Alnmouth

This blog is being neglected, not as a result of a conscious decision but simply through lack of time.  In part this is due to the ongoing heatwave in the UK; I don’t remember anything like it since 1976.  We travelled in the first part of the year but now I am locked into a cycle of golf, golf administration and putting many miles on motorcycles.  In short, I am making hay while the sun shines because at some point this must end.

This set of images is from a trip to the coast over the weekend.  It is perhaps indicative of a compulsive tendency that the coastal walk should skirt two golf courses, Alnmouth Village and the Foxton.  Perhaps I am in need of help 🙂

The Foxton golf course, Alnmouth

Alnmouth beach as the temperatures rise

On the beach Alnmouth beach

One man, two dogs, Alnmouth beach

Alnmouth beach

Northumberland’s fields of gold

Amble Harbour, lazin’ on a sunny afternoon

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First impressions …

I knew nothing of this place before I came, Southwold, indeed Suffolk was a mystery.  All I knew had been gleaned from the endless repeats of Coast on the BBC.  Except, for some reason, I remembered that Gordon Brown had holidayed here.  Regardless of your political persuasion, Gordon, a son of the manse, is never going to be your first point of reference for advice on having a good time.

As it turns out, according to Andrew Rawnsley, the holiday was nothing more than a PR stunt by Sarah Brown, an initiative designed to suggest that the Prime Minister was on the same wavelength as middle England.  History shows it didn’t work, not only that, “he hated every minute of it and couldn’t wait to get back to Scotland”.  Like I said, not your first point of reference for advice on having a good time.

It may appeal to middle England but it has a distinctly New England feel.  There is nothing to hate and much to like – busier than I would prefer (it is the end of half-term week), it is pretty, unspoilt and not overtly commercialised.  So far we have only spent time in Halesworth, Southwold and Walberswick but, it is already easy to imagine coming back:

Across the River Blyth, Southwold Harbour

Fish for sale, Southwold Harbour

Sheds at Southwold Harbour

The ferry, Southwold Harbour

Some like fishing, some don’t

Southwold in a sea mist

Southwold beach and distant pier in a sea mist

The Volunteers …

Cullen Links is one of the more remarkable golf courses in Scotland.  Squeezed between the sea and the high ground above the bay where the Great North of Scotland Railway once steamed, the limited acreage demanded an imaginative course design.  At first nine holes, it was extended to eighteen in 1905 and opened by “Sheriff Reid from Banff, in the presence of a large and representative company”.

Extension was achieved by use of high ground above Round Craig and Boar Craig.  You can get some idea of the height achieved by standing at the foot of the town’s railway viaduct as it towers above.  Then consider this – by the time you reach the upper level of the course, the railway has disappeared into a cutting beneath the level of the 5th fairway.  At the seventh, with one glorious drive into the unknown, you descend in a single shot to sea-level.  Forget the Pacific Highway, this is the best drive in the world.

Golf in the Wild at Cullen. The view of the 12th green from the 7th tee – the 13th tee is adjacent to the green and plays between the rocks on the right.

Golf in the Wild at Cullen. The view from the 4th tee.

Despite the course skirting the beach, there are not many opportunities for even the wildest of hitters to reach the briney sea.  Only at the ninth do you aim towards the bay and it would be a monstrous misjudgement to reach the shore.  However, that is not to say that there are no balls in the bay, indeed, there could be thousands.

On the original course map, at a position roughly in line with the current 16th tee, there is marked a “Battery” and on the wall of the clubhouse, an image of a row of cannons.

The exact purpose of the battery is unclear, but presumably there was some thought to coastal defence. However, while possibly never fired in anger, they were certainly exercised regularly for “Volunteers Big Gun Practice”, a sport which bears some resemblance to foursomes golf. A press cutting from the time indicates that the match was halved:

On Friday last, this Company, under the command of Capt. Ross and Lieut. Peterkin, fired off the remaining allowance of shot and shell for year 1865.  The day fixed on was anything but favourable for practice – the wind blowing a regular gale off the land – yet the detachments mustered at the stated time nothing daunted, and it was a general remark of the on-lookers at the battery, that seldom if ever had such fine practice been made in like weather.  At the conclusion of the practice, Adjutant Crabbe, who was present inspecting, complimented the several detachments in the highest terms, both as to their efficiency at drill, and their precision in the laying of guns.  In the course of the evening, the recruits of the company competed for the prize of one thousand rounds of carbine cartridge, given by Alex. Wilson, Esq., Tochineal, a thorough supporter of Volunteer matters.  The prizes were to have been awarded to those showing the greatest proficiency in big gun drill.  The contest was judged by Adjutant Crabbe, and in presence of Captain Ross, and other officers, along with Mr Wilson, and a goodly number of the company, when it was agreed that distinction or any individual superiority could not well be pronounced, the whole having done their part so well, so that the prize came to be equally divided among the ten young recruits of the detachment, giving satisfaction to all.  As a finish, three hearty cheers were heartily accorded to Mr Wilson by all present.

With thanks to Cullen Past and Present and Cullen Links for unearthing the information relating to the Battery.

Golf in the Wild – Going Home is a work in progress – the sequel to www.golfinthewild.co.uk

The Light Railway

The Wick to Lybster Railway conformed to the Light Railway Act of 1896 which did not demand specific legislation to construct.   Reducing legal costs and enabling new railways to be built quickly, it was intended to encourage the building of new ‘light railways’ in areas of low population.  Using the powers of this Act, the Wick to Lybster Light Railway finally opened 1st July 1903 but with the new legislation came certain restrictions: the weight of the rolling stock could not exceed 12 tons on any one axle; the maximum speed was 25 mph, reducing to 10 mph on curves which had a radius of less than 9 chains; level crossings had to be approached at no more than 10 mph.

