A family-run hotel for a wee golfing holiday
FOR Americans touring abroad and used to the large and impersonal Holiday Inns, Sheratons, Ramada Inns, and Hiltons found in the United States, a small, family inn is a sheer delight. A golfing vacation in Scotland (``wee holiday,'' the Scots would say) brought us in a totally fortuitous fashion to Lossiemouth, a village on the Firth of Moray. Lossiemouth, a mouthful for Americans to be sure, earned its name by virtue of its location at the mouth of Scotland's Lossie River, which empties into the Firth of Moray on Scotland's northeastern coast.
Again, serendipity found us at the Huntly House Hotel. It had, we soon discovered, everything for a golf-touring American couple, so we reserved a room for two nights. Those two nights turned into three, we were so pleased with the inn and the town.
So beware: If you stay at a family inn in Scotland for more than one night, you risk becoming a member of the family.
We soon met the unique family proprietors. Sippe Pitstra is Dutch, his wife English. For more than 20 years he worked the oil fields of the world from Newfoundland to Brazil, from Dubai to Nigeria. But for these last seven years he has worked on an oil platform, Shell's and Esso's ``Cormorant A'' in the North Sea, 100 miles from the Shetland Islands and 250 miles from mainland Aberdeen.
Carolyn, his wife, was for a number of years in charge of staff dining at several stores of Marks & Spencer, the large British department store chain. The Englishwoman and the Dutch oil worker met in Aberdeen, married, and ran a small guesthouse. Soon it was too small. It was then that they discovered this small inn on the Firth of Moray, 70 miles from Aberdeen.
Sippe (pronounced like the last two syllables in MissisSIPPI, he says) works one week on the platform, one week off. This schedule allows him to put in the time needed to take care of the inn and the extensive renovation and improvement he and Carolyn have undertaken since they bought it 31/2 years ago.
Carolyn takes care of the day-to-day operation of Huntly House, including much of the food purchasing and cooking. Her brother Chris serves as receptionist. A full- and part-time staff of about 20 fills the other gaps.
Not counted as working members of the family and staff are Louise, 6, and her twin sisters, Charlotte and Victoria, aged 2. Two diaper-clad imps wheeling around the downstairs public rooms with their nanny in close pursuit lend a certain charm and ambiance lacking in the typical American hostelry.
The Huntly House has 12 guest rooms. The family occupies a number of others, but with the recent purchase of the house next door for the family, there will soon be additional guest space.
Sippe's Dutch heritage is quickly evident. The English Tudor architecture has been joined somewhat incongruously with a large-model Dutch windmill on a low roof of the hotel. Inside the dining room are Delft plates and plaques mounted on the wall, paintings of Dutch scenes, and Dutch paraffin lamps.
The traditional Dutch passion for cleanliness is also apparent in the public rooms and the outdoor patio, which are kept spotless.
Outside the hotel, framing the view from its windows, stands the Covesea lighthouse, which some say separates the Firth of Moray on the west from the North Sea.
Lossiemouth, with a fishing fleet of about 50 boats, has enjoyed a measure of economic boom from the nearby Lossiemouth base of the Royal Air Force. It is not unusual to find a number of foreigners at Huntly House, including American Air Force personnel temporarily at the base for NATO training.
There are other seaside inns in Lossiemouth. The village, with its population of 6,800, boasts a new Fisheries and Community Museum, which opened last summer. Models and artifacts of the local fishing industry are on display, in addition to the restored study of the late Ramsay MacDonald, a native who was Britain's first Labour prime minister, in the 1920s, and the pride of the villagers.
The Moray Golf Club, just 200 yards from the Huntly House Hotel, has two 18-hole links courses along the Firth and one 6-hole ``Baby Course.'' ``Old Moray'' dates from 1889 and the ``New Moray'' from 1979. One pro termed the course ``one of the undiscovered gems of Scottish golf.''
We planned our visit during September to catch the golf courses at their finest and avoid the holiday crowds. During the busier summer months, Lossiemouth provides swimming, sailing, sea angling (we call it fishing), and windsurfing as added tourist attractions.
Golfers will find, as we did, that Scotland is heavenly. With a population of just over 5 million in an area the size of South Carolina, the country has more than 400 golf courses. Many of these are public, including some of the famous ones such as St. Andrews and Carnoustie. Nearly all of them are available to the touring golfer. Within about a 25-mile radius of Lossiemouth there are at least 10 golf courses, almost all of them the links courses -- those along the seacoast.
If golf fails to pique the interest, there are always the ubiquitous castles and museums to lure the visitor.
In the end, though, it may be one of the favorite Scots pastimes that will entice you. Scots love dogs and love walking. Most every seashore has its promenade. If not, there will surely be walking paths. While you may not have your dog along to keep you company, there will be enough Scots abroad walking their pets to make up for your loss.
Don't be perturbed if, while golfing, you spy a Scot with his or her dog on the course with you. They will wait patiently while you hit, or walk along behind or beside you. Be sure to wish them a good day, as they will to you. It is a part of the charm of this lovely land and the friendly, practical people who enjoy it as their homeland.
Tourist information: The Scottish Tourist Board, PO Box 705, Edinburgh EH4 3EU, has a number of publications of value. Included among them is ``Scotland: Where to Stay, Bed and Breakfast,'' ``Scotland: Where to Stay, Hotels and Guest Houses,'' and ``Scotland Touring Map.''
Flying? If your destination is Scotland, consider flying directly to Prestwick, Scotland's only international airport. It will save a long rail trip or traveling by air or rental auto from London, plus a day or two. Although distances are close in Scotland, travel time is longer. Americans may be used to averaging 60 miles an hour, but with the narrow two-lane highways common here, you'll find travel time will expand. A 200-mile trip on local highways takes most of the day in Scotland.
Traveling by auto? American drivers quickly adapt to driving on the left. Our British Ford, however, had a hand choke (petrol is frightfully expensive), and we found adapting to shifting with the left hand rather than the right the most disconcerting part of the effort. You may want to consider the automatic shift, with its added petrol costs. We finally bought two red ``L'' learner's stickers at a local auto supply store. Affixed to the windshield, they properly warned all about the approac hing hazard.
Lossiemouth: Huntly House Hotel, Stotfield Road, phone 2085; rates, 14.30-27.50, bed and breakfast. Laverock Bank Hotel, St. Gerardines Road, phone 2350; rates, 9-18, bed and breakfast. Skerrybrae Hotel, Stotfield Road, phone 2040; rates, 12-24, bed and breakfast. Beachview Guesthouse, Stotfield Road, phone 3053; rates 6-14, bed and breakfast. Prices are in pounds sterling and, of course, are subject to change. A pound is now about $1.35.
There are also a number of private homes in Lossiemouth offering bed and breakfast, usually at very reasonable rates. Throughout Scotland there are tourist information offices, open seven days a week at 10 a.m. to help the traveler. One service tourists enjoy is ``Book a Bed Ahead.'' For a small deposit (2 apiece when we were there), plus a small booking charge, the agency will telephone to your destination that day and reserve a room for you. The deposit is deducted from your hotel bill, your only cost
being the modest booking fee. Late arrivals in town can also find help in getting lodging by stopping at the agency. Their blue and white road signs will direct you right to their door, and most large towns and cities have them.
Don Hadley is the managing editor of the Finger Lake Times in Geneva, N.Y.