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.

Taking the high road

February 11th, 2012

BACKSEAT PASSENGER isn’t my usual place in the car, but that was where I found myself on a trip to Inverness. It meant, of course, that I could watch the wildlife and scenery which I normally get only fleeting glances at or miss altogether.

Daylight was breaking as we set out for Cairn o’ Mount. As we breasted the summit the early morning sun was already high in the sky and starting to burn off the night-time clouds. We headed for The Lecht

The South Deeside road runs alongside the river from Aboyne to Balmoral but we crossed over the bridge at Dinnet, turning left at the crossroads onto the North Deeside road.

A mile or so past Ballater (where every second shop seems to sport a Royal Warrant) and Craigendarroch Hill (immortalised in a famous pipe tune) we turned right onto the winding A939 which runs through wooded Glen Gairn by the River Gairn, crossing it at Gairnshiel Lodge where the Doyenne and I were once guests at a very special ceilidh.

At the next junction the road crosses the upper reaches of the River Don – for you are in Donside now – and, bearing left, passes little Corgarff Castle standing isolated on the windswept lower slopes of the Cairngorms. Originally a Forbes hunting lodge it was fortified after Culloden and used as a garrison by Hanoverian troops employed in disarming the Highlands and establishing order.

The Doyenne and I have been round it. There’s not a lot to see because it’s so small and there wasn’t much thought given to comfort. It must have seemed like a particularly hellish punishment to the Redcoats sent to that desolate place in the depths of winter.

Past the township of Cockbridge you start the climb to The Lecht summit. This part of the road is known as the Cockbridge Ladder because the Ladder Hills bear away to your right, and the road’s so steep that you might well be going up a ladder! Its claim to fame is as the stretch of road that first gets blocked by drifts when the winter snows arrive – with Cairn o’ Mount next.

I’m not a skier so The Lecht Ski Centre passed without comment, although for years I’ve meant to go there in the summer and take the chairlift to the top and get the view of the Cairngorm peaks which must be stunning. Another must-do before I die!

You’re following the route of the old military road and next stop is Tomintoul, highest village in the Highlands but not in Scotland; that’s Wanlockhead in the south-west. And they make whisky there – Tomintoul that is.

There wasn’t as much wildlife as I had hoped – several grouse scraping for grit on the roadside verges and a buzzard. I thought we might see white-coated mountain hares on the upland slopes but perhaps the road is just too busy for such cautious creatures to venture too close.

The views had been spectacular so far, but the countryside gets altogether softer as you drop down to Granton-on-Spey. After passing Carrbridge you join the A9 on the last leg to Inverness. I’ve always thought the A9 one of Scotland’s most scenic and defining tourist routes, as exciting going south as north.

But it’s matched in atmosphere and character by the road to The Lecht, and that trip to Inverness and back confirmed it again. And it’s reminded me what a marvellous round trip you can take by going straight over the Dinnet crossroads and taking the A97 to Logie Coldstone. Carry on past Loch Tillypronie where the Doyenne and I have watched tufted duck with their ducklings, and swallows and, once, an osprey. Shortly after Boultenstone you take a shortcut left via Old Semeil to join the main Donside road.

Then it’s on to Bellabeg, home of the Lonach Highlanders and the Lonach Highland Games. A mile or so on is Candacraig House, home of Billy Connolly, and before you know it you’ve reached the junction (A939) where you turn left to Gairnshiel Lodge.

I’d forgotten how dramatic the views are on the high stretch of road on the homeward journey to Ballater, and I want the Doyenne to see them. We’ll take the dogs too for it’s great walking country and I’m looking forward to it already.

Written on Saturday, February 11th, 2012 at 12:17 pm for Weekly.