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.

Prelude to spring

March 28th, 2015

008IMPROMPTU VISITS can be a lot of fun. Last weekend we whizzed up to Old Bridge of Tilt, near Blair Atholl, for a noisy supper and to spend the night with old friends. The wine and the talk flowed free. We have these evenings two or three times a year and it is a mark of our friendship that we can pick up where we left off as if there had been no break in the conversation.

After breakfast we toured their garden to pick up ideas for our own. The house neighbours on the Blair Castle woodlands and they have problems with roe deer damage to plants and shrubs. But there are compensations with lots of garden and woodland song birds and visits from red squirrels. Early bees were foraging in the crocus and scilla blooms.

As we were so near, son Robert suggested we drive up to join him and his family at Ardverikie where he is estate factor. Ardverikie House is the grand Victorian pile on the banks of Loch Laggan where most of the TV series, Monarch of The Glen, was filmed.

With our overnight hosts in hot pursuit we dashed north. There was still snow in the corries and gullies but it was sunny and warm and not a breath of wind – a prelude to spring days to look forward to. The hills were mirrored in the still waters of the loch.

Last month’s storms caused extensive timber damage along the main drive to the house. Noble Firs and Red Cedars planted 150 years ago had been uprooted and snapped like matchsticks. It’s heartbreaking to see such true monarchs of the glen brought low and sobering to realise the ferocity of a force of nature which we can’t see and only experience.

After lunch we walked round Loch an Righ – the King’s Loch – which brought us back down past the Big Hoose. After tea we waved our previous hosts goodbye and got ready for supper.

Sunday was different altogether. The temperature had dropped and a chill wind blew off the snow topped hills. We drove up a forest track roughly following the course of the River Pattack. It’s not a Highland sounding name but there’s no doubting you’re in classic Highland wilderness country.

We headed for Loch Pattack lying at the far boundary of the estate. We didn’t meet another soul but saw four herds of stags numbering about a hundred in total. The stags and hinds spend almost all year in their separate groups, only coming together in the rut in September/October.

The stags will be casting their antlers soon but meantime they still have their haughty monarch of the glen look as depicted in Landseer’s famous painting. New antlers start growing straight away and are fully formed by late August/September in time for their rutting clashes.

There are grouse up there too; not in great numbers and the estate prefers not to shoot them.

We saw frogs in the ditches clasped in the distinctive froggy mating embrace known as amplexus. Clumps of frog spawn in the puddles and ponds augured a healthy population for the coming year.

The massif of Ben Alder is the most imposing of the Munros (mountains above 3000 feet) in the area. Its remote situation, with only estate tracks at best to reach it, attracts only the most determined, cross-country, backpacking climbers.

It appears in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped when the fugitive Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour are sheltered by fugitive Cluny Macpherson in Cluny’s Cage, a cave on the side of the mountain.

Not all the story is fiction. The Cage was located high on the south face of Ben Alder overlooking Loch Ericht. Cluny took refuge there after escaping from the disaster of Culloden. Bonnie Prince Charlie joined him briefly before heading for Moidart where he boarded the French privateer L’Heureux which carried him to France, never to set foot on his native soil again.

Back at the Land Rover Robert lit his Kelly Kettle, a marvellous bit of camping kit, which can boil 1½ litres of water in five minutes, and we warmed ourselves up with hot chocolate drinks. Then back down the glen for a late lunch of the Doyenne’s homemade smoked haddock quiche.

Written on Saturday, March 28th, 2015 at 10:06 pm for Weekly.