Image Pixabay license public domain

To the visitor at least, the country’s capital would probably be regarded as Scotland’s most charismatic city in terms of its aesthetics and character. The attractions it offers are genuine rather than manufactured.

Edinburgh has a distinct vision between the ‘old town’ and the ‘new town’. The old town is set on the hills and includes the area around the castle. This part of Edinburgh is characterised by its narrower streets and gothic architecture and would be considered to perhaps have a little bit of a sub-culture about it. The new town is to the north Prince’s Street and is distinctly more Georgian in its period. It’s more open and leafy with wider streets and altogether more airy

The city is overlooked by the castle, which is a staple for visiting tourists. It was built on a volcanic plug which glaciers divided around unable to erode the hard-wearing rock. The result was a ‘crag and tail’; the tail being the incline that leads up to the gates. From its prominent position it looks down on the Prince’s Street gardens and National gallery below, the gardens themselves once being a natural lake, and where you can climb the classical gothic structure; the Scott Monument.

Prince’s Street and the ‘old towns’ Royal mile, stretch from the Royal Palace of Holyrood to the castle, although the traditional line has been broken up a bit with new additions. In any event, the Royal Mile is likely to be where you’ll spend most of your time taking in the eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, pubs, and other popular Edinburgh visitor attractions.

Prince’s Street. Image Pixabay license public domain

Edinburgh is perhaps optimistically called ‘the Athens of the North’ which owes something to its own national monument on Calton Hill and other stylised Greek influences. The explanation is more straight-forward. Edinburgh had started to build its New Town in the 1770s, but there were few grand public buildings, and as the confidence of the city grew, so did calls for suitable monuments to showcase its achievements. It’s natural topography invited travellers to draw comparisons with the Acropolis and Parthenon of Athens. Where as Glasgow drew on its indigenous Arts and Crafts movement, Edinburgh adopted classical Greek designs. This is a vibrant and charismatic city of colour and personality and very, very, rarely do you hear a dissenting word uttered.

It’s symbiosis of Gothic and classical Greek influences give the Edinburgh skyline both personality and contradiction. Edinburgh is a city of culture and character, and to be honest, if the high brow stuff isn’t to your taste, then its not short on the entertainment and hospitality front.

During the month of August Edinburgh hosts its world famous arts festival. For the visitor, it’s a great time to be here. The city is alive, it’s colourful and its hums. ‘Vibrancy’ is a word much over-used in the travel lexicon, but when describing Edinburgh in August, its a fair application. We do have to admit however that accommodation becomes harder to find, and Edinburgh hoteliers long ago realised that demand exceeded supply! One of the most sought after tickets for the festival is the ‘military tattoo’ held at the castle every evening. If your taste is little bit more contemporary and avant-garde then there are no shortage of options on ‘the Fringe’ which attracts many break through acts, and has a reputation for innovation.

The military tattoo is a pageant of colour with visiting display teams coming from all over the world. Image by Xlibber CC by SA 2.0

Immortalised in a 1961 Disney film, another one of Edinburgh’s visitor attractions is ‘Greyfriars Bobby’. Greyfriars is a cemetery, and ‘Bobby’ a Skye Terrier who became known in 19th-century Edinburgh for spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner until he died himself in 1872. Finally, if you only have time to visit one Scottish palace, Edinburgh’s Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century. The current Queen Elizabeth spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer. The 16th century apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots and the State Apartments, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public throughout the year, except when members of the Royal Family are in residence.

The Highlands. Loch Ness, Culloden & Dunrobin

© photo by Nilfanion CC BY-SA 3.0

Scotland is a country of strange myths and legends, and none has proven more enduring than that told about sightings of mysterious cash payments made by the Highlands and Islands Tourist Board to anyone able to capture on celluloid, a grainy image of semi-submerged car tyres, floating in formation on Loch Ness.

Whereas eco-tourism has experienced something of a global boom in recent decades as people flock from all over the world to see rare creatures in the wild, the Scots might have taken this a step further though and created an interest point where one doesn’t exist! (or does it?).

Sadly the evidence against a Plesiosaur lurking in the depths of Loch Ness is becoming quite compelling, but there is still a mystery as to what it is that is frequently seen in the Loch? For years the strongest evidence rested with the so-called surgeons photograph. This became the iconic face of ‘Nessie’. The surgeon in question was Kenneth Wilson, a respected man of impeccable standing. Sadly he was also a friend of ‘big-game hunter’ Marmaduke Wetherell, who had been engaged by a British newspaper at the height of Nessie hysteria in 1934 to hunt down the illusive monster. After five fruitless days Wetherell produced an animal track. The excitable newspaper duly made a cast and sent it off to the British museum who wasted little time in identifying ‘exhibit A’ as belonging to a Hippopotamus. Not exactly native to the Highlands of Scotland. The newspaper sensing they’d ‘been had’ set about Wetherell, who protested that all he was doing was giving them the story that they and their readers craved, regardless of facts (something that might ring an ironic bell, given that the newspaper concerned was the Daily Mail). In order to extract a revenge of sorts, Wetherell persuaded the altogether more plausible Wilson to stage the now infamous photograph using a small mock head and neck submerged on a minor floatation device. It was only from beyond the grave that Wilson owned up to his deception. Indeed, the original monster’s head and neck were recovered from their concealed place of hiding. The surgeon had left a confession to be made public upon his demise.

The myths and legends of Loch Ness have endured for centuries. Image by Pixabay public domain

The Loch can still provide a good return provided you aren’t seduced into setting siege to it from a lay-by on the A82 with a pair of binoculars, thermos flask, and supply of inadequate sandwiches. The answer is to get out on the water.

There are two options. The first involves a sedate cruise on a custom built observation boat that comes equipped with all the latest sonar and even a heated saloon. The second involves the fastest boat on the Loch; the RIB. With its low draft and top-speed of about 40 knots, this is the most exhilarating way to see the Loch as you skim over its dark water at speed.

A three-hour trip usually visits, Boleskine House which used to be owned by Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame) who claimed it was haunted by a severed head (there’s easy line here somewhere!). Cory’s Cave, an extremely well-hidden cave named after a local man who became a fugitive after he shot at the Duke of Cumberland’s Redcoats during the ’45 rebellion. The site where John Cobb tried to break the world water speed record in his jet speedboat Crusader in 1952. He died during the attempt whilst travelling at a speed in excess of 200mph.

Towards the northern end of the Loch is Urquhart Castle. The present ruins date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, albeit there is evidence of a wooden fort dating to the 6th century. Urquhart played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century and was subsequently held as a royalist castle. It was raided on several occasions by the MacDonald’s of Ross. The castle was granted to the Clan Grant in 1509. Despite a series of further raids the castle was strengthened, only to be largely abandoned by the middle of the 17th century. Urquhart was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces, and subsequently decayed.


Culloden in 1746 was the last major battle fought on British soil. The battle itself is a story, and begins at Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel where the ‘young pretender’, (Bonnie Prince Charlie), was rowed ashore from exile to lay (legitimate) claim to the English throne in 1745.

The clans rose and came into Glenfinnan. With his numbers swelling the young pretender headed south with his ‘Jacobite’ army. Along the way they fought and won a succession of minor battles as northern English cities fell. In this pre-social media day the Jacobites wouldn’t have been aware that reinforcements were being assembled for them in France to threaten London from the south. Neither would they have known that the Welsh were heading east to meet up with them. By now the position of the English throne was looking tenuous.

The Jacobite advance got as far south as the city of Derby, and then turned around. An English double-agent in the Jacobite camp had persuaded the prince that a large army barred their way and strategic retreat was the most prudent course of action to avoid an action. The English army didn’t exist, but it brought the crown precious time. The Jacobites arrived back in Glasgow on Christmas day, dishevelled and poorly provisioned. By now the English had assembled an army and started to come north. They met on April 16th, 1746, on an open windswept moor outside of Inverness; Culloden, and “upon this field was Scotland lost”.

