From Cruden Bay I headed inland through whiskey country which included a stop at the Glenfiddich Distillery.
My two hour drive took me into the mountains. I stayed at Ravenscraig Guest House in Aviemore. It was the last week of the ski season and I was tempted to go snowboarding, just so that I could say that I did it but if I did that it would eat into my plan to play 36 at the James Braid designed Boat-of-Garten Golf Club.
Boat-of-Garten was the only parkland course I was going to play during my holiday. I had read that it was one of Scotland`s hidden gems and it turned out to be a real treat. I practically had the entire course to myself. There were wonderful elevation changes and the layout moved you deftly through the forest with the mountains looming in the distance the whole time. At the 15th tee you get a majestic view of a working farm full of sheep (of course) in a beautiful valley setting with a river running through it.
I didn`t stick around Aviemore to sight-see though. My next stop was Dornoch and I wanted to get there as soon as I could to soak up the ambience. It was a good thing too that I left when I did. As I drove up through Inverness I was able to enjoy a beautiful and vibrant rainbow spanning one of the many emerald valleys that hold the country`s true beauty.
I arrived in Dornoch around 7:00pm and checked into my B&B. Once settled, I headed back out the door to enjoy the beach and the town. Dornoch is rich with tradition.
The town is so far north that there is barely a hint of the modern world in any of the buildings. One can easily imagine Old Tom Morris and his team taking in the town almost exactly as it is right now.
I stepped onto the Royal Dornoch Golf Club for the first time just before dusk. At that time of night there aren`t any golfers left. You only hear the sea and the birds. I headed out on the hallow grounds. I walked the 1st and 2nd holes and then crossed over to the 15th so that I could walk along the sea. Up ahead I saw a local walking his dog along the 16th fairway. I walked down the 18th as the sun slipped down behind the horizon. I climbed in my car and headed to bed. I hoped my dreams of the course could match the reality.
When I checked in at the pro shop in the morning the pro commented on how odd it was the wind was up that early in the morning.
It usually didn`t arrive until around 11. Hmm, lucky me. You`ve probably read many accounts of golf at Royal Dornoch. I can tell you that every superlative is true. The course is immaculate. The layout is perfect.
The front nine are protected from the sea by dunes and the beautiful gorse. Yes, I said beautiful gorse. You see our impressions of gorse stems from seeing it as a dull grey shrub when we watch the British Open played in July. But in April, a beautiful yellow bud blooms on gorse and it gives fairways a clear definition.
When you make the turn at 10 you are standing next to the sea and the full force of the wind hits you dead in the face. You might as well accept it, if you didn`t score well on the front, you are doomed on the back. Of course seeing each of the wonderful holes unfold ahead of you eases the pain somewhat. Adding to my enjoyment was the fact that I was paired for the first time on this trip and I played with a delightful teaching pro from Australia. He had played for a couple of years on the Australian Tour but had settled into a nice job in Melbourne. Watching his fluid swing time and time again took my mind off of my mounting score.
The only thing wrong with Royal Dornoch is that they only allow visitors to play one round in a day. This unfortunate fact meant that I had more time for sightseeing. I headed north from Dornoch to Dunrobin Castle, one of the few working castles in the country.
Built in the 13th century, Dunrobin is unlike almost every other castle on this trip in that it isn`t riddled with holes. As a matter of fact, this is the largest house in the Highlands. There are stunning gardens and a fully stalked aviary.
Two hours after walking through the castles front doors, I was back out on the road headed south on A9 to A82. I was traveling towards the Kintyre which was too far to travel to in one day so, after passing through Loch Ness (I didn`t see no monster!) –
I stopped for the night in Ft. Williams.