Monthly Archives: September 2015

Adventures with Rudy: PART I

Let’s start at the very beginning…

In March 2004 Max and I were in Antigua to meet up with family vacationing on the island:   Max’s to celebrate his mom Eileen’s 80th birthday; my mom and Betty Loc to enjoy some warm sand between their toes. Rudy, our nephew who was nine at that time, spent a night aboard JUANONA where we practiced an ancient ritual:


Fast forward eleven years and Rudy was joining us again much to our delight, this time to make his first passage and help us take JUANONA down the coast to her winter berth in Ipswich.


Thursday & Friday & Saturday, September 3, 4, 5

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We picked Rudy up at the Edinburgh Airport Thursday afternoon (that morning Max and I stopped at Melrose Abbey) and drove back to Amble where we were waiting for winds to blow in the right direction (a typical sailing ‘plight’). Friday was not favorable for sailing so Rudy and Max visited Hadrian’s Wall where we’d been in May and then again with Iain and Sarah. I should preface our time with Rudy with a warning:  he, like me, is a history buff only he, unlike me, remembers well.

Anyhow, his and Max’s tour of the wall (near Housesteads fort)

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and town (Vindolanda) occurred at the perfect time:

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while scrutinizing the ongoing archaeological excavation at Vindolanda, they met THE lead archaeologist, Andrew Birley.  His grandfather began the dig in the 1930s and it’s still a happening place. Matter-of-fact one of the archeologists showed Rudy a pair of table legs they had unearthed that day – a piece of furniture last seen by a Roman some 1800 years ago.

And, speak of the devil, a Roman soldier approached the site and asked what they were doing in ‘his house’. Andrew immediately replied, ‘Oh, right. The utility bills are due for the past 1,890 years.’ Who said archaeologists don’t have a dry sense of humor? :)

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Like us earlier this year, Rudy was enthralled with the letters penned in ink on wooden tablets discovered at Vindolanda, which tell so much of daily Roman life and are now considered one of the top treasures in the British Museum.

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The extensive display even includes the well-preserved leather sandal of one of the Vindolanda letters’ authors:

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That night we headed for the local yacht club where we’d also taken Iain and Sarah. Once again, we were made to feel extremely welcomed. The club’s volunteerism reminded us of our own club back home on Orr’s (OBYC) as the Amble club’s commodore was serving as bartender.

On Saturday it was my turn to show Rudy an old site, only this one was a bit more recent:  Warkworth Castle. Iain, Sarah and I had walked up from the marina along the Coquet River when they were here. It was wonderful being with those two young folk, and time with Rudy was no different.

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My annual English Heritage membership had just expired, but the two kind people manning the ticket counter said no problem and then asked Rudy his age saying he must just be 16 (the cut-off for free entry there). He corrected them stating he was 20 only to have one of the women say, no, you’re 16.

After several repeats of this Q&A, they said my membership card still shows active, and he’s considered a child at age 16, so here are the audio guides and enjoy your stay. There must be something about Rudy for this happened more times than not.

We walked all over this castle, originally built in 1200, and serving as a Percy home back in the 14th through the 17th centuries. One of the Percys, Harry Hotspur, is featured in Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” and is the hero of many Border ballads thanks to his raids against the Scots. Their family history makes for an exciting read for anyone interested in old English families. For Rudy and me, we just enjoyed checking out the keep (main house) and exploring the ruins.

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Back aboard Rudy jumped into boat chores. Washing dishes became his nightly ritual, just like Iain and Sarah.

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While we prepped below, Max frequently checked weather and email. Because the wifi signal was weak below, this was the view the two of us often had of the captain when in Amble:

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RUDY’S FIRST PASSAGE:  Amble to Lowestoft

Sunday to Tuesday, September 6-8

We filled the tanks with water and then documented our leaving.

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The North Sea demonstrated its power as we steered our way out of Amble’s narrow and shallow entrance for the 210-mile passage to Lowestoft. It’s difficult to capture but you can see the waves surging under the pier below–the remnants of the storm that had kept us in port the previous few days:

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Later, the seas calmed down and the sun created a delightful day of sailing. At one point, someone yelled, ‘Dolphins!’ resulting in the three of us being entranced by several of these synchronized swimmers.

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After watching for a bit we realized there was at least one mom and baby pair keeping track with our bow.

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Monday dawned another beautiful day as we settled into the typical routine of watches, reading, navigating, eating, and sleeping.

