This image was taken on the beach by my dad – probably Bournemouth, with the family box Brownie. Like my memories from the time, it is aptly out of focus. I remember the feel of the jersey bib shorts, the bucket which was soft rubber and a vague sense of my mother’s touch. It is probably 1954.
The relationship was not always close, especially in my teenage years. Prone to be judgemental, I wonder what my mother would have made of my elevation to ‘celebrity’, the star of a podcast. He/she has got too big for his/her own boots; it is sure to end in tears; he/she likes the sound of his/her own voice. Well, actually mum, I am not sure I do – there is too much the hint of nowhere man and middle England. It betrays a sense of not really belonging anywhere and it doesn’t go down well in all quarters. All that apart, I am also not sure she would have entirely seen the funny side of publicising our strained relationship. I am sad she is no longer around to pass judgement – we are not amused, or just maybe, we are.
Welcome to the Wild Golf Podcast with Michael McDonald. We will inspire you to join a community of adventure golfers who step outside the conventional golf box and experience the beauty of the game, and life, in profound ways.
The printed page has its limitations. Chapter 7 of Golf in the Wild – Going Home tells the story of the Wrens of the Curragh – an outcast community of 19th-century Irish women who lived rough, brutally hard lives on the plains of Kildare. The name comes from the shelters they lived in, hollowed out “nests” in the ground which they covered with layers of furze. Their number included unmarried mothers, free-thinkers, alcoholics, prostitutes, vagrants, ex-convicts and harvest workers:
Edward Prince of Wales, as he was at the time, was reportedly introduced to the game in 1859 by his Governor, General Robert Bruce, an R&A member since 1834. Inspired by an exhibition match at Musselburgh, in 1861 his military association with the Grenadier Guards would take him to Curragh in Ireland where the recently opened golf course was immediately adjacent to the Camp. It is not documented if the future King found time for golf during his ten-week visit, but his extramural activities became infamous. A sexual novice, his fellow Guards arranged an introduction to Nellie Clifden, a local ‘actress’ and possibly a Wren of the Curragh who ‘knew her way round the Camp in the dark’. The resulting affair soon became public knowledge as the Guards’ tongues wagged and Nellie became known as the ‘Princess of Wales’. The scandal enraged his parents, Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, and steps were immediately taken to end the liaison. Prince Albert would die a few months later, a demise that Victoria blamed entirely on the anguish caused by Edward’s indiscretions – “I never can or shall look at him [Edward] without a shudder.” The older generation should never interfere with youthful passion – the ghosts of forbidden fruit can haunt an entire life. If anything is to be learned from this story, it is this – when tempted by sins of the flesh, play more golf.
The chapter heading quote is from Hunting the Wren by the Irish folk band Lankum – it first appeared on their album, The Live Long Day released on 25th October 2019. The ‘wren’ is a direct reference to the Wrens of the Curragh.
The wren is a small bird, how pretty she sings. She bested the eagle when she hid in its wings
It was this track and their anarchic appearance that inspired this section of the book – there is simply no substitute for seeing and hearing this remarkable performance:
Nearly 300 this week, so spring must be around the corner. Mileage was more or less evenly spread between the BMW GS and the Triumph Scrambler, the former clocking up 131 in one trip to get serviced at Carlisle and then home via Hawick – by no means the quickest route, but the diversion into the Scottish Borders includes the near empty sweeping bends of the A7.
In among the images of my own bikes there is the enormous BMW R18 and a new BMW GS, made ugly by too many splashes of yellow – both taken at the BMW showroom while waiting for my bike to be serviced and shod with some new Metzelers. Well, you have to fill the time somehow …
The Scrambler north of Brown Rigg
The Road from Sundaysight
The GS with Rubers Law in the distance
BMW R1250 GS – the 2022 version of my bike spoiled buy the yellow touches (looks better in mono;-))
The BMW R18 – magnificent but not my style of bike
Under threatening skies to Bellingham, but stayed dry.
