Shamefully, I, no true blue, remember cheering when Michael Portillo, MP, lost his seat but I couldn’t be more delighted to see how he’s re-invented himself as a decent bloke with a penchant for train journeys and pink suits.  I share his love of bright colours and like letting the train take the strain and wish I had his ability to pack.  How on earth does he cart all those immaculate jackets and trousers about without an army of luggage bearers, pressers and ironers?

Ah, the joys of travelling – one day I’ll get it light…

The key to travelling well is not to have to be anywhere at any particular time; to be able to go with the flow; to take the inevitable delays in your stride; to access your inner Zen (or whatever; is Zen inner or outer or both?)

My ultimate destination was distant Dornoch (like Lichfield a small cathedral city – see pic at top of piece), beautiful but a long way north even once you reach Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Royal Dornoch Golf Club is of world renown, a bucket-list links that’s more than worth the trek.  This week (Friday and Saturday) it’s playing host to the Vagliano Trophy x 2 (junior as well as senior) so no further incentive was needed.  The Vagliano – Great Britain and Ireland’s amateur women versus the Continent of Europe’s amateur women – is dear to the blog’s heart.  It conjures up memories of Lally, la Vicomtesse de Saint Sauveur (née Vagliano), Marie-Laure de Lorenzi*, Marta Figueras-Dotti, Angela Bonallack, Mary McKenna, Gillian Stewart, Maureen Madill and too many other friends to mention.  We couldn’t not head north this week.

The flags are flying: there’s nothing like a proper international competition at a proper golf course. Brillliant. Can’t say I’ve seen loads of signs letting people know it’s on, which is a shame. The continental campervans will drive blithely on…

My preferred route was by train, for a variety of reasons, not least because I wasn’t going to drive myself.  You’re within touching distance of John of Groats up here, for goodness sake, almost close enough for me to cycle there – well, it’s the Tour de France coming up this weekend, so the wheels of my imagination are whirring far beyond their limits….

As for flying…I’ve taken a bit of a scunner agin airports and have resolved to avoid them as much as possible for as long as possible.  I confess I have a flight or two booked for later in the year but those are for another day.

The train journey to Inverness (Dornoch no longer has a train station, though I believe it did at one time) did not run smoothly.  Earlier in the day apparently, some poor, desperate soul had thrown themselves in front of  a freight train near Oxenholme, so a change of route paled into a minor inconvenience.  My west coast mainline train made it from Crewe to Preston; then we crammed on to a wee train to York; and changed on to the east coast mainline train to Edinburgh.  The bonus was the views of the Northumberland coastline, a real treat for those of us in love with Amble and its environs.

Northumberland from the train – snapping at speed it’s not easy to avoid pylons and assorted railway stuff blocking the view…

The revised route meant the journey featured three of England’s cathedral cities:  Lichfield, York and Durham and by the time I reached Inverness – so late that I knew I’d get a full refund of the fare – my trains had called at a total of 33 stations (calculation not guaranteed to be correct but near enough).  They included some of my favourite names:  Hebden Bridge, Dunkeld and Birnam (very low platform), Kingussie and Aviemore (we had a great family holiday there many years ago).  Sadly, I missed us crossing the Forth Railway Bridge, one of my favourite views in the world, because I was desperately mopping up the strawberry and raspberry juice I’d spilled down one of the few tops I’d packed…Fortunately I hadn’t brought any red wine because alcohol and smoking were banned on the train.  I blame the Inverness Caledonian Thistle footie hordes.

It was great to reach Inverness at last – was it a mirage or was I just very tired? – and be picked up by Gillian Stewart, one of Scotland’s golfing legends (and winner of a Scottish title, her third I think, at Dornoch).  Gill is a woman of action – the wetsuit, cycle helmet and walking boots were all in the boot of the car.  I didn’t question the whereabouts of the golf clubs but I was glad my bits of luggage were smallish and more or less squeezable, the better to fit into corners.

The next day, after stocking up on supplies, we headed to Dornoch in the rain, got my bearings, sort of  (Gillian knew exactly where she was), bumped into friends and prepared for a first the following morning.  Gill had never been up to The Mannie, the monument looming large on Ben Bhraggie (visible from Dornoch and miles around) at Golspie.  It features a tall column, topped by the first Duke of Sutherland, George Grenville, notorious for his Highland clearances but according to the faded inscription, viewed through my ageing bins, beloved by his friends and servants.  Initially I mixed him up with Butcher Cumberland, of Culloden infamy but George was born well after that battle.

It’s not too difficult but it’s quite a long way up – and tricky on the way down.

We both made it to the top.

Long gone but still master of all he surveys…To give George his due, the views are terrific.

 

Some people shouldn’t be let out on their own….but at least the air sea rescue people shouldn’t miss me…Portillo has nothing to fear, despite the bright colours.

To finish, I was torn between two photos, so I decided to use both.  Mo has gone to bed and is fast asleep, so all blog decisions are up to me….

Prepping for the comp: Pam Valentine (rules, reliving Wales’s first-ever triumph in the women’s home internationals here in 1999); Janet Davies (née Melville), captain of the GB and I junior side, too many honours to list in a dozen blogs; and Denise McCarthy, Ireland’s finest, now of the EGA (European Golf Association) and a brave Spurs supporter beside two Liverpool fans…

And finally, with the sainted Alice hundreds of miles away, here’s Millie (Milly?), from Yorkshire, enjoying the beach.

Spot the collie:  Millie, beautifully camouflaged by the seaweed, waiting patiently for her ball throwers to return to the fray.

*Marie-Laure, one of France’s and Europe’s greatest players, seems to have disappeared off the radar.  EGA?  R&A?  LET?  Ou est elle?  A Frenchwoman here at Dornoch had heard of Catherine Lacoste (as she should have, good) but de Lorenzi?  Non.  Not good at all.  Terrible.  I was as shocked as when I mentioned Nancy Lopez to somebody and they looked at me blankly.  “Who’s Nancy Lopez?”  they said.

Mon dieu.  Sacre bleu.  Etc.  Ad infinitum.