Welcome to Scotland; the Best Small Country in The World

 

 

Before I knew it I was knee deep packing for Scotland.  Every website, travel YouTube video, and weather app, predicted wide variances in temperature, precipitation, and sunshine.  As I am a diehard flip flop, short wearing sun worshiper, cloudy skies, the thought of damp, rainy, sun depleted weather left me under enthused. I searched Amazon for rain gear that could be used playing golf, packed two umbrellas, and bought fairly stylish rain boots.  Holding on to the slim possibility of warmer temperatures and sunshine, I optimistically packed two pair of sandals.  In went the long pants, zippered hoodie, sweaters for most of my outfits, golf shoes and of course my old reliable sneakers.

Converting dollars for pounds at the local AAA office was somewhat of a shock, $500 U.S. dollars in exchange for $370 Scottish pounds! How could that be? We thought the dollar was strong? Strong for whom?
As my husband and I made our way to the airport, we were cautiously optimistic regarding the flight. We purchased Comfort Plus seats thinking that the legroom and more frequent food offerings were worth the incremental cost. Sitting in the row directly in front of our friends was an added plus. We were well on our way.

Fast forward six plus hours and we landed safely in Edinburgh, Scotland. The first few admonishments we heard were that Edinburgh was pronounced Edin bruh, at least that’s the way it sounded to me, and secondly never, never, never, imply, insinuate or flat out call someone Scottish an Englishman. Although England and Scotland are both part of the United Kingdom, obviously that’s where the similarity ends.

As we made our way to the rental car area, pulling two trolleys of suitcases including two sets of golf clubs, the thought of having to drive on the “wrong” side of the road preoccupied our thoughts. My friend Jon, stepped up to the challenge and agreed to be the driver and for that the three remaining passengers were extremely grateful.  Now, Jon is the type of person who leaves no stone unturned so in preparation for this trip he studied hours and hours of YouTube “driving on the left side of the road” videos.  As we pulled out of the rental car garage, you could hear a pin drop.  Sitting in the front passenger seat (which at home would be the driver’s seat) felt odd, unnatural, dangerous, and frightening as everyone’s normal perceptions were way off.  As the hairs literally stood up on the back of my neck, I tried to calmly navigate the road using Google Maps, so Jon could just concentrate on driving.  Being Americans, our natural inclination is to turn right onto the right hand lane, enter a roundabout from the right, and as you are crossing the street, look to the left and then right before crossing. Try that in Scotland and I shudder to think about the end result. It did take time to adjust to driving on the left side of the road but thankfully adjust we did.

As we drove the hour or so it took to get to our first stop, St. Andrews, we could not help but be mesmerized by the lush green landscape. I’ve never seen grass as vibrant, as expansive and as uniformly green as the landscape that unfolded before our very eyes. It was absolutely breathtaking. The cottages that dotted the countryside were made of stone radiating brilliant shades of gray, beige, and cream. I would have loved to take a peek into any one of those homes just to see if the interior matched the quaint, comfy, feeling of the home’s exterior. I was in love!

As we approached our new “home” in St. Andrew, any trepidation I might have had about staying in an AirBnB quickly dissipated. My friend Bill and his wife Suzanne, planned every detail of this trip, and planned they did. As we walked up the steps of this amazingly beautiful, modern and new, less than three year old, townhouse, we were virtually speechless. The front room had a regulation size, fully equipped, pool table. There were 4 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms so each couple had their own private accommodations. There was a ground level living room, kitchen and dining area. Any and all amenities you could imagine was provided.

The townhouse was in the center of town, so all of the restaurants, shops, museums and banks, were within walking distance.  Tennis courts, if we were so inclined, were directly across the street. Prince William and Princess Kate met at St. Andrews University, which was located right down the street, and to know that they frequented many of the same shops and restaurants we did was an interesting fun fact.

The next day, the four golfers headed off to Kingsbarn Golf Links which was located 7 miles from St. Andrews. Kingsbarn Golf Links hugs the North Sea coastline and is, to date, one of the most beautiful golf courses I have ever seen. It literally took my breath away. We started off by warming up at the practice range with me silently hoping I would not embarrass myself. So far so good, I thought. When it was 15 minutes before our scheduled tee off time the caddies introduced themselves. My caddie, Frank, was the oldest caddie in the group. As he walked towards me, butterflies magically appeared with such ferocity that I seriously wondered if I would make it through the day.  At first glance, Frank appeared to be a no nonsense person, stern, and a little gruff. I smiled at him meekly, introduced myself and decided I would expect the worst but hope for the best.

