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.

Magical view

June 30th, 2012

OUR HOLIDAY cottage in Sutherland had a magical view across the Kyle of Tongue and the Rabbit Islands and in the distance we could see Mainland Orkney and the high sandstone cliffs of the island of Hoy. It was a return to the north coast which we last visited eleven years ago.

The single track road with passing places follows the western shoulder of the Kyle through a string of crofting communities, Midtown, Skinnet, Talmine (where we stayed), Auchnahuaig, Strathan, Portvasgo and Midfield. A legacy of the Highland Clearances, these townships were established after the crofters’ forced evictions from Reay and Strathnaver estates in the nineteenth century to make way for more profitable sheep farming.

In common with so much of Scotland this part of the north coast has its own distinctive characteristics. Neighbouring Caithness to the east is flat but here Ben Loyal and Ben Hope dominate a skyline of magnificent mountains. You’re never far from water – whether it’s the sea or rivers or the myriad lochs and lochans.

As we got out of the car at our destination we were greeted with a whaup’s bleak cry, probably checking us to stay away from its chicks. There’s a varied bird life up there but not as many numbers of birds as I expected. But we saw ringed plover, redshank, oystercatcher, kestrel, stonechat and sometimes heard the lonesome, wandered calls of peewits. And as we sat in small boats on lochs the Doyenne and I were mocked by cuckoos for our marked failure to catch trout!

A pair of sea eagles has colonised the rocky cliffs, but that wasn’t all – corncrakes have returned to the district, which was unexpected and very exciting. I was disappointed not to see either of them but I only heard about them on the morning we left.

I wished I’d packed my Mary McMurtrie’s essential Scottish Wild Flowers book because there is a wonderful diversity of wild plants up there and unless you’re an experienced botanist some are difficult to identify.

The purple Scottish primrose is endemic to this part of Scotland and we saw wee outcrops of the familiar yellow variety. Ragged robin, red and white campion, thrift or sea pinks, eyebright, and bird’s-foot trefoil everywhere. Grass pastures speckled with daisies (often with pink-tipped petals) and buttercups, true wild bluebells growing all along the side of a burn and an old ditch full of monkey flowers or mimulus. We avoided stepping on the purple orchids and even less common white lesser butterfly orchids which I don’t think I had been aware of before.

Because you’re about as far north as you can get on mainland Scotland, and distant from major urban centres, there’s minimum air and light pollution and the light and skies are about as good as you can get.

It never really got dark and most sunrises were pretty spectacular. On two mornings I slipped out of bed at around four a.m. and could be seen standing in my pyjamas in the middle of the road outside the cottage photographing the tangerine disc of the early sun.

The sea was too cold for a softie, fair-weather bather like me but we had great walks with the dogs along deserted beaches. It’s easy to get quite proprietorial about a beach even when the nearest other people, walking their own dogs, are about as close as half a mile away. It was noticeable how clean the beaches are – we saw hardly any rubbish, but there are no shells either to collect for holiday memories.

I’ve told the Doyenne I don’t want to wait another eleven years before we return.

Here’s a date for next weekend for your diaries. The Burn, at Edzell, is hosting a Family Fun Dog Show on Sunday 8th July. Registration opens at 10am and the competitions start at 10.30am and help in the organisation is being provided by staff of the Scottish SPCA Animal Rescue and Rehoming Centre at Drumoak, near Banchory.

It’s not Crufts in the country but will be a chance for amateur dog handlers to enjoy a different sort of fun day competing for Best Young Handler, Best Crossbreed, Best Fancy Dress, Waggiest Tail and lots of other events. Entry is free to spectators and there’s a BBQ as well – hot dogs, do you think!

Written on Saturday, June 30th, 2012 at 1:31 pm for Weekly.