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.

Country roads

March 3rd, 2012

OUR COUNTRYSIDE – by which I mean the countryside familiar to Courier readers – is criss-crossed by a web of minor roads taking you wherever you need to go. A favourite of mine is the Wide Open which crosses the ridge of hills separating Marykirk in the Howe of the Mearns from St Cyrus on the coastal plain.

Whenever we run short of dog food for Inka I drive over the hill to The Moorie Kennels to buy another bag. I always leave time to chat with owner, Andy Ritchie, who has had a lifetime with dogs; every once in a while something that we’ve discussed finds its way into this column.

It’s a bleak wee bit of road – wide open to the weather – running through what they used to call a slap (gap) between the hills. It’s been there a long time for it’s referred to in the First Statistical Account of Scotland which was published between 1791 and 1799, so it must have been one of the main thoroughfares linking the coast and the hinterland.

On a clear day, driving over the summit of the ridge at Hospitalfield Farm, the views fair lift the spirits. Going east when it’s bright, the blue sky loses itself in a distant horizon and the sun bounces off the sea in Montrose Bay. At the southern limit of the bay, sitting on the rocky shore at the mouth of the River South Esk, opposite Montrose, Scurdie Ness lighthouse blinks out its message of comfort to mariners. Up the coast the spire of the parish church, high on the Brae Heads at St Cyrus, is still a navigation mark for fishermen and sailors. Where’s the need for all those fancy, modern satellite navigation systems?

Breasting the summit on the journey home, the broad expanse of the Howe of the Mearns and Strathmore stretches west to the foothills of the Grampians. At this time of year you’ll likely see plumes of smoke drifting across the hillsides – the gamekeepers are burning off the old heather; muirburn they call it. The grouse’s principal diet is heather, and nutritious sweet shoots will grow in place of the old, rank growth.

The Doyenne and I were invited for afternoon tea in Glen Clova. Leaving the girls to chat I took Inka and Macbeth up the path from the Clova cemetery, intending to walk to the Airlie Tower, erected to the memory of the 9th Earl of Airlie who was killed in action in the Boer War at Diamond Hill in 1900.

I somehow missed my way and eventually found my road blocked by a deer fence. On the way down I realised where I took a wrong turning and we’ll go back again later in the spring. I have it in my mind that the architect who designed the Airlie Tower also built Balmashanner Tower, the First World War memorial on Balmashanner Hill at Forfar. Certainly the two of them are very similar.

Clova cemetery is set about a hundred yards off the road, on Pipers Hill. Mature trees shield it from passing traffic but to the east the views are clear to the Sidlaw Hills. I noticed that a lot of the headstones face east. I like the idea of the glen folk being laid to rest with the morning sun to warm their memory.

Not far from the cemetery there’s what appears to be a car park and picnic spot. It is, but in fact it’s the site of the old Cullow Market.

Jock’s Road is one of the old drove roads of Scotland and connected Deeside with Angus. It was one of the traditional droving routes bringing cattle from Aberdeenshire, and in some cases even black cattle from the Outer Isles, to the famous eighteenth and nineteenth century trysts at Crieff and Falkirk.

Jock’s Road ends at Glen Doll which lies at the top of Glen Clova. Cullow Market was a market stand, a mini market you could say, where the west coast drovers sold their stock to the east coast dealers before returning home.

The droving ended with the introduction of the railways when cattle could be more quickly and more economically transported. It also meant that they avoided weeks of travel on the hoof, across country, and arrived at their destination in better condition and commanding a better price.

Written on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 at 11:27 pm for Weekly.