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.

Graveyards of the forgotten

January 23rd, 2016

DSC03190WE HAD to pass one graveyard to find another. I was with Angus farmer Colin Gibson, and his wife Katherine, who were going to show me a horses’ graveyard. The other member of the party was Sky, a Sporting Lucas Terrier – a breed I hadn’t met before. She’s a sparky little terrier, much in the mould of the late Macbeth and, like Macbeth, she showed utter disdain for Inka who only wanted to play.

I can remember only ever seeing one other horse’s grave – in the pets’ cemetery at Powerscourt House, near Dublin. There are favourite dogs’ graves there too, and even a favourite cow. So I’ll be interested if readers know of other pet graves.

Our walk took us along the bank of the West Water, past the Meeting of the Waters, where the West Water joins the River North Esk, to an out-of-the-way spot by the riverside in the middle of high beech trees.

Forgotten graves
After more than a century the two lichen-covered headstones for much-loved family favourites are gradually disappearing beneath the natural accumulation of undergrowth. But they are in good condition and their inscriptions still quite clear.

” King Koffee, otherwise Old Warrior, a favourite horse at Stracathro for 20 years”, died in 1900. The other gravestone commemorates “Duchess, favourite pony for 16 years who died 1901”. Factor, presumably another horse, died in 1909 and is remembered on the same gravestone.

It’s a sentimental spot, forgotten now other than by a few folk like Colin who, growing up locally, has known the story since childhood.

The other graveyard is the Stracathro Church graveyard which has an intriguing place in Scottish history. It was there on, 7th July 1296, that King John Balliol – Toom Tabard – submitted to King Edward I of England, the Hammer of the Scots, and abdicated the throne of Scotland.

Balliol had become king effectively as a puppet of Edward in 1292. He attempted to defy his overlord and signed a military alliance with the French – the origin of the Auld Alliance. Edward wasted no time in bringing an army to Scotland, sacking Berwick-upon-Tweed and shortly afterwards routing the Scottish army at the Battle of Dunbar on 27th April 1296.

Family tradition
The Battle of Dunbar was fought on the hillsides of Spott Farm, two miles inland from Dunbar, and our family tradition has it that the tenant of the farm was a Whitson ancestor.

Balliol escaped from the battlefield but was captured at Stracathro, in north Angus. The disparaging nickname, meaning empty shirt, given him by Edward, came from Balliol’s public humiliation when his royal badges of rank were stripped from his tabard or surcoat.

Edward’s brutal punishment of Scotland, which included carrying off the Stone of Destiny – the symbol of Scottish kingship – to Westminster Abbey, prompted the emergence of William Wallace to lead the campaign for Scottish independence. After his bloody death in 1305, Robert the Bruce took up the cause and claimed the crown of Scotland in 1306.

History doesn’t say what happened to the old Whitson ancestor at Spott Farm after Dunbar. They were inclined to be grumpy in those days, and the winners duffed you up just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it’s good to know that the family played such a pivotal role in Scotland’s history.

Immortal in death
Monday coming is 25th January, a red letter day for Scots, when Rabbie Burns’ birth day is celebrated at Burns Suppers the world over. Countless libations of the Cratur will celebrate the life of the Ploughman Poet who showed the world that the nobility of the soul was not limited to any single rank in life.

But the principal toast at these evenings is to the poet’s Immortal Memory – a salute, surely, to his death in 1796 which prompted an outpouring of national grief unmatched by that for any other poet.

William Wordsworth, Byron, Anna, Sir Walter Scott, An Auld Fifeshire Ploughman, A Young Lady of Sixteen, the Ettrick Shepherd, John Keats, William Topaz McGonagall, Anonymous admirers and many more all committed their epitaphs of anguish to verse.

Robert Tannahill, the Weaver Poet of Paisley, descended into a positive spate of despair – Let grief for ever cloud the day, / That saw our Bard borne to the clay.

James Rae, who wrote the now scarce remembered Jeems Papers, described as “full of delightful, pawky Scotch humour”, wrote a more tongue-in-cheek farewell to the Bard. He hopes his hero is in heaven where he’ll “Gie them a guid Scotch sang to sing / A ballad o’ ye’r best”.

But he acknowledges that Burns’ frailties may have taken him to a different place.

“But if ye’re in the place neist doon, / Jist tell auld Nickie Ben / That onything ye said ‘boot him / Ye widna say’t agen. / And whin ye see him face to face, / Mak’ freens, and ye’ll dae weel; / Keep aye weel in wi’ wha’s in po’er, / Although he be a de’il.”

Salutary advice, maybe, for us all?

Written on Saturday, January 23rd, 2016 at 8:24 pm for Weekly.