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.

Stroll through time

December 13th, 2014

I MUST be getting soft. I’ve kept to woodland walks this week to escape the chilly winds and the worst of the elements. I’d like to think I did it for the dogs – I can wrap up well in appropriate clothing but the dogs have only got their hair shirts.

The walks through the Blue Door at the Gannochy Bridge outside Edzell, and round The Burn House at the foot of Glenesk are long-time favourites but I hadn’t been up to the Rocks of Solitude for a while.

A lay-by, a mile up from the foot of the Glenesk road, marks the start of the Rocks of Solitude walk down the east bank of the River North Esk.

The river funnels into a high-walled gorge carved out of the rocks by the action of the water over millennia. The channel narrows into a succession of pools – more like deep, black pots – and rapids. In spate conditions it can quickly turn into a wild, ranting cauldron of white water.

Which may provide an explanation for the name Rocks of Solitude. They say that the noise of the water plunging through the canyon drowns out all other sounds so that walkers experience a great sense of solitude. Aye – maybe!

Inka got spooked by something at the start of our walk – a shape on the path perhaps, I’ll never know – and refused to go further. He realised he was not about to be devoured by a river kelpie when I walked on ahead unscathed. Up went his tail and he bounced after me looking, so far as a dog can, a touch foolish.

The river path was created by French prisoners of war around the end of the eighteenth century when The Burn House was built.

In 1780 General Lord Adam Gordon, 4th son of the 2nd Duke of Gordon, bought 2000 acres of moorland described as “in the wildest state of barrenness”, and set about improving it. The Burn House, a reference to the Kirkton Burn which runs through the estate, was completed in 1796.

Lord Adam was General Officer commanding the British Army in Scotland and used his position to bring French prisoners-of-war from the Napoleonic Wars held in POW camps at Perth and Penicuik up to The Burn to work on improvements to his estate.

The prisoners laid out gardens and six miles of walks throughout the home policies. The walk through the Blue Door from the Gannochy Bridge along the riverbank to the Rocks of Solitude was cut out of jasper-veined rock – “…hewn with immense labour out of the living rock” was a contemporary description.

Although two hundred years old, evidence of the effort involved in completing some sections still can be seen, even if almost hidden now by undergrowth and moss.

Retaining walls were built to stop landslides blocking the path. Several recesses were constructed with views over the river where Lord Adam and his gentlemen friends, out for a stroll, might stop for a breather and to smoke a cheroot. Parts of the path appear to be cobbled but it is difficult to tell if this is original or later maintenance.

On a high, wooded prominence above the riverside walk is the Doulie Tower. There’s a tradition that it was built as a retreat for an aristocratic lady in mourning, but there’s no evidence who the grieving lady was. More likely it was an architectural folly built to show off Lord Adam’s eccentricity.

Interestingly there is a similar tower, shown on the map as the Gannochy Tower, about a quarter of a mile below the Gannochy Bridge. You can just imagine the old General entertaining family and friends at picnics in the towers, and taking them up to the castellated rooftops to show off his estate’s “agreeable prospects”.

Much has disappeared over two hundred years but traces of what could have been a carriage track appear to lead to the Doulie Tower. It was the Jane Austen era, when ladies of quality were not expected to overtax themselves. Ladies from the Big Hoose would have been driven there in an open chaise with their straw bonnets and parasols to protect their fair skin from the depredations of the sun.

Written on Saturday, December 13th, 2014 at 7:15 pm for Weekly.