Frank, turned out to be the highlight of my golfing experience.  He was the kindest, most knowledgeable, and patient man I could ever hope for. His guidance proved to be such a calming effect that by the end of the day, I felt that Kingsbarn Golf Links was where I belonged. Every caddie in our group, and each of us had our own caddie, was wonderful. The banter, camaraderie, advice, direction, and support they provided was second to none. My friend Paul had an exceptionally warm bromance with his caddie. They made us laugh most of the day.

On the 18th hole Paul had the “money” shot of the day.  The 18th hole is a par 4 unlike any par 4 I have ever seen. Paul’s shot veered to the right and rested high on an embankment to the right of the green.  There was a steep valley and a stream that fed into the North Sea so any misstep might prove disastrous. With his never ending swagger and tremendous sense of humor, Paul’s ball lifted up into the air, crossed the ravine and landed one foot away from the pin.  We were all stunned! What a great way to end the round.  To think that we played on the very same course as the Ricoh Women’s British Open and that the annual European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship will play is amazing!

We played Carnoustie Golf Links two days later. As I was soon to learn, Carnoustie Golf Links is “widely considered to be one of the world’s most difficult golf courses” and according to the results of a Top 100 Survey, Carnoustie is the toughest golf course in Britain and Ireland.  In addition, Carnoustie Golf Links has hosted seven Open championships, one Ladies Open and two Senior Opens.  Luckily, I found this out after we played!!  

Coming off the high feelings evoked when playing at Kingsbarn, my reality came to a crashing halt at Carnoustie.  Again, we each decided to each have our own caddie. This time, my caddie was a wonderful, no nonsense young man named Phil. As I whiffed the first tee shot and immediately got caught up in the rough’s tall grass, Phil’s unofficial role as a psychiatrist came into full view. He was terrific. I absolutely credit him for turning a not so great start into a fantastic day. If you haven’t realized it by now, the caddies at both Kingsbarn and Carnoustie Golf Links were worth every “pound”.

The second money shot of note was at Carnoustie.  As Jon tee’d off on the first hole, his drive was a sight to behold. His ball literally spread wings and landed almost 300 yards. I had two surprise shots of the day.  As my third shot nestled in a valley below the cantilevered green,  I hit the chip shot of all chip shots, as my ball lofted perfectly in the air, and landed on the green a few feet from the pin.  My second surprise of my life happened when my ball, with a mind all of its own, rested in a body engulfing cavernous bunker which was literally taller than me.  My caddie said, “just throw it out” and to be perfectly honest, that was my intention but…….. I thought to myself, “at least try” and try I did. I don’t know how I did it, but the next thing I knew, the ball took flight out of the bunker and landed squarely on the fairway.  It was incredulous! Now, if you were to ask me to replicate that shot, I would be hard pressed to do so.  My friend Bill, was the golfer I was most in awe of.  He is such a consistent golfer. No matter which of the courses we played, Kingsbarn or Carnoustie, Bill was always on his game.  His relaxed  natural swing, long drives and excellent short game, was and is enviable.

If you are going to fully embark on this once in a lifetime experience and enjoy playing golf in Scotland I highly recommend hiring a caddie, your golf experience will be heightened immensely.

The last three days of our eight day trip was spent in Edinburgh.  Our second accomodations were as perfect as the first. In Edinburgh we stayed in a historic greystone lower level townhouse apartment.  The street, Heriot Row was built during the Scottish Enlightenment period, over 200 years ago, and was the first street in the second phase of development commonly referred to as the “Second New Town”.  The townhouse was literally one block from the home of the author Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish novelist. Some of his most notable works were Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He lived at 17 Heriot Row from 1857 – 1880. Our townhouse was 26A on the same street. Now, that is truly historic.

Edinburgh is a city unlike any other.  Edinburgh Castle sits high on its perch, Castle Rock, keeping watch over the bustling city below. Visitors to the castle can take an audio guided tour, a group tour with a tour guide, or meander through the castle on their own. The sights and sounds of the castle are awe inspiring. The castle’s points of interest included the dungeons, once home to pirates, prisoners of war including captured American Revolutionary soldiers and to many other enemies of Scotland. The long lost Honours of Scotland which are the oldest surviving set of crown jewels in the British Isles dating back to fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are also on display. The jewels were hidden and forgotten about in the castle for over 100 years.  Edinburgh Castle is a must see.

The 24 hour hop off and hop on bus system is unbeatable. For a few extra pounds more you have 24 hour access to three bus lines that take you to many if not all of the tourist attractions the city of Edinburgh has to offer, including the Royal Yacht Britannia, the retired yacht of Queen Elizabeth II which is moored approximately 45 minutes beyond the city limits.

Prior to visiting Scotland, I never imagined, how enchanted and enthralled I could be by this country. There is so much more to see of this beautiful country. we just scratched the surface.  I’m not sure when we will revisit Scotland, but the one thing I am sure of is that we will return someday and I surmise that day will be sooner rather than later.

 

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