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 gruesome past

February 14th, 2015

Aberdeen head of river race 056REMEMBER JOSH MacRae’s 1960’s song Messing About on The River? Skippers and mates and rowing club eights / All messin’ about on the river, went the lyrics.

Last Saturday the Doyenne and I took a memory trip to Aberdeen and the Head of the River Race on the River Dee, which is a distance race for various classes of boat, rowed between the Victoria and King George VI Bridges.

We were there to cheer on son Robert who has recently taken up the sport of rowing with Inverness Rowing Club and who rows at the number 4 position in the Inverness Eight.

It was through rowing that the Doyenne and I met. Readers may be surprised to know that she is a rowing Blue from Edinburgh University. Today’s silver-haired grandmother was Captain of the Women’s Rowing Club and stroke of the First crew. I hardly know now how I plucked up the courage to speak to the blonde goddess, but I overcame my diffidence and the rest as they say……

Looking at the generous shadow I cast these days it’s hard to recall the slim boy who was a cox with the men’s rowing club. My doubtful excuse is that I’m testament to the Doyenne’s good cooking!

It’s second nature now when I’m by a river to keep an eye open for whatever wildlife is on it or under it. The Dee, of course, runs its last couple of miles down to the sea through the city but the wildlife, if left undisturbed, pays little enough attention to us humans and gets on with its own business.

So I wasn’t surprised when a seal popped its head out of the water several times as it let the current gently drift it downstream. It was likely hunting for a plump spring run salmon – well, the fishing season on the Dee opened on 2nd February – and it doubtless was exasperated by all the rowing activity that was frustrating its endeavours.

I was a bit more surprised – although there’s no reason why I should have been – as we drove out of Aberdeen past Loirston Loch to see a pair of buzzards circling round the trees in the nearby country park. There must be food for them and, if they are not harassed, they will readily accept us humans as neighbours.

The forecasters certainly got our north-east weather right this past week. Monday, in particular, was positively springlike.

I wanted to find the Sheriff’s Kettle, or Shirra’s Pot, which marks the site of a particularly gruesome murder in 1420. Five angry lairds, believing they were acting with Royal approval, lured Sheriff John Melville of Glenbervie to a secluded spot on the Garvock Hill, above Laurencekirk, struck him down, stripped him and threw him into a huge boiling cauldron or kettle.

Once the ill-starred lawman was cooked, or ‘sodden’ in fifteenth century parlance, the story goes that the conspirators each ‘suppit’ a spoonful of the ‘broo’, compounding the barbarity of their deed.

The story isn’t the Gothic invention of a fevered mind. It’s well documented and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland have identified the site close to the roadside below Browniesleys Farm, not far from the Tullo Wind Farm.

In 1420 the Garvock was a heavily wooded hunting forest and the murder would have been carried out in great secrecy. Today, the gully with a wee ribbon of a burn – handy for filling kettles – gives no hint of its horrible history.

There’s a large stubble field beside the site and I let Inka out to stretch his legs. The mid-morning sun was so warm it could have been April. Skylarks were in fine voice all around, starting to pair up for mating.

I walked to the brow of the hill and looked over into the Mearns spread out below. It was good to stand there, a’ my lane, in my own wee world, with my thoughts and my dog for company.

If I said I could see four dozen wind turbines from that high vantage point I wouldn’t be far out. But only three had blades that were turning. All that money tied up and doing nothing. Strange.

Written on Saturday, February 14th, 2015 at 6:11 pm for Weekly.