The Wild Golf Podcast

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.

Wild Golf
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 Wrens of the Curragh

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:

 

The rains came …

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.

A significant week …

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

 

Another week gone by …

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

 

More about …

… the weather.  On Monday night we had the first serious snow of winter – unannounced, it took us sufficiently by surprise that the Good Wife had to abandon her car and walk home, about a mile up the hill to Beaufront Woodhead.  The car was retrieved the following day, but the snow and and ice hung around for another couple of days.  Later in the week, the BBC/Met Office website was finally issuing Yellow Weather Warnings for severe snow in the northeast.  In the event, nothing arrived.  The same website contains hourly forecasts for the following fourteen days – generally speaking, they turn out to be nonsense.  Why the pretence – rant over – have a happy week, everyone, regardless of the weather.

Monday afternoon

Tuesday morning – the same scene – a world changed

Hexham golf course – closed – Wednesday

Thursday morning – firebird heading for warmer climes

Friday morning – fire in the woods

Another week gone by …

I don’t know how long I will keep this up, but there is an improved chance now that I once again have access to the classic editor.  For this I must thank https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com/ who pointed me in the direction of Katherine Wikoff’s post on this subject.  Many thanks to both.

In the manner of Garrison Keillor, it has been a quiet week at Beaufront Woodhead.  Snow fell heavily last Saturday night such that Sunday dawned bright and very white.  Most had melted by Sunday night. Monday remained bright but cold and then the dismal weather set in for three days.  Astonishingly on Friday, my first round of golf since November 11th was played up the coast, at Warkworth, under clear blue skies.  Normal service was resumed on Saturday.  Yes, the English are obsessed by weather.

This is the collection of images posted daily on Blipfoto:

Sunday 5th December – A bright Sunday morning – the first snow of winter

Monday 6th December – Sunburst over Hexham on Monday evening

Tuesday 7th December – A dismal day outside I started playing around with Adobe Photoshop Camera. You see al this before you press the shutter on the smartphone.

Wednesday 8th December – On another thoroughly miserable day, our near neighbours in their very damp woolly jumpers.

Thursday 9th December – Out for Christmas lunch with friends, this is another smartphone + Photoshop Camera image using a reflections preset.

Friday 10th December – The Miracle that was the trip to Warkworth Golf Club.  The view from the edge of the 5th fairway.

Saturday 11th December – normal service is resumed – a very bleak day.

In other news, I finished another proof read of Golf in the Wild – Going Home – the third in as many weeks. It’s a slow process but worth the effort – I am still hopeful for publication before the end of January.

Anstruther …

… pronounced Anster or maybe Enster, if the man in the golf clubhouse is to be believed. But then, this sounds different again.  Regardless, the brief golf trip into Fife was a great success and just one in a series of adventures that has kept me from WordPress since April.  A week in Swanage was followed by a 1200 mile motorcycle journey to Scotland and the North Coast 500.  A golfing trip was long overdue.

Anstruther Golf Course would have appeared in the sequel to Golf in the Wild but Covid delayed the trip and its inclusion beyond my deadlines.  A shame in many respects as it proved to be everything I had hoped for – a fine course with some challenging holes, not least, the three consecutive par 3s at the southern end of the course. The first of these, the fifth – The Rockies, was deemed the toughest par 3 in Britain in 2007 by Today’s Golfer.  It would be hard to disagree.

Beyond the golf course, the town was vibrant with much going on regardless of any social distancing obligations.  These are a selection of images from a brief one night stay – they paint a better picture than words:

 

The second – Monument
The fifth – The Rockies
A Bigger Splash
The bay and clubhouse
The Lighthouse
The Monument on the golf course, from the harbour wall
The harbour

Northumberland Skies

The field next to our home is filled with sheep.  The red dye on their backsides confirms they have been seen to by the tup (ram) – he has been a busy boy. It is disappointing that, around the time the fruits of his endeavours begin to show, the flock is moved to the lower nursery slopes.

