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.

Poetry and peace for a perfect walk

January 20th, 2018

012GLENESK HAS been part of my life all of my life. My earliest memories of the glen go back to about 1946 when petrol became more available post-war, and of picnics at a favourite spot of my mother’s by the side of the River North Esk.

She always built a fire and boiled water for tea, claiming it never tasted better than when brewed in the outdoors. Looking back it seems strange now that she filled the kettle with water from the kitchen tap, stuffing the spout with greaseproof paper, and carried it down to the riverside. I’ve never known what possibly could have been the objection to fresh mountain water from the river – perhaps she had anxieties about the natural functions of sheep – but at that age it doesn’t cross your mind to question what your mother does.

It was a steep brae from the riverside back up to the road and the car, hard work for wee legs, and I remember my father carrying me the last bit on his shoulders. And I’ve been drawn to the glen ever since.

Duncan Fraser in his book Discovering Angus and Mearns describes Glenesk as Glen of the Whisky Bothies and the Saint, and writes – Few people would deny that Glenesk is the loveliest of the Angus Glens, the most varied in character and by far the most romantic in its history and legends.

He was not the only writer captivated by Glenesk. Montrose poet, Helen Cruickshank, had an enduring love of the glen. The dedication in her collection of poems, Sea Buckthorn, is To Glenesk – …”Another stream is running in my blood, grown dearer thro’ the years: one loved since childhood like a mother’s face no child can e’er portray.”

Helen Cruickshank’s contemporary and equally well known Montrose poet, Violet Jacob, was another inspired by Glenesk. Her poem, The Banks of the Esk, from the collection Bonnie Joann begins – “Gin I were whaur the rowans hang / Their berried heids aside the river, / I’d hear the water slip alang, / The rowan-leaves abune me shiver; / And winds frae Angus braes wad sail / To blaw me dreams owre peat and gale.”

Locally, Glenesk was known as Glen of the Rowans so you might expect to see “the sentinel rowan’s scarlet flame” on the Hill of Rowan down whose flank the old illicit whisky trail winds. It’s bare of any trees these days, let alone rowans, but wherever you are in the glen it’s readily identifiable by the Rowan Tower crowning its summit.

Should you ever find A Glen Anthology, a small collection of Glenesk poems edited by Greta Michie, snap it up. Reading it you’ll understand the hold the glen has not just on the Glenners, but on Glenners by adoption who have been infected by a lifelong love of the area.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the point of this week’s piece.

Horsing about
There was just a dusting of snow left on the upper slopes so, to blow away the cobwebs and enjoy a bit of space, Inka and I took ourselves up the glen. I parked at the farm at Glen Effock, a subsidiary glen branching off the upper glen valley.

We were greeted by three garrons, shaggy-maned ponies used to carry shot deer off the hill to the game larder for preparation ready for collection by the game dealer. These days many estates use Argocats, or similar, for this job and its good to see the traditional methods still being followed.

We walked upriver in a fine rain. There was more than a touch of the north in the wind and I was thankful I’d had the foresight to put on several layers. It’s bleak up there in this weather and all I saw was a single mallard duck and a couple of woodpigeons – it will be busier in a couple of months.

Enduring glen
Glenesk is almost unique now as a living, working Scottish glen with an active resident population supporting sporting estates, farming, a waterworks, three churches, Masonic Lodge, WRI, curling club and, until recently, a school.

The Glenesk Retreat and Folk Museum at Tarfside is a fully accredited community museum dedicated to the heritage, history and culture of the glen and is highly regarded by museum professionals.

It is not a dead collection of artefacts but a reflection of the life of the glen community over centuries. Essentially everything in the collections has come from glen families which adds an authenticity to the exhibitions. Put a note in your diary that the museum and restaurant will be opening for its 2018 season on Good Friday, 30th March.

There are endless walks in the glen – to Loch Lee, the whisky smugglers trail, to the Queen’s Well and Balnamoon’s fugitive cave, or more strenuous, moorland walks along the Fungle Road to Deeside. There’s history, atmosphere, wild life, fresh air and, best of all, peace and escape from the tyranny of the mobile phone. Can anyone ask for more?

Written on Saturday, January 20th, 2018 at 8:43 pm for Weekly.