Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gathering Peaty Water in Dornoch - Scotland Trip 1989

In 1989, I made my second trip to the “links” of northern Scotland. I had heard from my friend, Harry Howell, from Dothan about how wonderful these trips were and the year before had taken the plunge anxious to test my embryonic golf skills on what I had heard were beautiful and difficult golf courses. Now I was on my second trip, a veteran who had still not broken ninety on most of these courses. We had played our first round of the trip on Royal Dornoch, the greatest Scottish links course never to have hosted a British Open event. As before, I had not conditioned myself properly to walking such distances before leaving for the trip. We were lodged at The Castle Hotel in the little village of Dornoch where one can walk from one end to the other of the town in a matter of minutes. At dinner that night, we feasted in the hotel restaurant and, as American men tend to do, the twelve of us were quite loud while eating. I noticed several disapproving glances from the clientele gathered there for their evening meal. Most of these were English or Scottish couples who sat rather reservedly, whisperingly quiet while eating compared to the boisterous goings on at our table. These other guests tolerated our shenanigans and no doubt were relieved when we finally exited the dining room for the terrace outside. As we stood talking, some of our group lit up cigars and others had stopped at the bar and picked up a drink to enjoy outside in the cool Scottish air. As we stood talking, a demure little English lady inched herself quietly up to one of our group and as she gathered his attention softly spoke, “Sir, I just must ask, would it be safe to say that you gentlemen are, off the leash”? Needless to say, this ignited an explosive burst of laughter among the members of the group.

In those days we were quite the gentlemen that she had spoken of, at least in appearance, as we all dressed for dinner in coat and tie. After this encounter on the terrace, some of us retreated inside to the bar where the aficionado of single malt whiskeys in our group, Harry Howell, began to enjoy himself of this delightful drink and to recount the virtues of various brands of this magic brew. An engaging couple that would later become known as Simon and Helen Baines from Derryshire, England sat listening at a table nearby to this litany of comments quietly taking in all Harry had to say. As Harry paused, perhaps to order another round, Simon Baines spoke up and identified himself. “Sir, I have listened to all you had to say, especially concerning your preference for Highland Park, but may I ask, have you ever had Glencoe”? Harry had to reply that he had not yet tried this particular single malt variety. Simon and Helen then began to explain the reason for their being in Dornoch. They were not golfers. This couple made an annual pilgrimage to the hills of Dornoch to collect “peaty water”, water that naturally seeps through the peat bog. After catching multiple bottles of this murky liquid they would cap it and haul it back with them to England for use in mixing with their Scotch. Harry, the aficionado, was dumbstruck. He had never heard of such. The Baines then hailed down the bartender and asked if he could bring the American a glass of Glencoe. After the bartender responded that this was not a brand that he stocked, Simon asked if it would be permissible for him to retrieve Harry a drink from their own stock out in their car.

With the bartender’s permission, Simon exited and soon returned with a bottle of this new mysterious elixir. By this time Harry had had his fill, but not to offend, the drink was poured and Harry began to imbibe. After a short while, I noticed Harry tugging at his tie. He released himself from the imprisonment of this mark of a gentleman and amusingly tossed the thing over his shoulder. It landed in the fireplace. Luckily the warmth of the evening saved it from destruction. What Simon Baines had not told Harry was that Glencoe was 120 proof whiskey, 60% alcohol.

I asked him sometime later what he had thought of the Glencoe. There was not a good natured response. Harry had been bested by the little couple from Cubley, Ashbourne, Derryshire, England. No doubt this English couple had great fun with this story when they returned to England.
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