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.

Reeking of history

May 5th, 2012

THEY TALK of Aberdeenshire’s historic Castle Trail which features the grandest and most important castles of the north-east. As I drove over Garvock Hill above Laurencekirk, which links the Howe of the Mearns with the coastal plain, it occurred to me that there’s another castle trail right here on our doorstep.

What was once described as “a steep, rough road over the Hill of Garvock” gained importance as the main route for hauling lime from the lime kilns at East Mathers, on the coast just south of Johnshaven, and in fact passes the first of the castles on my castle trail.

Lauriston Castle is one of a number of historic and locally important castles that have been restored and are once again family homes. The castle lands originally extended down to the seashore and included a small village and harbour called Miltonhaven, reputed to have been a free port, which meant that the lairds of Lauriston could land goods there without paying any taxes or excise duty.

The great, cliff-top fortress of Dunnottar is undoubtedly the greatest of the Mearns castles – one-time home of the Earls Marischal who were amongst the most powerful families in Scotland. One of the grandest ruins you’ll ever visit and just reeking of Scotland’s history.

Not far down the coast are the sites of three castles – Adams, Whistleberry and Kinneff. Nothing remains of Adams and Kinneff which were probably plundered for their stone for later agricultural buildings and only a stump, clinging to the clifftop, remains of Whistleberry.

Travel further down the coast and there’s a Castle Hill marked on the Ordnance Survey map just above Inverbervie. There certainly was a castle at Bervie which is acknowledged in the town’s Castle Terrace.

On a promontory immediately to the south is Hallgreen Castle. I visited it in the 1960s when it was a bad state of disrepair but it has since been restored and is once again a family home.

The hinterland was no less well-garrisoned with fortified houses and castles. Not far up the Bervie Water is Allardice Castle and a few short miles further on you reach Arbuthnott, seat of the Viscounts of Arbuthnott.

The four-storey L-plan Castle of Fiddes dates from 1592. Like Muchalls and Monboddo – parts of which may go back to the thirteenth century – all have survived and continue to be lived in.

They may have been added to, had bits knocked off, restored and modernised but they have attracted enthusiasts who have fallen in love with them and been prepared to spend eye-watering amounts of money and effort to bring them back to life again.

Balbegno Castle, just outside Fettercairn and easily seen from the road (B966), is one of the most attractive castles and has a Georgian farmhouse addition. Another L-shaped fortified tower it goes back to the 1560s and is now marketed as a self-catering holiday home.

Thornton Castle (1531), between Fettercairn and Laurencekirk, is slightly older than Balbegno and was a cadet house of the Strachans who were one of the foremost families of Aberdeenshire, giving their name to the village of Strachan a few miles from Banchory.

Which brings me back to my trip over the Garvock Hill and the ancient rectangular tower of Benholm, which lies east of Lauriston. What uncertain times the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries must have been for Benholm is dated 1475.

Like Balbegno, a Georgian mansion was added when the castle’s defensive purpose became redundant. The current owners bought it when it was almost beyond recovery and have painstakingly restored the mansion and secured the tower.

Like ripples in a pond the more you research our local castles, some of which are now just names and footnotes in history, the wider the subject becomes. A useful source of information is www.stravaiging.com

My final castle is the Kaim of Mathers, built by David Barclay of Mathers on an outcrop of rock at the north end of St Cyrus beach, to escape the wrath of King James 1 for his part in the murder of the local Sheriff, James Melville of Glenbervie. He and three neighbouring lairds boiled the ill-starred Sheriff into soup in a huge cauldron at the aptly named Sheriff’s Kettle – a hollow on the clifftop at Sillyflatt Farm between Gourdon and Inverbervie.

Written on Saturday, May 5th, 2012 at 11:01 am for Weekly.