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5 TRAVELT+food

April 27

2008

sunday T'imes

COOL SPOT Picture: JOHN YoUNG

Hxtrerne golfi ng, Golfinrg in Wales separates the men from the boys, and the sheep from the sheepish, writes J*hlr Yeiilt'lg AGAINST THE WIND: Don't expect balmy breezes on this rugged golf course set amid rolling green hills

r Johnson said that when a

man is tted of London he is tired of life. He also said, "By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show." \4/hich is two parts true

and eight parts complete rubbish, as so many famous sayings are, The old cynic once wrote that he was "weary of being at home, and weary of being abroad" and he was a famous hater of "Scotchmen" and things Scottish. Ile had opinions on further flung places too. When a Jamaican died, Johnson comhented, "He will not, whither he is now gone, lind much difference, I believe, either in the climate or the companv." Having sorted out Johnson, I can now om up. I once grew tired of London, but I found the ldeal antidote to the strain of life in a golf at megalopolis - a roundinofWales, the top of a mountain Johnson's views on the principality are not known, but the person who introduced him l"o Boswell, Lhe man who made the doctor's utterings so famous, was Thomas Davies, who must have been Welsh. In any event, Wales is a wonderful place to visit afier the huly-burly of London. 'Ihe first Welsh brochue I saw after a sleepy train-ride across England promised "Peace and Tranquillity" in the rolling hius that sunound the town of Welshpool. This was a bit of a surprise to me as I was intending to try out the golf course at Llanftindod Wells, many miles to the south. No matier, I ihought, they must have a golf course at Welshpool. Ye Gods, do they have a golf course in Welshpool! Eighteen mountain-top holes are set mongst impenetrable gorse and bracken, punctuated by steep ravines and deep gorges. It is a fearsome thing, the very antithesis of peace and tranquillity, especially when a Force Nrne gale is blowing slrajghr off the distant irish Sea, via the mountains of Snowdonia, as it was on the day of my visit. I borrowed a set of clubs from the friendly barman, admired the spectacular view from lhe first tee and hit a respectable six iron shot not far from the green. Not far from the green but lost forever in centuries-old undergrowth! It was clear that this was going to be a battle for survival. It is entirely appropriate that Chilles Darwirfs grandson has written extensively about goll at Welshpool - only the very fittest woulal survive a full round there. Bernard Dtrwin was a renowned golf writer and he called Welshpo0l "A Golf Course of Dreams". Johr

Stutt of Paisle-Y, who buili the course, comptred it to the iconic Gleneagles in Scotland and Darwin Ioved it, "There is nothing like it in the country." Damin \ilanted to avoid casting a "covert slur" on the quality of ihe golf by wririn8, about the yiew, bul he made an exception for this course because "it would be absurd not to mention this view ... it takes ihe breath away". The great mountains of North West Wales and the smaller hills of distant English counties can be seen lrom

'So unlil<e anything else, so perched on the roof of the worlc{ ... a truly trreautiful place' almost every tee-box. The 10th hole is called Five Counties because of bhe panorama. The second hole is omilously called "The Graveyard". It was here that I had my first eicounter with Welshpool's malevolent sheep. Six of them were huddled in a woolly bunch beneath a huge oak tree, cuddled up end to end to avoid the icy wind whistling up the long uphill fairway. Local farmers' ancient rights tq graze their sheep on Golfa Hill were not distubed when the golf course was laid out in 1928. A recent concession to golfers' rights has seen the erection of low electric wires to protect the greens lrom nibbling sheep. There are no sheep iI rhe world less sheep{ike in their behaviour

than the Welshpool sheep. Perhaps they have inherited some sense of their rights to the land from their ancestors. Perhaps the dark clouds and howling wind had me thinking ia Wutheritlg Heights terlins. Whatever the eause, I found the way one sheep sniffed at my baU when it came to rest nearby quite creepy. And when I hit what i thought was a fairly decent midiron back towards the clubhouse on the next hole, another one let out a muffled snort, as lf to say, "What sort of shot is that?" When one s game is as fragile as mine, one can do without a gallery of furry quadrupeds giving their verdict. And then there was the wind. Having tapped in for a rare pil on the short third hole. I returned to where I had left my bag, only io discover that the wind had shifted it about 10m down the hill. Later, in the bar, I was told that the wind had once lifted a mm off his teet on the 18ih green. I believe it. Never again will I complain aboui the breezes that pass over the golf course at Milnerl,on in lhe Wcstern Cape or Humewood's coolhg zephyrs in Port Elizabeth. Somewhere between the eighth and ninth holes I got lost, emerging quite by chance on the tee of the 18th. I decided this was a signal to take a short-cut to the clubhouse, and a bracing tot of whisky. The Links at Fancourt has some dauilting tee-shots btrt nothing to compile with Welshpool's final hole. It hasn't chmged a bit tuom when Darwin played it m the'ls30s, "Between me and the clubhouse yawned one of the most stupendous ravines that ever produced a joy shot lrom the tee." Somehow, I propelled the ball over the bracken and negotiated the precipitous down slope. The same sheep that had glared at me on the fifth were


