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.

It was a hard life

January 31st, 2015

DSC02281THE SUN shone out of a peerless sky last Saturday and, hoping to get the best of the day, the Doyenne and I took a drive to some favourite places.

We drove over to the coast and Inverbervie via Arbuthnott, passing the Grassic Gibbon Centre and museum devoted to the life of writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This was the pen name of James Leslie Mitchell, taken from his mother’s maiden name. His best and most enduring work is the harshly authentic trilogy A Scots Quair, set in his native Mearns, and regarded as one of the defining works of the 20th century Scottish Renaissance.

There’s a ghost story attached to a cottage in Bervie that I’ve never been able to verify. In 1341 King David II, returning from exile in France to reclaim the Scottish crown, was shipwrecked on rocks known as Craig David at the mouth of the then Bervie Harbour.

Several cottages in the village were roofed with timbers salvaged from the wreck. It is said that one of the cottages is haunted by the ship’s cat which drowned when the king’s ship foundered and in stormy weather its mewing and cries can be heard in the loft space.

Then it was down the coast to indulge my favourite pastime of looking at boats in harbours. The tide was full, there was a gentle swell and the sea looked deceptively peaceful in the sunshine. But there was a thin wind that chilled the bones no matter how well happed up you were.

I took the chance to pop into the Maggie Law Maritime Museum in Gourdon and buy a copy of the reprinted Roy Soutar book A Wild and Rocky Coast. The book is a record of the shipwrecks and loss of life off just this short stretch of the north-east coast, going back to 1588 and a story of the Spanish Armada.

It set me thinking about the grinding life of the old time fishermen who went out in small open boats from historic fishing villages like Johnshaven and Gourdon to seek a precarious living off this wild and rocky coast.

With just the wind to fill their sails and carry them to the fishing grounds – when the wind didn’t blow they rowed – they were always at the mercy of sudden changes for the worse in the fickle weather.

In the eighteenth century there was the ever present threat of the press gangs on the lookout for experienced sailors to fill the Royal Navy’s men-of-war. They had no conscience about emptying a fishing village of its able men in order to fill their quotas.

On Tuesday I made another memory trip to Redcastle which stands on a high promontory overlooking Lunan Bay and dates back to King William the Lion. The castle takes its name from the Old Red Sandstone with which it is built. There are just two stumps of it left now, fighting a losing battle with the ravages of the weather.

The coast south from here to Arbroath is no less wild and rocky – “a lengthened chain of rugged cliffs…” The tiny fishing settlement of Ethiehaven is built on a narrow strip of land between the cliffs and its exposed natural harbour.

Further down the coast is the older and more important fishing village of Auchmithie, where the Arbroath Smokie is said to have originated. Fish weren’t the only catch brought ashore in the fishing boats as the village was the centre for a thriving smuggling trade.

The smuggler fishermen faced daily hazards from the forces of nature and the machinations of authority. The Excisemen were constantly on the lookout for them on land and armed Customs’ sloops scoured the coast to intercept the small boats and confiscate their contraband.

The Doyenne had a nasty cough earlier in the week so for the last few nights I’ve made her a restorative hot toddy.

Into a tall tumbler goes a generous spoonful of runny honey like Ogilvy’s Balkan Black Locust, add the juice of half a lemon, two fingers of favourite whisky and top up with 250cc of near boiling water. Stir briskly until all the honey has melted, remove the lemon pips and before you know it you’ll be sleeping like a bairn!

Written on Saturday, January 31st, 2015 at 12:19 pm for Weekly.