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.

Relics of bygone era

November 8th, 2014

GLENESK IS the easternmost of the Glens of Angus, the range of glens stretching westwards across the Braes of Angus to Glen Isla. Each has its special features and its admirers.

My earliest memories of Glenesk are of being carried on my father’s shoulders after riverside picnics, aged about three, up the bank from the river which was too steep for my wee legs. I have a special affection for the glen.

The Glenesk Retreat Museum is a model of living history run by The Glenesk Trust at The Retreat Visitor Centre. The community charity holds collections of national significance in archaeology, costume, armoury and domestic and working utensils. A display of agricultural implements in the Green Shed shows how hard life once was in the glen, and how hard it was to win a living from the land.

What gives the museum its distinctive personality is that practically every item has come from within the glen itself. They were used or worn or played with in cottages and houses and on farms in Glenesk.

Most of the artefacts have little inherent value but they are displayed in the place where they were used daily, which turns ordinary objects into treasures. .
A welcome addition to the agricultural collection is a horse-drawn, single furrow, iron plough which has been generously donated by retired shepherd Frank Gray. Frank was full-time shepherd in neighbouring Glen Lethnot for fifteen years, until his retirement.

He found the plough high on the hill, lying forgotten in the undergrowth, where the cultivated land stopped and the moorland started, not far from Lethnot’s march with Glenesk.

Things like that set off my imagination. How long had it lain there? Was it the plough that broke up the stony soil to grow a thin crop of barley or oats? Did the farmer leave it there, hoping to reclaim more land from the moor, but lost heart at the thought of so little return for such hard work?

We’ll never know its story, but Frank recovered it and it was a point of interest in his garden for years. The Retreat Museum is delighted to give it a new permanent home and it joins their collection of similar implements.

Frank grew up at Kennethmont, near Huntly, in Aberdeenshire, leaving school aged only twelve during the war years. There was an age dispensation for young lads prepared to work on the land because so many farm workers had gone to fight the war.

His first job was as orra loon – a catch-all job which meant doing all the dirty jobs that no one else wanted to do. The days of horses on farms were numbered by then and they were being rapidly replaced by tractors – another form of horse power.

Frank became a tractorman and lorry driver and achieved his ambition of becoming a shepherd with the move to Glen Lethnot. It was a good life – hard in winter time and in the spring when he was extra busy with the lambing, but it was all in a day’s work.

His dog owning days are past but he had three sheepdogs working with him at the shepherding. Also a Labrador which he took when he went as a picker-up at the grouse shooting.

Full-time shepherds like Frank Gray now almost belong to the past. I suspect that the last dreadful outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 hastened the near demise of one of agriculture’s oldest occupations.

Many flocks of sheep were destroyed at the time and not built up again – for some farmers the emotional as well as the economic impact was too much to face another time. But the rural population has been declining for decades anyway with the loss of rural services such as shops and schooling, and the move of agricultural workers away from the country to seek more remunerative work.

Last weekend our doorbell worked overtime as Hallowe’en guisers called to trick or treat. We were quite impressed with the standard of fancy dress but had reservations about the quality of the jokes.

Why do witches wear name tags? So they know witch witch is witch!

Good to know playground humour is as subtle as ever.

Written on Saturday, November 8th, 2014 at 2:46 pm for Weekly.