Some grief, some joy …

… memories are made of this.

The joy comes from the company, the startling landscape and the occasionally well struck golf ball.  The grief comes from the sliced drive into a rising westerly, the ball never to be seen again.  Sconser and Traigh are the distilled essence of Golf in the Wild – when the going gets tough, the tough don’t get going, they stand and stare.

It has become an annual ritual – drive part way into Scotland on Thursday night; head for Skye on Friday morning and meet up with David C of ScottishGolfbyTrain; play Sconser on Friday afternoon; catch the Ferry to Mallaig from Armadale on Friday evening; play in the Traigh Open on Saturday.  People might question the sanity of driving such distances (760 miles) for golf but that’s life, some will get it, some won’t.  It’s like riding a motorcycle at high speed or throwing an Elise into a long sweeping corner – until you have done it, there is no understanding.

I cannot get enough of Traigh so when the golf is done, I head for the ridge across the top of the course to watch the setting sun – there is nowhere else that provides such a magnificent panorama of the long day closing:

… Skye Golf Club, Sconser – more #GolfintheWild http://www.golfinthewild.co.uk

… the most spectacular places to play golf on the planet. The 2017 Traigh Open – more #GolfintheWild http://www.golfinthewild.co.uk

… below the golf course at Traigh.

… the clubhouse from the beach at Traigh

… the third green at Traigh.

… the view from the second tee at Traigh.

… below the golf course at Traigh.

… the ninth green at Traigh

On an entirely different topic, music has become a too cheap commodity. As a full subscriber to Amazon Music, I have access to a vast library way beyond my teenage imaginings. New releases are immediately available, listened to and then largely forgotten as I move on to grab the next handful of free sweets. I have lost touch with the cherished LP, the carefully considered purchase and the endless plays until every track was imprinted. I mention this because I hooked up my phone to the hire car’s sound system to find that only three albums were accessible, all by The Boxer Rebellion. After twelve hours behind the wheel, all the tracks are now reassuringly familiar:

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Sconser

Smoking can damage your health.  I have always known this.  On Boxing Day 1968 I was heading south on the old Derby Ring Road, destination Mallory Park for the annual winter race meeting.  I never finished the 180 mile round trip from Altrincham.  Distracted by my attempts to light up while at the wheel, I didn’t see the approaching roundabout until it was too late.  The only route was straight across the middle.  The high kerbs squared off the front wheels of my sky blue Mini (6428 VR), pushed back the subframe and cracked the front windscreen.  My pride and limited reserves were severely damaged.  I was seventeen and lacking the necessary powers of concentration.  Two more lesser incidents the following year finally drilled the message home – keep you mind on your drivin’, keep you hands on the wheel.

Now, ‘older and wiser’, I think nothing of driving 750 miles over a weekend except the incentive has changed; once it was racing circuits, now it is golf courses and in this instance, Sconser on the Isle of Skye followed by Traigh near Arisaig.

The Isle of Skye Golf Club sits next to the sea overlooking Raasay, the island with the haunted bridge and Calum’s Road.  To the north of the course is the Skye to Raasay ferry and at its southern end, Sconser quarry.  I like to imagine explosions from the quarry mid backswing and shrapnel peppering the second green. It has all the right ingredients for Golf in the Wild – the friendly but unpretentious clubhouse, empty fairways, well kept greens, mountains and the salty sea air.  The occasional midge is a price worth paying. Look up the hill from from the first green and the main road disappears; the clubhouse appears to sit alone in a mountainous landscape, the perfect illusion.

The differing filter effects reflect a very changeable day:

The first ... The first ... Towards ... The Raasay Ferry...

The following day’s weather was less mixed, more consistent – rain and wind. Nevertheless, we were determined to enjoy the Traigh Open and in a determined fashion we did. Many thanks to www.scottishgolfbytrain.co.uk for sharing in the highs and lows of Golf in the Wild at Sconser and Traigh.

The view from ... The view from the 2nd ...

Everything passes …

… everything changes, just do what you think you should do – To Ramona, Bob Dylan.

More than fifty years separate these images and much has changed in the intervening years, not least me.  In the earlier photograph I have adopted a ‘workman-like’ pose in contrast to my usual preference for pulling faces at the camera. In the later image I prefer to hide behind the lens.

