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.

Wade bridge that isn’t

October 11th, 2014

I KEPT to the woodland walks at the beginning of the week. The leaf canopy is still thick enough to have kept the worst of the torrential rain off me, and off the dogs too. Not, I have to admit, that I’m overly worried about the dogs getting wet. They have ready-made coats to protect them from the elements.

You’ll remember that Wednesday turned out like a summer’s day – good enough for the Doyenne and me to have our lunch outdoors in the sunshine.

We have a large hawthorn tree in the corner of the garden which is an ideal refuge for the small songbirds when a black and white cat comes hunting. A colony of house sparrows spend much of their days gossiping amongst the branches, and I dozed in the warm afternoon listening to their endless chirps and cheeps. And I watched two blackbirds working steadily through the tree feeding on the scarlet berries.

An Edzell reader has a whitebeam in her garden which produces scarlet berries too. In past years flocks of fieldfares have descended on the tree and stripped it bare in a couple days. This year it’s been blackbirds, up to eighteen of them, that got there first.

Blackbirds are one of our commonest garden birds but, like her, I can’t think that I’ve seen them flocking in such large numbers. Like most wild things, birds are great opportunists and they’ll gorge on the food that’s there and worry about the next meal later.

I drove to Inverness on business. I came home via The Lecht (A939) and, shortly after passing Corgarff Castle, took the diversion (still the A939) to Ballater.

The road rises to a plateau and, looking west, there is the most dramatic panorama of the Cairngorms National Park. The skyline is sawtoothed with the peaks of Munros – Scotland’s highest mountains above 3000 feet. Ranged in amongst them are the lower peaks of Corbetts, mere hills between 2500 and 3000 feet high.

The road drops down to Gairnshiel Bridge, or Bridge of Gairn as it is shown on some maps, crossing the River Gairn which joins the River Dee above Ballater. It’s one of the familiar, steeply humped, single arch bridges seen all over the Highlands – although not all can still take traffic – collectively referred to as General Wade bridges.

General Wade was appointed by King George I after the failure of the 1715 Jacobite Uprising to build a network of military roads and bridges to assist with the “civilisation”, a typical eighteenth century political euphemism for military suppression, of the Highlands and the Highland clans.

Gairnshiel Bridge, which is a Category A Scheduled Monument, was completed in 1749, after Wade’s death in 1748, by his successor, Maj. William Caulfield, who built more bridges and constructed more miles of road than his illustrious predecessor, who had died a Field Marshal.

So Gairnshiel is a Caulfield bridge, and one of the essential links in the old Blairgowrie to Fort George military road.

Driving through Ballater the Royal links with Balmoral are obvious. Almost every second shop bears the Royal Warrant above its doorway. I crossed the river and took the South Deeside road to Aboyne which passes the Pannanich Wells Hotel, built around 1760 and taking its name from the nearby natural spring, the Pannanich Wells.

The waters’ almost magical, curative qualities came to public attention in the mid eighteenth century when a local woman, Elspet Michie, claimed to have been cured of scrofula, a particularly virulent skin disease, by bathing in them.

Over the years hundreds of visitors, even Queen Victoria, flocked to the spring seeking cures for all manner of ailments. The hitherto small village of Ballater seized the opportunities medical tourism offered and grew into a spa town to accommodate the invasion of welcome business.

I’ve not drunk the waters myself, nor bathed in them – that could be tempting fate at this time of year But they must be powerful medicine for the Rev. John Ogilvie (1732-1813), Minister of Midmar, wrote – I’ve seen the auld seem young and frisky / Without the aid of ale or whisky / I’ve seen the dullest hearts grow brisky / At blithesome, helpful Pannanich.

Written on Saturday, October 11th, 2014 at 6:02 pm for Weekly.