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Posts from the ‘The Sequel’ Category

Blair Atholl

Laid out between the railway line and the River Garry, Blair Atholl has all the ingredients of a Golf in the Wild course – surrounded by high hills, 9-holes, an honesty box and, on the day I played, empty but for one other distant golfer. The course was effectively my own.

It is mostly flat – the elevated first tee is the high point of the course. The adjacent combined 3rd and 9th green are on the same level as the first tee, as is the clubhouse. The elevated fourth tee also plays down to what I would guess is their signature hole – a short par 3 with the castellated railway bridge behind the green.

Well maintained, tidy fairways and some very tricky undulating greens, it is a credit to the greens staff.  My favourite hole was the stroke index 1, 7th – to the uninitiated it looks tight from the tee with hints of water hazards in the distance – a pond to the left and a stream in front of the green.  It turned out they are too distant to be an issue for the average golfer.  My unnecessary lay-up resulted in a double bogey.  By contrast the 8th looks straightforward until you approach the green and realise there is an over-sized pond about thirty yards out.  My best drive of the day came about six inches short of the hazard – after a long hot summer, completely dry.

The course finishes with a testing but very enjoyable par 5 to the elevated green adjacent to the 1st tee and clubhouse – a green shared with the third.

All in all, a very enjoyable experience which is almost certain to appear in Golf in the Wild II.

... tee box, Blair Atholl.

The fourth tee box.

... Blair Atholl.

The clubhouse

... the view from the elevated first tee, Blair Atholl.

The elevated first tee

... short par 3, Blair Atholl, with the castellated railway bridge over the River Garry in the background.

The short fourth

The Stage is Empty – Cullen 2018

I was last here in 1958 or 1959 but let’s just assume it was ’58 for the neatness of a sixty year symmetry.  If I am to return again, I will not have the option of leaving it so long; time is running out.

I have vague memories of the golf course behind the beach; I remember the gasometer dominating the eastern end of the town, now demolished; I remember the string of viaducts that create a theatrical  backdrop to the bay; I remember mithering for a pen-knife emblazoned with a kilted Scot and bagpipes and almost immediately slicing my thumb, blood everywhere; I remember gurning in the holiday photographs, a different pose and face for every occasion; I remember a determination to go in the sea everyday, regardless of the weather and, throughout everything, I remember my teenage sister as unconvincingly grown-up and immensely irritating.  Most of all, I remember the stinging slap to the back of an unprotected leg, my mother the executioner, never my dad.

On the bridge at Cullen House

On the bridge at Cullen House, 1958

All this time gone by and here I am again, standing outside the Bay View Hotel, now a private house, my thoughts no longer centred on pen-knifes and the multifarious ways to irritate an irritating sister. These many years later I am here to play golf but how different it might all have been.  Dad was accomplished at cricket, football and tennis, so why not golf.  If we had walked Cullen’s fairways in the 1950s what memories might we have shared, how often might we have returned.  No first nor final rounds – dad, I hardly knew you:

Two world wars, economic depressions, genocidal dictators, material privations, the ominpresence of death … enduring such stuff is not propitious for the embrace of affective ostentation, for the desire to get in touch with our inner entitlements,  for the infantile need to share our pain,  for the comfy validation of our self-pity,  for the slovenly annihilating of our restraint,  for the quashing of our shame.

Jonathon Meades – An Encyclopaedia of Myself 

Sixty years on, the stage is empty, my audience gone.

On the bridge at Cullen House -2018

On the bridge at Cullen House, 2018

Nothing quite prepares you for the joy of playing Cullen Links.  It may be the shortest of the 84 true links courses in Scotland but the lack of distance does not diminish the test nor the enjoyment.  There are ten par threes, some blind, some long, some protected by rock and some a combination of all three – this is crazy golf on the grand scale and I love it.

 

... at Cullen. The view from the 4th tee.

yard, par 3, 12th - spot the marker post between the rocks.

Golf in the Wild ...

Kümmel and old wives

I have drunk kümmel in the members’ lounge at Muirfield – there I have said it – not exactly Golf in the Wild but a rare and fine experience nonetheless.  The full story is told here – Fairway and Tarmac.  This extract explains the significance of the liquer:

Lunch is taken in the lounge, jacket and tie being mandatory. I have brought a tie from the funerals drawer for the occasion – I am a guest and I must honour club traditions, no matter that such attire is at complete odds with my late hippy demeanour. A generous tray of sandwiches is accompanied by a gunner (ginger beer, ginger ale, dash of lime and a measure of angostura bitters), followed by coffee and the traditional Muirfield and Prestwick liqueur – kümmel, a sweet, colourless drink flavoured with caraway seed, cumin, and fennel. First impressions are mixed but I warm to it as the glass empties. I am unsure of the effect it may have on the back nine.

Here’s the thing – I played out of my skin that day which helped influence my opinion of Muirfield as a rare and wonderful place.  I cannot argue with the members’ claim that it is the finest golf course in the world.  Perhaps the kümmel had a part to play – according to Herbert Warren Wind, the American sports writer, writing in 1972, “kümmel has long been a favourite of English golfers, because there is an old wives tale to the effect that it is the best antidote in the world for shaky putting” – Golf Quarterly Issue 4, Winter 2011.  The reference to the English should probably be Scottish or maybe the Scots don’t suffer from “shaky putting”.

I will be recommending we stock a bottle at Allendale Golf Club.

