plastered facades fronting the sidewalk with rooms upstairs directly above the street. But, there was one that stood out to Julie. A wood-sided house set back from the street with trees and a rustic looking garden and a vacancy sign. I could sleep anywhere, so I left Julie in charge of finding accommadations that would suit a princess. We rang the bell and after a pause a gray haired, 60'ish woman, who would not have been out of place at the Davis Farmers Market or a Grateful Dead show, answered the door.

The conversation went something like this..
"Do you have any rooms available?"
"We have one."
"Can we see it?"
"You can", opening the door to a nice room with a rustic, wood-canopied bed and two rocking chairs directly in front of the window overlooking the garden and the harbor.
"How much?"
"Sixty pounds."
"Does it include breakfast?"
"It is B&B, not just B. Just B wouldn't do, would it? And it is good breakfast."
"We'll take it."
"Gooood" in a Scottish brogue.
Extended pause.
"Do you want us to sign anything, registration or whatever?"
"OK, is there a key?"
"No, no keys, no locks."
"Should we pay?"
"You can or you can pay tomorrow."
"If you really want to sign something you can sign this," handing over the breakfast menu, which had no place for a signature.

So I settled into the rocker and made cups of tea. This house looked like something I lived in in Arcata in 1975. Rustic and comfy. The lounge was lived in with books with titles like Organic Gardening, Sustainable Planet, and Make Your Own Cloth strewn about. I settled into my book. I felt I should be reading the Collected Works of Emanuel Kant but, alas, it was only a golf book. Oh well, do hippies golf?

Give me crooked teeth and a true heart over the inverse any day of the week.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Night at Carnegie Hall

We have been without car now for seven weeks and for most things our lack of mobility has not been a problem. But, after a while the charms of our little village get a bit confining and we long for freedom. We long for the sights and sounds of the big city, shopping, restaurants and concerts. So we decided to rent a car for the weekend and do some exploring. Yee Haw!

While Julie finished her work week I caught a ride to Inverness. Enterprise Rental Car in the city centre was having a special. I picked up a black Ford Festiva, four door, about the size of VW Bug. Our magic carpet to an Aladdin's Cave of adventure. I headed north. I stopped to top off the tank with petrol. Stopping next to the pump, I looked high and low for the release to the fuel tank, on the dash, under the dash, on the floor. No luck. Consult the manual, no luck. Ask the guy behind me. He takes a look, no luck. Finally I push the little door and say open sesame, the door magically pops open. Score one for Mr. Mechanically Inclined. I top up the half empty tank. A half a tank for 32 pounds sterling. It cost $50 for half a tank of petrol! Maybe this freedom thing isn't such a good idea.

I return to Dornoch. I pack up a picnic lunch and take Julie to Loch Fleet for some lunch hour fresh air and do a bit of twitching (bird watching). There is a nice park bench overlooking the loch with a field of sheep behind adding the sound track. It was a day of some kind of treatment for the flock as the shepherds were spraying something on some of the animals. This caused the entire flock to sing a chorus of complaint in 200 part disharmony. The twitching was great. Oysterchers, a variety ducks, a great blue heron in full breeding plumage and the highlight an osprey circling the loch looking for a mid-day meal. Oh freedom.

Now with a car we have opened up a plethora of dining possibilities. So for dinner we can go out to the big city. Julie finishes her shift and off we go heading to the big city of Brora, population 2,000. Brora is two burgs up the coast and has a new Indian restaurant we have heard about.

We are motoring up the A-9 and Julie, in her best left side driving voice, says "You're driving a little zippy, aren't you?" Which I, in my best right hand side driving mode, returned with a glare and "Would you like to drive?" As we continued north we were then passed by four cars, a motorcycle and two teenagers on bicycles. Yeah, I am just a zippy driver.

We pulled into Indian Ocean and got a table. After studying the menu and trying to decipher the waiter's accent, we had a crunchy appetizer with a spice tray, some King Prawn Korma, Lamb Tikka, Naan Bread and rice. Really good! The joys of the big city!

Now for the highlight of the evening - A concert. We zipped back down the A-9. This time passed by two lorries hauling sheep and three joggers. We headed for the big city of Clashmore, population 40. Clashmore is adjacent to Skibo Castle, the former estate of Andrew Carnegie. Clashmore was probably home to all the folks who worked at the castle. Carnegie left quite a mark on this area of Scotland. The Carnegie Library in Dornoch, Carnegie Lodge and Inn in Tain, the Carnegie Shield, the prize for Dornoch's most well known golf tournament, and Caregie Hall in Clashmore.

Due to my zippy driving, we arrived at Carnegie Hall a bit after the 7:30 start time for an evening of Scottish Folk Music. We paid our 8 pounds and took our seats just as the opening act began. The Dornoch Primary School's folk group, eight kids from 7 to 10 years old playing a fiddle, guitar, accordian, keyboards, drum and penny whistles. Their three song set earned much applause from the packed house of 50. This group ws followed by Dornoch Academy's Ceildh Trailers, an all girl group of high schoolers comprised of four fiddlers, a guitarist and two whistle players. Their set of reels and jigs led into the main event, Malikke.

Malikke is a four person group who was nominated for Scottish folk band of the year last year. Their first set included a couple of ballads and a series of reels. The songs were from the areas of the country in which the members lived. The female singer was from Glasgow so you could almost understand a couple of the lyrics, almost.

Before the final set of the night we had to stop for tea. Tea and cakes served on real china. How civilized. Bet you don't get that at Carnegie Hall in New York.
The final set included some lively reels. I had to hold my Irish lassie down so she wouldn't start dancing a jig in the aisle. The encore inluded all the girls from earlier joining Malikke on stage for a rousing set of Highland reels. Quite fun. The concert ended at 10:00 p.m., just in time to see the sun setting over the rolling farmland to the west, showing off every color of the rainbow. Brillant!
Just another evening in Scotland and a concert at Carnegie Hall.

Tomorrow we zip off to the west!