My interest in Scotland must have started many years ago, with Scottish ancestry and two Scottish golf professionals, and my parents love of the country. But little did I realize how very much ‘at home’ I would feel upon arriving on Scottish soil – which I did on July 17, 2000. I could almost hear my first golf teacher, Charlie Clarkson, saying, “shake your chassis, lassie!” – and my second instructor, Scotty Glasgow, saying, “aye, and it’s a guid shot”.
After flying from St. Louis to Toronto, where I enjoyed a couple of hours in the home of the Jacksons, whom I had met in British Columbia last year, I flew overnight to Glasgow, where I met Pete Lesser, Carolyn’s golfing son, for two days of sightseeing and two days at The British Open at St. Andrews. We rented a small Nissan and I quickly ‘learned’ to drive ‘on the opposite side’ – coached by Pete who was continually saying, “that’s the curb” or “think left”. The round-a-bouts were a challenge and we were very lucky not to hit anything, or to be hit – I found it interesting that the cars are designed with side mirrors that are sideswipe proof. Fortunately!
We traveled south to Troon, and found a junior tournament going on at the Royal Troon Ladies Club (their junior program has been going on for more than 60 years), and visited the main golf club. After a few more stops, including one to test the temperature of the Firth of Clyde, and look across to the Island of Arran, we made our way back around Glasgow and on to Pittenweem, over a variety of roads including duel carriageways, motorways and single tracks.
Our ‘home’ for four days was the B&B “Enstar” in Pittenweem, a small fishing village on the Firth of Forth, just 16 miles south of St. Andrews. We were delighted to find that Enstar was a two-year-old beautiful home built high on the hill overlooking the Harbour. Every room had a view – at night one could see the lights of Edinburgh in the distance. With 19 hours of daylight and a full moon, there was almost no dark, so the fishing boats could be seen trolling the waters for shrimp, and coming into the harbour in early morning, followed by noisy gulls and other sea birds.
Our hosts, Muir and Catherine Gardner, were truly Scottish (he was related to nearly everyone in the area, having grown up there), and she was from Edinburgh. A retired microbiologist, Muir now spends his days on a lobster boat. Catherine was a wonderful cook and we had great breakfasts each morning before going off to sightsee or attend The Open.
Several nights we walked the 1-1/2 miles into Anstruther for dinner, once at an elegant restaurant, The Craw’s Nest, and another at the local fish and chips place where we stood in line about 45 minutes, then ate on benches at the harbour – with gulls swooping at our food. The walk there was along the Anstruther golf course, built into the hills overlooking the water, and back along broccoli fields.
Pete and I toured the area the second day, stopping at various golf courses along the way. We saw a part of the International Junior event — with 70 contestants from all over the world EXCEPT Australia and the US, stopped at the new Scottish National Golf Center in Drumoig, visited the headquarters of the Scottish Girls Championships and had lunch in Dundee.
While driving through St. Andrews, we suddenly came to a halt behind a truck and car, with no traffic moving either way. After about 5 minutes of being in one place, we suddenly spotted the reason – a mother duck and her five fluffy babies were waddling across the street, around and under cars – making their way to safety on the sidewalk. The mother was continually looking around, nodding her head as if to say, “thank you…thank you”.
Muir drove us to St. Andrews on Wednesday morning, the final practice day and day of the Parade of Champions. It was a perfect time to be there with a camera. After walking a part of the course, I planted myself in a wonderful bleacher seat that a friend in Quincy had given me a ticket for, where I could watch the 17th hole and green, the 18th tee and fairway and, with the help of binoculars, the 1st hole and 18th green. I was able to capture on film the ‘old guys’ – Sam Snead dancing on the Swilken Burn bridge, Gary Player, Roberto deVicenzo, Nicklaus, Ballesteros, Jacklin – 22 of the last 27 Open champions. It was also a great time to get shots of Tiger, Sergio shaking hands with Player, Duval, Singh and many other players. A glorious day with perfect weather. We ended up eating at an Italian restaurant in St. Andrews, with Muir picking us up about 10:15 pm.
Thursday was the first day of competition at The Open. We arrived in time to see Tiger tee off, and followed him for the first nine holes. A highlight was standing next to Tiger’s mom, getting her autograph on my Little People’s cap, receiving a ‘Tiger Pin’ from her and chatting with her and Tiger’s girl friend!! After nine holes the gallery was so huge that all I could see was the clubhead at the top of his backswing, so made my way back to my spot in the bleachers at the 17th green – a wonderful place to watch all the golfers. I saw very few birdies, some pars and MANY bogies plus!! I watched Notah Begay go from 7 under to 4 under on the 17th after hitting into the Swilken Burn and wading in after it – all the while with a grin on his face – he was just happy to be playing there!! Another late dinner in St. Andrews and return to Enstar – the lights of the QE2, anchored off Anstruther, shining brightly outside my bedroom window.
