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:


An earlier post, Seaside Golf, explores the fall out from this atomic energy site (pun intended).

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Fairway and tarmac …

There are no signs.  The implication is that if you don’t know where to go then you shouldn’t be here.  It will be different when the Open arrives along these shores but at all other times, Muirfield is discreet, understated, almost forbidding.

It starts in the car park.  Should I really be here.  Is this row of covered stalls really intended for guests.  The pewter grey Elise looks perfectly at home, more at ease in its surroundings than me.  The walk to the course and clubhouse is no less a pilgrimage than first steps along Magnolia Drive.  Still there are no signs but the imposing P Johnson & Co Iron Gates is the obvious direction – if Bates Motel had boasted a golf course, this is how the entrance might have looked.  To the right is the pedestrian gate and this alone solemnly announces that you have arrived at The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

Inside the clubhouse my generous host for the day gives me a tour of the inner sanctum: the wood panelling and changing room reminiscent of a boys grammar; the polished trophies, some of the earliest ever played for; the tall red-coated portraits; the maps portraying the evolution of the course; the dark bust of the 1950s Captain, C J Y Dallmeyer; the scorecards from past Opens and a replica of the Claret Jug, complete with up-to-date engravings – 2017 Open Winner, Jordan Spieth.  Quiet as a library, this place is special.  In the hall I meet the Recorder, various members and later the Captain – all welcoming, polite, men of standing.  This is not the stuffy, jurassic establishment portrayed by the social and print media, this is the polar opposite.

The seventh, Muirfield

We play foursomes, the traditional Muirfield game – my playing partner takes the odd tees and I take the evens such that I will take the final drive up the eighteenth. I had no preconceived agenda about setting a score so assistance and a joint responsibility suits me fine.  More than that, it is a thoroughly enjoyable team game and we rise to the occasion, hitting fairways and sinking putts – a birdie at the par 5 ninth puts us five up.  At the turn, we head to the clubhouse for lunch. This is how all golf should be played. ‘And, if it be retorted that a player plays twice as many shots in a fourball game as in a Foursome, the Muirfield man would reply – “Play 36 holes in 4 ½ hours and you will get the same number of shots, twice the exercise, far more fun, and you won’t have to wait between shots.  Furthermore you will learn to play better golf.” ‘ – Foreward to G Pottinger’s Muirfield and the Honourable Company.

The thirteenth – unlucky for some, we made par 😉

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.

Sure enough, post lunch, our partners make a comeback.  We are playing to Colonel Dallmeyer’s rules.  Individual handicaps are ignored – each team plays level until one pair goes three-up and your opponents receive strokes until the leading pair are back to one-up.  After the sixteenth we are playing level again – we lead by one with two holes to play.  All of the Muirfield holes have witnessed high drama and historic occasions, none more so than the 17th at the 1972 Open.  Trevino has hacked his way into rough at the back of the green in four, Jacklin is sitting comfortably on the green in three:

On the same hole we are lying three in the semi-rough to the right of the green having avoided some monstrous bunkers – our opponents have been in several:

… Hew extracting himself from a bunker on the 17th – not for the first time.

I chip within a distance short enough to be given the hole – we have won 2&1 – what Jacklin would have given for five at the 17th in 1972.  That year I was oblivious to the high drama being acted out at Muirfield.  On the same day and around the same time I know exactly where I was – at Brands Hatch for the 1972 British Grand Prix, watching Emerson Fittipaldi take the flag for Lotus.  In those far-off days, major sporting events were concluded on Saturdays, not Sundays.  The modern migration to the Sabbath has less to do with the slackening of religious observance and more to do with maximising TV exposure.  This fuzzy clip from Brands was filmed by BBC Eurovison and the commentary is in Austrian:

This youthful obsession explains the Lotus in the Muirfield car park – it is not about prestige or one-upmanship, it is about history, teenage dreams and the joy of driving – as Andrew Frankel recently observed in Motor Sport – ‘The secret is not to go lobbing it around – the pleasure comes not from power and slides but feel and finesse’ – it has ‘a level of feel that makes all other sports cars seem like you’re driving them wearing oven mitts … the car is simply fabulous’.

However, I confess, given the choice now, I would be at the Open – modern day F1 is a pale shadow of its former self.  It has been a convoluted journey from Kentish tarmac to the fairways of East Lothian.

The eighteenth – as a consolation, our opponents win the hole with par.

With sincerest thanks to David S-S for organising my visit and to Hew and Mark for their excellent company. A very memorable day.

Motorcycles …

… and the places they take me. As I type, the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia is juggling the tree tops and spreading leaves across empty Northumbrian fields.  The summer is long gone.  A daily photographic diary is a striking reminder of how the landscape changes from the lush greens of summer to an autumnal palette in the blink of an eye.  It is also a reminder of the places I have been when the sun was at its highest:

… Vulcan XJ 823 and the Scrambler at Carlisle Airport – the latter on its way for a first MOT

… the Scrambler, back at Crindledykes on new rubber – Michelin Anakees

… country roads, take me home – the Scrambler above Henshaw.

… to Carter Bar via Carlisle and Hawick – 134 miles

… ‘Skid Risk’ – actually a racing certainty with steep gradients and hairpins.

… Portobello, near Edinburgh – long ride on the Tracer to meet eldest son at The Beach House Cafe.

