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 river of sweet tranquility

July 11th, 2015

DSC02736HANGING IN our porch is an illustrated map of the salmon pools of the River North Esk from its source to where it enters the sea at Kinnaber, north of Montrose, compiled and drawn by Gordon C Stewart.

The river rises in the East Grampians in Glen Mark, far above Loch Lee,
starting life as the Water of Mark. It flows past secret Balnamoon’s Cave, with its romantic fugitive story.

It was the refuge of James Carnegy-Arbuthnott, the Rebel Laird of Balnamoon, or Bonnymoon, near Brechin. He was a Jacobite supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie and survivor of Culloden’s bloodbath in 1746.

Protected by the glen folk, for a year he escaped detection by the Redcoats combing the glen in search of him. He was finally betrayed by the local Presbyterian minister who, strangely, met an untimely death!

Follow the burn down past remote Glenmark Cottage and the Queen’s Well, known to generations of walkers who have climbed Mount Keen, the most easterly of the Munro’s.

Royal visit
The ornamental granite monument over the well in the shape of a royal crown commemorates a visit to Glenesk in 1861 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who rode from Balmoral across Mount Keen, stopping at the White Well as it was previously known, to drink the waters.

Below the ancient tower of Invermark Castle, the Mark joins the Water of Lee flowing out of Loch Lee, and officially becomes the River North Esk.

Glenesk is the most easterly of the Glens of Angus stretching into the hinterland almost to neighbouring Royal Deeside. Many – me included, as you might expect – say it is the loveliest of them all. The deeper you venture into the glen the more completely Highland it becomes.

There’s history, atmosphere, wildlife, skies, bickering burns, lochs, castles, traditional shooting lodges, abandoned villages, wild beauty, red deer, red grouse and red squirrels, eagles, romance, intrigue, murder, a whisky trail, a fugitive cave, heather in season and, best of all, peace and escape from the tyranny of the mobile phone for there’s no signal up there.

Like all salmon rivers, the North Esk is divided into beats or stretches of river containing named pools where the salmon, returning to their mother river, pause on their journey upstream to the headwaters and their gravel spawning redds.

Some pools have strange names – Mangie, Witch and The Snek. Fishermen, locked in their own world of incurable optimism, spend hours casting their most inviting flees into the dark waters in the hopes of catching the King of Fish.

The North Esk is known as a spate river, meaning that it fishes best after heavy rain when it has been effectively in flood. Spate rivers rely on the influx of water to raise the river level and allow fish at the rivermouth to enter the river system. The flooding aerates the water and encourages lethargic fish already in the system to move out of the pools and continue their journey upstream.

I’m fond of my map. It reflects a lifetime of memories of Glenesk especially, going back as far as about my age three and being carried up a steep bank on my father’s shoulders from a riverside picnic because my wee legs were too short.

Put on your walking boots
The river is about thirty miles long and I can’t say I’ve walked any way near its length, but it’s surprising how many of its pools I’ve passed walking with dogs. If you want to see the secret places hidden from the roadside and the comfort of the car you need to put on your walking boots.

So, in a roundabout way, I’m getting to the point of my story.

On Monday I took a turn round by the Canterland beat, below Marykirk. I’d spoken to Jimmy Sinclair, the ghillie on the beat, the previous week. Water levels in the river had been very low and the fishing had been disastrous. But, you’ll remember, there was torrential rain on Saturday and the river rose rapidly.

I stopped just below the road bridge at a pool marked appropriately on my map, the Bridge Pool, and watched a fisherman patiently casting. It’s a pleasure to watch an experienced angler casting so effortlessly. A continuous rhythmic action, and timing, rather than brute force are required to shoot a long salmon line and drop the fly neatly into the water precisely at the point you intend.

Bert Webster is a ghillie on the Park Beat on the River Dee, several miles below Banchory, and he was down on a busman’s holiday to fish the North Esk.

By mid afternoon the water level was dropping and according to accepted wisdom the conditions should have been just about perfect for catching a fish. Bert had been on the water for six hours and not only hadn’t caught a fish, he hadn’t even seen one.

He showed me the little black and silver double-hooked fly he was using, saying he expected to catch a salmon or a sea trout with it. But when I left the riverbank it was still a blank day.

Written on Saturday, July 11th, 2015 at 9:41 pm for Weekly.