It has been a good few years since we have seen lambs in the field adjacent to our house. We live high above the Tyne Valley and there has been a recent tendency to move the mothers and their off-spring to lower ground.
Thankfully, it has not happened this year, at least not yet. These newborns arrived within the last 24 hours and will have spent their first night in freezing temperatures, waking to a hard frost. According to the shepherd, they don’t suffer in the frost, it is rain and harsh winds that gets to them. The forecast looks much the same for the next few days, so these first arrivals should be ok.
This one has a single – so no competition with brothers and sisers
And nothing much else this week. Some days I was reduced to photographing the neighbours i.e. the sheep. It was so bad today, they deserted the higher ground and have probably found shelter near the trees. Other days, I was either in Hexham or walking near Fourstones. Golf and motorcycling seem a distant prospect. On a positive note, the first 100 books (Golf in the Wild – Going Home) have been sold or shipped to retailers.
The lovers at Hexham Pant on Valentine’sDay
Parallel lines – the crossings near Fourstones Papermill Co. Ltd.
In spate – the Tyne at Haydon Bridge.
After the storm – a thorough wash and blow dry.
Nun shall pass – Hexham Abbey.
Bulrushes – between Warden and Fourstones.
An awful day (today, Sunday 20/2) – the field is saturated, the sheep are in hiding and I have not ventured beyond the front door.
It has been a quiet week at Beaufront Woodhead. A mixed weather pattern, but regardless of sunshine or rain there was always a bitter wind. The good news is that the rain was sufficiently heavy that by the time I took the Scrambler out on Friday, the roads were so mud free the bike didn’t really need a clean – regardless, I did – it’s an affliction.
For much of the last seven days I have been reminded of the downside of self-publishing books – the seemingly endless PR tasks and the distribution. Fortunately or otherwise, order volumes have never become overwhelming. Currently the dining room tables hides a multitude of boxes now containing slightly less than the original 1000 books. I look forward to the day when the stored books can be counted in tens rather than hundreds, by which time I may have dreamt up another book. It’s another affliction.
The highlight of the week was attending the Liberal Golf Society AGM and dinner and collecting the magnificent 1902 Rowe Trophy and Silver Salver. Much of last year’s golfing success must be attributed to the new World Handicap System and the generous rating applied to Allendale golfers. I will not bore non-golfers with the explanation but golfers will understand. Somebody in England Golf thought Allendale is easy – a relatively short, 9-hole course, what can be hard about that. Just try it and you will find out.
Straight on to Plashetts, right to Bavington. Another Monday ride out where the roads were mostly dry, but icy where they were not.
Near the entrance to The Shield – Kirkwhelpington
To Allenheads on a dreich day – spot the owl, then spot the duck.
At Baddox between Warden and Fourstones on the south side of the Tyne
Mud and a bitter wind – sufficient to keep me off the bikes.
At Wark (rhymes with dark) – a short ride to the Post Office on the Scrambler – easier to park than in Hexham – and the roads were bone-dry and clean!
Hexham, on another cold and blustery February Saturday.
The Rowe Trophy dating from 1902, it stands 21 inches on its plinth. Presented by the Liberal Golf Society at the dinner and AGM on Friday, I am mighty pleased it now bears my name.
It started ordinarily enough – Monday I rode the Scrambler up the A68 and headed east into the lanes that lead to Throckrington and Bavington. An empty landscape, I got talking to one of the few, local inhabitants, an old guy who was exercising his black Labrador, Meg, by driving slowly along the road in his 4×4. It is the sort of place where this poses no danger.
Tuesday was only the third round of golf this year with an hour’s drive to the coast at Whitburn. Every time we visit I inevitably take the same image – the view from the 18th tee across the large hole in the ground that is Whitburn Quarry with the tip of Souter Lighthouse showing in the distance.
Later in the week we walked a short stretch of the abandoned Border Counties Railway from Waters Meet towards Wall, along the banks of the North Tyne – the weather was turning dull and grey and it has deteriorated ever since.
