We’ve been planning this trip back to one of our favorite places since April so it was with great anticipation that we headed down to Luxembourg for our flight to Edinburgh. After dropping off Ryan’s golf clubs, we boarded the 1.5 hour flight and were on our way in Scotland.
The sun was setting as we made our way to the car rental place but Ryan had a bit of sunlight left as he got accustomed to driving on the left side of the road. It didn’t take long to get used it the second time and then we were off towards St. Andrews for the first activity of the trip. It definitely got our pulse racing a few times to see the headlights coming at us from what looked like the wrong side of the road but it was overall an uneventful one hour drive.
Arriving after our normal dinner time, we parked a block away from The Golf Inn, located on 1 Golf Avenue, and I went in to check in. There was a second of confusion as I looked around for a reception desk. Turns out, the bar doubled as reception there and the friendly bartender handed me my keys. Then, golf clubs and all, we headed up to our room, the Old Course Suite, which had a view over the 18th green of the old course of St. Andrews.
Still hungry and preparing for a big day ahead, we decided to have a late dinner at our inn. Starting with a pint of the local St. Mungos lager (highly recommend), we ordered mussels, truffle fries, a split pea and leek risotto, and Haggis. For those of you who don’t know, it’s worth a Google. It’s a staple in Scotland and ended up being a staple on our trip. This first one was voted the winner by us. It doesn’t hurt that it came with a shot whiskey.
We chatted with the hotel staff for a bit, enjoying the strangeness of speaking English again. Our waiter asked us about our plans and we shared that Ryan wanted to play the Old Course the next day. The man’s reaction was “*scoff* good luck!” Undaunted, we went to bed as soon as we could so Ryan could wake up early.
Ryan set his alarm for 4:00 AM but couldn’t sleep past 3:10 because he was so excited. While I caught some more shut eye, Ryan headed down to the Old Pavilion at 3:30 AM to try his luck as a single golfer walk-on. Luckily, the Old Pavilion was mere steps from our hotel. Turns out, there aren’t many people that crazy about golf but there are a few. He was the first one there but he was a soon joined by 1 guy (arrived at 4:00 AM. He had played the Old Course the day before and woke up at 2:30 AM for that round) then 2 others (woke up at 2:30 AM to drive from Edinburgh) followed by a line of people. He spent the next 3 hours chatting with his fellow crazies – I mean passionate golfers – about the hours of research they had done to figure out what day and time would ensure their best chance to play the old course and putting under the stars as the waves crashed into St Andrew’s bay.
I popped by with coffee at 7:00 AM and got to join in the fun of watching the sun rise behind the R&A building as well as snap a picture as Ryan signed up for his 11:10 tee time. I can’t imagine anyone happier to have spent 4 hours in the pre-dawn cold than Ryan was as we headed back to the hotel to warm up and grab breakfast. We filled up on some English Breakfast tea and a vegetarian Scottish breakfast at The Golf Inn before we checked out from the bar.
A few hours before his round began, Ryan headed to the driving range and did some chipping. Luckily, we had a gorgeous, clear sky to start the morning and we were relatively warm as we headed back to the Old Pavilion for him to check in and get his caddie assigned. While we waited for his round to begin, he spent some more time putting before we were matched up with 2 locals from Dundee, Troy (Mr. 4:00 AM) and our caddie named Jimmy.
Ryan teed off at 10:50. He started in a t-shirt, which the starter, wearing a parka and stocking hat, called crazy. He blamed it on the nerves of hitting a first tee shot at the Old Course. Let’s just say we were both relieved when he didn’t shank the first shot. I won’t do a play-by-play but there were a few bunkers, a few good shots, and overall, a gorgeous day. We had a great time chatting with the locals and learning about their own golf stories. jimmy was a St Andrews native and had been golfing the course (which is free to locals until they turn 16) since he was a child. He also told us that the Old Course, which is publicly owned, shuts down on Sundays to be used as a public park.
There were just a few rain drops on the second and third hole but overall the weather was perfect for a walk around the Old Course and fulfilling childhood dreams. Ryan smacked the sign on The Road Hole (we think he left a dent) and landed on the road on 18 (which he hit off the road like a championship player). In my not unbiased opinion, he played a great round.