The previous night the Jacobites had attempted to surprise the English in camp at sleep, but their midnight advance got broken up by a snow storm and failed. When they assembled the next day they were tired and drained. Amazingly they’d also acquiesced to fight on open terrain where the English held the advantage of cannon and cavalry. The fearsome ‘clan charge’ could be negated at range on Culloden moor. The weather was foul, cold, and bitter back in 1746. Culloden today is one of the few places where you actually garner an enhanced experience if the elements do turn against you a bit.

The battlefield is relatively small and very easily walked around on a series of well marked paths. It has extensive views across the Moray Firth, but it is probably the short distance between the government lines (red flags) and the Jacobite lines (blue flags) that perhaps brings this home making Culloden one of the most atmospheric theatres in Scotland.

There is such a thing as contrived tourism and phoney history. This one is real and raw though.

At Prestonpans a year earlier the ‘clan charge’ had routed an English army. Up close hand-to-hand the Highland Scot was formidable. With a crashing claymore, and deadly dirk (dagger – that in truth looks like a mini sword) and a shield to deflect bayonet lunches, they could make light work of an English red-coat. At Culloden however the clan charge broke down. Hidden in the middle of the field was a bog. It caused the Jacobite centre swerve and a traffic jam to develop on the right flank. The English could pour fire into this concentration of men. In addition, the English had also been able to give fire from a perimeter wall to the flank behind a stonewall that was small enough to cover, and tall enough to prevent any easy hand-to-hand action. They used it to devastating effect as the Jacobite were cut down by fire from the front and flanks

One of the most interesting things about the field is that the order of battle is known. You can walk around most of it armed with a good knowledge that is surprisingly easy to pick-up from the excellent visitors centre. You can stand in the positions from which people fought and died, and actually know who was there all those centuries before you. The story is well told, and if we were honest, we think it makes Culloden the most spooky and atmospheric place in Scotland. As we often say, If you get Culloden, you’ll have gone a long way towards getting Scotland.

(left) There is always something a little bit unnerving about a grave that reads “here the Chief of the Clan MacGillvray Fell” (as in on this spot). Culloden has that habit of coming to life
(right) The headstone to the Clan Mackintosh. © Copyright image Julian Paren (MacGillvray – left) © Copyright Ian Taylor (Mackintosh right) CC BY-SA 2.0

The story isn’t over however. After the defeat came the pursuit of Bonnie Prince Charlie across the Highlands as immortalised in the children’s lullaby ‘Speed Bonnie Boat’. Eventually his escape was narrowly affected by Scotland’s original heroine, Flora MacDonald, who rowed the cornered prince ‘Over the Sea to Skye’. The third verse tells you what subsequently happened

Many’s the lad fought on that day,

Well the Claymore could wield,

When the night came, silently lay

Dead in Culloden’s field.

Burned are their homes, exile and death

Scatter the loyal men;

Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath

Charlie will come again

Defeat heralded the start of the ‘Highland clearances’. Jacobites, and those believed to be sympathetic, were systematically exiled to the ‘New World’ which is how places like Nova Scotia came into being etc

Dunrobin Castle

There is one castle in Scotland that looks completely out of place, and that is Dunrobin. Indeed, were you to present a photograph of Dunrobin to an informed traveller and ask them to nominate where in the world they thought it was, most would be confident in answering “France”. Some might even be so sharp as to hone in on the “Loire Valley”. They’d be wrong. Dunrobin Castle overlooks the Moray Firth, just north of the villages of Golspie and Dornoch and is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses, the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms.

The Castle, resembles a French chateâu with its towering conical spires. Image by Pixabay public domain

Dunrobin hasn’t quite got the bloody history of most Scottish castles, but it isn’t without it’s colour either. Robert the Bruce planted ‘the Gordons’ into Huntly in Aberdeenshire as they supported his claim to the crown. They were subsequently created Earls of Huntly in 1445. The Earldom passed to the Gordon family in the 16th century when the 8th Earl of Sutherland gave his daughter Elizabeth in marriage to Adam Gordon.

After the 8th Earl died in 1508, Elizabeth’s elder brother was declared heir to the title, but a brieve (writ) of idiocy brought against him and his younger brother by the Gordons meant that the possession of the estate went to Adam Gordon in 1512.

In 1518, in the absence of Adam Gordon, the castle was captured by Alexander Sutherland, the legitimate heir to the Earldom of Sutherland. The Gordons quickly retook the castle, captured Alexander and placed his head on a spear on top of the castle tower. Alexander’s son John made an attempt on the castle in 1550, but was killed in the gardens.

During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, the Jacobites stormed Dunrobin Castle without warning, because the Clan Sutherland supported the crown. The 17th Earl of Sutherland, who had changed his surname from Gordon to Sutherland, narrowly escaped them, exiting through a back door. He sailed for Aberdeen where he joined the Duke of Cumberland’s army.

Stirling & Bannockburn

Stirling Bridge. Image by Pixabay public domain

Stirling is one of Scotland’s most historic cities. The ancient stronghold of is famed for its castle that sits atop a steep crag overlooking the valley below. The castle, home of the once mighty Stuart dynasty, is probably Scotland’s most significant citadel. Most of the principal buildings of the castle date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A few structures of the fourteenth century remain, while the outer defences fronting the town date from the early eighteenth century.

Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1542. There have been at least eight sieges of Stirling Castle, most notably during the Wars of Scottish Independence, when the castle changed hands several times and was fought over most famously. The last was as recent as 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take Stirling on his route south to claim the English crown.

Stirling castle sits atop a crag and looks out across the Forth valley below. © photo by Finlay McWalter CC BY-SA 3.0

Today the castle functions predominantly as a visitor attraction. Efforts to restore the buildings to their original state are ongoing, the centrepiece being the Great Hall.

The Royal Lodgings have now been returned to something approaching their former glory. Since January 2002, the Tapestry Studio at West Dean College have been working on a recreation of ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries’, four of which are now hanging in the restored Queen’s Presence Chamber in the Royal Palace.

From its strategic look-out point, Stirling castle casts a shadow over the battlefield site of Stirling Bridge in the ‘Forth valley’ below. It was here in 1297 that an out-numbered, and poorly equipped rebel army led jointly by Andrew Moray and William Wallace, (Braveheart), defeated the English. The Scots allowed a critical mass of English cavalry and archers to cross the bridge before attacking. This had the effect of splitting the superior English numbers in half. Hemmed in by a bridge, the advantage of numbers and manoeuvrability of cavalry was lost.

Moray was mortally wounded and died shortly after. In terms of rank, Wallace was his subordinate but with Moray’s demise, he inherited. Wallace was of lower noble stock however, and this would always make him vulnerable to betrayal should things start going wrong The Hollywood portrayal of this battle, and Wallace himself, has so many historical inaccuracies it would be difficult to know just where to begin. In reality There were no charges of tartan clad Australians shouting “freedom” we’re afraid. Come to think of it, there wouldn’t have been any tartan either.

The Wallace Monument sits on its own crag today and dominates the skyline equally. You can visit and view what is alleged to be Wallace’s giant sword (there is a train of thought that it might be three swords welded together), make your own mind up, but it would sure have taken some mighty wielding, but it certainly helped cement the legend anyway.

Wallace’s triumph was short-lived. The English took their revenge at Falkirk within a year, and Wallace was quickly handed over and brutally executed. The four parts of his body were sent back to Scotland for public display to act as a deterrent.

