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.

Wrong side of the blanket

May 14th, 2011

 €œUP THE Noran Water / In by Inglismaddy € – are the opening lines of a poem entitled  €œShy Geordie €, written by Montrose-born (well, Hillside to be strictly accurate) poet Helen Cruickshank, whose work I particularly enjoy   It's a geographical conundrum that's troubled me for ages.

The Noran Water rises high in the hills above Glen Ogil and flows into the River South Esk above Brechin   Inglismaddy (or Inglismaldie, if you prefer) has to refer to Inglismaldie Castle, a onetime stronghold of the Earls of Kintore which lies east, some dozen miles from Noranside, and in a different county, Kincardineshire.

The poem recounts the story of a country lass, a single mother in today's modern idiom, called Annie, who had  €œa bairnie that hasna got a daddy €   In rural Scotland a hundred and fifty years ago the birth of a love child wasn't an uncommon event, despite the prevailing disapproval of Kirk and community   An earlier poet, Robert Burns, celebrated the birth of his illegitimate daughter Elizabeth to Elizabeth Paton, a family servant, and in his poem  €œA poet's welcome to a Bastart Wean € he proudly and tenderly acknowledges paternity.

But we're not told who the father of Annie's bairn is, for  €œWha the bairnie's daddy is / The lassie never says; / But some think it's Tammas's, / An' some think it's Chay's €

The lassie is described specifically as Inglismaddy's Annie, clear evidence, surely, that this was where her home was   Was Annie some wild young limmer, stravaiging about between Inglismaddy and Noranside?   If so, taking account of the times, she covered some ground!

No, we're told how the  €œthe bonnie   little mannie is dandled and cuddled close €, so it's hard to think Annie was other than a caring mother whose young son was  €œthe vigorous offspring of a stolen embrace €, as someone wrote.

And where does Shy Geordie fit into the picture?   He clearly lacked the confidence to initiate stolen embraces with Annie   Despite conjecture about Tammas's and Chay's way with the girls, he shares the confusion about who her lover was; and when he sees  €œthe love in Annie's e'e € for her baby, it maks him wish wi' a' his micht that  €œthe lucky lad € was him.

Helen Cruickshank, in her  €œOctobiography €, says that when she wrote the poem she actually had never been  €œup the Noran Water €, and makes it clear that  €œThe origin of the poem is my own affair €   Which throws up another tantalising conundrum.

So, is the poem a social comment on Angus and Mearns rural life in days past, or a keek, no more, into a personal secret not intended to be shared further?

I'm no nearer to understanding the connection between two apparently unconnected parts of the north-east, but maybe there's someone out there who knows something that none of the rest of us do.

Written on Saturday, May 14th, 2011 at 10:54 am for Weekly.