After the round, we did another stroll around the course and the town. We did a bit of shopping in some souvenir shops, took the walk along the coast to the club house, then with much reluctance from Ryan, started the 45 minute drive up to Carnoustie.
We checked into Carnoustie hotel and quickly ordered some room service before I had a meeting. Ryan spent some time roaming the hotel and enjoying the view over the 18th green from our room. Then we wolfed down our dinner while watching British TV and BBC before watching the sun go down over the golf course. Early the next morning, we went back to Gather, our favorite from the Open. The restaurant was just as cute as we remembered it being. We had the place to ourselves (it was 10 minutes after they opened) and relished our sourdough sandwiches (scrambled wed and halloumi for Ryan, smashed avocado and poached eggs for me, with coffee, tea, and more sourdough.
After saying goodbye to our friends at Gather, we headed back to check out of our room before the second round of golf of the trip. We were welcomed into the Carnoustie clubhouse and Ryan did the simulator to warm up before we met with Rodney (Carnoustie Caddie Master and his caddie for the day) and 2 gentlemen from California. In Ryan’s own words, the round started great. After the hubbub of St. Andrews, Carnoustie was much less pressure and it was a beautiful morning. Rodney was a gem right from the beginning. He pointed Ryan in the right direction and regaled us with stories about his time in Carnoustie as well as growing up in Australia. Of the many great stories he told from his own experience and about the Course history, the best was, after some prompting, he shared his best caddie experience. He was the caddie for Tiger Woods for a week in 1996!
The famous Scottish weather was about to catch up with us. After the clouds rolled in, the rain started around hole 8. It continued to get harder around 12, and everyone was completely soaked through by 14. By the time it stopped on hole 15, most everyone was shivering. Our California friends didn’t seem to be enjoying it but Ryan, who wanted to have an Open experience like you see on TV, was smiling bigger than I’ve ever seen a grown man being poured on by rain smile in my life.
Even so, it was with great relief that we headed inside after the 18th hole, Luckily, there were some locker rooms where we could dry off and warm up before we went to the Rookery for some late lunch snacks (more haggis!), tea, and a beer for me. We dillydallied a bit and started the 1 and a half hour drive to MacDonald Forest Hills Resort a bit later than we would have liked. We got there 5 minutes after our dinner reservation, having spent the second half of the drive on some thin, windy roads through the Scottish hills. It was 8:00 PM by the time we were checked in and sitting down to dinner in the “fancy” on-site Garden Restaurant.
Still not-quite-hungry after our late lunch, we tucked into a wonderful three-course dinner of a crayfish and curry dish with popcorn, some beetroot risotto, a roast partridge, and Pain Purdu with fig, apple, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. Paired with the bottle of wine, it was a perfect way to end the day.
Without needing to set an alarm, we woke up before the sunrise and watched it come up from our bedroom window. Breakfast didn’t start until 8:00 AM so we killed some time with some English Breakfast tea and BBC new before we headed down to breakfast. Our hotel was a bit fancier than we’re used to cough AirBnB cough so it was a real treat to not only have a continental breakfast and fresh coffee but also a fresh-made eggs benedict and a smashed avocado with tomato and poached eggs. We added to that with some sausages, bacon, and bread. We needed a solid base before our next adventure!
We started the morning with my chance to take a crack at driving on the left side of the road (with the exception of one curb jump, I did great!) on our way to Glengoyne distillery. One of only 8 distilleries in Scotland that is still Scottish owned, the distillery is regionally famous not only for its whiskey but also for its great tours. We got there in time for our 11:00 tour with a father/son group from Glasgow and a group of friends from England as well as our guide, Kenny. We learned a bunch of fun facts which I won’t bore you with while we sipped on a Glengoyne cask-strength scotch.
We saw the water fall that used to provide all the water for the whiskey (it isn’t enough anymore – you need 100 L of water to distill 1 liter of whiskey) before we went into their facilities and walked through the process of creating the whiskey. We saw some in-process and then crossed back to the warehouse. On our way, the guide described that, while they weren’t technically in the Highlands geographically, they were in the Highlands for categorization but only just. The car park where we left our car was technically across the border.
