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The sequel

Golf in the Wild – Coming 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.

Tobermory Review

087-Tobermory postA very generous review from Gordon Chalmers of Tobermory Golf Club which is due to appear in the next edition of Round & About Mull & Iona:

If, like me, you blagged your way through English at school using Letts study notes to save you the effort of actually ploughing through your Shakespeare or Jane Austen set-text, you will probably be tempted to pick up this handsome little paperback, flick it open at the chapter for your local area, scan read it to see if you recognise anyone, and put it back on the shelf. Please let me assure you; that would be a big mistake. This book deserves to be read in its entirety.

Admittedly, I did start at page 103 with Robin’s arrival on Mull, but then this is not a whodunnit, so why wouldn’t I? It rapidly dawns on the reader this is not a gazeeter of off-the-beaten-track golf courses, nor just another travelogue. Combining stories of local characters, history, social comment and even elements of  autobiography, this delightful book will carry you along from Craignure (or wherever you  choose to start) to Tobermory, then over the Sound of Mull to Kilchoan and onwards to Durness, where on completion, you’ll jump back to Allendale and find your way from there to your original departure point. Oh yes, and he plays and writes about golf on some of Scotland’s less-well-known courses, describing his experiences in a way that the longer handicapper will surely relate to.

In truth, it is difficult to say more about this book without resorting to either unnecessary hyperbole or outright pleading on behalf of the author, so let pictures paint a few words; they say never to judge a book by its cover, but maybe this is an exception. Admittedly the front cover carries a typical golf-in-the-highlands photo of the Sgurr of Eigg as seen from the third green at Traigh Golf Club near Arisaig – nothing at all wrong with that, since you ask; but flip over and look at the picture strip accompanying the synopsis on the back. There’s the Sphinx, a 1960s racing car, and Killin Railway Station in the age of steam alongside the more orthodox golf pics. Flick through the chapter heads and see the little quotes that accompany the title…Jacques Brel, da Vinci, Bob Dylan, Dickens. Now you’re starting to get a glimpse of where Robin Down will be taking you as you follow him on his golfing journey.

“Golf in the Wild” is quirky, no doubt about it, and a right good read for golfer and non-golfer alike. Don’t put it back on that shelf.

Allendale and Traigh

I had thought publishing Golf in the Wild was the end of a long journey but it turns out it was just the beginning. The slow, arduous distribution and PR process has already introduced me to some very supportive people from out-of-the-way places. Last weekend the good men of Traigh (see chapter 7) visited Allendale and were as enthusiastic about our course as I am enthusiastic about theirs. David Shaw Stewart produced an impromptu watercolour of Allendale’s signature hole, the 17th – Grand Canyon, in celebration of a grand, if windy and cold day out. I am proud to be mentioned and wish I had the talent to reciprocate.

 

The Grand Canyon

Three men and a dog

Golf in the Wild has led to some interesting connections both on and off the course.  Yesterday (6th December) I spent an enjoyable round at Allendale in the company of the good men of Traigh who loved the wilds of Allendale golf course as much as I love the wilds of Traigh.  It reminded me of one glorious Spring day spent researching the book at Traigh when at the ninth I caught up with this happy scene – three men and a dog putting out to finish their round.

Three men and a dog ...

This is how the chapter on Traigh ends:

My first holiday romance was at a farmhouse near St David’s in south Wales. I fell for the farmer’s daughter, she was about sixteen and I was barely four. I can still feel her soft hands on my shoulders. She was the first of the gender to make me realise that girls could be loving creatures, unlike my sister, too engrossed in her own older world and my mother, too much in charge. The night the holiday ended, back home, I was distraught, crying a river into Robin-starched sheets. Ever since I have had an overly-moist sentimental streak for people and places left behind. Traigh is such a place.

A test of character

610-Traigh-on-cream-350px wideI have received a variety of generous comments and reviews from both friends and complete strangers.  Some can be found on Amazon, where the book will soon be available to order. However, out of them all, this one from Tom is my favourite – Golf in the Wild as a test of character.

A quick internet search seems to reveal that Mr Down has written nothing before which makes it even more extraordinary. What I am really enjoying is all the golfing, literary and musical avenues it opens up, some previously visited, and some completely new. It even made me look at motor sport in a new way, previously one of my few sporting blind spots………Anyway thank you for introducing me to the book, I am going to order a few and spread the word. It may well become a litmus test of character, those who get it will go up in my regard and those that don’t may head in the other direction.

Purchase a copy and take the litmus test.

