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.

A knock at the blue door

October 21st, 2017

010LIFE IN the countryside revolves round the four seasons. Each one affects a countryside writer like myself and I adjust my walking patterns to the daily weather and the physical conditions on the ground.

Having stubble fields to walk over means that Inka and I revisit woodlands we haven’t walked in since spring. Inka can run free until the farmer ploughs his fields and scatters the good seed for next year’s harvest.

Autumn brings the return of the grey geese. It’s mostly greylag and pink foot geese which have left their northern summer breeding grounds as the Arctic winter closes in and grazing becomes unavailable. Flying along immemorial flight lines their destination is not just these parts but as far down as Norfolk and across to Ireland.

Some nights, out last thing with Inka, I have tawny owls hooting at me from the trees and the voices of geese, which can carry for great distances if the conditions are still, keeping us company.

Colourful walk
There’s little to distinguish the Blue Door at the Gannochy Bridge (on the B966 Edzell to Fettercairn road) from any other blue door stuck, as it is, in the wall above the bridge marking the start of the Burn Estate. But this particular blue door is a bit like one that leads into a secret garden, for behind it is the Walk through the Blue Door, a favourite of walkers and their dogs.

In parts cut out of the jasper-veined rock, the winding riverside track leads upstream to the atmospheric Rocks of Solitude. On a prominence above the deep gorge is the Doulie Tower which many walkers will have paused to look at and wondered, like me, what its purpose was.

Some walkers may not know that downriver, on the other side of the Gannochy Bridge, is another tower known as the Gannochy Tower. Both towers are generally believed to have been built by General Lord Adam Gordon, 4th son of the then 2nd Duke of Gordon, who owned the Burn Estate and who died in 1801.

I checked the name Doulie in Adam Watson’s useful reference Place Names in much of north-east Scotland. It is derived from the Gaelic for spectre.

As a paranormal aside, this reminded me of what I wrote in December 2014 about a walk at the Rocks of Solitude -” Inka got spooked by something at the start of our walk – a shape on the path perhaps, I’ll never know – and refused to go further.” Could his canine instinct have picked up spectral vibes that my less sensitive human receptors could not?

Conflicting ideas
David Turner, the Bursar of The Burn House, the student study centre and academic retreat, suggests the Doulie Tower, which is still part of The Burn Estate, could have been a gatehouse or guard post because it is on the line of the original road to neighbouring Glenesk.

In the absence of firm evidence it is difficult to say categorically what the builder’s intention was but, if it was a gatehouse, it’s not like any other gatehouse of the period that I can remember.

And I don’t buy the military connection for two reasons – first, the style of the building with its wing screens and Gothic arch windows and doorway is positively unmilitary.

Second, 16th century Invermark Castle, at the head of Glenesk, is known to have been built as a stronghold guarding the important pass from Deeside over Mount Keen, to deal with internal strife and to deter raiding Highland caterans using the pass and descending on The Mearns to carry off cattle.

Doulie Tower was built after 1745 and the disastrous Battle of Culloden. On the orders of Butcher Cumberland, following his victory, government troops along with Scots ones too who bore historic clan grudges, duffed up the Highlands and effectively destroyed the Highland clans and their way of life.

The threat of internal strife was removed. The Highlanders were recruited into the new Highland regiments and sent all over the world to die of disease and in battles in all manner of strange parts protecting British interests in the birth pangs of the British Empire – thus finishing off what Culloden had started. Doulie Tower was not needed as a guard post.

Which still leaves Gannochy Tower. It is square and, at first glance, more military-looking than round Doulie Tower, but for the same reasons I don’t believe it had a military purpose. I suggest they were follies – architectural extravagances built to show off Lord Adam’s wealth and individuality – and eccentricity!

David Turner is researching the history of The Burn House and the estate. In the uncertainty about the history of the two towers David would welcome contact from local historians who can throw light on their purpose. In return he promises a cup of good coffee and a tour of The Burn House.

Meantime, in the autumn fall the trees along the riverbank are taking on their seasonal kaleidoscope of glowing colours and it’s as good a time as ever to take a walk through the Blue Door.

Written on Saturday, October 21st, 2017 at 8:39 pm for Weekly.