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.

Powerful works of Scots art

November 21st, 2015

Kelpies for AngusLOW WINTER sunshine filtered through the trees as I took Inka his morning walk – it was an ideal morning to go down to the sea. We drove over to the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) centre at St Cyrus.

St Cyrus beach has been a favourite destination for four generations of Whitsons for picnics, swimming and walks. Its sheer familiarity has had a hold on me all my life and takes me back again and again.

Park your car at the SNH visitor centre and walk over the dunes to the beach by the wooden bridge built by Gurkha soldiers as a community project in 1985. Its predecessor, used by salmon fishers, was old and rickety with missing slats, but it had character and seniority.

By the time we got onto the beach clouds had rolled in, the heat had gone out of the day and I was glad I’d put on an extra layer against the chill wind.

Solitary walker
One of the abiding pleasures of walking there is having the great expanse of sand entirely to myself. Our dogs have loved it too. Sheba, the first black Labrador of the Man with Two Dogs column, would happily let me throw sticks into the sea to retrieve all day long. The fun only finished because I was usually first to get bored with the game. Macbeth loved it because he unerringly found the smelliest carcase to roll in and liked to carry its fragrance back home to share with the family.

We set off south towards the outflow of the River North Esk. Away on the skyline the white finger of Scurdie Ness lighthouse, at Montrose, poked above the horizon. Behind, and above me on the clifftop, the St Cyrus church spire pinpointed the village – two marks that would have been gratefully recognised by mariners and fishermen in the days before GPS.

There was little bird activity along the waterline so I headed up to the high tide mark which is littered with tree trunks and old timber. I had to check my dictionary to be sure that it is jetsam, not flotsam, but there’s all the wood for a lifetime’s beach bonfires there.

I walked back to the car along the shingle bed of the old river course. In 1879 a prolonged storm and huge spate burst the banks of the river where it turned north towards the original rivermouth a mile or so up the coast, creating the rivermouth we see today. If confirmation of the river’s history were needed, the SNH visitor centre was originally a lifeboat station which stood on the pre-1879 riverbank.

A short eared owl flew silently over me from behind and appeared twice more. They are the only owls that regularly hunt by day and Therese, the SNH warden, reckoned that I had probably seen both of the resident pair.

It just wasn’t a day for wildlife and bird watching but it’s such an interesting bit of shoreline and has endless memories. And Inka could stretch out and really exercise himself, which was good too.

Water wheel
The Doyenne and I had promised ourselves a visit to the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies, but never quite got round to it. The decision was made for us when son James expressed a wish to visit both to celebrate his birthday.

The Falkirk Wheel connects the Forth & Clyde Canal which runs between Grangemouth in the east and Bowling, near Dumbarton, on the west, and the Union Canal which runs from Falkirk to Edinburgh. The staircase of eleven locks which originally lifted traffic from the Forth and Clyde to the Union Canal had been demolished and, rather than reinstate them, the innovative rotating boat lift inspired by the turning of a ship’s propeller was conceived.

The Wheel is a working business, taking traditional commercial traffic as well as visitor boat trips. The basic concept of the moving canal lock is as fascinating to watch in operation from the ground as it is to experience. The transition as the passenger gondola rises a height of eight double-decker buses from the lower basin to the upper one is so smooth that there is no sensation of movement – you are only aware of the Forth Valley stretching further and further out before you.

Water horses
The Kelpies were inspired by legends of the Scottish waterhorses of that name which assumed human form and lured their victims into their deep, watery recesses to drown them and devour them. The colossal horse heads appear to be rearing out of the ground and it’s not until you are beside them that you realise the Forth & Clyde Canal runs between them.

Their character changed as the light faded. Turning for a last look as we walked back to the car in the dusk, they were suddenly floodlit – a spellbinding end to the day.

They are overwhelmingly powerful and impressive examples of the best of Scottish creativity and artistic achievement. Son James is an artist blacksmith and could better appreciate and admire the engineering skill in creating the 30 metres high sculptures.

Written on Saturday, November 21st, 2015 at 9:19 pm for Weekly.