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During this passage Rudy experienced the North Sea ‘game’ of dodge the oil rigs. Luckily they are well-lit at night and equally visible during the day.

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The leftover seas made the passage quite bouncy causing a rare sight: Max with a seasick patch.

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In spite of having to motor due to some lighter winds (which we rarely do at night unless far enough offshore to avoid the inevitable crab and lobster pots), we arrived on schedule Tuesday morning and pulled into a berth at Hamilton Docks, part of the Associated British Ports Haven (ABP) Marinas of which our marina in Ipswich belongs.

Rudy, as the Brits would say, was brilliant :)  He completed his first passage with flying colors and, as he said, with the added bonus of not getting seasick.

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We walked around the town, taking Rudy to England’s most eastern point

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and enjoyed meeting up with our friends Helen and Gus Wilson of s/v WINGS who sailed in from Whitby where they had attended the annual Folk Week. We shared a dinner

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and the next day (Wednesday, September 9)  walked with them to The Broads, a network of shallow lakes and waterways formed in the 13th century by the flooding of medieval peat diggings. With promises to meet up again when in Ipswich, we parted and checked weather for our next-day departure to the Orwell River. Then took our usual positions after a full day.

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HOME WATERS:  Lowestoft to Ipswich

Thursday to Saturday, September 10-12

The winds were perfect for heading to our home waters Thursday morning, so we left on a strong breeze under bright skies. Knowing it’d be another seven months before JUANONA would be under sail again, we turned off the autopilot and took turns steering her home.

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It seemed appropriate that the seas would be bouncy, almost as if JUANONA knew she was heading for the barn; and, with frisky winds come frisky waves resulting in Rudy’s baptism by the North Sea.

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We entered the Orwell River on nearly the same date as we did last year. When the wind increased significantly Max furled the jib; however, all it took for the jib to be unfurled was Rudy’s and my comment that a sailboat under full sail was gaining on us. Out goes the jib and we maintained our lead with the sailboat behind us most likely oblivious to us Yanks’ machinations.

We were thrilled to be moored along this beautiful river again, and even happier to share it with Rudy. We snapped the requisite ‘end of voyage’ photographs…

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and prepared for the night. Anyone who’s crewed with us quickly becomes indoctrinated to our dental ritual. We’ve even got my sister in tune with this. Rudy’s time aboard was no different as we merrily shared brushing time.

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Friday we had arranged to meet up with our friends Anne and Peter of s/v SACRE BLEU at Pin Mill, a popular pub dating from the 1450s halfway up the river to Ipswich. It was wonderful being with them and introducing Rudy.

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The day was perfect in spite of our dinghy being caught in the mud by a rapidly falling tide. Fortunately there was enough water for Max to push his way to a landing

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where Rudy and I were able to hop on for the short ride back.

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To ensure Rudy received as complete a cruising experience as possible, we decided not to enter Ipswich Haven Marina on the high tide when the lock gates remain open for ‘free flow’ (at high tide the water heights are the same both inside the marina basin and outside on the river). Rather, we’d go through the lock at mid tide. This entails hailing the Lock Master to ask permission to enter the lock… wait for the first gate to open… enter… tie up as the gate behind closes… let the water rise/fall to the same level as in the basin… wait for gate in front to open… then proceed into the marina.

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While Max steered us into the lock, Rudy and I, being kindred spirits, broke out into a Bear naked happy dance (so termed by our friend Shawn) prior to entering.

We tied up,

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then exited the lock and headed into our winter berth.

We were home! Or, as much home as one can be in foreign ports :)

More Rudy adventures to come!

Sailing pause: Amble and environs


Friday, August 28

Ever since we landed in England I’ve wanted to go for a walk the way the English seem to do. They appear tireless in their pursuit of an outdoor stroll. It’s no surprise, then, to discover Tourist Information offices selling colorful printed maps for their county’s area, which is where I purchased for £2 at set of seven all within an hour’s drive of Amble.

Since we’re where King Oswald of the Northumbria managed to get himself killed and sainted, there’s a walk called St Oswald’s Way; however, that one being 97 miles, I convinced Max on a beautiful Friday morning to take a stroll based on one of the “Short Walks Around St. Oswald’s Way”. At 7.5 miles this one began and ended in at Rothbury, 40 minutes from Amble.

To make a 3-1/2 hour tale short, the first hour was delightful as we walked along a country road and then through a forested path.

