Austin Drawing Office 14 was the project code name for the Austin Maxi, one in a series of similar BMC vehicles vying for the unlovely awards, another fine example being ADO17, the BMC 1800 variants, ‘affectionately’ known as land crabs.  None of these cars achieved rock or cult status in their day but the Maxi could lay claim to one unlikely pilot.

In 1969, in the space between the Beatles last live performance on top of the Apple HQ in Savile Row and the start of the recording session that would become the Abbey Road album, John Lennon and Yoko Ono made a road trip to Scotland, taking with them their respective children, Julian and Kyoko.

Heading for Durness, Lennon, the shortsighted and unenthusiastic motorist, drove the Maxi off the road on the single track A838 somewhere between Tongue and Loch Eriboll. Julian Lennon was the only one to escape unharmed, the other three being transferred to the Lawson Memorial Hospital at Golspie.  Only Julian made it to Durness where he was collected by an irate Cynthia Lennon.

John had fond memories of this wild place at the extreme northwest edge of the British Isles.  He spent many childhood holidays at a croft in Sangomore just to the east of Durness where the road briefly loops inland away from the sea.  The croft was owned by the stepfather of one of his cousins, the appropriately named Bertie Sutherland and Lennon’s time there is commemorated with a memorial garden.  Set among the winding paths are works by the local ceramicist, Lotte Glob and three standing stones etched with the words from In My Life:

There are places I remember all my life;

All these places had their moments with lovers and friends;

In my life I’ve loved them all.
John Lennon 1940-1980

The white example of the unlovely ADO14 vehicle was taken back to Lennon’s home at Tittenhurst Park near Ascot and mounted on a plinth to remind John and Yoko of the fragility of life (and BMC products).  In 1969 I would have benefited from the same reminder – I twice crashed an ADO15 (the ubiquitous Mini), a consequence of too much teenage enthusiasm rather than too little.

I mention all this because I have been literally (in the absolute sense) marooned in Durness since writing the last words of Golf in the WildThere is an echo of polite applause on a gentle wind rising across the Parph.  I pick my ball from the hole, replace the pin and we go our separate ways. I am done.  Except I am not, I need to find my way home.

Down the road from Durness Golf Club, at the western end of Balnakeil Bay, the ruins of an old church and cemetery host a memorial to the gaelic poet, Rob Donn – one character away from immortality, perhaps my return journey begins there.

Durness ...

Durness ...

Durness ...

Travel theme: Numbers

Golf is all about numbers  – look at a scorecard and it is covered in them:  the holes 1 to 18; the White, Yellow and Red distances for each hole; pars; stroke indexes; gross scores; nett  scores; stableford points, handicaps.  Non-golfers might be surprised to know that there are GPS systems which tell you exact distances from where your ball has landed to the hole – more numbers (I am warming to this subject 😛 – I promise it is the last such post).

Golf in the Wild takes you on a journey of 727 miles from Northumberland to the far northwest of Scotland, taking in fifteen courses – assuming you play eighteen at each that is a total of 270 holes and this is what awaits as a finale, on the last course, Durness – what a finish (click on the image to see if you can make out the flag):

The eighteenth at Durness

This is exactly what the sadistic inventor of golf had in mind when he explained his intentions to Robin Williams – sensitivity warning – those offended by bad language should not watch/listen:

And this image just to prove that I don’t ‘dress like a pimp’ and no wheels are involved – I carry my own bag 🙂

Golf in the Wild


Cape Wrath

The sea rolls, boils and bubbles over the rocks off Cape Wrath, a happy linguistic coincidence, the name Wrath being derived from the from Old Norse hvarf , turning point; much like the fastest man on earth being called Bolt and the fallen Bulgarian hurdler, Stambolova.

I have passed through nearby Durness on a number of occasions and walked the beach at Balnakeil but until last week had never completed the journey to Cape Wrath and Robert Stevenson’s lighthouse at the extreme northwest corner of mainland Britain.  The trip starts with a half mile ferry across the Kyle of Durness, a rowing boat powered by an outboard, ferryman at the stern, ferrydog at the bow and a handful of passengers squeezed between.  From the slipway across the Kyle a well-worn minibus provides a teeth chattering 11 mile drive across a rough road which was built to service construction of the lighthouse in 1828 and has suffered little change since.  The first walled section hugs the edge of Beinn An Amair before entering the MOD bombardment range where the road descends to Daill and the bridge built by the army in 1981 to replace the sometime impassable ford.

As the road climbs to Inshore, three target vehicles become visible across the western ridge; two are in standard camouflage and the other is bright pink, courtesy of local schoolchildren who enjoy access to the ranges for natural history and modern art field trips.

The milestones carved by the keepers count down the miles, descending numerically towards the lighthouse, the centre of their world.  All are original except number eight which suffered stray artillery damage, the frequent roadside craters providing further evidence of why you would not want to travel this track when the red flags are flying.  The range finishes above the Kearvaig river bridge, this original arched construction being only just wide enough to accommodate the rattling minibus.

Beyond the bridge there are views towards the Kearvaig Stack whilst looking back from the old coastguard station above the lighthouse a white bothy can be seen nestling in the bay.

Sadly the lighthouse is now fully automated although not entirely deserted.  The Ozone café remains open throughout the year, possibly the loneliest outpost anywhere on the British mainland; not somewhere I would feel entirely at ease through the long dark nights.  Wild and empty the landscape may be but it is far from quiet; there is the constant noise of the sea and gulls, on firing days the sound of heavy munitions and on some days the scream of low flying jets as NATO allies practice bombing runs on the islands off the coast, occasionally the right ones.  Walk out beyond the lighthouse and there is evidence of yet more noise, the now abandoned foghorn.  Imagine this blasting into the dark night; enough to summon the dead souls of sailors washed up on the haunted beach of Sandwood Bay just down the coast.  Bustling civilisation has its compensations.

Down to the left of the foghorn lay the rusted remains of capstans, cogs and pulleys, evidence that there was once an intention to move the lighthouse onto lower rocks where it would less likely be obscured by fog.  A rusted name plate attributes manufacture to Taylor Pallister & Co Ltd, Dunston on Tyne, not that far from where this journey started in August 2011, a golfing pilgrimage that began in earnest on the first tee at Melrose and ended one year later on the eighteenth green at Durness.  That journey was about Golf in the Wild and will be a little longer in the telling.