We spent our last few days in Scotland at a place called the Tulloch Castle Hotel. I had wanted to give my mother a real castle experience, and this one seemed to fit the bill. The building began as a fortress, with turrets and cut outs through which folks used to pour hot oil and the like, and over time it became a manor house. It was just great, although it’s a little frayed at the edges and the staff was a wee bit overmatched. For example, one morning I attempted to deviate from the standard massive Scottish breakfast, which is made up of eggs, haggis, black pudding, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, and something called a “potato scone.” If you want to order this monstrosity you have to present proof that you’re on a heart transplant waiting list. Anyway, it may be a little late in this trip to start adjusting my portion size, but I asked for a simple plate of eggs, beans, and tomatoes and the very nice server stopped me mid-stream, “just tell me what you DON’T want.” Another time, the water shut off (also mid-stream, as it turns out, while, in perfect sitcom fashion, Janine was completely lathered in the shower) and when I called to the front desk the woman replied, brusquely, “we’ll sort it,” and hung up on me. Ten seconds later, the water was back on.
Something strange was going on here. At least they like to think something strange is going on here. One night, a very amiable young fellow tending bar took us on the hotel’s “ghost” tour, gamely offering various tales of the supernatural, including the presence of “orbs” of light and the ghost of a young girl who was said to have met an untimely end in the house. I’m not sure he was persuaded that there are actually any ghosts in the joint (“I believe what I see,” he told us), but we did get a nice tour around the old place, which is complete with an oak paneled study and two stately great rooms (or two great stately rooms), all of which continue to be well used. We also got to sneak up onto the roof, which felt kind of deviant. Even my mother, bless her, trudged up the turret stairs to the top.
Was this Fawlty Towers? Certainly not. For one thing, our room was the bomb – a two bedroom, two bath suite with a fireplace. The place was bigger than many apartments we’ve had and it even had a view of a cliché field of bleating, cuddly, and delicious looking spring lambs. It wasn’t quite Downton Abbey, but Tulloch was old and creaky and completely Scottish, which is worth a lot if you ask me.
There was one more very Scottish thing I had to do – play golf. I used to be good, although now I’m quite lousy. Still, how does a golf lover go to Scotland and not play golf? I had always wanted to play St. Andrews, which is said to be the birthplace of golf, but tee times at St. Andrews are taken well in advance. Neverthless, Royal Dornoch is considered by many to be the best course in Scotland, and they were willing to have me. So when people ask me if I’ve played St. Andrews I can tell them no, I’ve played Scotland’s best course, Royal Dornoch. And they’ll yawn. What schmuck goes to Scotland and doesn’t play St. Andrews? This schmuck, thank you very much.
Royal Dornoch is a classically beautiful oceanside Scottish golf course all the same, full of things that will swallow your golf ball, including pot bunkers and this stuff called gorse – a lovely golden-flowered hedge covered with spikes. If your golf ball goes in there consider it a donation. Then there’s the weather. There’s an old Scottish saying – “if there’s n’ae wind and n’ae rain, there’s n’ae golf.” Well, applying that logic, there was plenty of golf. When I teed off, the temperature was about 50 with a wind in our face of about twenty miles an hour or so. The first eight holes went straight into that wind, turning each and every shot into an adventure. But at least it wasn’t raining. As soon as we turned around (Scottish “links” courses like Dornoch typically go in one direction for the first nine holes and then turn around and come the other direction for the second nine) we had the wind at our backs, but that’s when the rain hit. It could not have been a more cliché Scottish cold, windy, and wet day if it tried. Braveheart had better weather.
By the time it was over I couldn’t feel my feet or my hands, but I was still happy. I spent the day slogging through the Scottish seaside with my trusty caddy, a very helpful and supportive young fellow named Ian, who kept my morale up despite my many visits to the gorse. (I actually ran out of golf balls on the seventeenth hole and, taking a chapter from “Shameful Moments in Sports History” I had to borrow a golf ball from my playing partner.) And yet, on the eighteenth green, there was Ian, trying to give me advice on how to play my hundredth and somethingth shot (“just putt it a wee bit from left to right”). Poor guy. It was like doing a nose job on a cadaver.
I didn’t care. I shouldn’t get much sympathy complaining about losing golf balls at Royal Dornoch. Janine continues to remind me that it is unseemly to complain about travel, and of course she’s right. The fact is that I have adored Scotland – its picturesque golf courses, drafty castles, ridiculously beautiful countryside, glorious capital city, and all that haggis. What’s not to like?