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.

Water’s good and bad sides

April 2nd, 2016

DSC03316EASTER MONDAY was too good a day to spend at home even if it meant postponing the first cut of the grass, which was definitely overdue. Bundling Inka into the car we headed over the Cairn o’ Mount to see where the wind took us.

On a clear day, when the clouds are high and the sun is shining, it never fails to lift the spirits to look back across the Howe of the Mearns towards the coast from the viewpoint on the summit. Dropping down on the other side into Glen Dye we never tire of the views of the Aberdeenshire hills ahead and the peaks of the Grampians, many still snow-covered, marching westwards.

The spirit moved us to drive to Ballater which we hadn’t visited for ages. We turned off the B974 to Banchory at the junction with the wooden AA telephone box, and followed the B976 to Aboyne.

The winding, wooded South Deeside road follows the course of the River Dee. The effects of the flooding at New Year are still very evident. Trees, roots, debris, shingle, even boulders are washed up on the riverbanks. Two smart, new fishing huts have been built, presumably replacing original ones which were whirled away on the spate.

The unusual Tower of Ess, on the Bridge of Ess, marks the entrance to Glen Tanar. You’re in the Cairngorms National Park now which stretches westwards to the A9 and, north to south, from Grantown-on-Spey almost to Perth.

The Pannanich Wells are natural springs whose waters are credited with almost magical curative qualities. They came to public attention in the mid-eighteenth century when a local woman, Elspet Michie, claimed to have been cured of scrofula, a particularly unpleasant skin disease, by bathing in them.

Royal approval
Hundreds of visitors, including Queen Victoria, flocked to the spring seeking cures for all manner of ailments. With admirable presence of mind Ballater saw the opportunities medical tourism offered and grew into a spa town to accommodate the invasion of welcome business.

The distinctive sugar loaf shape of Craigendarroch, meaning Hill of Oaks, towers over Ballater, and you know there’s not much further to drive. The hill is also commemorated in a famous bagpipe tune.

We hadn’t realised just how destructive the New Year floods had been and how badly Ballater had been affected by them. Shops may be temporarily closed but the businesses have all made alternative arrangements to carry on trading while their premises are being refurbished.

We headed back to Finzean and our favourite farm shop and restaurant where we had booked a table for lunch. The chicken, leek and mushroom pie was scrummy and we shared a sinful bread and butter pudding made with a hot cross bun, with extra ice cream and cream.

Time then to walk Inka, which would do us no harm either. At the foot of the hill from the farm shop we turned right along the single track road through the Forest of Birse. The road keeps step with the Water of Feugh, a tributary of the River Dee, through native pine woodland, one of the last remnants of the Old Caledonian Forest. Moss-covered windfall trees and old estate drystane dykes add to the air of antiquity.

We parked beside the simple Forest of Birse Kirk, built in 1890 to serve the glen folk. It would have been a bustling place then but, like most Scottish glens, the population now is not much bigger than is needed to manage the farming activities. The road carries on as a farm track which joins the Fungle Road into Glenesk.

The interior of the kirk is plain and utilitarian but it is cared for and there is a book for visitors to leave their thoughts. Several families had been up the day before, rolling their Easter eggs.

An elderly Bible on the pulpit was open at Isaiah chapter XL. My eye fell on the opening words of verse 4 – Every valley shall be exalted… With the sun on our faces and the peace of our surroundings, and the music of whaups (curlews) on the hillsides, the prophet might have been there when he wrote the words.

Inka dived into the burn and got himself stuck between two boulders trying to get out. After much encouragement and a lot of cussing he finally worked out that if he moved downstream and tried again it was quite easy.

Heading for home we stopped to read the inscription on a roadside well erected in 1904 by Peter Brown of the Pail Mill. I presume this is what is now known as the Finzean Bucket Mill which is the last such mill left in Scotland, but is no longer operative.

Just beyond the Bucket Mill another well commemorates Joseph Farquharson, 12th Laird of Finzean, known as the painting laird and renowned for his landscapes. His dates coincide with my great-grandfather, Joseph Henderson, also an artist and renowned for his seascapes. Both exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy where I like to think they met occasionally, casting an approving eye over the other’s efforts.

Written on Saturday, April 2nd, 2016 at 5:40 pm for Weekly.