Visiting Scotland without sneaking in a round at the links is practically sacrilegious, the equivalent of strolling through the Sistine Chapel without ever bothering to take a gander at the ceiling. The names of her courses bear the ring of ancient battlefields, where many an iron-swinging gladiator has squared off against destiny: Muirfield, Gleneagles, Royal Troon and the legendary St. Andrews. Indeed, Scotland is the Old Country for serious golfers of any flag. But there’s more Scotland attractions in store here than, to paraphrase Mark Twain, several good walks spoiled.
Ah, but what would a trip to Scotland be without a goodly time in Dùn Èideann, known to non-Gaelic speakers as Edinburgh? One of the most cultured capitals in all of Europe, Edinburgh is immensely popular, attracting an average of one million curious visitors per year (second-highest in the UK after London, no less). Rich with literary history, the city’s cozy shop-lined streets, UNESCO-protected districts and stunning Georgian architecture have inspired the prose of noted writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, Ian Rankin and JK Rowling. But for all its opportunities for quiet reflection, the ‘Burgh can really make some noise when necessary—especially when the Edinburgh Military Tattoo are playing, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (the world’s largest performing arts extravaganza) is in session, and the city’s numerous pubs are open for business!
Scotland’s hilly geography makes it as much a paradise for cyclists as it is a challenge for golfers. From the winding streets of quaint Kirriemuir to the magnificent Angus Glens and back, the cycling routes wend their way through the bucolic farmlands and lush forests of the Grampian foothills. The spectacular views from Glen Doll are worth the visit alone. Riders can bike past lochs, castles and the mysterious engravings of the Picts—ancient Scottish tribespeople from the 10th century—to meet the sea at Stonehaven, a fishing village with one of the prettiest harbours you’ll ever see and some of the best seafood around. Travellers who wish to imbibe will also get the chance to enjoy a tipple or two in Fettercairn, home to Scotland’s second-oldest distillery. But not too many—you still have to bike back!
(And the Unfortunate Tale of Jean Van de Velde)
But back to the golf. First up is Carnoustie, one of the sport’s most respected and feared courses. “Car-nasty,” as it is known, has humbled daytrippers and professionals in equal measure since at least the 16th century, and is universally recognized as one of golf’s ultimate tests. It was also the scene of one of sporting history’s most bizarre moments when, in the waning stages of the 1999 British Open, Jean Van de Velde blew a three-shot lead on the final hole, eventually losing the title to Scotsman Paul Lawrie in a playoff. The indelible image of Van de Velde clambering into the wee burn in a futile attempt to chip his ball onto the green has made the unlucky-but-determined Frenchman the patron saint of struggling duffers everywhere.