The decline of the fishing industry at Lybster and the construction of a road between Wick and Helmsdale in the 1930s signalled the end for the Light Railway which closed on 1st April 1944.  John Skene who was the driver of the first train on the opening day of the railway in 1903 steamed up the engine for the last trip in 1944.

Perhaps because of the harsh terrain and climate, perhaps because of its ‘light’ construction, little remains visible – the occasional embankment seen from the A9, the hint of a cutting through an empty field and maybe the odd stationmaster’s house, largely indeterminate from other Caithness architecture.  The wonderful exceptions are the station buildings at Thrumster and Lybster.  Following the line’s closure, Thrumster Station continued life as a Post Office, a caravan site office and finally a garage store before being acquired by the Yarrows Trust in 2003.  It is now perfectly preserved internally and externally, defiantly sited just a few feet from the busy A9, heading north to Wick.

Thrumster Station

The station at Lybster survives through simple vested interest – it is now the clubhouse for the Lybster Golf Club where the cutting heads north west through the course and the 7th whites tee box sits in the middle of the line – it is a pity that there is no longer any evidence of the platform:

Lybster Station

From Cawfield Quarry …

… to Ventners Hall, south to Caw Gap and back to the quarry along the top of Cawfield Crags – a 3.47 miles amble without too many steep ascents/descents.  Motorcycling keeps you fit 🙂  I discover these places on two wheels and then go back with the good wife to explore on foot.  This explains the colour image at the start of this collection – taken on a different day to the subsequent monos:

OS Map

Cawfield Quarry

High Close a Burns

Looking east from Close a Burns

Looking north towards Close a Burns

Hadrian’s Wall Country just north of Caw Gap

Looking west from Cawfield Crags

It’s good to remember …

old friends.

Last Sunday evening Miss Janet Clinksale was sitting in her cottage in the Berwickshire village of Chirnside, listening to Songs of Praise on television.

Janet’s home is close to Chirnside kirk, and it was in the churchyard there that Jim Clark was laid to rest two weeks ago.  From her window, Janet could see scores of visitors passing her cottage to visit Jim’s grave, and pay tribute to him.

As you may know, Songs of Praise came from Lenzie last week, and it was led by Kenneth McKellar.  When Kenneth began to sing, as a solo, the old Easter hymn, “When I survey the Wondrous Cross,” it was so beautiful that Janet turned up the sound on her TV, and threw open her front door so the visitors could hear it, too.

As Kenneth’s voice soared out into the still, sunny evening, echoing over the fields, the strangers on the road stopped and gathered round Janet’s door to listen.  Then one of them began to sing the hymn quietly, until all of them were singing it with Kenneth McKellar.  Even the village bobby was there, standing with them.

It was one of those magic moments when time seems to stand still – and when the last notes died away and the visitors turned to go, they took with them a memory that will always be green.

A local Borders paper, May 1968.

Jim Clark’s memory still burns bright.  On Saturday (7th April 2018) we drove the Elise up to Duns and Chirnside, fifty years to the day since that tragic accident at Hockenheim on the saddest of Sundays. Newtown Street in Duns was closed off – a variety of Lotus cars lined the road, Classic Team Lotus displayed a collection of his single seaters, there was an anniversary exhibition at Chirnside Hall and a Commemoration Service at Chirnside Church.

Lotus 43

Lotus 43 + the BRM H-16

Duns, 7th April 2018

A small selection the Evoras and Elises at Duns

Lotus 11 Westfield replica,

This is one of my favourite stories from that sad time which occurred many miles from the small town of Chirnside.  I first came across it in Eric Dymock’s 1997 book – Jim Clark – Tribute to a Champion, Prologue and Epilogue, page 26 – it is unattributed.  The Motor Sport archive is more specific: Shortly after Ed and Sally (Swart) moved to California in 1980 they attended a beach party where one of the guests told them that the day after Clark’s death he had been driving along the 405 freeway.  The announcer on the radio suggested that all those listening who were mourning the death of “the great racing driver Jim Clark” should turn on their headlights. He said the whole of the 405 lit up.

Northumberland in mono …

… by now these images should show hints of springtime colour but Northumberland, for the most part, remains determinedly black and white.  To quote Joan Didion, we live entirely by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.  Put simply, March, and now the beginnings of April, do not fit my narrative line.  I have put 498 miles on the Yamaha since January 1st and squeezed five rounds of golf between the snow showers. Every mile and every fairway I have been clobbered up to the nines with multiple layers and thermals.  Enough is enough – let’s skip spring and go straight to summer:

Sandhoe in the snow

Snow and frozen puddle – on the road to Fawcett Hill

Afternoon light, Beaufront Woodhead

Up the hill to Beaufront Woodhead

Under March skies

The wrong line

St John’s, Whitfield

Misty morning, Beaufront Woodhead

Misty morning, Beaufront Woodhead

Hexham in heavy rain

Stublick Chimney

Towards Branchend

To emphasise the point, these last two images were taken today, 1st April. I was on the way to Allendale Golf Club to take part in the first competition of the year – it soon became evident this was not a practical proposition. I turned around 😦