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.

Flights of freedom chime with history

August 26th, 2017

029A STEADY breeze was blowing over Cairn o’ Mount and, as I neared the summit, what appeared to be a parachute rose from the ground with a figure hanging below it. I stopped in the car park to watch.

It was a paraglider and Paolo, the instructor from the Sky Camp paragliding school in Deeside, explained that it was a novice flying on his first soaring flight. I watched him using the suspension lines and the lift of the wind to track across the brae face of the Cairn.

“Tonight he will be a very happy man”, was Paolo’s comment. I thought how exciting it must be for him, a free spirit having control of the freedom of the skies. But I had to press on as I had an appointment to keep near Finzean, in the Forest of Birse.

Well versed
Regular readers know of my interest in the Scottish vernacular poetry, ballads and songs written in the Doric of the north-east. My destination was Finzean Sawmill to meet Davie Duncan who, for seventy years, has worked the sawmill as did his father and grandfather before him. I was looking forward to our meeting for his reputation as a storehouse of an enviable fund of poetry, much of which he could recite, had preceded him.

The tone of the afternoon was set by springer spaniel Rex, one of the couthiest dogs I’ve met in a lifetime of dogs, who bounded out to greet me. Rex has a great inclination towards his fellow creatures, human or otherwise, and radiates friendliness.

The mill is a historic, water-powered sawmill taking its power from the River Feugh. It is working at reduced capacity meantime as the weir above the mill, which controls the flow of water, was washed away in the floods of January 2016 and is still not fully repaired.

The 2016 floods were amongst the worst since the Muckle Spate o’ Twenty-nine (1829). In 1851 David Grant, who worked at the sawmill, composed the story of the Muckle Spate which resulted from a prolonged rainstorm, causing unprecedented flooding on the same River Feugh.

The poem runs to dozens of verses and Davie can recite them from memory but, as it takes more than half an hour to do so – an astonishing feat – he chose a shorter one – The Molly Coo.

A fairmer chiel, auld Willie Broon, / Nae five mile oot o’ Huntly toon, / Ae nicht afore he wid retire, / Wid hae a traivel through the byre. / There, streekit oot amang the strae, / The Molly Coo, his favourite, lay…..

The Molly Coo was in labour and the poem goes on to tell the story of the birth of her calf, and the dilemma fairmer Willie Broon faces when an attractive female vet – an unprecedented event in his life – arrived to assist.

In response I recited Montrose poet Helen Cruickshank’s three verse Shy Geordie, from her collection The Ponnage Pool.

At an age when most folk are enjoying retirement Davie still works the family sawmill. In its heyday much of the output was for the fishing industry, making bungs for barrels into which Scotch cured herring were packed for export round the world.

He gave me the staggering statistic that a man could turn out 14,000 bungs a day. If he had said a week, I’d have accepted it without question.

With the decline in the Scottish herring fishery the Duncans turned to making brush heads – byre brushes, road brushes, sweeping brushes, chimney sweep brushes – anything that needed bristles. Also turning egg cups, rolling pins, tattie chappers and spurtles for stirring your porridge as it is hottering on the stove.

The sawmill is a fascinating building, a part of our architectural and social history, and there must be concern at what will happen when Davie retires, although he gives no hint of being ready to do so soon.

I had a most instructive afternoon. I said my farewells and went home with my own spurtle turned by Davie on the water-powered lathe as we chatted. In the wintertime I make porridge for my breakfast most mornings and I’ll be stirring it now with my Finzean spurtle.

Twilight bell
There’s been controversy at the silencing of Big Ben for four years while restoration is carried out on the Elizabeth Tower which houses the great 13 tonne bell. I believe I may have a solution.

From time immemorial Montrose’s Big Peter, the curfew bell which was cast in 1676 and hangs in Old & St Andrew’s Church, the Auld Kirk, is rung 200 times every evening at 10pm. Link the Auld Kirk belfry to the Elizabeth Tower and Londoners can share Montrose’s evening carillon. With Big Peter’s gentler tone there wouldn’t be the issues of excessive noise which seem to be associated with Big Ben.

Big Ben may have resonance but Big Peter has seniority, and what an innovative opportunity for cross-cultural cooperation.

And it wouldn’t seem such a frivolous suggestion if someone made it happen.

Written on Saturday, August 26th, 2017 at 11:34 am for Weekly.