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.

Two grand roads to the isle

September 19th, 2015

DSC02883HAVING FAMILY on the Black Isle means the Doyenne and I regularly make the trip north to see them.

There is a choice of two main routes to the north and west from Angus and the Mearns. We can drive to Dunkeld via Coupar Angus to join the A9, at Inverness cross the Kessock Bridge and we’re minutes away from journey’s end. Alternatively it’s over Cairn o’ Mount to Aboyne, through Dinnet, over the Lecht to Grantown-on-Spey, joining the A9 just beyond Carrbridge to take us to Inverness and on.

They are journeys that have never lost their freshness and we never tire of the ever-changing landscape of the ‘mighty Grampians whose very name is a gallop of wild horses … remote giants guarding the Highlands of Scotland’. Thick mists – the damp pea-soupy shroud – can shut down the countryside temporarily, otherwise the views are always rewarding.

Bonnie Prince Charlie
But the weeping mists and rain-drenched heather have their own emotive beauty. An American visitor told me how the mist and rain appealed to her romantic ideal of Scotland for she could imagine Bonnie Prince Charlie striding out of the murk to conquer her heart and make her his queen. It taks a’ kinds….!

Both take the traveller through spectacular Scottish countryside. You hardly hear the A9 referred to nowadays as the Great North Road, but great it is. It follows the general route of one of the historic drove roads down which huge herds of the old black Highland cattle – kyloes – were driven from the Highlands and Uplands to the great cattle trysts of Crieff and Falkirk and on down to London.

The Lecht route is a contrast and every bit as interesting. Once into Donside the hills close in on you and the road becomes more intimate. But still there are the long vistas to distant hills, the skies, the colours and the light. Generations ago this was the main drove road from Morayshire, and remnants of the old, grass-grown tracks can still be detected climbing over the shoulders of hillsides, following the contours of the land.

There couldn’t be two more dramatic, romantic and inviting introductions for visitors driving to the Highlands for the first time.

We made the journey north last weekend to let son Robert and daughter-in-law Katie off to a wedding while we looked after granddaughter Cecily and grandson Fergus. They hardly need looking after these days so it’s more to look after their dogs, Tiggy and Porridge (heaven preserve me!).

Inka (and Macbeth in his day) was recognised and welcomed by the house dogs and they settle down together very quickly. I must be remembered fondly too because the moment we arrive the house dogs rush to the back of our car, clearly expecting to be taken for one of the familiar walks along the old military road.

Whisky crop
The fertile Black Isle is one of Scotland’s bread baskets and, just about as important, much of the barley grown there goes to the distilleries for malt whisky. The weather had taken a turn for the better and the sound of combine harvesters was constant all day and well into the evenings as farmers hastened to get in their crop for the blessed water of life.

There was a request to go mackerel fishing so we put up the sea rods and drove to Cromarty to fish off the pier. Three locals joined us and assured me that basins-full had been caught earlier in the week. Long experience of such confident claims has taught me to take them with more than a pinch of salt – they are usually made to encourage the tourists.

We fished for an hour and didn’t see a whisker of a mackerel so we packed it in and went for lunch at Sutor Creek Restaurant, just a short cast from the harbour and long been a favourite of the grandchildren. And with good reason – family run, it’s one of the best restaurants we know.

A speciality is their home-made wood-fired artisan pizzas, and their claim to use mostly locally-sourced produce is no empty promise. Half a dozen dishes on the main menu had me swithering over which to choose – what a dilemma.

Mystery lady
Then it was time for home. A small wooden notice about a mile north of Tomintoul directs you to St Jessie’s Well. For years I’ve meant to stop and investigate and this time I pulled off the road and went to have a look.

It’s a natural spring trickling into a shallow cave in the rock face forming the road verge. A white slab – it might be marble – has the words 1856, St Jessie’s Well, painted on it, almost obscured by encroaching moss. What looks like a plastic cup lies in the bottom. With the greatest respect to the good saint I’ve seen more memorable monuments.

I googled her to find out more but could find nothing about her life, why she was canonised, or what ailments and afflictions the waters of her well claimed to cure. She’s just a mystery lady.

Written on Saturday, September 19th, 2015 at 9:39 am for Weekly.