East Lothian, Scotland, just east of Edinburgh, is small, but it packs quite a punch with not only fine golf courses but plenty of off-course activities as well.
Here are a few ideas for a rainy day on your next golf trip to Scotland ...
North Berwick Law: It's not a courthouse or some legalese-inspired Scottish comedy troupe. North Berwick Law is the volcanic formation that can be seen from many points around Gullane and North Berwick. You can climb the steep, 618-foot landmark for panoramic views of Edinburgh's Royal Mile and Arthur's Seat. At the top you can also view a giant arch formed from the jawbone of a whale.
Bass Rock: East Lothian's most iconic landmark, the 450-foot-high Bass Rock has hosted a prison, castle, royal weddings and much more. Today it's the favorite resting point of more than 150,000 gannet birds each year, which explains why it looks so white. Boat tours will take you out to the rock for bird watching and to explore the lighthouse (thankfully, they provide parkas).
Belhaven Brewery in Dunbar: £5 gets you a two-hour tour of the brewery that's been lubricating East Lothian since the 1700s. Afterwards, enjoy a tasting in their Monk's Retreat bar with each of Belhaven's brews on tap.
Castle hopping: Like just about every nook and cranny of the United Kingdom, there are plenty of castles to check out in East Lothian. The area's most stunning is the Tantallon Castle, a 14th century ruin on the cliffs and in close view of Bass Rock. Or visit the Dirleton Castle, a 13th century castle and gardens with the world's largest herbaceous border.
Winton Estate: The Winton Estate dates back over 900 years, and the house is one of the gems of the Scottish Renaissance. It's been home to some of the country's most influential people over the years, and kings have wined and dined here.
Today, the Winton Estate hosts weddings, offers luxury accommodations, and tours are available by appointment (WintonHouse.co.uk).
Edinburgh city tour: East Lothian is Edinburgh's golfing coastline, and the heart of the city is less than an hour away (closer to a half-hour's drive from Musselburgh). Here, you can walk the Royal Mile to the Castle, visit Arthur's Seat, Carlton Hill or explore this cultural city's many artistic attractions and events - and bars, of course. This is one lively city after hours.
Heritage of Golf Museum: Gullane Golf Club hosts a wonderful little museum, with an even more wonderful tour guide: local legend Archie Baird, a former captain at Gullane and also a member at Muirfield down the road. He's gathered a great deal of collectibles, paintings and odd clubs.
The free tour is about 20 minutes (or until you stop asking questions). Just give at least a few days' notice, and Archie will try to accommodate you. Contact the golf club for details.
Musselburgh Race Course: Once you've played the Old Links at Musselburgh, the world's oldest continuously-played golf course, stick around and put a few quid on the ponies. View the race schedule at www.musselburgh-racecourse.co.uk.
MacDonald Marine Hotel Spa: The area's top spa can be found here in North Berwick. It offers a variety of massage treatments to soothe aching muscles after a golf-heavy itinerary, or you can just stick to the steam room or hot tub.
East Lothian Coastal Trail: The A198 Coastal Trail spans 31 miles from Dunbar to Musselburgh. You'll be on the trail plenty if you're here for the golf courses, as all the links are right off the road. But there are also scores of beaches, little towns like Kilspindie and castles to check out between the links.
If you're looking for a cozy but comfortable inn with loads of Scottish flair, including a friendly little pub and restaurant, stay at the Kilspindie House Hotel in Aberlady (Kilspindie.co.uk). The house dates back to the 1600s and is full of charm, though rest assured - guest rooms come with modern amenities and new, comfortable beds. You're also just minutes from Gullane and North Berwick, in the heart of all of East Lothian's golf offerings and about a half hour's drive to Edinburgh.
In North Berwick, the four-star MacDonald Marine Hotel (www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/marine) is experiencing a great rebirth, thanks to the luxury resort brand's multi-million pound investment to the guest rooms and public areas. Tour pros stay here when competing in the Open at Muirfield, including Open champs Tom Watson and Padraig Harrington. Rooms overlooking the North Berwick Golf Club are spacious, with large windows that let the sun fill the room in the morning. Sitting on the 16th fairway, you can walk to the first tee for your tee time, or stroll into the heart of town for a drink or to bet a few quid on one of the town's public putting greens.
May 11, 2009