Interestingly we saw posted ‘Farm Watch’ signs,

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which did wake us up from thinking we were immersed in a storybook countryside complete with a gaggle of geese

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and spotted ponies (or, with those sonar tubes maybe donkeys?).

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But, we quickly stepped right back into our reverie as we walked in the beautiful, sun-lit day.

That was the first hour. The second hour, not so hot… as we discovered the route was taking us through a ‘rough field’, one full of sheep, their leavings, and really no clearly defined path.

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Finally making it through one ‘rough field’ we found we were only in the warm-up of crossing unmarked fields as the third hour found us trying to discern the difference between a sheep hoofing a trail and a human (and Max tends to get lost anytime he loses sight of the ocean).

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At this point this Bo Peep was not quite enjoying the scenery or exercise; and, if a lousy, flea-bitten, mutton-chop, baaa’ing, four-footed, cud-chewing creature had crossed my path, I’d be envisioning it laying on a plate with a big branch of rosemary. Good thing they kept their distance.

At last we came to a spot where we gratefully spotted our destination from a hill top and

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stepped over our last stile.

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Cue the music:  once more our heads filled with lyrical tunes as we poetically gazed upon the wind-swept, heather-bedecked moors. Now, this was much more to my liking.

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The final thirty minutes was a cinch, especially since it was downhill.

As we peered at luscious, English gardens hidden behind elegant stone walls

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and watched some little girls play in the babbling stream,

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I thought it wasn’t so bad after all, this walking venture. Matter-of-fact, there just may be another “Short Walks Around St. Oswald’s Way” in our future; but, this time I may carry some rosemary.



Thursday, September 3

Max had read about Melrose being where Robert the Bruce’s heart was buried, and, as you may know, he’s keen on disaster tours. If they include a desiccated body part, all the better (if you’re unlucky, one day I’ll relate the tale of the thumb in Sienna). To be fair, Melrose Abbey played a significant role in Scotland’s medieval history, so even if it was heartless (bad pun), it would still be worth a visit.

We were heading to Edinburgh airport and a stop at Melrose place would only add another twenty minutes of driving; so, it seemed like a no brainer to tour the Abbey, or ruins of the Abbey.

The drive, alone, along country roads was beautiful as we made our way up and down and around fields and through towns. Landing in Melrose I realized, once again, how many quaint settlements there are in Great Britain, and we were fortunate to, once again, find ourselves surrounded by a lovely town.

We made our way to the reception area where the woman asked if we were members of Scottish Trust. We said no, so she charged us the full ticket price. After we had paid Max casually mentioned that since we were based in England, we had joined English Heritage instead.  (We had joined last year thanks to some good advice from cruising friends, and the membership has more than paid off due the many sights we have visited.) The cashier immediately said there was an arrangement between English Heritage and Scottish Trust and we get 50% off the admission fee. Hmmm, I think we should have read our membership brochure more carefully.

Out through the ticket office/gift shop we stepped into the imposing ruins of Melrose Abbey, at one time the wealthiest abbey in all of Scotland.



Melrose Abbey actually owes its initial glory to the Scottish King David I, the same guy who got Max’s ancestors up from France and northern England to support his rule. In 1136 he invited a group of Cistercian monks to settle on the border between England and Scotland. The monks, who strictly followed the Benedictine Rule of poverty and manual labor (evidently, more so than the Benedictines themselves) founded this Melrose a mile from where St. Aidan and later St. Cuthbert had established a monastery in the mid-600s. (FYI:  Not being very well educated in monkville terms, I finally looked up the difference between an abbey and a monastery:  an abbey is a monastery that has evolved from just living a monastic live to actually being part of a religious community, led by either an abba, for monks, or by an abbess, for nuns.)

The white monks, so-called due to their undyed woolen robes, secluded themselves from the outside world, and they were able to do so in large part because of an in-house group of manual laborers or lay brothers. The latter lived alongside the monks but prayed and worked separately, with an emphasis on work. Between being a monk or a lay brother, I think I’d pick being a wooly sheep as I imagine there wasn’t a whole lot of fun going on behind the abbey’s walls. And, I sure as hell wouldn’t be doing this:


The abbey thrived, peaking in the 14th century thanks to ownership of the largest sheep farm in the region and the rise of the wool trade; but, then this community began to decline due to the Bubonic Plague (a diminished labor pool meant lay brothers found higher wages elsewhere), the Scottish Reformation (1525-60 when the firebrand John Knox’s protestant preaching coincided with influential nobles’ interest in weaning themselves from the age-old Scotland-France alliance), and Henry VIII’s dissolution of monasteries (1536-41). In 1590 the last monk died. Melrose Abbey lingered on but finally ceased to be in 1810.