The Wallace Monument offers some commanding views of the Forth Valley and takes a bit longer to visit than you perhaps feel it should. Allow 75 mins. © photo by Photofinger CC BY-SA 3.0

Somewhat remarkably however, Stirling Bridge isn’t the most famous battle fought here. That accolade lies a mile further south and goes by the name of Bannockburn, (1314).

Edward I (‘the hammer of the Scots’) had died, and the English throne passed to Edward II. The new king wasn’t a particularly effective military leader though. Well, he wasn’t a particularly effective anything in truth, (Google him) let’s be polite to his memory though, and simply settle for describing him as ‘colourful’!

Under the leadership of Robert Bruce (‘the Bruce’) another outnumbered Scottish army defeated the English. Before the main battle took place however, a celebrated one-on-one encounter occurred. Henry de Bohun, the nephew of the Earl of Hereford, spotted Robert Bruce ahead of his men and launched a one-man charge. A decisive blow could end the battle there and then. Bruce spotted the oncoming knight and broke off to engage. As the two passed side by side, Bruce split de Bohun’s head with his axe. The Scots then rushed upon the English under the Earl’s of Gloucester and Hereford who struggled back over the Bannockburn.

Under the leadership of Robert Bruce (‘the Bruce’) another outnumbered Scottish army defeated the English. Before the main battle took place however, a celebrated one-on-one encounter occurred. Henry de Bohun, the nephew of the Earl of Hereford, spotted Robert Bruce ahead of his men and launched a one-man charge. A decisive blow could end the battle there and then. Bruce spotted the oncoming knight and broke off to engage. As the two passed side by side, Bruce split de Bohun’s head with his axe.

‘The Bruce’ had the benefit of preparing his defences in advance, and had used his time well. He dug pits and lined them with wooden stakes to impale horses. This meant he was able to direct the English cavalry into a murderous hail of arrows. The second English cavalry force commanded by Robert Clifford then advanced on the flank of the Scots, trying to surround them. They came up against a well drilled schiltron (resembles a giant hedgehog and closer to what Hollywood portrayed in Braveheart). A wall of spears in a tight formation proved insurmountable for the English cavalry and they camped the night demoralised on the other bank of the Bannock Burn. The river channel would be used to protect their flank and rear, but the events of the following day turned it into a death-trap (swimming in armour isn’t easy!)

The Bannockburn visitors centre had a major overhaul in 2014, but the ‘supposed’ battlefield is an open access site and you can wander around at will after hours, so we would advise prioritising the castle. We should say, ‘supposed battlefield’ isn’t Faraway Fairways being flippant. No one knows for certain exactly where the battle was fought, as it went on for two days, with some inter-connected skirmishes.

A lot of the debris from the battlefield was removed (metal = money). The woods that some contemporary accounts had referenced had long been chopped down. The course of the burn itself has changed over the centuries too. So far at least, the site where the main fighting took place has defied battlefield detectives

The victory is celebrated in popular verse today through the lyrics of ‘Flower O’ Scotland’, Scotland’s adopted national anthem.

St Andrews & Fife for the Non-Golfer

© Copyright Matthew Leonard CC by SA 4.0

St Andrews is the home of golf (how many appraisals of the place can have started with this sentence?). Anyone taking a golfing break knows this!. What is perhaps less well appreciated is that St Andrews is a legitimate visitor attraction in its own right.

The town is an ancient seat of learning, with all the associated pleasing aesthetics that lend such places their unique character. The university now boasts Prince William and Kate amongst it’s most recent alumni. Outside of Oxford and Cambridge it is the third oldest university in the English speaking world. Half the population are students, and the other half seem to be involved with golf.

The ruins of St Andrews Castle are situated on a cliff-top to the north of the town. The castle was first erected around 1200 as the residence, prison, and fortress of the bishops of the diocese. Several reconstructions occurred in subsequent centuries, most notably due to damage incurred in the Wars of Scottish Independence. The castle was occupied, besieged and stormed during The Rough Wooing and was severely damaged in the process. The majority of the castle seen today dates to between 1549 and 1571, but fell into disrepair over the centuries until such time as it became the atmospheric ruin.

The ruins of St Andrews castle are a gentle walk from the town centre. Image (WT-shared) Nab82ba at wts wikivoyage CC by SA 4.0

The ruin of greater historical significance lies to the east of the town centre, St Andrew’s Cathedral. This was at one time Scotland’s largest building. St Rule’s Church, to the south-east of the medieval cathedral is said to date from around 1120 and 1150, being the predecessor of the cathedral. The tall square tower, part of the church, was built to hold the relics of St Andrew (Scotland’s patron saint). After the death of Bishop Robert Kennedy (not that one!), a new cathedral began to be built in 1160 by Bishop Arnold (his successor) on a site adjacent to St Rule’s Church. Work on the cathedral was finally completed and consecrated in 1318 by Bishop William de Lamberton with Robert ‘the Bruce’ present at the ceremony.

The ruins of St Andrews cathedral. Image under Pixabay license, public domain

The beach is also worth spending some solitary time walking along as the waves roar into the bay. This isn’t a sun-kissed beach, it’s wild and untamed, and on a windy day gets you little bit closer to the raw energy of the sea. It also features in the opening title sequence to the Oscar winning film ‘Chariots of Fire’ should you feel compelled to run along it in slow-motion with the bars of Vangelis whirring round your head.

Run along the beach to the strains of ‘Vangelis’ (actually, most people don’t!)

Above all else, if we were looking for a single word to encapsulate St Andrews, than it would be ‘charm’, closely followed by ‘golf’, of course.

Whereas St Andrews punches well above its weight, if you’re planning for a little bit of an extended stay (and most golfer’s are) then it isn’t long before the non-golfer begins to turn their attention inland and explore the hinterland of the kingdom of Fife

Falkland Palace was originally built as a hunting lodge in the 12th century. This lodge was expanded in the 13th century and became a castle which was owned by the Earls of Fife – the famous Clan MacDuff. In 1371 Falkland Castle was destroyed by an invading English army. By 1402 it had been rebuilt and became the centre of a power snatch scandal when Robert, Duke of Albany imprisoned his nephew and rival David, Duke of Rothesay, the eldest son of King Robert, in the Well Tower at Falkland. The incarcerated Duke eventually died there from neglect and starvation. Albany was exonerated from blame by Parliament, but suspicions of foul play never left Rothesay’s younger brother the future King James, and which would eventually lead to the downfall of the Albany Stewarts.

Scottish palaces aren’t ‘grand’ in the French tradition, nor are her castles necessarily fortifications in the Welsh tradition. They’re uniquely Scottish and discreetly understated with a hint of class and former status. Image by Paul Taylor CC by SA 2.0

Between 1501 and 1541 Kings James IV and James V transformed the old castle into a beautiful royal palace: with Stirling Castle it was one of two Renaissance palaces in Scotland. Falkland evolved and became a popular retreat with the Stewart monarchs. They practised falconry here and used the vast surrounding forests for hawking and hunting deer. Mary Queen of Scots became especially fond of Falkland. In the centuries that followed Falkland continued to develop as a royal retreat, with ornamental gardens being added and enhanced. After the Union of the Crowns (1606), Kings James VI, Charles I, and Charles II all visited Falkland. A fire partially destroyed the palace during the English Civil War and with occupation of Cromwell’s troops, it quickly fell into ruin. In the early 1950s, John, 5th Marquis of Bute decided to appoint the National Trust for Scotland to take care of the Palace in a classic trade off of maintenance in return for access.

You’re never far away from golf on the East Neuk of Fife, and Crail possesses it’s own charismatic links, the seventh oldest in the world. It’s the village and it’s charming harbour however that we’re interested in. This coastline is dotted with fishing communities of the North Sea. Crail is one of Scotland’s most picturesque little harbours, and an ideal spot for something to eat (we recommend the catch of the day).

