Montrose, Scotland: Golf, military secrets and kangaroos, mate

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Montrose, Scotland: Golf, military secrets and kangaroos, mate

Roo's Leap was just a few minutes walk from our small hotel and seemed to be the only place open for dinner and so . . .

So why not a place with a kangaroo on the logo, Aboriginal dot paintings on the walls, Australian flags, Outback photos and pavlova on the dessert menu?

After all, this is surely what we were expecting at coastal Scotland just out from the interesting town of Montrose.

One of the pleasures of travel is the unexpected. And with Dundee to the south, Aberdeen to the north and the wild North Sea just beyond the golf course a slice of Australiana in this place was certainly that.

Roo's Leap was interesting, but our small hotel up the road even more so.

Grey Harlings was the kind of oak-filled old world place you walked into and felt immediately at home with its small bar stocked with fine whiskey, the armoires, a piano and a light-filled dining area looking onto the golf course – the fifth oldest in the world – where the full Scottish breakfast (haggis, black pudding) set guests up for the day.

grey1You are hardly going to walk off the breakfast getting to the first tee of the 18-hole course, it is just 15 yards away. Closer even than Roo's Leap.

Not that there were any others when we stayed, it was early April in a Covid year and the other eight rooms were empty, not even golfers or visiting Australians. Just us and our charming hostess who was clearly very proud of the place and its history.

And what an interesting history: one part was the original clubhouse of the Royal Albert Golf Club (now the Royal Montrose Golf Club) but in 1880 the golfers decided they deserved something larger so the cottage was sold and renovated.

The club tried to buy it back but the new owner declined – Grey Harlings was his summer house so he clearly didn't need the money – and in the 1930s it passed to another private owner, Sir George Cockerill who was an army officer and Conservative MP.

He explored the Hindu Kush in the late 19th century, served on the North West Frontier and then in the Second Boer War at the dawn of the 20th century. Back in Britain he became an MP but perhaps his key role was in military intelligence in the British War Office where he was deputy director during World War I.

He was in charge of counter-espionage and propaganda.

grey3_copyAfter Cockerill's death in 1957 (a few months short of his 90th birthday) the Welsh actor/singer Trefor Jones and his wife Anya inherited the house. He didn't have much time to enjoy the place, he died in Montrose in early 1965.

Today the family-run hotel caters to golfers and “mature” guests, if the comments on their site are anything to go by. But if mature means being able to appreciate the history (and secrets) in the walls, then we are happy to count ourselves in that demographic.

grey2I have no idea what the name means, I took it to be the name of a bird because of there being one on the plaque. But a quick internet check tells me harling is the Scottish name for what we would call roughcast. And it was.

Hmm, not so interesting. 

If one of the pleasures of travel is the unexpected as said, then finding Grey Harlings purely by accident while travelling towards the Highlands was a real delight.

It has a surprising history . . . . more so than the enjoyable Roo's Leap.

It was opened by a couple when they came back from Aussie, apparently.


For other travels stories at Elsewhere start here.

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