The ram has been rushed off his feet.

Looking exhausted

After a while you begin to notice how your neighbours behave.  On really cold, still nights, they gather beneath the trees to avoid the ground frost.  Generally timid, they will disperse as we leave the front door but, rattle a plastic bag that might contain ewe nuts and they will come running.  Lie down for any length of time and a significant number will limp away, appearing to suffer from dead legs.

I share their pain – a golf induced knee injury, rotten weather, salty slippery roads and various tiers of lockdown have all served to constrain the usual activities – travel, golf and motorcycles.  Nevertheless, there is always much to see, just look to the skies:

The sun going down in late November

… And sunrise

Christmas is coming – 23rd December

Christmas morning

Post Christmas steely blue skies – 29th December

And then modest snow arrived on Christmas Eve and hung around for the next day – a White Christmas for Hexham:

Fern Hill

Towards Fawcett Hill

So, to sign off for 2020, I wish my modest band of followers, all the best for a much-improved 2021.  Before I go, some 2020 milestones:

a.  In late 2020 I approached maximum disc space on wordpress.com after eight years – I am now subscribed with an annual fee which at least demonstrates commitment and should ensure my readers are not subjected to peculiar adverts;

b.  Despite lockdowns, I still managed to clock 7165 miles on the motorbikes – several hundred more than in lockdown free 2019;

c.  We still managed to get away – to Saughtree in the Borders, twice to Mallaig and once to north Northumberland.  A return to the latter was abandoned due to the second lockdown;

d.  The text for the Golf in the Wild sequel is now complete and due for publication in September.  Possibly the only golf success in a year when playing was much curtailed.

Finally, as parting shots, a couple of images of the ‘Bad Company‘ I kept on some of the most memorable days in 2020:

On the trip to Hawes

At the top of Rosedale Chimney Bank.

Like a Pitcher of Water …

Troubled waters – Hexham Bridge

Anyone familiar with Golf in the Wild will know the book frequently leaves golf behind and explores a range of diverse subjects which include local history, the tyrant known as ‘my Mother’ (stolen from Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit) and motor racing of the 1960s and 1970s.  It is a journey into my past played out across golf courses in wild places to the distant sound of racing engines.

The sequel, Golf in the Wild – Going Home, will be no different although racing engines have been largely replaced by the sound of mono speakers and Dansette record players.  This is an extract from Chapter 10 of the new book – I am driving south on the A9, approaching the Forth bridges:

I bought Bridge over Troubled Water on the day it was released – 26th January 1970. I must have ducked out of college, caught the train to Oxford Road, Manchester and walked down to Rare Records, 26 John Dalton Street, the shop where Ian Curtis was employed in the early seventies – the first step in his musical career.

Bridge over Troubled Water is a fine album but not the defining work of art that is Bookends. Significantly, I had reservations about the title track. The first two verses work beautifully but the third is over-produced, too dramatic and the voice of the narrator changes from gentle reassurance to brash optimism. It is not the same person. There is a reason – it is not the song Paul Simon intended. It was Roy Halee, the record producer, and Art Garfunkel who insisted on a third verse – “the first two verses could be runway material for a take-off that is waiting” – Art Garfunkel.  Reluctantly, Simon wrote the additional material, too quickly and in the studio, something he never usually did.

So, here’s the thing – from the northern side, drive over the Queensferry Crossing when there is a high wind. Keep to the 40 mph speed restriction and turn on Bridge over Troubled Water at the first exit to the old Bridge. Turn up the volume and listen intently as you cross the troubled waters. When you reach the first gantry sign on the South Queensferry side at 3 minutes 4 seconds, start fading the track out and you will hear the song as Paul Simon originally intended – a small hymn, a small masterpiece.

And the title of the post?  When the orchestral string section came back from the arranger, Ernie Freeman, for over-dubbing in the studio, this was the title assigned to the arrangement – well, that’s how much attention he was paying to the demo! – Paul Simon.

The bridge from the western side