A gale has been howling across the sand dunes all night, rattling the windows of my hotel room, whilst the branches of the tree outside are still swaying as if in the aftermath of some apocalyptic explosion.
I grab my windjacket, and head downstairs, past the hotel bar and restaurant where we ate so well last night. I nod in deference to this holy shrine – the hallowed tables where they serve the most famous sticky toffee pudding in all the world.
One day I’ll write about my adventures in Aberdeen, but whilst the Granite City may sparkle in the sunshine, it’s rural Aberdeenshire that I much prefer. I found the Udny Arms at Newburgh by accident, once long ago when all the business hotels in town were full. I wasn’t too pleased then, at being billeted seventeen miles northeast of the city, but I’ve been coming back here ever since.
As soon as I walked in through the door, I knew that I’d swapped the usual misery of concrete, soulless city blocks and junket bars in busy streets for a hearty village welcome and a morning view across the sands of Forvie. Without intending to, I’d found my Scottish home.
The lady at the front desk smiles indulgently as I wander past. ‘Gooin’ jorggin’ ?’ she enquires, and I just don’t have it in me to tell her, not quite seriously, that I’m no jogger, but a honed and highly uncompetitive athlete, training at dawn for my next international race (the Almería Half Marathon in southern Spain at the end of January).
The dark horizon is slightly brighter now, as I head down to the River Ythan, across the tiny bridge and out onto the golf course.
Newburgh boasts an ancient and famous Scottish links – the old nine holes hard by the estuary and behind the dunes, and another nine, more newly-built, amongst the gorse upon the hill above. It’s an unusual mix, but I loved it when I played here back in May.
That was a rushed game before an afternoon meeting, straight off the red-eye flight from London. It wasn’t the ideal preparation for a well-played round, and the season was different, and yet now my early morning mood and the weather feel much the same. Grey, breezy, drizzly, 7oC, after not quite enough sleep. That’s exactly the kind of day which I can expect to find beside the North Sea, at any time of year.
There’s no chance for golf this morning. The overnight rain has softened the fairways beneath my feet, but the springy turf is still a pleasure to tread. I join the course at about the 14th (I think) and lope along the coastal holes, past the challenging par-3 16th, where a cruel bounce sent me into the Ythan last spring, amongst the gorse beside the 17th, and onto the eighteenth tee.
The view across the firth is worth this run and all the business trip around it. The day is arriving very slowly here – the dawn has been in progress for over half an hour now, and it’s still not exactly light. In these latitudes, the mid-winter sun is merely grazing the horizon, but the morning seems all that much more atmospheric through the murk.
My outing today may have had no real training goal, but simply being out here under this huge grey sky is an elemental and almost spiritual experience of a completely different kind today. Just me, the river, the wind and the birds beneath the drizzle.
I turn around and jog quietly back to the hotel. The breeze is at my back, the howling of the wind replaced by silence as the hood of my windjacket hood flaps gently behind my ears.
Five minutes later, the sun is rising slowly into a watercolour sky, the marram grass beside the fairways is turning fast from grey to green, and this long half-day of twilight is all but over.
My strides are longer, faster and more fluid now, and yet the North Sea wind behind me is not the reason. It’s the raw essence of Aberdeenshire which is lifting my feet across the grass as I spring homeward across the links.
And here, back at the hotel, this view – the finest in all of Scotland – awaits me frae my breakfast table. It’s a fair braw morning in Newburgh, and I’m ready to face the day.
150. Chapel of Garioch, Inverurie – another Aberdeenshire morning
135. Backs against the wall – Footdee, Aberdeen
106. A Highland reel – Pitlochry, Perthshire
99. One over Strath
6. Edinburgh – Scotland’s finest
62. On the links