Friday morning Muir took me to the railway station in Leuchars – which was mobbed with people. A train from Edinburgh loaded with golfing fans had just arrived, and the ramps were completely filled with eager golfers. Muir had to let me off in the road, so I pulled my two suitcases, with backpack on my back, to the foot of the steps. This was just ONE of the times I wished I had packed lighter! Fortunately, a nice GolfLinks gentleman helped me get my bags up the stairs, over and down to the platform, where I caught the train for an hour ride to Edinburgh. A second train took me to Glasgow in 45 minutes, where I had lunch in the Glasgow Queen’s Street station, with pigeons swooping through the waiting area. I then boarded a third train to Oban for a three-hour ride – most of which I slept through. The train was very crowded, with people standing and sitting in the aisles.
A note here about my camera. I fortunately used the ‘good’ Canon camera and telephoto lens at The Open, but unbeknownst to me, it broke on Sunday, and I lost 13 rolls of film. Fortunately, I was also taking pictures with my point-and-shoot so did get some shots of the hiking trip, but missed so much. You can click on pictures of theBRITISH OPEN and of HIKING IN SCOTLAND here. There will also be pictures from the hiking trip from some of the other hikers who have sent me pictures that they took.
A taxi in Oban took me up the hill to the Kimberley Hotel, a wonderful old stone building recently converted from a maternity hospital. I had a large room overlooking the harbour and great sunsets. Dinner at The Studio that night, then a walk down the hill into town, then back UP again to the hotel and a good night’s sleep.
Saturday morning I met four gals at The Kimberley who were joining the hiking group, Mary and Rachel from Connecticut, Laura and Marsha from Texas. We had breakfast together, then went walking and shopping. Lunch at The Gallery in Oban and back to the hotel to meet the rest of the group – then all of us went on a walking tour of the area. High above the hotel was McCaig’s Tower, which I managed to walk to four times that day, ending with a late-night trip to catch the sunset – which was beautiful. The remainder of the group consisted of our tour leaders Irene and Bob from Glasgow (she was originally from Oban), Marge from Seattle, Gerald and Nancy from Miami, Martha from Brooklyn, Martha and Joseph from Maryland, Gwen from Toronto, Joan from New York, Jim and Enid from Vancouver, and Art and Elizabeth from California. George, our coach driver, a great Scottish fellow with unbelieveable driving skills, joined us the next morning.
Sunday was our first ‘real’ hiking day, with breakfast at 8:00 and coach at 9:00. I was up early for a two-mile walk before breakfast – a habit that stuck with me the entire trip. There was just so much to see and everything around me so beautiful. It was a 36-mile ride south to Kilmartin, along winding narrow roads, and arrived feeling a little ‘car sick’. A visit to the local store for some mint got me back to ‘par’. After that, I had the jump seat in the front of the coach, used ginger and my wrist bands. At Kilmartin we visited the museum and gift shop and old cemetary, then another ride to the Crinan Canal, where we hiked along a flat path bordering the Canal until we came to our ‘first decision’ – who wanted to continue on the flat path and who wanted to do the steep hike. ALL of us chose the steep path, which took us up and up over interesting trails to the top, where we enjoyed a wonderful view of the islands, the Jura Mountains, and Mull – then back down on more steep paths to Crinan, for lunch at the hotel. It was a beautiful and busy place, with huge sailboats locking through.
After lunch we took the flat path back to the coach, and returned to the Lineal Burial Grounds and Kilmartin Sculptured Stores, where we learned about the stones from D.J., our guide. The hike ended as we walked carefully through a field of cattle to the coach waiting for us at the Kilmartin Museum, and the return to The Kimberley Hotel.
That evening we walked down the hill to McTavishes Tavern for a Scottish meal and show, which consisted of a wonderful fiddler named Maurice, an accordionist, singer Jamie Smith, a young dancer and the world champion Piper, Angus MacColl. It was a great show, and I had my first, and not last, taste of Scottish Haggis.
On Monday we coached to Taynault, just east of Oban, where we hiked through fields of cattle and sheep, over stiles and fences and across a one-way bridge – our second ‘big decision’ – who wanted to traverse the ‘treacherous’ bridge. Being a very brave group, we all chose the bridge – a wonderful ‘single track’ over rushing water – and on to the Smokery, where we enjoyed a Scottish lunch. Back over the bridge (all much braver this time) to the coach for the return trip. Instead of driving all the way back, we disembarked at a cemetary and walked the shoreline back to Oban, past Dunstaffnage Castle – another fabulous day of wonderful weather, delightful people and great Scottish atmosphere. That night we enjoyed dinner at The Soroba House near Oban.
It was up with the sun on Tuesday morning for a ferry ride across the Firth of Lorne to Craignure on the Island of Mull, a coach ride across the island to Fionnphort and another ferry across the Sound of Iona to the tiny Isle of Iona – a lovely place just 3-1/2 miles long and 1-1/2 miles wide. We walked the entire island! Some of the group took another ferry to Staffa to visit Fingal’s Cave and the puffin colony (there were very few). The rest of us hiked across to the west and then to the south end, going over the Iona Golf Club, a wonderful course that made me feel I was back at the beginning of golf. I could almost see the shepards in the field hitting stones with their sticks! The course has no clubhouse, no greens fees, and the sheep keep the grass in playable condition! All bunkers are natural. The postage-stamp-sized greens are just closely mown crab grass, with a tin can filled with sand sunk in the middle and a practice- green type stake stuck in the hole – no flags or markers. The tees were marked with signs painted on large stones. A wonderful place.