Crail harbour is probably Scotland’s most photographed traditional fishing community. We try and use it for lunch. © Copyright Ain wirk CC by SA 3.0

Crail needn’t be the only fishing village along the coastline of the East Neuk of Fife. Anstruther is another of note, especially for its legendry fish ‘n’ chips restaurant. The east Neuk villages aren’t places where you tick off landmarks. It’s not like there’s anything notable ‘to see’. Instead they tend to be places that you gently wander around and soak up

One final curio is Scotland’s secret bunker. A legacy of the Cold War which has now been opened-up for tours. It’s conveniently located just outside Crail. We know this is a secret establishment because it appears on Google maps! We prefer to think that it’s actually a testimony to the cunning of British intelligence though. Think about it? If you had to camouflage a secret bunker then what better place to conceal one then the golf courses of Crail and Kingsbarns? Those Russians would never had stood a chance against this quality of cunning and guile!

Perthshire’s String of Pearls

Queens View of Loch Tummel. Image by Pixabay, public domain

Anyone not wishing to undertake the rigours of a trip into the highlands might taste the flavour by skirting its southern fringes. The Perthshire countryside has long been recognised for its lochs, glens, and straths. There’s a rich variety of landscape and history in a string of Perthshire pearls along the ‘A9’, the main artery linking the highlands with central Scotland. It’s a combination of variety and accessibility which makes these gems attractive to golfers staying at Gleneagles or Carnoustie. In a south to north order they flow as follows.

Scone Palace (pronounced Skoon) is just outside the city of Perth. The ivy clad, pink stoned, Scone Palace is the one time seat of the ancient kings. The palace itself is half castle, half stately home, but is famed for the emblematic ‘stone of destiny’. The stone was the coronation of stone of ancient Scottish kings. It was seized by the English to underline Scotland’s subjugation and placed under the ‘speakers chair’ at Westminster. It subsequently became a focus for Scottish nationalism for centuries.

The stone survived a bombing when it was caught in the blast of a device placed by suffragettes campaigning for women to be given the vote. It was also recovered after a student kidnap plot momentarily succeeded in returning it to Scotland despite a nationwide hunt. This of course assumes that it was the real stone along. For centuries it was claimed the stone that the English seized was a copy made by monks designed to deceive. Today the stone has been returned to Scotland when they were granted a national assembly.

Aside from the stone of destiny, Scone also has many ornate state rooms and beautifully maintained gardens for which it is equally renowned, and of course, it also has a savoury snack which bears the palaces name.

Scone Palace the ancient seat of kings. © photo by Macieklew CC BY-SA 3.0

After Scone, it would be a short 20 miles north to one of Scotland’s most iconic vistas, ‘the Queens View’. It is known that Queen Victoria was taken by this elevated Perthshire beauty spot that stretches the length of Loch Tummel to the mountains of Lochaber and Glencoe beyond in 1866, but the likelihood is that the Queen in question is Isabella, Robert the Bruce’s Queen. She was alleged to rest here when journeying back into the Highlands

If it’s Scotland, then there must be a battlefield just round the corner, and sure enough the pass of Killiecrankie obliges. It’s only a 10 min swing to the east from the Queens View

In 1689 an army of Jacobites (James’s men) routed a quasi-English force composed largely of lowland Scots and royalists. The precise composition of belligerent armies in Scottish history is often complicated, but like so many, this one divides along catholic and protestant lines.

The hastily assembled Scottish/ Jacobite army was knowingly under strength but moved swiftly non-the-less to occupy the higher ground at the top of the pass, even if they were out-numbered. Rather than attempt an uphill surge, the English adopted attrition, and began firing muskets all afternoon. This they did to little affect, but with a bright sun in their eyes, the Jacobites waited until about seven o’clock before unleashing ‘the clan charge’.

At close quarters the Cameron highlanders in particular were savage. The downhill charge was so swift many in the English ranks didn’t have time to even fix bayonets. Man for man, the Highlander was a fierce opponent and they quickly cut the English to pieces within minutes.

Although Killiekrankie had been a decisive victory, it didn’t affect the outcome of the rising. It would be necessary to take Edinburgh to continue the rebellion. The Jacobite leader, Viscount Dundee, had been mortally wounded at Killiekrankie. Even so, the expectation was that Edinburgh would still fall, but a small band of Cameronian rifles under the leadership of George Munro succeeded in halting the advance at the battle of Dunkeld (name checked in the film Ghostbusters!). As they spent ammunition, and started to lose men, the Jacobite’s started to fracture and withdrew, having failed to advance. Returning MacDonald’s, and men of Glengarry pillaged the Campbell lands which forced the beleaguered Campbells to take commissions in the English army. Ultimately the consequence of chain of events would resurface a few years later in 1692 with the infamous Glencoe massacre

The pass at Killiekrankie. The River Garry is often appears black as it flows through the gorge © Copyright Daryl McKeown CC BY-SA 2.0

Today’s battlefield has a visitors centre but the pass of Killiekrankie is equally famous for its deep gorge in which the River Garry flows. The battle itself is probably most famed for the ‘soldiers leap’. During the battle, a Donald MacBean, is said to have jumped 18ft across the River Garry to safety. Clear testimony one suspects to what the prospect of being cut to ribbons by claymores can summon up in someone.

A push just 10 miles north will bring you to Blair Castle, Scotland’s very own ‘white house’. Blair is the ancestral home of the Clan Murray and set in the majestic grounds against a fabulous Perthshire back-drop of mountains and glens. It’s 35 state rooms are some of the best maintained in Scotland, and curiously has one of Europe’s last remaining private armies guarding it, albeit this is completely ceremonial.

© Copyright image for (Blair Castle) Benutzer:Brunswyk. CC BY-SA 3.0

The only thing you might think you’ve missed is a distillery. Well Perthshire has that angle covered too at Blair Athol.

The Blair Athol distillery is best known for Bells whisky. It lays-on organised tours, tastings, and has its own visitors centre.

The final pearl in the string is the ‘House of Bruar’. This is a highland retail village and whereas Faraway Fairways don’t make a habit of trying to steer clients into visitor shopping traps, we make something of an exception for this one. The House of Bruar stocks the very best in quality Scottish produce including knitwear, fine foods, plus sportswear and equipment.

Third Degree Burns

“It’s out there somewhere” So said Robert Shaw’s salty old-sea-dog character, Quintz, from the film Jaws, as he surveyed the expanse of ocean in the knowledge that somewhere, lurking hidden beneath the waves, was the shark. It’s a sentiment many a golfer might relate to as they stand on a Scottish tee knowing that the fairway is patrolled by a ‘Burn’. So what is a burn? Well put simply, it’s a Scottish word for a stream. Well at face value it’s no big deal then? but as any golfer will tell you, Scottish golf course burns are much more subtle. A burn is narrow and comparatively camouflaged in the contours. It isn’t as visible as a glistening lake. You peer down a fairway looking for a subtle hint in the topography. A broken shadow, or undulation perhaps. You survey the terrain for clues as to just where it lurks. You know it’s out there, and waiting to strike, but where? It’s like flirting with a cobra. One snap, and it’s all over We’d argue that the burn is even more cunning for being so narrow though. It introduces an added element of risk and reward. You can always play aggressively towards one. A lucky bounce on a firm fairway and you can still ‘fly it’. You can’t do that to a lake. A rolling ball however becomes vulnerable, and you have that final few seconds of agony to watch. Will you fall victim, or will you hang on for a narrow escape and stop just short? The burn has long been a natural hazard that the early pioneers who took to the links land recognised the value of as they plotted their own courses out and started to compare notes as to what particular challenges they’d weaved into their personal tapestries. The early courses were individual creations, but without the assistance of mechanical diggers they observed a golden rule. They were built round the landscape, not the landscape round the course. This is how golf evolved and this is why the burn became an integral part of it. They might not have the mass of a lake but they present every bit the same barrier. Land in one and the result is the same. Perhaps above all else though, a burn has character, a lake after all, is a lake, or even worse, a “water hazard”. The burn by contrast comes in different shapes and can take on numerous different personalities dependent on the path it charts to the ocean beyond. The most famous of all is St Andrews’s, Swilcan Burn. In truth it’s more of a challenge on the first hole than it is the last, but the 18th does require that you cross the most famous bridge in golf. If the burn isn’t really in play on ‘Tom Morris’ it has at least given us memorable photographs. We aren’t so sure ourselves that the bridge at Cruden Bay isn’t the more aesthetically, and their burn keeps cropping up all over the course

