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 land of lochs

June 29th, 2013

FOINAVEN, ARKLE and Ben Stack were three of the most successful steeplechasers of their day. All owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster and named after three massive mountains on the Westminster, Reay Forest, estates in north-west Sutherland.

It’s a part of Scotland the Doyenne and I love and has become a favourite holiday destination. We’re back now from a fortnight’s break staying in a cottage between Scourie and Kinlochbervie.

Our first two days were scorchers and the Doyenne remarked that if we’d been in the South of France we should have thought we were in north-west Sutherland!

We had an expedition to Assynt. A legacy of glaciation, its landscape is composed almost entirely of lochs – in fact more water than land if you look at the map. But rising from the bare moorland and blanket bog are the fantastical peaks of Quinag, Canisp, Suilven, Stac Polly, Cul Mor, Cul Beag, Ben More Coigach. Surely one of Scotland’s finest hillwalking destinations.

The only road, the B639, is sandwiched between this uncompromising landscape and the sea. Because we hadn’t been before we followed the finger post to Stoerhead Lighthouse. Built, almost inevitably, by the Stevenson family, it’s the start of the three mile walk to Stoer Point and the Old Man of Stoer.

An enterprising Yorkshire lass called Leigh has parked her Living the Dream Tea Van at the walker’s car park and provides al fresco catering for visitors. Everything is cooked to order and fresh-out-of-the-pan pancakes with syrup and hot chocolate were just the ticket on an overcast Scotch-misty day.

When she has time to herself Leigh watches minke whales, orcas or killer whales, seals, porpoises and myriad sea birds and is, truly, living her dream.

On the advice of friends we went for a memorable seafood supper at the Shorehouse at Tarbet, overlooking Handa Island. They catch their own shellfish and everything you eat is fresh on the day. Off the beaten track but well worth the effort getting there.

Increasing numbers of greylag geese which have overwintered in Sutherland are staying to breed rather than returning in the spring to their traditional nesting grounds in Greenland. Most mornings we woke to their contented, grunting calls as they fed alongside the sheep on the neighbouring croft.

It’s hoodie crows you see up there, readily identifiable by their slate grey breast and shoulder feathers. They are the northern equivalent of our carrion crow which doesn’t breed so far north.

Ravens, Britain’s biggest crow, appeared intermittently. Despite their ponderous size they are wonderfully agile in flight. I watched them tumbling, just for the joy of it, in the wind thermals above the cliffs at the back of the cottage.

A single greenshank followed the dogs and me for the whole of our walk one evening, piping its tchu-tchu-tchu alarm call all the while. Somewhere on the hillside it had either a nesting mate or chicks.

Parked down by the sea shore we watched a great skua being mobbed and chased off by a single oystercatcher. I suspect that, again, the oystercatcher was protecting young, for skuas are just piratical scavengers that readily take young birds in season.

There’s a healthy population of cuckoos. Practically wherever we stopped we heard at least one calling.

What surprised us was the number of black-throated divers – we must have seen close on a dozen sightings. With sharply defined black and white feathering they are extraordinarily handsome birds. Their discordant, yelping call has been likened to a tortured scream. You can hear a recording in the bird recognition section of the RSPB website.

And the flowers – ladies smock, red and pink wild orchids, white flowering deadnettle which looks like nettle but doesn’t sting, yellow flags in the marshy spot below the cottage, trefoils, heaths, sea pinks down by the shore.

Most dramatic was the flowering gorse. Great banks of it covering the brae faces and along the roadsides – its marzipan scent wafting in the car windows.

And what was the most unlikely thing I saw? Walking the dogs another evening I came across nine greylag geese feeding in a remote field with a black rabbit – a parson, my father would have called it – in the middle of them, casually washing its paws.

Written on Saturday, June 29th, 2013 at 4:59 pm for Weekly.