Then we went to a locked storage room and, after being granted access from an official, we were in a cool room that housed some nearly 50 year old casks. There were 2 in the middle of the where we dropped some dugs (called man’s best friend) on chains into the casks to draw out a sampler from each (one European Sherry cask and 1 American oak cask). After that we went to a warm tasting room in the old Manager’s House. We sank back in some cushy chairs and sampled one of each. Since Ryan was driving, we saved his samples for a later time. After sampling and deciding our favorites, we went back to the warehouse and filled 2 200 mL bottle – one from each cask – to take with us. Loving the experience so far, we decided to buy two more bottles before we called it a day at Glengoyne.
Still wanting to give the tasting a bit more time, we walked to Beech Tree Inn, half a mile down a muddy public path, for lunch. Ryan had a Heilan Coo (highland cow) burger and I had a veggie burger, with a shared sticky toffee pudding for dessert. We walked through the small collection of animals they had (ducks and quails and goats and Shetland ponies!) before walking back to the car and driving back to MacDonald.
I took advantage of the free afternoon and did a few hours of work from the cozy lounge while Ryan read and caught up on news. We walked around the hotel grounds a bit, popped down by the little lake to see the view, and then headed back inside as the sun started to go down. We spent a relaxing night with more room service, which paired great with British TV (BBC, Great British Car Journeys, Escape to the Chateaux DIY and darts with the Flying Scotsman.)
Feeling well-rested, we started our last full day with a hearty breakfast (porridge this time) before our round-the-country (sort of) driving trip. First up was Glencoe. We enjoyed the rugged terrain and awesome fall colors, capped off as we drove through a rainbow. We stopped by a nature center and read about the massacre of the MacDonalds and the history of mountaineering in Glencoe before we moved on to our next stop.
After hearing about it from a few Carnoustie locals, we were excited for a stop over in Oban. The coastal town was noticeably colder and windier then our hotel near Loch Lomond had been. We stretched our legs with a quick stroll before stopping by a small food stall (I wouldn’t quite call it a restaurant) that had been recommended to us. Nicknamed the Green Shack, we walked up to the open air counter, directly across from a tied up fishing boat, and ordered a shrimp sandwich, fresh oysters, garlic butter scallops and garlic butter langoustines. We enjoyed it all in the crisp Fall afternoon.
We lingered just a bit longer before we got back in the car to continue down the coast. We passed lochs and glens and gorgeous views and tried to enjoy them all. We stopped by Inveray on Loch Fyne for a quick walk to enjoy the windy but sunny view from the beach. Then we got back in the car for a 10 minute drive to Loch Fyne Oysters for our 4:00 reservation, a restaurant Ryan had found online ahead of time!
The restaurant parking lot was full so it was a good thing we had called ahead. We ordered quickly before the last orders at 4:45 and soon our feast was in front of us. We had grilled scallops, lobster bisque, a whole brown crab, and oysters (raw and grilled). Needless to say, it was delicious.
After stuffing ourselves with seafood, we watched our last Scottish sunset while we drove back to MacDonald. We sat back on the balcony and watched the sun sink down over a small mountain. When the sun was gone, we headed up to our rooms to catch up with our parents before ending the night sipping whiskey in the lounge. We ended with, once more, watching BBC and the end of a documentary about Megan and Harry.
It was with much sadness that we woke up on our last day. Neither of us was ready to go home. We had another English Breakfast Tea, watched more BBC (so much Brexit!) and went downstairs for our last breakfast. We were going to try to canoe in the morning but, for the first time during our trip, we woke up to a layer of frost and fog so we thought better of it. Instead, we went in the hot tub and sauna before checking out. We still had plenty of time before our flight so we hung out in the lounge next to a roaring fire, then sipped some lemon water before we reluctantly left.
We dropped off the car (kudos again Ryan for all the driving!) and got to the airport with plenty of time. We had some final seafood in the form of cheap sushi and grabbed some obligatory Pret A Manger before our quick hop back home to Luxembourg. I’m already dreaming of the day that we’ll be back with our Scottish friends again.