Swilcan burn
The Swilcan Burn. Scotland is a nation of engineers, and built some leading edge bridges in her time, notably the railway bridge that spans the Forth. Arguably however, the one that spans the Swilcan burn on the 18th fairway at St Andrews is their most famous!
– Image by Kevin Murray.
To view some of Kevin’s work from around the world [CLICK]

The absence of a burn on a links course is like an orchestra without a woodwind section. So imagine their delight when excavating Kingsbarns to have unearthed an underground burn. Understandably they wasted no time incorporating their discovery into the design. It now sits behind the 6th green waiting to snare anyone who over-hits. The more traditional use of a burn is of course at the front of a green. Since re-profiling the 16th, Turnberry’s ‘Wilson Burn’ is very much more in play than it had previously been, and fits the description of a forward sentinel. Having said that, this particular little monster sits in a mini ravine and anyone visiting it is already in serious trouble. Perhaps the best example of this type of ‘green’ defence comes on Carnoustie’s second course; ‘the Burnside’, and the Highland course of Tain. A natural meander in the watery weave permits the fifth green to sit almost as a quasi island. The 17th at Sawgrass often gets acclaimed thus, but let’s be honest, it’s about as authentic as ‘moon cheese’.

Barry Burn
The Barry Burn on the Carnoustie Burnside course performs a similar function to the 17th at Green at Sawgrass, wrapping its way around the putting surface like a giant python

All Scottish burns flow out to sea eventually. On a links course this invariably means they cut fairways at ninety degrees given the traditional out-and-back lay-out. These are probably the burns we fear most. It’s the positioning of the tee that sends us into convulsions of paranoia however. Some ensure that the burn plays on the long side. These are the lurkers that seduce you into length and trying to bite off those precious extra yards, knowing that everyone one you can buy from the tee, is one less you need to pay back on your second shot. How far, dare you push it though? Hitting too hard can have an unavoidable inevitability about it. You might think of them as operating a bit like the ‘trap-door spider’. Get in too close and that’s it. Bounce, bounce, bounce, splash. A burn only needs to be 6ft wide, but if it’s on a devious yardage it’s formidable. Then there is the burn that is set on the shorter side. This one really does play havoc with the mental side of your game. You know your own yardage, and you know that if you hit a clean drive you can carry it by 20yds say. This is the key though. Only if you strike it clean, will you prevail. Anything under hit will bounce down the fairway and be gratefully accepted. Now what do you do? Lundin’s burn is something of an archetypal fairway residing creature that looks pretty innocuous at first glance. Cunningly positioned on a diagonal, the length of this one varies depending on the angle you choose to adopt. Not all burns operate on a horizontal plain to the fairway or green though. Scotland has some lateral opponents for you to grapple with too. These aren’t the sort that have you nervously scouring the terrain for clues to their location however. These are much less subtle. These are the burns that sit on your shoulder, omni-present in the corner of your eye, whispering “you had better keep it straight, keep it straight I tell you. If you don’t, then I’ll have ye”. Prestwick’s ‘Pow Burn’ at the notorious third is an example. Dundonald also has a lateral burn on their third that crosses the fairway. It starts on your right, and finishes on your left. Carnoustie’s famous sixth hole, Hogan’s Alley, is already made difficult enough by an out-of-bounds fence down the left. A lateral burn, ‘Jocky’s’, runs down the right just for sadistic symmetry. The Trump International makes full use of the Blairton Burn. Not only does it perform the role of lateral menace on the fourth, there is a touch of genius about the way it’s deployed on the third. Here it bursts through the sand dunes, washes out onto the beach, and empties into the North Sea beyond. Martin Hawtree ensured that the green was built ‘on the swirl’ and you’re presented not only with a great target at this seminal par 3, but also the surreal site of watching grass turn to sand

The Blairton Burn weaves its way up the right-hand-side of the fourth fairway at the Trump Interntaional Links

We’ve reserved our nomination for the ‘mother of all burns’ to last however. The ‘Barry Burn’ at Carnoustie is a serpent that snakes its way through the fairway (ask Jean van de Velde). The twists and turns is what make it such an unpredictable and formidable nemesis. The aerial view shows the burn at its vicious best. It looks more like a first-world-war trench system. You can drive short of it and still end up in the drink as it reaches out to collect your shot. Similarly, you can hit a perfectly good drive that would clear most of it, and yet still be gathered up if encountering it at one of its longer reaches

The Barry Burn is a water serpent that cris-crosses and contorts its way around Carnoustie’s fairways. It has probably established itself as Scotland’s most notorious
Image by Kevin Murray.
To view some of Kevin’s work from around the world [CLICK]

So what are we saying? well perhaps with a hint of mischief, but having given it full consideration now, we’d like to suggest that the authentic Scottish burn is the superior water hazard to any man made lake. Is the job of a water hazard to look pretty, or to challenge your golf? If you believe its the latter, then surely you too would come down on the side of the burn? Finally, we resolved to try and write this without using a picture of Jean van de Velde even if we had to reference him earlier. It was said that someone rather cruelly used a picture of the hapless Frenchman paddling about in the burn and mailed it to him a week later with nothing more than the words “that’s him” by way of explanation. Just for the record (contrary to popular myth) Van de Velde didn’t actually try playing out of the Barry Burn in 1999. He might very well have gone paddling, but he did elect to take the drop having had time to consider his options. What he did say however, (a lesser appreciated bit of insight) is that the ball had originally come to rest on some water shrub type of thing, or piece of debris. It was half in, and half out the water, and in his view sitting up slightly. As he weighed up his options however, the weight of the ball started to take its toll on the plant and it slowly began to sink. By the time he was ready to wade in having treated the world to a theatrical socks and shoes routine, too much of the ball had become submerged. This is where Van de Velde was wrong however. The Barry Burn is tidal. The ball didn’t sink. The tide was coming in. Had he seized his chance there and then, and leapt in? Well he was on the 18th, surely wet shoes and socks was a price he could pay? Who knows, he might have been back in the clubhouse as Open Champion within 5 minutes if he had One final thought. Should you stick a golf ball into a burn, don’t be too down yourself. Some of the best players in the games history have done likewise. That’s what the burn was incorporated into the course for after all

Twilight golf, Shangri-la in Scotland

Twilight Golf
Image permission from Hamish Bannatyne. To view some of Hamish’s work from Shiskine & Arran [CLICK] I

In July 2015 on the Old Course at St Andrews, the curtain came down on one of links golf’s greatest modern career. At the venerable age of 65, five time Open champion, and 3 time senior champion too, Tom Watson stood on the Swilcan Bridge in the half light of a gathering gloom before marching up the 18th for the final time.

The lights had burned brightly in the bay window of the R&A’s headquarters that overlook the green. Members (and it should be acknowledged Matt Kuchar and Graeme McDowell too) lined up to welcome him back. Now this isn’t another eulogy to Tom, but rather a comment on the fact that this happened at half past nine in the evening. You see, the ‘twilight round’ is a particularly rich nugget in Scottish links culture, and one that is worth giving full attention to.