Muirfield's 18th green

Muirfield’s 18th green

 

Golf in the Wild – Going Home – an extract

George William Mackay

It was early morning, 12th April 1912. The house was slowly coming to life and George was wide awake, in his excitement he had hardly slept. Some last tearful farewells to the early morning maids, a final check that his tickets were secure in his pocket and quietly he slipped the safe moorings of 11 Queens Gate, Kensington and his life as a footman. Emerging from the collonaded porch, he touched the iron railings one last time, turned left and then right onto Prince Consort Road, heading for Waterloo and the 07:45 train to Southampton. He was dressed in his Sunday best suit and wearing a Sunday smile, he did not look back. The city was already bustling with the clatter of hooves and the too familiar smell of horse manure, soon to be replaced by the salt sea air he had known as a boy.

The young George had only just turned twenty but already he had travelled far from his humble beginnings on a croft near Tongue, in Sutherland. One of twelve children to William and Christina MacKay, he was determined to better himself. Too often he had heard tales of regret, of lives half lived in the bitter north. George, the Heilam Ferryman, spoke of nothing else, his plans as a young man to travel to Canada and how he was persuaded to stay by the Duke of Sutherland – this George would not make the same mistake.

The third class boat train from Waterloo pulled into Southampton Docks at 09:30, stopping at 43/44 berth. Clutching a small brown suitcase and ticket 42795, George alighted into the Dockside sheds, crossed the road, controlled by a man with a red flag and momentarily stood awe-struck by the sheer overwhelming size of the ship – it was beyond anything he could have imagined. Nothing like this was ever seen in the Kyle.

As a third class passenger George had a simple berth, shared with six other passengers. Keen to escape the claustrophobia of steerage and the company of strangers, many of whom could not speak English, he quickly found his way to the open decks. He was there when the ship cast off and was towed into the River Test by tugboats, there for the near collision with USMS New York, there when Cherbourg appeared on the French coast and there when the ship set sail for Cobh in the dim light of an April evening.

All the while he grasped ticket 42795. It had cost £7 11s, all his savings, but he was bound for Rochester and a new life in Detroit. Of one thing he was certain, he was never going back.

008-George-Mackay-Skerray-headstone

Erected
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
GEORGE WILLIAM MACKAY
CLAICKBEA
SON OF
WILLIAM AND CHRISTINA MACKAY
WHO WAS LOST IN THE TITANIC
DISASTER, 15TH APRIL 1912
AGED 20 YEARS
“BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART
FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD,” MATT V, VIII
PUT UP BY HIS FRIENDS IN LONDON

George’s body was never found.

The sequel

Golf in the Wild – Going Home will be the sequel to the first book and will take the reader back from Durness, the place where the first book finished, to Allendale, the place where the first book started.  The route will be entirely different, heading east along the Scottish mainland’s most northerly coast, first stop, Reay Golf Course.  This brief extract is a taster from the second chapter:

When I was small and Christmas trees were tall, I was easily spooked by big things. Taken to the local fire station by my grandfather, I was reduced to tears by the sheer enormity of the engines. Given the opportunity to climb Portland Lighthouse, the endless stairs sent me scurrying outside. The railway viaduct near Goostrey in Cheshire towered so high, I would not go near. In the nearby fields an enormous and strange structure was taking shape and I took exception to it. In the 1950s, Bernard Lovell’s radio telescope at Jodrell Bank was only partially complete.

Many years later, living in the foothills of the Peak District at Bosley, on clear days, the entire Cheshire Plain was visible from our bedroom window. And there, at its centre, the Jodrell Bank telescope – no longer something to be feared, no longer a stranger in the landscape, it had come to define it.

Around the same time in the 1950s, many miles further north, a more threatening structure was emerging from the white heat of technology.

At the outbreak of the Second World War it became apparent that the air defences in the far north of Scotland must be improved, primarily as a consequence of the British Navy’s safe anchorage at Scapa Flow which was particularly vulnerable to air attack. As a first step an airfield was constructed at Wick and then later in the war, another at Dounreay. However, the Dounreay facility, not completed until April 1944, was immediately mothballed. Apart from occasional usage by the Navy as HMS Tern II and later as a camp for displaced Polish servicemen, it remained unused until 1954 when the Government announced that Dounreay was to become the centre for UK fast reactor research and development. Between 1955 and 1958, the Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR) sphere mushroomed into the landscape and, like Jodrell Bank, it has come to define it. Lovell’s creation says ‘here we can reach for the stars’; Dounreay’s says ‘here we can tinker with the tools of Armageddon, tame Einstein’s monster’.

The Caithness Death Star achieved criticality in 1959 and, in 1962, became the first fast reactor in the world to supply electricity to a national grid. Just fifteen years later it was switched off. Since then it has been a long slow process of decommissioning, an exercise that will not complete until 2025 with the demolition of the sphere. Sadly, retention is not practical – according to the Dounreay Heritage Strategy document 2010,SES(09)P007, Issue 2 : The DFR sphere is contaminated throughout and recent core samples from the vault indicate that the concrete has deteriorated more than anticipated and that original construction techniques may have been lax in some areas … despite the most rigorous decontamination efforts, the risk of receiving a significant radiation dose may never go away.

I have some connection with the Dounreay site having been responsible for establishing an Office Systems field trial there between 1988 and 1989, housed in the buildings adjacent to DFR. This exercise had more to do with my love of travel and wild landscape than the practicalities of running a software trial in this faraway place. It was during one of many site visits that I was given access to the sphere, much smaller on the inside than it appears from without. Fortunately I had grown more tolerant of ‘big things’ in the intervening years. Now it is the things I can’t see that worry me, rather than the things I can.

This image from the archive shows Reay’s par 3 7th, Pilkington. Not quite visible, over the horizon to the left, is the DFR sphere:

Two small figures are looking for balls on this testing par 3 - Pilkington

Two small figures are looking for balls on this testing par 3 – Pilkington

The Caithness Death Star takes shape.

The Caithness Death Star takes shape.