The cars from the 1950s are lined up for the Ballachulish Ferry which is now replaced by the bridge, visible in the second image.  The hotel remains but the family car has transformed from plain and utilitarian into a sleek object of beauty.  In the older image we are gathered around my Dad’s Ford Consul (331 ELG) while the car in front, an ugly-duckling Vauxhall Victor, belonged to my Uncle Ed – they should have kept the Jaguar.

In 1959 we were travelling north to Cullen in Banffshire, a journey that took forever with an overnight stop in Callendar.  We used the only section of motorway built in the UK at the time but it did little to reduce journey times – the 8.5 mile Preston Bypass which eventually transformed into part of the M6.

In 2015 I have driven alone to play golf at Traigh near Arisaig, a brief few days away, not feasible in the 1950s.  On my return I could not resist the delights of the Dragon’s Tooth Course squeezed between mountains and loch, a few hundred yards from the Ballachulish Hotel.  It is a fine test of golf and feels like similar mature courses celebrating their centenaries but in 1959 it did not exist, the fields of Glenn a` Chadias were still being used for grazing cattle.  Everything passes, everything changes.

000-Ballachulish 1959 The queue lane ...
This final image from RMWeb.co.uk shows the ferry in action in 1962 from the other side of the loch, with the Ballachulish Hotel visible in the background. An early implementation of roll-on, roll-off.
003-Ferry postcard

Homeward bound …

I have been driving for an eternity. A two week car journey around Lapland was immediately followed by a 700 mile round trip to Traigh Golf Course near Arisaig.  The greater the effort the greater the rewards and both adventures were very rewarding even if I left my golf game at home for the latter. I have limited this post to just two images – the first from our last full day at Abisko in Sweden and the second from a late evening drive between Traigh and Acharacle (the view to the small isles from Glenuig).  Hopefully both explain why the effort was worth it:

What is this life if ...
The view to the small isles ...

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art

This is the opportunity for some self-promotion, so apologies 😛 . This is the cover of my recently published book, Golf in the Wild Consistent with the challenge, the image is “intended to echo a particular character of the subject matter, an essence that words fail to capture with simplicity”.  The view is from the third green of the glorious Traigh Golf Course near Arisaig.

2000-The-Cover-Version-12-wordpress

This is the first independent review from the October issue of the Killin News:

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

And this is the inside cover:

2001-Inside-Cover-Version-7-wordpress

(click on the images to enlarge)

Travel theme: Possibility & Poll

After three years of writing and research there is every possibility that my golfing travelogue, Golf in the Wild, will finally get into print during 2014. This is one of the photographs that will appear in its pages – the beginning of a round at one of my favourite courses in the book, Traigh.

As I wander around Traigh golf course looking for the honesty box, two Phantoms explode the silence overhead and disappear south in the blinking of an eye.  Higher still, passenger jets scar a clear blue sky with vapour trails.  There is no escaping the modern world; there should be no forgetting the past.  Eventually a friendly local turned up to take my money and open up the clubhouse – I could go to the first tee with a clear conscience, at least in matters related to green fees.

For an idea of how this wonderful small course sits in the landscape, see this earlier post.

Traigh clubhouseI have a question for non-UK based followers. Does the following mean anything to you?

If Alfred Wainwright had combined an eighteen handicap with a passion for speed, these are the golf courses he might have played, these are the roads he might have travelled.  If Alan Bennett had gone along for the ride, these are the stories he might have told.

Regardless of your interest in golf, I would appreciate your feedback – it seems unlikely that either Wainwright or Bennett was ever tempted to take up the game 🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

The sea! The sea!  The open sea!
The blue, the fresh, the ever free!
Without a mark, without a bound,
It runneth the earth’s wide regions round.
It plays with the clouds, it mocks the sky,
Or like a cradled creature lies

The first verse from the poem “The Sea” by Bryan Waller Procter (pseud. Barry Cornwall: 1787 – 1874) reproduced in Edmund Clarence Stedman’s A Victorian Anthology (McCullin, 1990)

Over the sea to Skye – aboard the Mallaig to Armadale ferry:

The Sea

The Sea

Another image from the same trip, this time from land.  The picture was taken the evening before; it is the view from Traigh Golf Club car park across a firey sea to the Inner Hebrides:

The sea

(click on images to enlarge)