It’s easy to overdose on adjectives when trying to describe just what a twilight round involves. Words such as tranquillity, serenity, and peacefulness readily come to mind. There is something uniquely calming about a links course bathed in the retreating summer glow of a receding sun. Long shadows are cast across the fairways. The subtle contours are accentuated as hollows appear deeper and darker and crests lighter, as they catch the fading illumination. Silhouettes are thrown into starker relief be their distinctive shaping, be it buildings, headlands, or skylines out at sea. If you’re lucky enough to catch such an experience in its true majesty, you could be treated to an explosion of colour as the sky catches fire, and the water below acts as natures ultimate mirror. It’s not just colour though, even the screech of a seagull reaffirms that nature’s conducting this symphony. Shangri-la.

At a latitude of 56.3404° N, St Andrews is nine degrees further north than Seattle. It’s an experience we at Faraway Fairways encourage our guests to sample. Reflecting on Friday evenings closing round the Daily Telegraph described it as;

“deliciously indulgent – and a peculiarly Scottish – pleasure. For summer golf here is traditionally an evening game. Indeed, in weeks when the Open is not in town, the St Andrews locals tend not to allow tourists even to tee off between 5pm and half past six, so that they can bathe in the strangely permissive enjoyment of golf in the gloaming. Even at 10pm – there is more than enough light in the sky to read the line of your final putt.”

Just in case you’re concerned, the locals of St Andrews might cherish their early evening starts and twilight golf, but they can allocate tee-times; so-called ‘dark times’, a bit of journalistic license maybe? but then the author has used the lower burden of “tend not to”

So where exactly are the best Twilight golf rounds to be had? Somewhat counter intuitively given that it’s the most southerly of Scotland’s major golf playing regions, the Ayrshire coast has a well won reputation. The sun sets in the west, and that means out at sea. The Isle of Arran and Ailsa Craig provide a hint of drama. Turnberry, Dundonald, and the Gailes courses won’t disappoint.

At 57.8800° N, Royal Dornoch can even play up until 11 o’clock at the height of summer. You’re on the equivalent of somewhere between Sitka and Juneau in southern Alaska.

The second at Dornoch. Tom Watson said of it, “the second shot, to the second hole at Dornoch, is the hardest in golf” – (it’s a par 3!)

At Nairn Dunbar they have a charity event called the ‘Longest day challenge’. It tees off at 01.00 in the morning and finishes at 23.00 (when it becomes too dark). They routinely play five courses in the 21 hours or so of light.

Courses like Dornoch, played in natural bays, which can often cast shadows and bend light. Cruden Bay on the Aberdeenshire coast is another candidate, and is leant further dramatic impact by the ruin of Slains Castle.

Courses with elevation can also become dramatic in fading light. The Castle Course is probably the pick of the St Andrews family. Here you’re greeted with extended vistas back into the town below. The harbour is also in full view and becomes symbolic of a safe haven against the gathering gloom. The distinctive ancient skyline is also thrown into relief, and of course the expanse of sea to the east.

Twilight Golf
Scotland has a tradition of ‘golfin’ in the gloamin’. You ought to try and sneak a twilight experience into your plans if you can

Gullane is another dramatic links that looks out across Aberlady Bay and the Firth of Forth, towards the skyline of Edinburgh. On the same stretch of Lothian coastline, North Berwick is able to stir similar emotions set against a northern sky.

Castle Stuart combines a number of facets. A natural inlet on the Moray Firth ensures it has a more westerly profile than other courses in the area. Distant mountains give it relief, whilst the two tiered contouring provide elevation. As if that isn’t enough, you also have the foreboding atmosphere of being little more than a couple of par 5’s from the battlefield of Culloden.

Faraway Fairways always try and treat you to at least one twilight golf round where we can, it’s a uniquely Scottish preference and you really ought to play one to experience the inner-calming . We called it Shangri La, which naturally sent us to the Oxford English Dictionary for lexicographical insurance purposes;

“Imaginary earthly paradise – the name of a Tibetan utopia”

Well there’s nothing imaginary about this Shangri-La, and it’s Scottish, not Tibetan

Carnoustie’s 18th

Carnoustie's 18th hole

In our series of classic holes, the name Carnoustie set us a puzzle. Ordinarily Hogan’s Alley (the sixth) and the Spectacles (the fourteenth) would be more than worthy candidates, albeit the second named plays as a formidable par 4 for regulars and a soft par 5 in the Open. We’ve tried to consider which hole you’re the most likely to be familiar with however, and perhaps derive the most enjoyment from playing. We’ve also looked for holes that have a compelling narrative. There can be little doubt that the burden as shifted to Carnoustie’s 18th hole, the final hole called ‘Home’, in light of the sheer drama and stories from recent decades. Ahead of the 2018 Open Championship, the BBC conducted an admittedly small sample poll of the rota’s most feared hole. Perhaps Carnoustie’s 18th hole was upper-most in their thoughts? but the casting vote went to Padraig Harrington, who after his torment of 2007 duly settled the argument in favour of Carnoustie ahead of the ‘Road Hole’ at St Andrews. Interestingly Justin Rose nominated Troon’s ‘Postage Stamp’, but then he did go onto record a remarkable four consecutive birdies on Carnoustie’s closing assignment! Perhaps the secret really is in the head? The hole itself isn’t the most demanding at Carnoustie by stroke index, but golfers have always endured something of a fatal attraction with water. The two weren’t really meant to co-exist one increasingly comes to realise, but they can’t seem to help themselves. Carnoustie’s 18th hole is defined by a water serpent that snakes its way through the fairway, the now infamous Barry Burn. In all a player has to cross it three times en-route to the sanctuary of the green. From the tee it snakes across the fairway making it a hazard both long to the left, and short to the right. It continues to whisper on your left shoulder throughout the second shot. A hook is fatal. Finally it performs an evil snap and turns viciously to the right to run in front of the green on a yardage that will frequently ask the question. Carnoustie’s 18th hole can become even treacherous if the R&A decide to permit the long rough to grow. At 3 feet high on the right of the hole this becomes borderline unplayable. For all this the secret to the eighteenth is relatively straight forward. Know your yardages, and keep it straight. The modern Carnoustie story, and the role played by the dastardly 18th possibly starts in 1975. With opening rounds of 71, 67 and 69, American debutant, Tom Watson sat three shots off leader Bobby Cole, in a chasing pack that included Jack Nicklaus, Jack Newton, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin and Neil Coles. The following day Watson shot a solid 72, which included a 20 foot putt on the 18th that would ultimately prove decisive (something Stewart Cink would repeat in 2009 at Turnberry when Watson was the cruel victim). With the weather worsening challenges either failed to materialise or slipped away. As we moved towards the climax, Johnny Miller emerged as the most likely. A par at the last was all that was required. However, his tee shot found the fairway bunkers on the right. When he failed to escape his fate was sealed. Playing three from halfway up the fairway on Carnoustie’s 18th hole is no place to be. The play off would be featuring Watson and Newton. In these days a full 18 holes were played the following day in a strangely subdued atmosphere. Watson only established the advantage on 14 when chipping in for an eagle, but Newton pushed him all the way to the 18th. When Watson two putted for a regulation score, and Newton’s birdie putt slid past, the deal was sealed by a single stroke. Carnoustie’s 18th hole went into legend however when the Open returned to for the first time again in 1999. Frenchman Jean Van de Velde stood on the 72nd tee with a three shot lead of the Open Championship. As he withdrew a driver from his bag people looked on with incredulity and some audible murmurs of disapproval were clearly heard. He duly hit a wayward shot that went off towards the seventeenth fairway, but it was playable, surely he’d learnt his lesson? Nope!!!. The next club he took was a 2 iron!!! He hit the grandstand and with a wicked bounce found a horrible lie in deep rough. Not to be deterred though he duly turned concern into disaster and chipped into the ‘Barry Burn’ in his attempt to reach the green rather than playing laterally. Assessing his worsening predicament Jean decided the only answer was to go fishing, and began the torturously slow process of theatrically removing his socks and shoes!!! In truth, it was probably this animated act that cost him the Open. The ball had come to rest on a water shrub. Enough of it was clear of the water to permit a shot. It was this that persuaded him to investigate. Van de Velde later said that the weight of the ball had pushed down on the shrub causing it to dip below the water. No it hadn’t! What he didn’t know was that the burn is tidal. As he continued the ceremonial socks and shoes routine time was ebbing away. The tide was coming in. Had he got straight into the burn and played it, he would in all likelihood have escaped, and been holding the claret jug with wet feet After much deliberation and surveillance of his stricken ball, he started to take some practise swings. Ultimately common sense prevailed. Contrary to popular folklore Van de Velde didn’t actually try extracting his lie from Davy Jones’s locker and elected to take the penalty drop. His pitch however fared little better and scurried across the putting surface before dribbling into a green-side bunker. He completed a triple-bogey 7 to see him tie and ultimately lose in a play-off to Paul Lawrie. Today his exploits have been cemented into the walls of the Barry Burn by way of a tribute 1999 was pure drama and theatre, you sense the R&A couldn’t wait to get back, and eight years later he we were again. By Saturday evening however, the championship had taken on a decidedly anti-climatic feel. Sergio Garcia had been reduced to tears back in 1999, but in 2007 he stood three shots clear of his nearest challenger, Steve Stricker, who was himself three shots clear of a group including Padraig Harrington. It was going to take a Herculean effort for someone to come from six shots back surely? García struggled without collapsing. By the time the closing holes came around he had been caught by Harrington who was on fire. The Irishman had clawed himself into the narrowest of leads at 9 under, one ahead of the Spaniard. Padraig Harrington duly stood on the 18th knowing that a regulation score would likely be enough. Like 1999 however, the Barry Burn was to take a hand. Harrington went into the water not once, but twice. Somehow he managed to salvage a double-bogey six to finish seven under. The pendulum had swung back to García, who now held a one-shot lead. Playing last he only required a par. His second shot found a greenside bunker. He chipped out and left a ten footer for the title. Agonisingly the 18th was being as capricious as ever. The putt lipped out and he had to settle for a playoff. Ultimately Harrington came to the 18th second time round with a two shot lead, and after having twice found water earlier that afternoon played for a bogey and secured the title What’s not remembered is that Andres Romero also had one hand on the claret jug that Sunday. He was 9-under after 70 holes with a two-stroke lead, but the Argentine was done in by a double bogey at 17, which he compounded when also becoming yet another victim of 18. He too shot a bogey to finish a single stroke out of the playoff.

