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.

A bloody past

August 25th, 2012

EIGHTIETH BIRTHDAYS are beacon events which is why the Doyenne and I were hotfooting it down to Cumbria last Saturday to salute her sister’s indefatigability.

The M74 traverses the Lanark moors and Galloway’s broad, rolling hills which are softer and less rugged than our Angus glens but have a history as harsh and bloody as anywhere in Scotland.

I enjoy reflecting on the history of the places we pass. You drive through the old Scottish West March – ancestral lands of Elliots, Armstrongs and Grahams and steeped in violent horror stories from the Border reiving days. Life was cheap then; death a daily hazard and frequently a reality.

You’d think such painful memories would discourage further atrocities but, in matters of conscience, it’s aye been that righting the perceived spiritual wrongs of the minority has kindled intemperate evangelising zeal in the breists of the righteous majority.

Suffering, torture, martyrdom, imprisonment, and transportation characterised the repression of the Covenanters whose heartland was the south west of Scotland – Galloway, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. They were Scottish Presbyterians opposed to the introduction to Scotland in 1637 of the Book of Common Prayer by King Charles 1, and his claim to be spiritual head of the Church of Scotland.

Jenny Geddes famously threw her creepie (3-legged stool) at the head of the minister of St Giles in Edinburgh the first time he attempted to use the English Prayer Book. It all contributed loosely to King Charles mislaying his own head on the executioner’s block in 1649.

In the previous century religion played a part in Mary, Queen of Scot’s downfall. She had the misfortune to be a woman and, worse still, a Roman Catholic in an entrenched Presbyterian country. Both were too much for John Knox who attacked her in his misanthropic First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Spiritual conflict lurched into religious war and Mary ended up on the losing side. She spent her last night on Scottish soil as guest of the monks of Dundrennan Abbey, near Kirkcudbright, in Galloway. The following day she boarded a fishing boat at Port Mary and sailed twenty miles across the Solway Firth to England and Workington.

After eighteen years imprisonment at the hands of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth 1, she too met her death on the scaffold in 1587, and it took two blows of the executioner’s axe to sever her head from her body.

Past Lockerbie the road crosses the mild-sounding Water of Milk. A finger post directs you to Ecclefechan, birthplace of Thomas Carlyle, notable for his uncompromising Calvinistic convictions. Newly married, he set up home with his bride in equally lyrical Craigenputtock and they are reputed to have addressed each other only as Mr and Mrs Carlyle. I think he may have been a tortured spirit.

Skirting Gretna and into England we crossed the Border Esk on its last miles to join the Solway Firth. Turning left at Penrith we hastened along the A66 to the birthday party which was held at Mrs Miller’s restaurant, Culgaith.

Chef, James Cowin, greeted guests with a Sloe Start. He only agreed to give me the recipe, which I said I wanted to share with Courier readers, provided I published the name of the restaurant.

Into a long flute glass pour 25ml sloe gin; add 15ml elderflower cordial and top up with champagne. Delicious – the Doyenne and I recommend it.

So you have the name of the restaurant, which is part of Hazel Dene Garden Centre at Culgaith, near Appleby in Cumbria’s Eden Valley. When they say they use the finest local ingredients, they mean it. Take a look at their menus on mrsmillersculgaith.co.uk.

An enduring memory is the underdone, pink, tender topside of Shorthorn beef supplied by Low Howgill farm at Milburn, just down the road.

We spent the night at Broom House B&B at Long Marton and having pigged ourselves on a memorable supper, we pigged ourselves again on a delicious farmhouse breakfast.

The birdlife there was richer than here at home and a highlight was watching house martins, which we’ve missed for several seasons, pirouetting round the roofs in the sun and hearing their conversational twittering. It brought back childhood memories to see so many chattering house sparrows flittering in amongst the shrubs and bushes.

Written on Saturday, August 25th, 2012 at 12:08 pm for Weekly.