But, back to the earlier days… Originally starting out with very simple lives and surroundings, the monks eventually became richer and richer thanks to the ‘pay-for-pray’ business (nobles paying for a better afterlife) and those ubiquitous sheep. Consequently, the buildings became more elaborate resulting in some of the best stone masonry work from those times.

We saw evidence in the delicate tracery of some of the windows (horizontal iron bars were only added during the 20th century for additional support)


and the whimsical carving adorning the exterior walls and roofs,



including the famous flying, bagpipe pig.


Not only was the masonry exemplary but also, in some instances, signed by one of the masons who worked on the Abbey around 1400:


We also saw one of the Abbey’s patrons who is possibly related to some friends back home in Virginia Beach:


Unfortunately, the little museum was closed but the audio guide provided plenty of information that helped us follow the history and lifestyle of those who had inhabited these grounds all those years ago.


It was becoming just a bit crowded (a bus must have dropped off a group) as noon approached but the grounds were large enough to accommodate those of us walking around with our ears glued to the audio guide.


Just outside the cathedral’s walls we were directed to a stone marker where the infamous heart resides. The heart had been found in 1921 buried under the floor of the Chapter House, the abbey’s administrative office, and then excavated again in 1998 where a plaque identified it as Robert the Bruce’s; however, it’s equally likely it belonged to one of the abbots or a rich nobleman as the king’s heart probably would have been entombed at the high altar. Since no DNA exists for Robert the Bruce there’s no way to test if it’s his or not. But, it makes for a good story and a nice marker.


Regardless of whose heart is buried at Melrose Abbey, it’s definitely worth touring. Just getting another glimpse of life way back when is fascinating, and, by now, you must realize I’m a history junkie.  :)


and AMBLE MARINA itself

Tuesday, August 25, to Sunday, September 6

When we landed with Iain and Sarah last May, We really enjoyed the people and the area; so, we had been looking forward to making a return visit on our way south to our winter port in Ipswich.

Heading into a familiar port means the mental list of questions you may have had prior to your first visit (from ‘how’s the docking?’ to  ‘where’s the washing machine?’) are checked off so all that remains is watching weather, winds, tides and ensuring there is a berth.

The 24-hour passage was rough but what a great place to land. It was nice being back and listening very, very carefully to Ben and Mick in conversations conducted in Geordie accents, accents derived from the ancient Germanic and Scandinavian language of the Angles.

Some memories of Amble will be…

The marina folk make you feel truly welcomed, even hoisting the country flags for all visiting boaters.

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The place is loved by birds, as well as boaters, as we discovered when waking up to a scene from Hitchcock’s movie THE BIRDS.

And, the tide was truly something to watch. The sill marked by the red-and-white pole at the marina’s entrance (on the left in photo below) kept water in during low tide, keeping the boats inside the sill afloat as if they’re in a bathtub,



while high brought us fairly close to parking-lot height.


One regret was not seeing some Orr’s Island friends, Cindy and Brad, who were in Ireland and later Scotland. Meeting up with folks from home makes our travels that much richer. And, their wanderings will be pretty spectacular considering the connections to Ireland and Scotland.

As we watch for weather, winds, and tides for sailing south we’re getting closer to our winter home, Ipswich; and, just like we had some great sailors heading north to Amble (Iain and Sarah), we’ll have another one aboard (Rudy) heading south to the Orwell River.

Soon we’ll be off pause and on play… after we check weather, winds, and tides… :)

Haggis Land with Judy & Doug: PART IV


Monday, August 31

After another large breakfast (haggis-free in spite of enjoying the sample the night before) we trundled off to our last destination, Dirleton Castle, Judy and Max’s ancestral home.

Another blue-sky-bright-sun morning greeted us, and we drove south, crossing over to Edinburgh, then east towards the headland. We arrived and found ourselves in the lovely medieval town of Dirleton and the grounds of the castle.


Judy and Max were related through their father’s side to the original builders, the de Vaux family, Anglo-Normans who arrived here in the 1100s, one of the many English families invited by David I, King of Scotland (1124-53), as support for his rule.IMG_3118.jpg

The de Vaux’s occupied their home for several centuries, passing it to the Haliburtons via marriage with a de Vaux heiress in the 1300s. Another marriage in the early 1500s brought the castle under the ownership of the Ruthvens. As one of the staff who greeted us mentioned, this castle was a favorite of a lot of women due to the females determining the lineage of ownership.