Troon’s 11th, ‘The Railway Hole’

The Postage Stamp might be the hole that catches the media attention, but it’s Royal Troon’s, ‘Railway Hole’, the 11th, that is ranked number one by stroke-index.

At 490 yards from the Championship tee, this is a tough and penal par 4. The ‘Road Hole’ at St Andrews generates more bogeys, and a marginally higher average score (there’s not much in it). The ‘Railway Hole’ however, generates significantly more doubles, triples, or worse. It is the archetypal score wrecker. You don’t just drop a shot here if it goes wrong, you blow your card up instead! that’s why it ranks as arguably the most feared hole on the Open Championship rotation.

The eleventh is one of those rare breeds of holes that always makes it into any composite course nomination without argument. Rather than attempt to extol its virtues ourselves however, Faraway Fairways thought we’d allow Jack Nicklaus to introduce you to it.

“The eleventh hole at Troon, ‘the Railway’, oh this is a tough, tough, golf hole. Right along the railway, gorse on the right, gorse on the left, very little fairway to play to. There’s out-of-bounds to the right on the second shot. The wind is usually sweeping left to right across the golf hole, it’s a very, very, difficult hole. You play it just off the tee and usually think… just how do I survive, the hole? The first Open Championship I played there in 1962 I got in the gorse and I didn’t know how to get it out. Or what to do with it. I made a lot of strokes. So that hole has always been a very difficult and frustrating hole for me, and a very dangerous hole. You really don’t know where the left edge of the fairway is, and don’t know where the right edge of the fairways is, so when you hit it, your first reaction is, did it carry? Yeah it carried. Did it stop? Because you’re playing at an angle through the fairway. And even if you get it in the fairway, you’ve still got this long shot into a green that’s right against the wall that goes to the railway. So you’ve always got a chance of hitting the green and bouncing over the wall out-of-bounds. I think it’s probably the most dangerous hole I know in British golf” – Jack Nicklaus

As Jack says, the tee shot is intimidating, played over a sea of gorse into the fairway beyond. If you err towards the left, (yellow dotted line) the shot becomes easier to control due to the shorter distance. It only postpones your problem however, as your second shot is now longer. Modern equipment has drawn some of the sting, and allowed players to adopt a braver route (the white line). If you bite off too much though there is a real chance that you fall short and hit the gorse. Perversely, there is also a danger of over-hitting it and going through the fairway that you intersect at forty-five degrees. This can result in bouncing into a gorse ambush on the other side

The Championship tee is on the right. The safer, shorter line, is to the left, but it leaves a longer second. Not only that, but the fairway undulates more as well towards the left. The lie and stance for your second can’t be guaranteed

As Jack says, the tee shot is intimidating, played over a sea of gorse into the fairway beyond. If you err towards the left, (yellow dotted line) the shot becomes easier to control due to the shorter distance. It only postpones your problem however, as your second shot is now longer. Modern equipment has drawn some of the sting, and allowed players to adopt a braver route (the white line). If you bite off too much though there is a real chance that you fall short and hit the gorse. Perversely, there is also a danger of over-hitting it and going through the fairway that you intersect at forty-five degrees. This can result in bouncing into a gorse ambush on the other side

The second is all about accuracy and distance. You will normally have a stiff breeze snapping at you from the left to contend with now

Assuming you’ve found the fairway, your next decision is selecting the right club for the amount of distance you’ve got left. Provided you get this right, you still need to execute a well hit full-blooded shot. More often than not you’ll also have a cross-wind pushing the ball towards the railway line to contend with too. There is possibly something psychological about this? Very few players actually end up on the wrong side of the tracks. Plenty over-compensate though and end up down the left where even more gorse awaits.

The out of bounds runs right along the green whilst the green itself isn’t without its tricks, or certainly the surroundings is. It’s slight raised on a plinth which means that you really need to hit it from the vertical. Trying to roll onto the surface risks being taken by the swale and a horrible up and down scramble. The railway line ensures that a terminal out-of-bounds is snarling at your right flank throughout the flight. Just for good measure, there’s a perimeter stonewall on the right-hand side of the green too, with devious contouring designed to help anything that fails to apply the brakes from running into it. As you might imagine this leaves a borderline unplayable third (shades of the Road Hole at St Andrews) but without the option of playing a feasible ricochet. A heavy hit on a shallow angle, with a hard bounce can be equally as fatal. The wall isn’t necessarily big enough to prevent you bouncing over it and onto the railway line.

The temptation to err down the left (the preferable bail out) has been anticipated. A nasty pot bunker awaits with tapering designed to draw your ball in like a moth to a light. Even if you get a flyer and run through the green (few do, or even can) then there is another jungle waiting behind the putting surface.

