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.

Tales from below

May 11th, 2013

TWO CEMETERIES seem unlikely destinations of choice when you’re on grandparent duty but that’s how it was when the Doyenne and I, and dogs too, were looking after Cecily and Fergus last weekend.

Living on the Black Isle, a favourite outing for them is to Fort George, near Inverness. Built as a garrison fort in the aftermath of the 1745 Uprising it is currently barracks of the Gallant Forty-twa, our own Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland.

The newly refurbished Highlanders’ Museum traces the proud history of the Scottish regiments and provides an engrossing insight into their military purpose right up to their modern role. It’s an inspiring collection, well presented and well worth a visit.

Fergus counted 16 VCs and 9 DSOs but it was the Dogs Cemetery that caught my eye. It’s one of only two military dog cemeteries in Scotland (the other is at Edinburgh Castle) and Steward Don Asher gave us some of its history.

26 officers’ pet dogs and mascots are buried there with names such as Sheba (memories of our own long-gone Sheba) Minty, Kim, Sentry, even Rover.

Jock clearly enjoyed a pint of beer for engraved on his headstone is the verse – “Old Jock lies here / His service o’er, / The canteen beer / He’ll lap no more, / Nor hear again, / The cookhouse door.”

The village of Cromarty is at the eastmost tip of the Black Isle peninsula. It must have been a prosperous place for there are fine examples of well preserved 18th century houses, and a charm and character in the narrow lanes of its old fishertown.

In the shade of stately Wellingtonia trees is an atmospheric graveyard known locally as the pirates’ cemetery because so many of the old, slab gravestones are carved with skulls and crossbones. In reality they have nothing to do with pirates, despite any supposed connection with the skull and crossbones flag, but are symbols of mortality and death.

Across the road is the entrance to an underground tunnel, built so that servants and tradesmen could reach the back door of Cromarty House without disturbing the Laird’s sensitivities and his enjoyment of his garden. A similar cattle tunnel was built at The Burn House near Edzell so that susceptible ladies should not be exposed to the horrors of the natural functions of cattle being driven to the fields.

Son Robert’s house is on the edge of woodland and fields and the birdlife coming to his feeders is different from ours at home. Siskins flew in from nearby pine woods, and goldfinches and greenfinches and a single yellowhammer were welcome visitors which I hadn’t seen for a while.

Cecily and the Doyenne watched a red kite circling over the house while I was away walking dogs.

Clootie wells are a feature of our Scottish countryside which pre-date Christianity. Water being at the very heart of life their waters were associated with healing and the wells were places of pilgrimage for the sick. Some were fertility sites visited by brides the night before they married.

Following the introduction of Christianity to Scotland many of these previously pagan shrines were dedicated to early Scottish saints so that supplicants could still make their petitions at the ancient places of worship without offending the new order.

The original pilgrims seeking a cure left a strip of clothing, or cloot, which had been in contact with the afflicted part of the body. They believed that the ailment was absorbed into the cloot and that as it disintegrated with the elements, so their sickness would be washed away too.

One of the best known healing wells, dedicated to St Curitan, is at Munlochy on the Black Isle. Its waters trickle out of the side of what romantics might imagine was a wooded fairy mound. The branches of the surrounding trees are hanging with ribbons and items of clothing – some, unexpectedly personal – left, no doubt, with a wish or a prayer.

Lots of the cloots are synthetic fibre which will take years to biodegrade, so much of the original symbolism has largely been lost sight of. But the two dog poo bags tied to a branch – unused I think, but I didn’t care to check – surely miss the point altogether!

Written on Saturday, May 11th, 2013 at 10:34 am for Weekly.