The woman who gave us our tickets and explained a bit about the property was pretty great. When it came up Judy and Max were related to the original owners, Max jokingly made a reference to the fact that, since this was their ancestors’ home, there probably would be some sort of benefit . The staffer smiled and asked which part of the castle he’d like to clean. Good comeback!

To reach the actual ruins we strolled through a beautiful garden.

Max later noticed this particular one had captured an award for having the longest herbaceous border. All you gardeners probably know what ‘herbaceous border’ means, but, Max thoughtfully asked and heard it’s defined as a collection of perennial plants arranged closely together in a riot of color and shape. It was stunning.



And, it was another opportunity to snap a family photo of brother and sister.


Wandering along a climbing path we made it to the actual remains of this 900-year-old structure.


Always up for some light-hearted moments, Max re-enacted what could have been a possible event while Judy wisely stayed out of the fray. Considering Doug’s grandmother was born not too far from here, who’s to say his relatives didn’t visit the castle. They probably would have received a warmer welcome.


The self-directed tour was easy and interesting because of the plaques alerting us in what room we actually were standing. More descriptive signs provided details about the specific room. Believe it or not, I find it extremely easy to get lost wandering around these tumbling buildings, so I’m always on the look-out for something to answer my silent question ‘so NOW where the heck am I?’.

One of the most imposing was the Great Hall, which was part of the original castle. Here, the de Vauxs would hold large banquets eating at one end on a raised platform overlooking their guests and staff. The display mentioned there was an emphasis on cleanliness and politeness, which they defined as not dipping your hands too deeply into the communal bowls and not slurping your drinks. Lovely.


Underneath and carved out of the foundation’s rocks were the vaults holding the household’s provisions. Each separate storage area was under lock and key indicating the value of sustenance.


Walking under the main gate to the ramp we saw the murder hole where defending troops would pour boiling water or oil onto the attackers. Not something I’d want to test by being first in line.


Once outside, looking back at the main entrance we got a better view of the fortifications–this was, after all, designed to withstand sieges and attacks, and saw its share.


After an hour we had completed our tour and headed for the formal garden next to the bowling lawn. Like many castles we’ve seen, Dirleton fell into disrepair through lack of use. In the mid 1600s the owner, Sir John Nisbet, moved to more comfortable housing in nearby Archerfield. However, the ruins became a folly, which is why gardens, such as the formal Victorian one below,


and the splendid herbaceous one featured earlier, thrive here today.

Exiting the castle grounds we wandered around the town and to the church putting off our good-bye to Judy and Doug. Fortunately, we have more family and friends visiting in the future, which helps soften the leave-taking, but, you know me, I hate the good-byes.

We returned to the little car park nestled under the castle’s grounds. Judy and Doug were heading west, back to Glasgow while we were driving south to JUANONA. Fierce, heartfelt hugs were shared around and then we hopped in our car.

Our Haggis Land tour had come to a close but the memories can last forever.


Happy anniversary (September 3rd!) and may you both have many, many more haggis explorations in the future :) xox L&M

Haggis Land with Judy & Doug: PART III


Sunday, August 30 (continued)

We left Dundee and polar explorations behind as we drove twenty minutes east to reach St. Andrews, the golfing mecca for those so inclined to chase a tiny pebbled ball around a holey lawn. I must admit, though, it was intriguing to be in such a fabled spot, and having someone with us (Doug) who understood the game made it even more so.

I had read Mary Queen of Scots played golf, probably dressed a wee bit differently than golfers today. Must have been a nice break from the politicking going on.

But, back to present day, which was gorgeous and warm, which only added to the beauty of this coastal town. With Rick Steves’ guidebook we began his self-guided tour by visiting the 18th green where we joined other tourists such as ourselves walking on this sacred land. Doug pointed out landmarks, such as the male-only Royal & Ancient Golf Club (women are allowed in on November 30th only when the Women’s British Open is played; thoughtful of them, isn’t it? At least, the non-profit club loses its tax-free status; yet, due to the wealth of the members that’s as significant as a gnat’s gnaw). FYI:  This club is not to be confused with the separate, but similarly named organization, the R&A, formed in 2004 to govern all but USA and Mexico’s rules of golf.