Jack Nicklaus isn’t the only legend to have come to serious grief at Troon’s ‘Railway Hole’. Having put a field to the sword by a staggering twelve shots at Augusta a few months earlier Tiger Woods made his Open Championship debut at Troon in 1997. For the first ten holes he strode around with the air of a king awaiting his coronation. Let’s be honest, the custodians of links golf were nervous. They didn’t really want someone shredding the course. As he came forward to address his tee-shot on eleven, they got some relief. Like Nicklaus before him, Tiger was about discover that gorse respects no reputations.

“Tiger in the Jungle” the British tabloids led with the next day. Tiger hacked out of the gorse and into the long rough. Eventually he hacked back into the fairway, and by the time he’d finished he would be signing for a triple bogey seven. The courses honour had been restored, and Troon’s ‘Railway Hole’ would claim another illustrious scalp

Playing from the non-championship tee is no less a daunting prospect. The treacherous gorse and railway are still in play. Those who play the links of Troon have long suspected that gorse is a cunning collusion between nature and golf ball manufacturers.

By the time Henrik Stenson was adding his name to the plinth on the claret jug in 2016, another notable winner was being confirmed. The ‘Railway Hole’ had further cemented its legend in the tapestry of Troon. Once again it ranked first by stroke index and yielded an average score of 4.559.

Despite the R&A bringing the tees up after the opening day this pernicious par 4 had taxed the golfer’s a total of 61 double-bogeys or worse. New names added to its victims included; Bubba Watson (7) Dustin Johnson (7) Danny Lee (7) Rickie Fowler (8) and Louis Oosthuizen (9). We should give a shout out to both Brandt Snedeker (-1) and Andy Sullivan (-2) who were the only golfer’s under par all week. They must have wondered what all the fuss was about?

The Redan Hole, North Berwick

If imitation is indeed the ultimate complement of excellence, then the Original Redan Hole, North Berwick, the par 3, fifteenth hole on the West Links, can probably lay claim to be the best hole in golf. No single hole in the history of golf course architecture has been more copied.

The chances are you’ve played a ‘Redan hole’ albeit not everyone is aware of it. The only thing that probably prevents this hole being more internationally recognised is the fact that North Berwick isn’t long enough to host Major championships. If it were, then the Redan would be every bit as famous as the Postage Stamp. So just what exactly is ‘a Redan’? Well in this case it’s a mid range par 3 hole laid out to about 190yds, which was long in the days that it was conceived.

The yardage is important, as its designed to be reachable with a longer club and hence a shallower angle of approach. This is because a Redan hole has a specific geometric and topographic fingerprint. The green is set at an angle of forty five degrees to the approach, right to left. The first thing this does is reduce the available landing area. In effect a shot hit at identical yardage can be too short or too long dependent on just what portion of the green it is aimed at. The geometric alignment is only part of the challenge. There’s topographic headache to contend with too.

A Redan green will normally sit on an elevated ridge line and make a traditional bump and run shot extremely hazardous. Elevated greens aren’t uniquely tricky though. A Redan is characterised more by the fact that it slopes downward and away from the point of entrance, typically the front right portion of the green towards the back. As you might imagine therefore, approach on a shallow angle, which 190yds almost guaranteed, will only see the ball roll away on the contours. You quickly run out of green as the forty five degree angle reduces the playing surface to the precise line of intersection.

The final twist in the DNA concerns earthwork defences at the front, and on the left flank. In golf, this means bunkers. A typical Redan layout lies at a 45 degree angle to the tee, with bunkers on the direct line, and the use of mounding at the front to cause a runaway zone. The green is often defined by the contours of the slope. It kind of begs the question why anyone would even try to solve this puzzle by playing at the pin?

The analogy with a hill fort isn’t just poetic license. A ‘Redan’ is salient strategic position, typically a V shape, which protrudes from a defensive wall. It permits defenders to engage an attack early and weaken it before it reaches it’s main objective. The reason the name ‘Redan’ came to rest on a Scottish golf course was a direct result of the Crimean War. A serving officer, John White-Melville was frequently thwarted by North Berwick’s 6th hole (now the 15th) on his return. Exasperated, by the holes formidable defences he compared it the fortress he had encountered at Sebastopol. It was conquered only after nearly a year of attrition, in which deaths totalled more than 20,000 British and 80,000 French soldiers. Other’s who played the hole quickly came to sympathise with John White-Melville. Charles B MacDonald is the name most commonly associated with the Redan hole. Macdonald’s oft-quoted description from Scotland’s Gift: Golf is as follows:

“Take a narrow tableland, tilt it a little from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally and you have a Redan.”

In truth the formula for a Redan is a little bit more complex. Outside of novelty courses which seek to replicate classic holes to their exact measurement (never successfully) the secret lies in taking the building blocks of the concept, and then applying them to the circumstances that the course architect has inherited. MacDonald built his Redan hole at the National Golf Links of America, Southampton, where the fourth is regarded by some of the best Redan in the world.

The seventh at Shinnecock Hills is another famous Redan. It came to notoriety in the 2004 US Open. Players called it unfair, spectators gave it catcalls and golf writers termed it a travesty, such was it’s difficulty. We’ll invoke Ron Whitten to tell the story and speak in its defence; “Hardly anybody in the Open played the Redan the way it’s supposed to be played…. I saw Phil Mickelson go for the flag, as did Tiger Woods and Ernie Els and many others. On Saturday, only 27 percent of the field hit the green. On Sunday, only 15 percent, but one of those was Tim Herron, paired with Tiger that day. Herron played it correctly, hitting short right of the green, bouncing it onto the surface and rolling it down to the hole, which was in the right center. Herron’s shot stopped 15 feet away and he made his putt for birdie…. Retief Goosen was one of only six players to par the Redan hole all four rounds. Not surprisingly, he won the championship. People attribute that to his deft putting, but I think it had a lot to do with game management, too. With four pars on Shinnecock’s tough Redan, Goosen obviously knows how to analyse and execute”.

Chris DiMarco was one of the victims offered his solution to Shinnecock’s Redan to Golf World magazine. “They just need to redo that green,” he said. “The seventh hole had been sitting there for five years. There’s one hole out of control every year [for a U.S. Open]. It’s just unfair. It’s not golf.” Whitten delivered the rebuke: “With due respect to DiMarco, who is a top-flight player and a nice guy to boot, the game will be poorer if we start going around obliterating classic old Redan greens because modern players can’t play their usual game of darts on them.”

Modern designers still build Redan holes. Tom Doak is one such advocate, so too is Pete Dye, who introduced his own variant at the 13th at TPC Sawgrass. Not surprisingly he did away with sand and used water! As you will have realised by now, the signature of a Redan lies in the green complex. You don’t need to restrict it to a par 3. Fisher’s Island has two Redan holes, the par 3 second, and the par 5, eighth. We’ve described a difficult hole for good reason, it’s tough!

So how do you play a Redan hole? An intuitive links player will normally be at an advantage over a target parkland golfer. Links Magazine debating the point were dismissively prescient on the subject “best of luck playing dart-board golf on a Redan”. A Redan is often played in an indirect manner; that is, the player pitches away from the target and then allows the ball to discuss the issue with the contours of the green to determine its final resting point. A shorter hitter who is reduced to using a longer club is of course most in danger. Some Redan’s will incorporate a raised banking. Raynor and Macdonald generally designed their Redans with an exaggerated “kick-back” slope in the approach and front section of the green. This feature permitted players to risk a bump and into this embankment, and hope the banking absorbed most of the energy from the shot, whilst allowing it to retain just enough to skip forward and flop onto the deck.

The original Redan hole can still be found at the 15th on the west links of North Berwick, and is in no danger of being dug up to satisfy the whims of a new generation of target golfers. If you fancy pitting yourself against it, then it climaxes a little run of great links holes including the quirky 13th, with it’s stonewall traverse, and daring 14th where an over-hit puts you onto the beach.