Take the long and winding road to Machrihanish
You can get to Machrihanish a lot faster than Old Tom Morris did in 1879 when he agreed to improve Machrihanish Golf Club. However, to experience the beauty of this remote part of Scotland you need to take the low road, not the high one. You need to take the B842 (above), the road that inspired the Beatles song “The Long and Winding Road.” If you’re updating your bucket list during this lockdown, as I am, then add one of the best drives in golf to it. You won’t be disappointed. Machrihanish is 135-mile, three-hour trip from Glasgow Airport, longer when you stop and smell the heather along the way. As you should. The high road, a 25-minute flight from Glasgow Airport, will get you there quickly. Don’t make that mistake. The drive rewards you with haunting glens, stunning mountain scenery, great sea views and probably the loneliest road in Scotland, the one McCartney immortalised in song. McCartney knew the B842 well from travelling to and from his family farm on the Mull of Kintyre. The fact he penned another song by that very name is reason enough to visit one of Scotland’s most beautiful regions.
The drive from Glasgow runs alongside Loch Lomond, past Loch Lomond Golf Club. Don’t worry that you probably won’t be able to play this private club. Machrihanish Golf Club, Machrihanish Dunes and Dunaverty, where you’re headed, will give you a warm welcome. After you’ve peaked over the wall at Loch Lomond Golf Club, stop and take in the views of arguably Scotland’s most popular mountain, Ben Lomond. I was lucky enough to have this as my backdrop when I walked to school as a wee boy. From Ben Lomond you continue along the A82 to Tarbet (the wee tea room does a great breakfast) and head west via the A83 through the narrow glen that links Loch Lomond to Loch Long. Vikings once sailed their long boats to the head of Loch Long, a sea loch, and then used logs to roll them through the glen to Loch Lomond before sailing down Loch Lomond to raid and pillage. At the head of Loch Long sits the village of Arrochar (Arro-Kar). Presiding over the town is a mountain known as The Cobbler (below), Ben Arthur to use its proper name, since its peak resembles an old cobbler sitting at his lathe. The Cobbler isn’t a Munro but it’s a great climb if you’ve got the time. I dare you to thread the needle at the top!
From here you get into the wilds of the west of Scotland. The drive from Arrochar cuts through Glen Croe. A new road makes the journey much less arduous than the old road. At the head of the glen sits “The Rest and be Thankful.” Park here and take in the view. The old road snakes through the glen and up to where you’re sitting. Imagine taking that trip in a horse and cart, or on a bicycle as I once did, and you’ll understand why the spot is so named. You continue past Loch Restil with the Arrochar Alps on your right, mountains with mystical names such as Beinn Narnain and Beinn Ime. Glen Kinglas sweeps away to your right just as you go round a large bend. The old Butter Bridge is on your left. It’s a good spot to park up and take a wee wander up haunting Glen Kinglas. As a wee boy, I imagined this glen had a secret village at its end, filled with mysterious people, Fingallians maybe, or Picts or pixies and fairies. I’ve yet to find this secret village. Maybe one day. You’re in lonely, unforgiving land where crofters once eked out a hard existence before they were evicted from their homes during the Highland Clearances. Make sure you stop at Cairndown at the head of Loch Fyne and sample some of the local fare at Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, one of Scotland’s best fish restaurants and the original Loch Fyne restaurant that spawned a chain of outlets throughout the UK. The fare of oysters, mussels, clams and herring from the nearby loch will be a tad fresher than you’ll get in towns through the UK. The little fishing town of Inverary is your next stop. This picturesque, lochside town is the home of Clan Campbell, and Inverary Castle is still the family home. The castle and the town’s jail are well worth a visit. The quickest way down to Machrihanish is to take the A83 down the west side of the Kintyre Peninsula. The Atlantic Ocean sits to your right, and you get outstanding views of the Isles of Giha, Jura and Islay. The scenery is stunning. The B842 is the other route, the road that inspired McCartney to write his famous song. This road traverses the east side of the Kintyre Peninsula and lives up to its name; it meanders along the coastline for 34 miles, offering outstanding views of the Isle of Arran. I travelled this road 10 years ago to tick off a bucket list item I’d been dying to tick off for a long time. “The Long and Winding Road” was the first song played when my wife, Linda, and I got married. Hence the need to take this road less travelled. The McCartney road is not for the faint of heart, though. Much of this road is single track with passing places, a concept some North American readers may find unique, but which is commonplace throughout Scotland. Drive slowly and take your camera. No wonder Old Tom Morris took the long and winding road to Machrihanish in 1897. Stand on the first tee of the Old Course (below) and you can imagine the thrill he got when he decided the opener should be played over the beach, with the Atlantic Ocean on your left. The club takes pleasure in calling it “the best opening hole in golf,” and many agree.
Machrihanish Golf Club is a bit like a middle-aged man at a nightclub. It starts strongly and gets weaker. The front nine holes are played over quintessential links. The holes get weaker on the back nine, especially the last two, making you wonder if you strayed onto a different golf course. However, there is enough golf course to make anyone want to make a return journey. Machrihanish Dunes is a good addition to the original links. Designed by David McLay Kidd, Mach Dunes is played over natural links land that pretty much extends from Machrihanish’s front nine holes. Dunaverty remains on my bucket list. Unfortunately, the heavens were angry the only time I set out to play it. I had to content myself with a bowl of soup and a sandwich in the wee clubhouse. However, the skies cleared on a few occasions to give me views that are stunning on a sunny day, views I remember from a family camping trip many moons ago when I nearly drowned after falling off an inflatable airbed into icy waters. However, golf is really secondary on this trip. The journey is far more important. Put the long and winding road, the B842, to Machrihanish on your bucket list. And don’t be in a hurry. Stop and smell the heather and explore the wild glens and mountains along the way. The experience will last a lifetime.