We strolled to a stone bridge over the Swilken Burn (the stream that meanders through and around the holes) where those who love the sport posed for portraits.

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Doug patiently stood while we snapped some photos

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while Max missed his opportunity to cross the creek, thus being stranded behind other photographers and their subjects.

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Once we were all together, we walked to the actual 18th hole

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where a small notice asked us to not walk there.

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Frankly, I was surprised they let us (and dogs) nonchalantly tramp all over this grass considering it’s used for one of the most prestigious tournaments ever created (as per golf afficionados). But, they did, and it made for easy trekking to our next destination, something my sister Betsy would identify as one of Max’s ‘Disaster Tours’.

Walking to the top of a hill to the Martyrs’ Monument, we passed by a bandstand with its Sunday entertainment

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and stopped to look back towards the golf course to the stretch of beach beyond used for the famous running scene in the movie CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

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Arriving at the monument shaped like an obelisk with a plaque designating it as the Martyrs’ Monument,

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we read how Scotland tossed quite a few people over the cliffs

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and burned at least four non-conformists all in the name of religion. I’d like to say thank god that’s not happening now, but, if I did, you’d probably wonder what rock I was living under.

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Getting our fill of the wonders of what humans can do to others, we strolled towards the main street through alleys.


Exiting onto the main street, we passed an interesting street name, one where the sign keeps disappearing. Thankfully, it’s also inscribed in a more permanent manner. I kept pronouncing it with a short ‘i’ while Judy gently corrected me saying it’s a long one.

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Outside Sally’s Quad, the heart of St. Andrew’s campus, we came to another historical plaque, which commemorated alum and professor Patrick Hamilton, the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation burned at the stake on February 29, 1528. The actual stake spot was marked by the initials PH. Supposedly, if you stood on them, you’d fail your exams. Being a disaster spot, it was natural Max wanted to stand on them. Luckily the only tests he faced that day were which types of ale to enjoy later.

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A wedding had just occurred in the quad so we just ducked into the chapel for a peek.


Back out and continuing our stroll we saw another of St. Andrew’s famous buildings, the place where Prince William (and, as Doug said, Kate) stayed while attending St. Andrews University.

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Just before reaching the end of the street, Max found another ‘x marks the spot’. This time the initials were GW for George Wishart, a Protestant preacher, who was tied to a stake and lit afire March 1, 1546.

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We reached the point of the harbor where the majestic remains of St. Andrews Cathedral anchored the end of town on a bluff. Between 14th and 16th centuries, St. Andrews was Scotland’s ecclesiastical capital. Which explains why all the roastings.

We also discovered that some of St. Andrews’ bones landed here (supposedly) in the 4th century when being transported from Constantinople. Due to this auspicious wash-up on the beach, the site was deemed sacred, and, voila, St. Andrews became the place to be and the guy, the country’s patron saint.

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After several hours of exploring by foot and enjoying the summery day and blooms,


we were ready for a libation followed by dinner and our hotel, which happened to be thirty minutes to the west. We quickly found a pub, then our cars and drove to Glenrothes where Max had located some rooms that morning.

A large home now set in the midst of a suburb, the hotel offered a lovely area for another drink and a perusal of their menu. This time the haggis came as a main course described as ‘Haggis Stuffed Beef Olives.’ Not quite understanding how they found olives large enough to stuff with haggis, this became quite a topic of speculation, of which I won’t describe. Suffice it to say, at dinner, we DID try some haggis (a gourmet version:  a crispy and, must admit, delicious looking disk with no resemblance to the bulging beigey balloons seen the day before)



and actually thought it was pretty good; but, once again, we all opted for more mundane fare for a main course.

With full bellies and dreams of haggis, we retired to our rooms ready for our next venture – a visit to a family castle.




Haggis Land with Judy & Doug: PART II


Saturday, August 29 (continued)

We arrived at our B&B just fifteen minutes down the road from the Highland Games. After checking in and finding our rooms we soon ended up at the inn’s bar, soon enjoying pints of ale and wine.

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Cocktail hours evolved into dinner where I spotted what has to be someone’s prized marketing accomplishment:

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Whoever thought of calling an appetizer ‘Haggis Bon-Bons’ must have won the award for best oxymoron printed on a menu. The four of us thought of trying them and then opted for more sedate fare.

