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.

An Aberdeenshire odyssey

July 18th, 2015

DSC02741IT’S GOOD to have days out here and there, as they say, and the Doyenne and I arranged our week to take a day off on Monday. It started off overcast and dreich but we looked on the bright side and, bundling the dogs and a picnic into the car, we headed out for a day in Aberdeenshire.

The clouds met us as we crested Cairn o’ Mount’s summit and, looking back towards the sea, everywhere below was shrouded in mist.

The Cairn is more than a gateway between Aberdeenshire and the Mearns. It is also a buffer between two, often quite distinct, local weather systems.

Dropping down into Glen Dye the mist cleared. Westwards was the familiar shape of Clachnaben with its prominent granite outcrop perched, like a pot lid, on its top. There’s a fairy story that a giant picked up the granite lump as if it was a chuckie stone and, in a fit of rage, hurled it as far as he could – and it landed on Clachnaben. But I don’t think you should believe it.

I wonder how many motorists driving over the Cairn o’ Mount notice, on the east side of the road, the overgrown stone-built enclosure near the summit. A granite panel built into it, reads – This fountain was erected in memory of Captain JN Gladstone RN who died in 1863, by his grateful friend, Sandy Junor.

The remains of the well can still be seen but water no longer flows from its spring, although I can remember when it did. My father sometimes stopped the car to let me have a drink when we passed. It was built long before the days of the internal combustion engine when the road was still a military and cattle droving road. The drovers and other travellers must have welcomed a break in their journey to refresh themselves from it.

Captain Gladstone was the older brother of four times Liberal prime minister William Ewart Gladstone of Fasque House outside Fettercairn. Who Sandy Junor was I do not know.

Terrific show
The Doyenne commented on how well the ling heather patterning the hillsides is looking – bonnie and blooming much like a Scotch bluebell, to paraphrase the old music hall song.

Foxgloves are one of our handsomest native wild flowers and they flourish on poor land such as where woods have been felled. Along the roadsides, in small woodland clearances and up on brae faces, their rosy-purple and occasional white spikes are putting on a terrific show.

Between Aboyne and Dinnet a message on another granite boulder set back from the road announces that you are now in the Highlands. I’ve got my own firm view what constitutes the Highlands and, without wishing to appear contrary, my view is that Aberdeenshire is in the north-east Lowlands of Scotland.

Highlands or Lowlands
The claim, which is rather contrived anyway, can be made because you have just driven across the Highland Boundary Fault which runs from Helensburgh in the west, to Stonehaven. But the reality is that the Lowlands comprise the counties bordered by the North Sea from Angus to Nairnshire.

Inverness-shire, Ross & Cromarty and Sutherland, separated from the Grampian Mountains by another tectonic barrier, the Great Glen Fault through which the Caledonian Canal flows, are what I consider to truly be the Highlands.

Caithness may be wild and windy but it turns its face to Norway and its Viking heritage. Even the most double-dyed Caithnessian (like Invernessian?) would surely acknowledge that his county’s low hills can’t compare with Sutherland’s massifs such as Foinaven and Stac Polly, and the Torridon Munros.
We had our picnic beside Loch Pronie on the road from Dinnet to Bellabeg in Upper Donside, home of the annual Lonach Gathering.

The wind had dropped away and the surrounding trees were reflected in the mirror-smooth water. Rising trout poppled the surface, feeding on hatching bugs and insects.

Battalions of midgies
We were chased from our first parking spot by battalions of ferocious midgies which attacked the dogs, near driving them demented. We moved to more open ground to get what little breath of wind there might be and Inka and I went for a walk along the loch side.

Buzzards were mewling in a neighbouring plantation and black headed gulls screamed in some hidden from sight place – they have a harsh, unattractive call for such a neat, attractive bird. Two tufted duck burst out of the reeds, disturbed by Inka plowtering around in the shallows and, feigning injured wings to distract him presumably from ducklings hidden in the rushes, scuttered off across the water.

Ragged robin is well named, its narrow petals looking as though they have been shredded by some careless walker. It was good to see so much of it because it’s not common in our neck of the woods.

Cheerful clumps of wild pansies, otherwise known by Scots as heartsease, glowed out from amongst the wild grasses. In days past a distillation of its petals was used by some as a love potion, and by others as a laxative. A strange, darkly Scottish contrast of applications!

Written on Saturday, July 18th, 2015 at 10:44 am for Weekly.