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now glowering near the final green. Or was it their cousins? I linished as quickly as I could. Despite the wind and the cold, the ravines and the animosity of the animals, golf at Welshpool is a bracirg and unique experience. The course ls, as Darwin wrote, "so unlike anything else, so perched on the roof of the world ... a iruly bcaul.iful place". The exrremities of weather and topography are quickly forgotten in ihe cosy clubhouse pub, where the barman understands what's needed after an extended walk on an exposed mountain top. In Dave Evans, Welshpool Golf CIub also has a barmm who knows more than most about the battle ol lsandlwana. Anyone wmting to know eYen more about that lamous Zulu triumph can travel about 80km south along the A483 to tsrecon and the regimental museum of T'he South Wales Borderers. The emphasis is more on B,orke's Ilrift than nsandlwana, but among the displays are wooden ammunition boxes still bearing the desperate scratch marks oi the British soldiers (most of them hailed from Birmingham), who tried to claw the containers open at the height of the battle. Brecon is a quiet town on the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park and Llandrindod Wells, where I would have played golf had I not fallen asleep on the train, is about haifway between Brecon and WelshpoolAs one would expect in a small (own. the lo|rls at rhc goll (,lub bar quickly recommended a good place to stay and rustled up a taxi to take me to Severn Farm Bed and Breakfast. Alun Jones showed me my room and recommended the Royal Oak Hotel, about five minutes' walk away, tbr dinner. When it came to cltoosing a main course, there really was no choice.

After my encounters on the golf course, it had to be "Rack of Welsh Lamb" and X can confim Thomas Peacock's opinion liom almosi 200 years ago: like revenge, "The mountain sheep are sweeter." I only had one nighi in Welshpool but the area has many attractions

apart from the spectacular golf course. Powys Castle is a commanding 500-year-old presence, trips can be arranged on Victorian steam engines or canal boats and Julie Christie lives in the area.- or so I was told in the bar. If she farms sheep (as everyone else seems to do), then shc will be a regular at the Monday sales, the biggest'oneday sheep market in Europe. I did not have time for breakfast betbre I left Welshpool. Because

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Welshpool js in Montgomeryshire, Wales, about 30km west of Shrewsbury on the A458. A good, general website is www.welshpool.org.uk. Accomniodat;on from t30 (abut R465) is available at the Royal oak Hotel (Tel: 019 38 552 2lZ www.royaloakhotel.info/) ard Severn Farm Bed and Breakfast (019 38 555 999; www.severnfarm.co.uk) charges 125 (about R3B0). There are more than 200 golf courses in Wales, many of them outstandingly good. They are also cheaper to play and less crowded than many courses in other parts of Britajn. Wales will host the Ryder Cup in 2010. The Welsh tourist authority website is wuiwvisitwales.com anci they have a link to a website offerinq special golfing deals; www. golfasitshouldbe.com.

Bdtain's privatised railway system is not always co-ordinated, I had to leave very early to get from Walcs to the nearest English town, Shrewsbury. This is Charles Darwir's birthplace and the setting tbr Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfel novels, but this wasn't much use to me. Although I had to wait a long time on the platform for the lirst south-bound lrain, run by a diflerent company, thele wasn't enough time to make sightseeing

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host Alan drove me to the station and only took my money as the train started moving off, which is when I remembered that I had not yet paid lor my bed. It is diificult to imagine something similar happening in London. By sceing a part of friendly Wales, I had seen more of trhat the world can show and was happy to have proved f)r' Johnson wrong.

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Profile for Young and Enterprising

Extreme golfing, Welsh-style  

Golfing in Wales separates the men form the boys, and the sheep from the sheepish, writes John Young

Extreme golfing, Welsh-style  

Golfing in Wales separates the men form the boys, and the sheep from the sheepish, writes John Young

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