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.

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This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Poetry puzzle finally solved

November 28th, 2015

DSC03086SOME PEOPLE come home from a day in the country and it’s been too wet, too cold, too muddy, too hot, too windy. For them the countryside is not a comfortable place and it’s taken them out of their comfort zone.

It concerns me that more and more people are becoming disengaged from the countryside – which isn’t good, because they miss so much that can lift the spirits.

Sunrises, sunsets, blue skies, dark skies, rain, hail, snow and wind. I’ve known it all and whatever extremes of weather we might sometimes experience, I’ve never wanted to live anywhere other than the north-east of Scotland.

Weather moods
Apart from my childhood in Montrose, just a step from the freedom of the outdoors, I’ve lived all my life in the countryside. Much as I enjoy warmth and sunshine, the idea that I might spend the rest of my life in year-round sunshine is not for me. Like the fruits of the earth, I want to enjoy the weather in all its moods and in its proper seasons.

Driving home with the Doyenne on Sunday after walking Inka, the sky was a gradation of bands of pink and grey and blue, constantly moving, never the same from one moment to the next, melding one into another. Behind us the setting sun was a blazing orange ball slipping behind the hills somewhere about Kirriemuir, its rays reflecting off the windows of cottages in a brilliant explosion of light as if they were on fire.

What a contrast on Monday – overcast and dreich. As the Doyenne wisely says, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. I put on the wet weather gear to take Inka down to the Crow Wood where we could get shelter from the wind and the rain. Inka doesn’t worry how foul the weather is – he suffers more in hot temperatures than in very cold.

Shy Geordie
The path through the woods took me behind Inglismaldie (Inglismaddy) Castle, a onetime stronghold of the Earls of Kintore.

“Up the Noran Water / In by Inglismaddy” – are the opening lines of Montrose poet, Helen Cruickshank’s (1886-1975) poem “Shy Geordie” which contains a geographical conundrum that troubled me for ages.

The Noran Water rises in the hills above Glen Ogil and flows past the village of Noranside to join the River South Esk above Brechin. Inglismaddy lies close to the banks of the River North Esk, to the east and some dozen miles from Noranside, and in a different county, Kincardineshire. What was the poet thinking?

The poem recounts the feelings of Geordie for single mother Annie who has “a bairnie that hasna got a daddy”. In rural Scotland a hundred and fifty years ago the birth of a love child wasn’t uncommon, despite the prevailing disapproval of Kirk and community.

Robert Burns celebrated the birth of his illegitimate daughter, “dear-bought Bess”, to Elizabeth Paton, a family servant. In his poem “A poet’s welcome to a Bastart Wean” he fondly welcomes her and acknowledges paternity.

We don’t know who fathered Annie’s bairn “But some think it’s Tammas’s, / An’ some think it’s Chay’s.”

On the face of it Annie sounds no better than a wild young limmer, stravaiging about between Inglismaddy and Noranside. If it’s true, taking account of the times, she covered some ground!

But Geordie tells us how the “the bonnie little mannie is dandled and cuddled close”, so Annie comes across as a caring mother whose young son was “the vigorous offspring of a stolen embrace”, as someone else wrote.

It’s no kiss-and-tell story, for “Wha the bairnie’s daddy is / The lassie never says.”

Love and envy
And what of Geordie, standing shyly in the wings, without the confidence to initiate stolen embraces with Annie? Like most country folk he accepts Annie’s love child without recrimination but he couldn’t hide his longing for her or his feelings of envy at the bairn’s father.

“But oh! The bairn at Annie’s breist, / The love in Annie’s e’e / They mak’ me wish wi’ a’ my micht / The lucky lad was me.”

Eventually the penny dropped. Noran Water – Norlan – Northern – River North Esk. Everything fell into place. I don’t ever remember hearing the expression so perhaps Noran Water was poetic licence to enable the words to scan properly in the verse.

Helen Cruickshank, in her “Octobiography”, says that when she wrote the poem she actually had never been up the proper Noran Water. That she knew and loved Glenesk and the North Esk, is clear from her poems “To Glenesk” and “The Ponnage Pool”, a salmon pool on the river’s Morphie beat.

And she throws in another tantalising conundrum when she says that the origin of Shy Geordie “is my own affair.” So, could the poem be a keek into a personal secret not intended to be shared further?

For me, Shy Geordie is one of the most romantic and poignant Scottish vernacular love poems written.

And for readers who are interested, “Octobiography” can still be bought at Henry Hogg, Bookseller, Montrose.

Written on Saturday, November 28th, 2015 at 9:40 pm for Weekly.