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.

Visiting the true home of smokies

July 23rd, 2016

DSC03565THE TRUE home of the Arbroath smokie is not Arbroath but the ancient fishertoun of Auchmithie, some four miles up the old red sandstone coast, ragged and wonderfully worn and sculptured by the sea and the waves.

An errand saw the Doyenne and me driving to the exposed cliff-top village where the fishy delicacy was conceived. It had been some years since we last were there and I took myself down the track to the shore and to the harbour, 150 feet below, which has deteriorated since that visit.

Fishing is a dangerous and hard occupation today but what a relentless, physically demanding occupation it was in the nineteenth century and earlier. “Fisher life … in all its unvarnished simplicity”, was a typically insensitive contemporary description. Looking up to the village from the pebble shore I wondered at the determination of the fisher folk who lived and worked there.

Every bit of gear, lines and nets, had to be carried down the steep track to the boats before they put out to fish: and when they had landed their catch they toiled back up that unforgiving brae to their cottages. Until the then laird, Lord Northesk, provided a water supply every drop of water for the village had to be fetched from a spring at the foot of the brae.

Kilting their coats
The physical work was shared by the womenfolk who helped with launching the boats and dragging them up the shingle beach above the high tide mark to keep them safe from the unpredictable east coast weather. And the wives “kilted their coats” and carried their men on their backs out to the boats to keep their feet dryshod when they set out for the fishing.

Surprisingly, now, for many years the Auchmithie fishing fleet was substantially larger than that of Arbroath, whose Town Council offered the Auchmithie fishermen land at the Fit o’ the Toon to build houses and yards, and the assurance of a safer harbour, if they would move. They brought their smokie smoking skills with them.

A kipper is a herring, gutted and split and slow cold smoked. A smokie is a haddock, gutted and headed and fast hot smoked as a round fish i.e. not split.

Saving the smokie
While kippering was a fairly universal method of preserving fish, smoking Auchmithie-style appears to have been restricted to the Arbroath fishermen. But success breeds envy and other would-be smokie smokers claimed to be producing the genuine Arbroath article.

Arbroath fishermen struck back and, led by Councillor Bob Spink and his son Iain, they campaigned to have the Arbroath smokie granted Protected Geographical Status. Now, only smokies produced within 8 kilometres of Arbroath and smoked in the traditional manner can be sold as genuine Arbroath smokies.

Auchmithie harbour was built in 1891 and at last the fishermen had a safe mooring. But it came late in the day as the number of boats using it declined. It was damaged during the Second World War when a stray German mine blew a hole in the wall which was never repaired.

Half a dozen small creel boats used it latterly but they are gone. It’s forlorn and unused now but it has a significant place in the north-east’s fishing story and it’s a (usually) sheltered spot for a wander with a dog.

The mid-week weather had Inka in a proper tirrivee. The forecasters threatened storms on Tuesday night following the heat and humidity during the day – and they were spot on so far as our neck of the woods was concerned.

The thunder started shortly after 3am, accompanied by spectacular lightning which turned night into day. Rain came down in stair rods.

Lightning change
Inka was in a high state of fright. We have experienced occasional short bursts of thunder in the past but nothing so sustained and we heard his anxious panting and whining, wanting to get into the bedroom to be near us. Quite a contrast from the dog who is normally determined to prove he is the alpha male.

Interestingly, when I had him out for his last walk about 11pm he had hung around my heels and I got quite short with him for not quartering about the ground as he usually does. I wonder now if some sixth sense premonition was warning him of what was coming.

I’ve expressed concern in this column about the scarcity of butterflies (along with other familiar species) in our gardens and in the countryside generally. A walk with Inka in the woods at the foot of Glenesk renewed my confidence that given the right opportunities and conditions nature, in all its varied forms, can recover from most setbacks and population declines.

At the edge of the wood I was surrounded by a positive cloud of ringlet butterflies feeding mostly on wild raspberries and nettles. I can’t be certain how many I saw because I probably counted some twice as they flitted from bush to bush, but I reckoned it was between three and four dozen in the whole bit of wood that we walked through.

What a success story.

Written on Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 at 6:10 pm for Weekly.