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.

Lines from days gone by

January 27th, 2018

Ribblehead viaductLAST SUNDAY the Doyenne and I set off to drive to Cumbria. In different circumstances we should have looked at the weather and postponed the visit. This one couldn’t be postponed as it was for a family funeral.

We took all the precautions. Winter tyres were fitted to the car and into the boot went blankets, welly boots, and a shovel; hats, gloves, scarves and sticks in case we had to battle our way through blizzards. The picnic basket was packed with soup and coffee and enough sandwiches and Tunnock’s caramel wafers to last us through the night if we found ourselves marooned on the top of Beattock Summit or Shap.

Our corner of The Mearns has largely avoided the more extreme weather conditions experienced by much of the rest of the country and having watched the forecasts for the previous days we were apprehensive about the journey. But snow ploughs and gritters had been working round the clock and the roads were clear although thick snow still carpeted the Border hills.

We were heading for the village of Crosby Garrett in the old county of Westmorland which was amalgamated in 1974 with Cumberland and part of Lancashire to become Cumbria.

We stayed in a former railway worker’s cottage, one of a row built alongside the Settle-Carlisle railway line. In a gesture to Victorian propriety – nowadays we should say prudery – the front doors were built at the back of the houses with a narrow strip of garden separating them from the railway embankment. Thus worthy fare-paying passengers and their ladies should not be affronted by the sight of the railway employees’ back yards, washing lines and, heaven forfend, their outdoor privies.

The Doyenne remembers the line well from the early 1960s when she took the train from her hometown of Bradford to Edinburgh to attend university – where, incidentally, she and I met. I shall remember it because our bedroom window looked out on the embankment and the early trains rattled past about 6a.m., disturbing my dreams.

A major feature of the line is the 24 span Ribblehead Viaduct crossing some of Cumbria’s most isolated country. It is a monument to Victorian engineering skill and tenacity at which Britain excelled, driving railways through hills and across remote wilderness, linking communities and speeding up movement of goods between rural communities and urban centres.

Poetical memoirs
I attended a Scotch Poetry Evening held by The Montrose Society and led by Sheila Mann, well known for her research into the life and work of Montrose poet, Violet Jacob.

I was familiar with the poets Sheila had chosen – Helen Cruickshank, another Montrose poet; Glasgow journalist, WD Cocker; JC Milne, well known north-east educationalist; William Soutar of Perth; Charles Murray who spent his professional life as an engineer in South Africa, returning to his native north-east when he retired but never lost the mither tongue he grew up with; and Dundee’s laureate, the giftedly bad poet William Topaz McGonagall.

It set me thinking of the poets my hometown of Montrose has produced. Most dramatic was the ill-fated George Beattie, best known for his narrative John o’ Arnha’, suggested by some to be based on Robert Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter. He blew out his brains after being rejected in love and is buried in the Auld Nether Kirkyard in the sand dunes below St Cyrus.

WF M’Hardy published Bonnie Montrose, Poems and Songs in 1899 which was republished by his great, great grandson in 2016. Helen Cruickshank and Violet Jacob were contemporaries of Hugh MacDiarmid and shared his enthusiasm for the establishment of a Scottish literary renaissance in the 1920s. Born in Langholm in the Borders, MacDiarmid worked for a number of years on the Montrose Review newspaper and can be regarded – by adoption – as a Montrose poet.

John Angus and Prof. Robert Silver may have known each other when they were boys as there was only seven years between them. A centenary collection of John Angus’ poems entitled Glenesk was published by his son Niall in 2006. I remember Prof. Silver who retired to the town of his birth after a distinguished career in industry. His collection, Conflicts and Contexts, reflects his personal contexts of conflict during the war years.

The only poem I can find of Montrose born Rev. R Riach Thom is The Children’s Graveyard, a movingly sad story of a burial ground on Mull reserved for unbaptised children – i.e. born out of wedlock.

One Montrose poet fascinates me and I can find out next to nothing about him. Alexander Mackie was a painter and decorator in the town and died in 1956 – well within living memory. Sunshine and Shadow contains poems which are the equal of Burns himself. I’m hoping a reader may have memories of Mr Mackie and could pass them on to me.

Raymond Vettese’s poetry can be found in Montrose Library. Described as a “verbal equivalent of Joan Eardley, though much gentler”, his poetry is based mostly on a life in Montrose and he is an entertaining communicator.

Written on Saturday, January 27th, 2018 at 11:32 am for Weekly.