Durness – Journey’s End

Golf is all about numbers  – look at a scorecard and it is covered in them:  the holes 1 to 18; the White, Yellow and Red distances for each hole; pars; stroke indexes; gross scores; nett  scores; stableford points, handicaps.  Non-golfers might be surprised to know that there are GPS systems which tell you exact distances from where your ball has landed to the hole – more numbers.

Golf in the Wild takes you on a journey of 727 miles from Northumberland to the far northwest of Scotland, taking in fifteen courses – assuming you play eighteen at each that is a total of 270 holes and this is what awaits as a finale, on the last course, Durness – what a finish (click on the image to see if you can make out the flag):

The eighteenth at Durness

This is exactly what the sadistic inventor of golf had in mind when he explained his intentions to Robin Williams – sensitivity warning – those offended by bad language should not watch/listen:

And this image just to prove that I don’t ‘dress like a pimp’ and no wheels are involved – I carry my own bag.

Golf in the Wild
This post was first published at www.northumbrianlight.wordpress.com

First independent review

Killin News – October Edition

607-Killin-on-cream-350px wide“Golf in the Wild – A journey through time and place” by Robin J. Down

“This book exists because of Killin. It was here in 2005 that the idea of solitary golf in wild places was first born.” ( Chapter 4 Killin)

This is a newly published book and as a non-golfer I found it a surprisingly enjoyable and easy read. Written with humour and candour, it should appeal to a much wider audience than just the golfing fraternity. With descriptions of wonderful ‘wild’ courses, on which the golfer can test his or her skills (or lack of them!), the book encourages you to take the journey and to step off the well publicised golfing route map. It could even tempt the non-golfing household to enjoy the delights of a touring holiday in north Northumberland and Scotland and may just persuade others to abandon the hassle of airports and their annual golfing jaunt to Turkey, Portugal or other such popular destinations.

This book is much more than about playing golf. It takes you on a journey through time, wonderful landscapes, the fascinating history of the places where the courses are located, the author’s life and the various characters in his family, and his passion for fast cars and those who were lucky (or unlucky) enough to race them. The golfing journey begins at Allendale, Northumberland and ends at Durness, in Sutherland, having taken you on a route north via courses such as Selkirk, Bishopshire, Killin – to which a whole chapter is devoted, Craignure, Traigh and Gairloch. A great tour to undertake even without the golf clubs and the book will, hopefully, encourage new visitors to all the destinations that are mentioned.

It is a book you can dip in and out of and should inspire every reader to do a bit of exploring. Copies, priced at £8.99, are available in Killin at The Old Mill and at Killin Golf Club or may be bought directly from www.golfinthewild.co.uk.  Gillean Ford

The Glorious Twelfth

Golf in the Wild

I have had a few bad dreams recently – 1000 books are delivered to my front door, I open the first box, scan the pages and to my horror, all the print is overflowing the right margin.  The images are either too faint to see or so dark everything looks like night – I desparately tear the boxes apart looking for just one that might be right.  In the event, the 1000 books turned up in 42 boxes (41 x 24 and 1 x16 for the mathematically inclined) and after two days hard searching I have yet to find anything wrong, or at least nothing glaring.  For this I have to thank my various editors and the skilled advice and guidance provided by The Choir Press, a truly professional organisation. So begins the next interesting task – promotion, marketing and selling.

It has been a fascinating voyage of discovery – for instance, until yesterday I did not appreciate there something called the Legal Deposit.  This is the obligation on publishers  to send one copy of each of their publications to the British Library.  In addition another five must go to the Agency for The Legal Deposit Libraries – this covering The Bodleian Library, Oxford, The University Library, Cambridge, The National Library of ScotlandThe Library of Trinity College, Dublin and The National Library of Wales.  Odd to think that these august bodies now all contain works by yours truly.

Another worry was the exact dimensions of 1000 books – where would they all go?  In the event they squeeze into a relatively confined space, mostly under our dining room table.  We don’t expect to be wining and dining for some time!

 

The inside cover

Publication date moves ever closer.  The final edits have been applied and now I await a digital proof before going to press.  A late decision was inclusion of an inside cover image with descriptive text to add interest to the opening page. This has also provided space for a generous review from my good friend Norman Harris of The Times:

Small is clearly beautiful to the author, and so is remote.  He has a passion and curiosity for these special golfing terrains and the way local landscapes and history have shaped them. His odyssey should strike a chord with a small army of kindred souls.”
Norman Harris – THE TIMES

The Cover

This is the latest version of the cover – there have been seven previous versions. The various iterations have all revolved around the text on the front page – the font type, size and positioning. There has even been a version with vertical text to compliment the flag stick – I was rightly persuaded to drop that idea.  If this is final, publication just now awaits a final round of professional editing.