Sunday, August 30

Up and at ‘em with a full English/Scottish breakfast (save for the Blood Pudding which we graciously declined) in our tummies we rode to Dundee where Max promised a fascinating view of the first ship specifically built for polar explorations. Nigel, whom we met in Peterhead and who lived in Dundee, had mentioned s/v DISCOVERY, Robert Scott’s first Antarctica’s ship, was on exhibit in this city. From that day onward, this ship became a magnet for my husband.

Driving separately, we followed behind Judy and Doug

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until we started meandering through Dundee’s streets. No signs appeared for the polar museum, and at one point we lost one another. We managed to make it to the museum but no J&D. Max stood close to a confusing intersection

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until we finally decided to call using our satellite phone. Good thing for they were waiting for us at another historic ship down the way.

Reunited we started our journey of RRS (Royal Research Ship) DISCOVERY beginning with its construction starting in 1900. DISCOVERY was the first ship in the world built specifically for polar and Antarctica research and the last example of one still around.

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Dundee’s shipyard was one of two vendors bidding on this ship, being one of the few still capable of crafting a three-masted wooden sailing ship in this age of iron and steam-powered vessels. With an original quote of over £50,000, the final price was eventually reduced to just over £33,000. Fortunately, the adjustments didn’t affect the ship’s strength or performance as DISCOVERY took part in three major explorations:  The British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-04; The DISCOVERY Oceanographic Expedition 1925-27; and, the British Australian New Zealand Research Expedition 1929-31.

What is more interesting (to me) are some of the crew this ship carried during its voyages:  Captain Robert Falcon Scott; Dr. Edward Wilson (fifth from left below at the launch); Sir Ernest Shackleton (seventh from left); Tom Crean; Sir Alister Hardy; and, Sir Douglas Mawson. I know the names but Max knows their bios, trust me.

Although this initial voyage was a joint endeavor for scientific exploration between the Royal Society (RS) and the Royal Geographic Society (RGS), a military officer (Scott) was selected as commander. The choice of a military leader over a scientist caused some sour grapes between the two societies; but, RGS under the leadership of a former naval officer won this battle placing Scott in command. Surprisingly, but maybe not considering the time period, only one out of the 45 crew had polar experience, and it wasn’t Scott (it was the French scientist Louis Bernacci).

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The exhibit was well-done with displays providing detailed descriptions of just how RRS DISCOVERY came to be…

from the type and massive breadth of wood used in construction in order to withstand the pressure of bring stuck in pack ice

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to unique features such as the ability to lift the rudder and propeller inside the hull to avoid damage from the ice (or repair damage caused by the ice).

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One of the interesting design components were the salt boxes where rock salt was poured between the inner and outer hulls.

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If water seeped in, the salt helped preserve the wood. Judy mentioned their great-grandfather’s 32 ft sloop,  Juanona, after which our boat is named, also had rock salt poured into the bilge during winter storage. Hmmm… I wonder if a salty Smithfield Ham could have been part of our Atlantic Ocean provisioning.

Many museums create opportunities to engage youngsters’ interests; and, this one definitely catered to kids as Doug quickly proved his mastery of lading and unlading a ship’s cargo and balancing the load in the ship. Must say, it did look like fun.

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After perusing the unique design, crew biographies and descriptions of the voyages, we headed outside to explore the actual ship. It was big and it was definitely not something you’d find me on. All I could think of was what one’s day (and night) would have been like living on this vessel still smelling of tar pitch. The odor alone would have me slapping seasick patches on and soaking rooms (and people) with lavender spray. What some find bracing, my husband included, I find a wee bit too sailor-ish.

Yet, it is fascinating to walk the decks and below and think where this ship had been. The size of the wheels, both fore and aft, were impressive and we all took turns posing as salt-bitten sailors.

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Below Max pointed out some dry rot

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as well as the salt box slits.

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I roamed the officers’ quarters where I snapped shots of Shackleton’s and Scott’s cabins.

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Max went back aboard and below to take a photo of where some cross beams had been mounted from port to starboard along the entire length of the ship. They kept the hull from being crushed by ice. The beams were cut out during a later renovation.

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After several hours we were all ready to leave the polar region and head towards a much more civilized endeavor:  golf.

Haggis Land with Judy & Doug: PART I


Saturday, August 29

Max’s sister Judy and husband Doug had flown over from the US the previous week and set off on a Scotland road trip beginning in Glasgow. Due to weather and winds cooperating, we managed to arrive in Amble in time to rent a car and meet them on their loop to the eastern side just above Edinburgh. They had scouted out some local highland games, and we arranged to meet in Birnam mid-morning.

