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.

Halcyon days

October 6th, 2012

THE DOYENNE and I jumped at the chance to join her niece and her partner at a holiday cottage at Dorlin on the north side of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. As a teenager I had often joined an uncle and aunt who holidayed for over twenty years at the Acharacle Hotel, at the foot of nearby Loch Shiel, so it was very much a trip down memory lane for me.

Places and people don’t stand still and undoubtedly the area has changed since those halcyon teenage days. Lots of houses, many of them not so new now, have been built by several generations of incomers who have leavened the Highland community I well remember.

The light, the views, the scent on the air, the mood of the landscape brought back so many happy times which are undimmed; and there were smaller pleasures too, like running a bath with brown, peaty water.

At the foot of the brae, a mile or so from the cottage, is Castle Tioram (pronounced Tirrim or Cheerum) which sits on a lump of rocky island where the waters of Loch Moidart and the estuary of the River Shiel meet. If you want to keep your feet dry it can only be reached by a spit of sand at low tide. It was a great place to scramble and explore but the public are barred from it now because of its dangerous state.

I was fifteen when I saw my first golden eagle, circling in the thermals above high cliffs protecting the castle from the east. Lying in bed on the first morning of our holiday I heard a yelping cry I didn’t recognise. I thought it must be a four-footed animal but flying over quite low was a pair of sea eagles.

They rose to clear the cliff top and circled round for about a minute calling to each other. An hour later a single bird appeared briefly above the house. To be sure I had made a correct identification we logged on to the British Library sound archive and compared the calls of the golden and sea eagles – and I was right.

The 1950s were still the glory days of fishing on Loch Shiel which was what took my uncle and aunt there, and much of their holidays were spent out on the loch in their boat hunting the brown trout, sea trout and salmon.

To give them at least one day’s respite I was usually packed off, with a piece in my pocket, on the Macbrayne (this was pre-CalMac days) steamer which sailed from Acharacle to Glenfinnan at the head of the loch. You disembarked below the Bonnie Prince Charlie monument, marking the raising of the Prince’s standard and his march to war which ended in bloody failure on 16th April 1746 at Culloden.

At a time when communications were nowhere as good as they are today the Macbrayne service was a lifeline for isolated communities along the shores of the seventeen mile long loch. It was a postal as well as a passenger service and carried light cargo and, from recollection, called at Polloch and Dalilea piers and doubtless others I’ve forgotten.

Today, Jim Michie of Loch Shiel Cruises carries on the tradition with wildlife and bird watching trips from the Glenfinnan pier, based at the Glenfinnan Hotel, in his converted ex-Admiralty launch MV Sileas (pronounced Sheelas).

Obviously a knowledgeable countryman with fifteen years experience of the local wildlife and history of the loch and the surrounding area, we all thoroughly enjoyed our trip with him, despite the persistent drizzle of Scotch mist. But that’s traditional; it probably rained on Bonnie Prince Charlie when he stepped ashore to rally the clans.

His job gives Jim ideal opportunities for photography. Being there every day and having the camera handy is the secret to getting the sort of stunning images he has captured of eagles.

And yes, we were out on the water at the right moment to see the Harry Potter Hogwarts Express steaming across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, leaving a trail of smoke behind it on the damp air. A steam train – just another of those 1950s memories.

I’ll continue the story of this holiday next week for there’s a ghost story to tell. Meantime visit

Written on Saturday, October 6th, 2012 at 4:31 am for Weekly.