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.

Busy river stays in the Loups

July 25th, 2015

DSC02765A FAVOURITE walk for families is through the Blue Door at the Gannochy Bridge, near Edzell, and up the bank of the River North Esk. There’s a handy seat for weary travellers overlooking the river where the channel narrows and the water has to crowd its way between high rocks known as The Loups – the falls which salmon returning to their mother river must leap or ‘loup’ on their journey upstream to the river’s headwaters to spawn.

A quotation is carved on the back of the seat – We’ll meet and we’ll be fain in the land o’ the leal. I wonder how many readers have assumed, like me, that it must be a quotation from a Burns poem? In fact it is the last line of a poem, The Land of the Leal, by the gifted Lady Nairne.

Social constraints
Born Carolina Oliphant in 1766, in the Auld Hoose of Gask, on the banks of the River Earn, she was the daughter of an old and distinguished Scottish family. She belongs to the lyric period of Burns, James Hogg the Ettrick Shepherd and Sir Walter Scott, poets with whom she ranks as every bit as good. She is only less well known than them because it was considered improper for ladies of her social standing to bring themselves to public notice through activities such as writing.

Under the pseudonym Mrs Bogan of Bogan she published Wha’ll be King But Charlie, A Hundred Pipers, Rowan Tree, The Laird of Cockpen, Caller Herrin’, Charlie is My Darling, I’m Bound for a Happy Land, The Auld House and a stream of songs and poems all so familiar we hardly think about their authorship.

Regular readers will know that Violet Jacob – another Courier country poet – one of the last of the family of the Erskines of Dun, of House of Dun, outside Montrose, is one of my literary heroines.

Born a Kennedy-Erskine, one of the great ‘county’ families of her time, she had an inherent familiarity with the daily, domestic language of country folk. Most of her work was written in the Angus vernacular, and she seems almost to have been bi-lingual in her effortless ability to move from one accent to the other.

As a contemporary of fellow poet Hugh MacDiarmid, leader of the Scottish Renaissance movement, who she met when he was an editor on the Montrose Review newspaper, she wasn’t constrained by Lady Nairne’s social inhibitions and published her poetry and novels under her own name.

Inland ports
How many inland ports are there in Scotland? There’s Perth on the east and Port Dundas on the west and, until business took me to Inverurie, I’d forgotten about Port Elphinstone – the port in the country.

It took from 1796 to 1805 to build the 18 mile long Aberdeenshire Canal which ran up the strath of the River Don from Aberdeen to Inverurie. The terminus was named Port Elphinstone, honouring local landowner Sir James Elphinstone who had been one of the leading advocates of the project. In 1854 the canal was closed and replaced by the Aberdeen to Inverness railway line which followed much of its original route.

Other than street names like Canal Street and Ladeside Road and the heavily overgrown basin at the terminus, little remains to remind us of the canal. There’s still water in it and I was told that a fortnight ago someone fell into it.

The Great North of Scotland Railway, which built the line to Inverurie, established a locomotive works in the town in 1903. In 1923 the Works were purchased by LNER (London & North Eastern Railway) who concentrated on locomotive repair work and building rolling stock.

The Works closed in 1969 and it used to be quite common, driving through Donside, to see redundant railway carriages transported to the crofts and converted to hen houses and other uses.

Wombles?
Driving home on the road from Kintore to Dunecht I passed a sign at the end of a farm track which read Womblehill. It took me back years and watching children’s TV with our children. A favourite programme was The Wombles.

Had I stumbled on the ancestral lands of the Wombles? Was it from this lonely hillside that ambitious Wombles had set out to seek a better life for themselves on Wimbledon Common? There wasn’t time to stop and ask but I must remember to follow it up.

We’ve been planting a lot of bee and butterfly-friendly flowers and shrubs. A large pot of nasturtiums, in full bloom, is proving popular with the bumble bees. On a beekeeper’s advice we’ve put in a Ceanothus. Only its first year and it has flowered well but it’s too small to be a great attraction. Now we’re just waiting for the blue buddleia to flower. It attracted so many butterflies last year that we’ve planted a white one as well.

The honeysuckle in the hedgerows has flourished with all the unseasonal rain. Out with the dogs last thing the damp night air has been suffused with its heady, romantic scent – a wonderful end to the day.

Written on Saturday, July 25th, 2015 at 10:10 am for Weekly.