Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Celtic culture and salmon fishers

July 10th, 2004

 LIVING HISTORY' regularly drew howls of despair from our children as we marched them into old churches, castles and other ancient piles. Promises of how much fun it was going to be fell on deaf ears!

Driving home from Forfar on the Aberlemno road, which is such a favourite with its tremendous views up and down Strathmore, I had a spur-of-the- moment thought to visit Aberlemno Church and replenish the living history.

I wanted to look again at the 8th century Celtic carved stone in the graveyard which has such a vivid battle scene on its back. Footsoldiers – kernes and gallowglasses if you remember your Shakespeare – buckled and helmeted, with sword and targe. And their officers on horseback armed with long lances. And the front is intricately decorated with a cross formed with flourishes of Celtic knots each without a beginning and without end.

The sculptor was probably quite uneducated because education was for the  quality', unless you were in the church. But his eye for narrative and beauty didn't suffer from a lack of formal schooling. Weeks, possibly months, he would have spent chiselling the story of the battle on one side and on the other attributing victory to divine mediation.

The front door of the church is open daily and visitors are welcomed and invited inside to pray, or to enjoy the silence. The embrace of calm peace is a very restoring experience and I accepted the invitation to step inside.

The Bible was open at Jeremiah and almost the first words I read were –  Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men'.

The church at Aberlemno was dedicated by Bishop de Bernham in 1242 when most travellers went on foot. I like to think that in the centuries since its dedication it has been, if not a lodging place, then certainly a place of spiritual and mental renewal for wayfaring men who accepted the invitation to stop awhile.

Not content with one churchyard I also visited what I have always known as Beattie's Grave, but what the council signpost calls Kirkside Cemetery, just along from the nature reserve centre at St Cyrus. I wanted to see if there are any graves of salmon fishers who had been employed on the salmon nets which used to be such a feature of St Cyrus Bay and provided employment for so many men.

Many of the gravestones are almost illegible because of lichen or the ravages of the weather, but I found two. One deceased is referred to as a  salmond' fisher. I looked this up in my Jamiesons Dictionary of the Scottish Language, and sure enough, it's there as an alternative to salmon.

So Alex Salmond the SNP politician could just as readily be Alex Salmon – which just helps to fuel up my fascination for words.



Written on Saturday, July 10th, 2004 at 3:44 pm for Weekly.