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.

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This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Sun sets on Angus glens

August 12th, 2017

006THERE IS magic in the music on a lovely summer day, is the opening line of a song, The Lovely Glens of Angus, which you don’t hear these days – well, I haven’t heard it for a while.

The Angus Glens have inspired songs, poems and painters. Everyone who knows the glens has their favourite but most would agree that each one has its special attraction.

My father grew up in Kirriemuir and had a particular affection for Glen Prosen. When he and my mother were first married they rented a weekend cottage in a haugh on the bank of the River South Esk. I grew up in Montrose and have special memories of Glenesk.

When our own family were young Glen Lethnot was a favourite. There were many summer picnics with paddling in the pools of the West Water which flows down the glen to join the River North Esk at the Meeting of the Waters below Stracathro

Lethnot seems bare and spartan compared with much more heavily wooded neighbouring Glenesk but it’s at this time of year, when the sun is on the heather, that you really appreciate its charm and character.

It was the Doyenne’s idea to take Inka a walk up that way, and renew an old acquaintance. We drove out of Edzell on the Witton road, past Edzell Castle and Edzell Kirkyard where, as it happens, an ancestor on my mother’s side is buried.

Tongue tied
There used to be an iron branks or bridle fixed to the wall beside the gate. It was a mediaeval instrument of ecclesiastical punishment for female scolds or nags. Men and religion dominated most aspects of family life then and women who were considered fractious could be condemned to wear it by the church or their husbands.

Jamieson in his Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language describes it thus – “The Scold wore an iron engine, called the branks, in the form of a crown; it covered the head, but left the face exposed; and having a tongue of iron which went into the mouth, constrained silence from the most violent brawler.”

It was a dreadful deterrent, even for the most violent brawler, as the scold was chained to the wall so that all who passed saw her and could express their disapproval. But it disappeared some years back and I’ve never discovered if it was pinched or removed for safety? I should like to be able to show it to our grandchildren to demonstrate what much more liberal lives we lead today.

We drove to Waterhead, at the head of the glen, where the tarmac road runs out. A track carries on alongside the Water of Saughs, the headwater of the West Water. It’s here the Water of Saughs becomes the West Water proper.

Upland birdsong
We were greeted with the calls of peasies (peewits) and oyster catchers and whaups (curlews). How times have changed that we must go into the isolation of the glens to be sure of hearing birds that were so commonplace when I was a youngster.

There is concern at the decline in curlew numbers and they are now a high conservation priority. I can’t imagine a countryside devoid of their haunting calls and their bubbling courtship trills sounding like a special stop on an organ console.

I used to go out with my father in the spring looking for peasie nests. He would take a single egg from each and hard boil them for a special treat, like quails eggs. It’s against the law to do such a thing these days but he would be hard pressed now to find the peasie nests in the first place.

They had been cutting hay and as we set off on our walk the sweet smell of new-cut grass was carried on the breeze.

I wonder how many folk, driving back down the glen, notice the grouse butt tucked into the side of the road. It hasn’t been used for ages (you can’t discharge a shotgun now so close to a public highway), and it’s getting overgrown with heather, but it’s a wee work of art of the gamekeepers’ drystane dyking skills.

On Tuesday evening the Doyenne and I took a turn up Glenesk. It had been a while since I saw a parson up the glen. No, not an Episcopalian meenister, even though The Parsonage, beside St Drostan’s Episcopal church at Tarfside, used to be the minister’s house, but it was what my father called a black rabbit. They are supposed to bring good luck.

We stopped to watch a curlew standing erect and alert on a tussock of heather and giving a series of sharp, warning calls. Another was tucked in beside the roadside fence. They are canny birds but they made no effort to take flight. I think there must have been a late brood of chicks hidden amongst the undergrowth.

Dark clouds rolled away as we drove home. Blue sky melded into dove greys and pigeon breast pinks and we were treated to a fleeting sunset.

Written on Saturday, August 12th, 2017 at 11:42 am for Weekly.