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.

Boldly going firth to Portmahomack

July 8th, 2017

005SIXTY YEARS ago Bonar Bridge was a busy hub for traffic travelling from Inverness, turning west and north for Ullapool and beyond, and east and north for Wick and Thurso.

To encourage tourism to Caithness and Sutherland, the Kessock Bridge was built across the Beauly Firth at Inverness, joining North and South Kessock. It linked up with the new bridge over the Cromarty Firth, cutting out the old detour through Inverness and round by Dingwall. Lastly, Tain and Dornoch were linked with a bridge over the Dornoch Firth, realigning the route of the A9 and leaving Bonar Bridge a much quieter place than it used to be.

It’s an attractive village in an attractive position at the mouth of the River Oykel, one of north’s best known salmon rivers.

I mention it because the Doyenne and I have been in the Black Isle, house-sitting for son Robert and his family and looking after their dogs Porridge and Tiggy. It’s an easy arrangement because their two and Inka are the best of friends.

There’s a stunning journey from Alness to Bonar Bridge over The Struie (B1976), a high pass that cuts out the coastal road via Tain. We had the idea that we would take the long scenic route to the picture postcard village of Portmahomack via The Struie and Bonar Bridge.

It’s worthwhile stopping at the two view points on the road. One looks east towards Dornoch and the other has spectacular views westwards up the Kyle of Sutherland, Strathcarron and Strath Oykel to the distant blue outline of the massif of Ben Klibreck, a Munro rising from the empty Sutherland moor between Crask Inn and Altnaharra which are the only communities between Lairg and Tongue on the A836.

Boyhood memories
Which rambling introduction brings me, in a roundabout fashion, to the point of my story. More than sixty years ago my father and I camped for two nights in the lee of the perimeter wall of the Portmahomack or, more properly, the Tarbat Ness lighthouse built right at the tip of the Tarbat Peninsula.

Tarbat Peninsula is a long finger of land poking out into the North Sea and separating the Dornoch Firth from the Moray Firth. The lighthouse was built in 1830 because of the number of sailing ships wanting to enter one or other of the Firths which foundered on the Tarbat rocks.

I’d not been back to the lighthouse since and I hardly remembered anything about it – not the situation, nor the two broad red stripes painted on the tower during the First World War for identification purposes. I recalled that Father and I visited the lighthouse keepers on the second evening and I was taken up the tower to see the light being lit. So other subliminal memories had surely drawn me back after all these years.

It’s a short walk from the car park to the lighthouse – the sun was warm, there was a light breeze and the tide lapped gently on the rocky shore.

Bright patches of bell heather glowed amongst the gorse. It’s the first of the heather to flower and the more profuse ling heather will be flowering by the end of the month. Blue orchids were growing amongst the coarse grasses and patches of thrift or sea pinks, a favourite of my mother’s, clung to the thin soil in cracks in the rocks.

Its isolation makes the peninsula a hotspot for watching dolphins and whales. It’s an area of rich farmland, woodland, heath, seashore and sea cliffs, providing ideal habitat for native breeding species of birds. The same isolation makes it an important landfall for large numbers of summer and winter migrants and a surprising variety of rare visitors. For lots of information see – www.highlandbirds.scot/tarbat-ness.html

Choose the right time and it should a birdwatcher’s paradise. Right now, many birds are in the middle of their breeding season and too busy feeding chicks to worry about interacting with birdwatchers.

Highland blessing
The following morning the sun shone out of a peerless sky and we drove up to Brora, home of Clynelish whisky which dates back to 1819. The distillery
draws its water from the Clynemilton Burn which is described as running over seams of gold in the rock. What more apt association of ideas can you think of for the blessed water of life?

We were recommended Brora Golf Club for lunch as it welcomes non-golfers to its restaurant. Our table overlooked the 18th hole and we watched house martins and swallows hawking over the links, too busy feeding their chicks to worry about interacting with triumphant or, perhaps, frustrated golfers.

We headed off for Golspie, and home. The village sits at the foot of Ben Bhraggie and is dominated by the 100 foot high statue of the 1st Duke of Sutherland considered, depending on your viewpoint, as a benefactor of the district or responsible for the Clearances of his vast Sutherland estates.

In recent years attempts have been made to deface it, even destroy it, showing that a sense of wrong is still felt down the generations.

Written on Saturday, July 8th, 2017 at 3:00 pm for Weekly.