… to Sunny Corner, Carrshield

… The Monster of Plenmeller

… back roads near Simonburn, Northumberland

… Keep Out would be more succinct – RAF Spadeadam

… Parkgates above Allendale

… A Bridge too Far meets The Great Escape – Whygate, near Stonehaugh

… Autumn, its light and colours, is arriving fast.

As the year turns, the bikes will spend longer in the garage, as will the golf clubs. It is time to make some serious progress on the sequel to Golf in the Wild – a bit like a 2nd LP, I am finding the follow-up much harder going 🙂

Dunston Staiths

Dunston Staiths, on the River Tyne, is believed to be the largest timber structure in Europe. It is a Scheduled Monument, Grade II listed and is owned by registered charity Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust (TWBPT).

Opened in 1893 by the North East Railway Company, it was built to allow large quantities of coal arriving by rail from the Durham Coalfields to be loaded directly onto waiting colliers (coal ships) ready for the onward journey to customers in London and abroad. At the coal industry’s peak around 5.5 million tons of coal was moved this way each year – http://www.dunstonstaiths.org.uk/

This short film, Coal Staiths of the Tyne, shows the site in operation in the early 1970s,  The set of wonderful stills were taken by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen.

Strangles

Getting down to the beach was never easy and the last stretch was always a slight concern with three children in tow.  Thirty years later the direct route has been closed off due to erosion and the last 15 feet requires the use of ropes, the gentler drop to the beach having been washed away by the sea.  It is worth making the effort.

Padstow, Boscastle, Tintagel and Port Isaac, respectively made famous by food, flood, legend and soap opera, are overwhelmed with day trippers.  Strangles is empty.

And yet, some 100 feet above the beach I catch the faint smell of wood burning and, as we drop onto the beach, to the south, there is the cackle of a minor rock fall.  I sense we are being watched.

Well, the-
The ocean doesn’t want me today
But I’ll be back tomorrow to play
And the strangles will take me
Down deep in their brine
The mischievous brain jewels
Down into the endless blue wine
I’ll open my head and let out all of my time
I’d love to go drowning
And to stay and to stay
But the ocean doesn’t want me today
I’ll go in up to here
It can’t possibly hurt
All they will find is my beer and my shirt
A rip tide is ragin’
And the life guard’s away
But the ocean doesn’t want me today
But the ocean doesn’t want me today
The ocean doesn’t want me today

Tom Waits

With thanks to gavinclinch on Blip for making the connection between the place, the images and this Tom Waits track.

St Enodoc

In previous years I have approached St Enodoc Church from Daymer Bay but this time we parked at Rock and ended up walking down the tenth in the company of a local four-ball.  At stroke index 1 (i.e. ranked the hardest hole on the course), it looks a real stinker with thick trees and bushes all the way down the left, steeply banked rough to the right and the narrowest of fairways in between.  The pin remains out of sight to the last.

Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman  was buried in St Enodoc churchyard in 1984.  His coffin was carried down the tenth in the heaviest of weather, perfect conditions for a bleak Cornish funeral.  As a middling golfer I doubt he looked forward to playing this hole.  His poem, Seaside Golf, was inspired by the 13th:

I played an iron sure and strong
And clipp’d it out of sight,
And spite of grassy banks between
I knew I’d find it on the green.

And so I did. It lay content
Two paces from the pin;
A steady putt and then it went
Oh, most securely in.
The very turf rejoiced to see
That quite unprecedented three.

The parody, written by fellow member Sir Robin Butler, must surely have been inspired by the tenth:

I played an iron sure and strong,
A fraction to the right
I knew that when I reached my ball
I’d find it underneath the wall.

And so I did. I chipped it low
And thinned it past the pin
And to and fro, and to and fro
I tried to get it in;
Until, intoning oaths obscene
I holed it out in seventeen

This well known view from the St Enodoc churchyard captures all that Sir John loved about this place – the ancient church rooted to the landscape, the wild Atlantic Cornish coast and the links course in between:

We caught up with the same four-ball as we crossed the fairway to Daymer Bay:
Golfer: ‘Been to seek forgiveness?’
Me: ‘Nope, to pray for a better a golf swing’
Golfer: ‘I’ve tried that – it doesn’t work’.

Despite the prospect of the tenth, St Enodoc remains on my golfing bucket list – the game is fundamentally a masochistic endeavour.

The background to St Enodoc on Wiki is so good, I thought it worth repeating here:

The church is situated in sand dunes east of Daymer Bay and Brea Hill on the River Camel estuary. Wind-driven sand has formed banks that are almost level with the roof on two sides. From the 16th century to the middle of the 19th century, the church was virtually buried by the dunes and was known locally as “Sinking Neddy” or “Sinkininny Church”. To maintain the tithes required by the church, it had to host services at least once a year, so the vicar and parishioners descended into the sanctuary through a hole in the roof. By 1864 it was unearthed and the dunes were stabilised. The church is surrounded by the course of the St Enodoc Golf Club.

Boscastle Regatta

Skippers and mates and rowing club eights
All messin’ about on the river
Capstans and quays where you tie up with ease
All messin’ about on the river
Outboards and inboards and dinghys you sail
The first thing you learn is the right way to bale
In a one man canoe you’re both skipper and crew
Messin’ about on the river