After lunch outside, some visited the Iona Abbey, while others hiked to the north end of the island. Too soon it was time to ferry back to Mull, coach across that island, and the final ferry to Oban. Much of the road across Mull is ‘single track’, and our driver’s biggest challenge came when our coach met another going the other way, with no place for either to pull over. After much time and patience, the other bus and the line of cars behind it managed to back up enough so our line of cars could get through. George, the driver, got us out of unbelievable spots with his maneuvering expertise! Dinner at 8:15 at the Kimberley – a long but exhilarating day!
Off to the Isle of Skye at 9:00! A coach ride to Maillag, where we had time for a hike before boarding the ferry. We carried lunch to the top of a high hill overlooking the Maillag Harbour. A short ferry ride got us to Armadale on Skye, then a 1-1/2 hour coach ride over much ‘single track’ road to Portree and the Cuillin Hills Hotel, our ‘home’ for the next three nights. We were able to see the Red Cuillin and Black Cuillin mountains – so different and craggy –- and fortunate to see them then, as for the rest of the trip there were pretty much hidden in the mist.
After a walk along the water near the hotel we had a delicious dinner and it was early to bed.
Thursday the coach took us to the southern part of the island near Talisker– we could just see the Black Cuillins peeking out of the mist – for a 6-mile hike along logging roads. We were challenged twice along the way, the first time by machinery hauling and stripping huge pine trees; the second by a fallen pine and piles and piles of slippery logs, which we traversed with great care. Bob had to negotiate our passage with the local workers. The smell of the cut wood was wonderful, and the extra time it took well worth it. At the top we met Irene and George, who had taken the coach around to our destination point, and enjoyed Clootie Dumpling, which really hit the spot.
From there we coached to Dunvegan Castle on the west side of the island – home of the MacLeod Clan, for a wonderful lunch. We had the chance to go through the castle, then I went on a short Seal Watching trip in Loch Dunvegan in a small boat. The Common Seals were wonderful – yawning, stretching, smiling –, as were the Terns, an Oyster Catcher and Great Blue Heron. Too soon it was time to board the coach for the ride back to Portree. I was still looking for a great Scottish cashmere sweater, so the coach dropped me off at a store outside Portree, and I shopped by way back to the hotel (with no success).
After dinner we walked into Portree to attend the Street Fayre – complete with tables of things to buy, eat and drink, and entertainment – a Gaelic singer, a talented young group of musicians, dancers, and the Isle of Skye Pipe Band in complete Scottish regalia. A wonderful sight!!! The walk home at 10:00 pm was still in daylight.
Our final day of hiking took us to the north end of Skye, where we met Donald, a sheep herder, and his dog Max. We walked along fields of sheep to a lovely loch, then on the way back Donald put Max through his paces and we were able to see a real sheep dog round up the sheep and take them exactly where Donald wanted, all through voice commands. A memorable sight. I wish I had had the video camera to record the sounds of Donald commanding Max.
Lunch near another castle on the water, and a visit to The Museum of Island Life, where we were able to see the Highland Cow up close. Then back to Portree and shopping before returning to the hotel for our final dinner. Some of the more unusual foods I tasted along the way were Scottish Haggis, ‘neeps and tatties’ (turnips and potatoes), pheasant and prune sausage, venison and currant sausage, finnan haddie, kippers and grilled pidgeon breast. I would order each one again!
Saturday, our last day, came all too quickly. Scotland was beautiful and peaceful, and I felt so at home there. We coached back across the bridge from Skye, arriving on the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh. At the Eilean Donan Castle shop I finally found a Scottish merino and lambswool sweater – my shopping was complete – and I had my picture taken in front of the castle with a real Piper. After driving along Loch Ness (we did not see the real ‘nessie’), we stopped at Uruquhart Castle for lunch in a nearby pub. Pub lunches with a half pint of Tennant’s became a staple of the trip.
The trip ended in Inverness, where we left most of the group. George took seven of us back to Glasgow, stopping along the way in Pitlochry, where we saw the fish ladders, and went through the ONLY rain of the trip. Art and Elizabeth and I were the only three staying at the Buchanan Hotel in Glasgow that night, and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner together at the Millenium Hotel.
Sunday was a day of travel. LONG travel. The flight to Toronto was smooth, but getting through customs and to my next plane in Toronto took two hours, two buses and three terminals. I finally got on the plane, which taxied for so long after it left the gate that I thought we were driving to St. Louis. The large gentleman sitting next to me downed four minature bottles of scotch in the 1-3/4 hours we were in the air, and the fumes nearly knocked me out. And I was tired anyway. My friends Linda and Tom met me in St. Louis and drove me home, stopping on the way for my fifth ‘meal’ of the day, a hot fudge sundae. Finally, after 24 hours, I was back in Quincy in my own bed.
I can’t say enough good things about the Scotland trip. Everything was perfect – the weather, the leaders, the other hikers, the Scottish people, the food, the planning……….I want to go back!
Watch for updates here.