Then, on Friday, the sequel to Golf in the Wild – Golf in the Wild – Going Home was finally printed and delivered. Unfortunately, the delivery lorry was too large to get up the drive so I was left with the task of humping 1000 books up to the house before the rain arrived. I made it just in time. So begins the task of promoting, selling and packing – the least attractive part of the exercise. The first book pretty much sold out, largely on the basis of word of mouth so, I will take the same lazy approach with the sequel. It is orderable online, within the UK, from here.
Just before sunrise at Beaufront Woodhead
A mile east of Carrycoats Hall. Colder than I expected – the puddle to the left of the bike is frozen!
An outside chance of hitting a birdie – this is actually the South Shields course which runs close to Whitburn at the 7th
The obligatory shot from Whitburn’s eighteenth tee with Souter Lighthouse in the background.
The first railway bridge north of Hexham on the abandoned Border Counties Line
The price at the pump, near Acomb, Northumberland – this one is showing 5/4d which dates it around 1967 – according to Retrowow, petrol prices rose from 4/8d in 1960 to 6/6d by 1969.
Friday 4th February – the big day – 1000 copies of the sequel delivered
There is a chill in the air with some days clear and bright, but rain remains illusive. Normally this would be of no consequence, however, the roads nearby remain covered in a layer of muck and salt such that any outings on a bike, once again result in hours spent cleaning.
It was just the second game of golf this year on Tuesday followed by a long ride out on the GS to Anthorn in Cumbria on Thursday – 117 miles, the longest this year. By contrast, in 2021, I didn’t get out until 17th February – maybe it was the weather or lockdowns or a combination of both – I forget.
It feels like the year is tilting towards spring with almost no days of winter. There is time yet, I guess.
The view from Struthers, Allendale. A brief detour on the way home from an enjoyable 18 holes at Allendale Golf Club – Home of Golf in the Wild.
Looking east along the channel of the River Wampool Anthorn.
A return to Anthorn (home of the pips) on the GS. Finally bit the bullet and increased the insured miles – expecting a hefty admin fee, the total charge was £2.46 :D!
Storm Malik was blowing a hoolie on Saturday
Another sunrise at Beaufront Woodhead – today – Sunday 30th January
The racecourse from east of Blackhill Farm – today – Sunday 30th January.
More sheep – near the racecourse
Towards Hexham, looking northeast from the racecourse road
Inspired by a tweet from Dan Jackson, earlier this week, I headed south into County Durham on the Scrambler: County Durham was among the saddest of the ‘sad shires’ of WW1 (with the Durham Light Infantry alone losing 13,000 men killed), but the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Hunstanworth in the North Pennines was lucky, and is the county’s only ‘thankful village’.
According to Wiki: The church, dedicated to St James the Less, was built in 1781 on a medieval site. The village was designed and built around the original parish church. The Reverend Daniel Capper commissioned architect Samuel Sanders Teulon to create the village in 1862-3; as well as rebuilding the church, Teulon delivered a vicarage and stable block, school and school-house and a mix of terraced, semi-detached and detached houses, all constructed of sandstone.
The church is also home to a hand-blown organ by Gray & Davison which was on display at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
On Friday I rode down to Darlington. At this time of year, getting any bike out over any distance is a bonus. Nearly all 97 miles of tarmac were filthy, the low sun shone permanently in my eyes riding south and it took nearly two hours to clean the bike when I got home. It was all worth it. Having taken the quick route when outward bound, on return I took the scenic roads through Wolsingham, Frosterley, Stanhope and Blanchland. Riding across Stanhope Common, I was treated to these wonderful sights. All taken within a few minutes of each other, the light was changing fast. A few miles further on, I descended into the mist and damp of a very foggy afternoon – the price was worth paying:
Towards Burn Hope
A very muddy GS
Moon central with Sandyford quarry building in the distance