Supposedly highland games originated in Ireland in 2000 B.C.E. and migrated to Argyll and beyond in the 4th and 5th centuries via the Scotts. These were war games, which identified the best warriors amidst the tribes or clans. The games evolved into public festivals and continue to this day with some brief interruptions thanks to battles (1746 Battle of Culloden) and wars (WWI and II). Whatever the reason, all I know is we would definitely go again, not the least being it’s always nice to see men walking around in kilts.

We arrived just as the field became ringed by spectators and contestants.

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An empty bench was found

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and we began people watching as Doug perused the program labeled 132nd year vs. the publicized announcement stating 2015 was the 150th year.

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No matter, because, whatever anniversary it was, these games easily became one of the highlights of all our Scottish visits.

Under the constant hum and drone of bagpipes

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we watched track races (numerous dashes and laps, and don’t ask if we even knew who won which heat or final race), cheered on the occasional cyclist on bikes featuring no brakes and no gears,

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glanced at the dancers from both across the field and then up close,

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all while eyes kept returning to the big guys doing the heavy lifting.

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And, those guys were BIG. But, then again, their events all involved some sort of pushing dead weight through the air. The competitors must be chiropracters’ worst nightmares or, more likely, convenient retirement plans.

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We ended up placing imaginary bets all on the guy in the fluorescent t’shirt. With the competition beginning around noon and running until after 4:00 p.m. these strong athletes, about six of them, swung shot puts (heavy balls up to 26 lbs.) and tossed the hammer (metal ball around 22 lbs. attached to a wooden handle)  while proving not all go bare under those woolen skirts.

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The most iconic event is the tossing of the caber, a full-length wooden log. The sport involves balancing the pole while lifting it, running forward to gain momentum, then tossing it end over end so it lands as close to 12 o’clock (based on the competitor’s orientation) straight ahead of the tosser. Note that it takes three men to return it to the next tosser.

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During the festivities Judy and I strolled around the field enjoying the sights.

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At one booth Judy found some homespun wool and the woman who makes it. The proprietor graciously posed for a photo after having loaded up Judy with beautiful yarn.

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While I was standing there I overhead a woman saying she was living in London now but originally hailed from Virginia. Of course, I couldn’t resist so I asked from where. Turned out she was from my mother’s hometown, Charlottesville, and knew my mother’s half-sister’s (Carol’s) second husband, Herbie. The conversation politely ended when she confusedly asked if I was Carol’s sister. Time to move on.

Judy and I spotted some handsome gentlemen resplendent in their festival garb sitting in a wooden box.

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In conversation they told us they were judging classical bagpiping with contestants presenting three pieces (some as long as 20 minutes, and their selecting one to play). Judy discovered she had seen photos of one (the Scott on the right above) when his piping band had toured the states awhile back. Photographs of their visit are hanging in Blair Castle, which Judy and Doug had visited earlier.

Although we enjoyed speaking with them as well as their friendly banter, when returning that way on our circle back to Max and Doug, we pretty much kept on walking. As I have mentioned earlier, the pipes were the constant backdrop to all activity; and, as much as my skin becomes rippled with thrilling goosebumps when I hear them, I discovered there comes such a time where the haunting tones become whines. The next piper competing began playing a tune that neither Judy nor I could discern much variation so we slowly inched away from the area.

The weather featured almost as much variety as the games’ components:  from warm sun to cloudy skies to spitting showers. At one time we got all three at once, but we were prepared especially Max with his Hurtigruten oily on.

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After four hours of festivities and bagpipes, the natives were getting restless; but, the organizers knew they had an ace to play yet for no one was leaving before the Haggis Eating Contest.

Yes, that delectable gourmet item that is made with those ingredients we all crave–sheep pluck (heart, liver and lungs)–was featured as one of the last events of the games.

A line of contestants gathered at a table decorated with hats, jugs of liquid from beer to orange juice to water, and plates of individual, bulging balloons of haggis.

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The bell was rung and they were off

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and, well, choking this beigey-gray, oozing stomach-casing food morsel down. Various techniques were in play, even one (who turned out to be the winner) dousing his with water to make it slide down his gullet faster.

Needless to say I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the contestants, sort of like how I’m both fascinated and repelled by watching slithering snakes. The event was a feast for one’s eyes…

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until one fortunate soul took his last gulp and raised his hand as the first one done.

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With that we left to head to our B&B all with a finer appreciation of what it takes to scarf down a ball of haggis.