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.

Persistence of memories

June 16th, 2018

“Please slow down. Free range children and animals” greeted us as we arrived at Dalilea Farm on the north shore of Loch Shiel in Moidart.  The Doyenne and I had booked a week in the chalet on the farm, looking out over cattle-filled grass parks and onto the loch.  I had last spent a family holiday at Dalilea sixty years ago when it was run as a guest house.

Returning to a holiday spot after sixty years, expecting things to be much as they were all those years ago, is fraught with the possibility of everything going terribly wrong.  But a week of azure skies and unbroken sunshine revived memories of the best west coast holidays.

As we parked beside the chalet a cuckoo on a hillside on the far side of the loch called.  Realistically I didn’t expect things to have remained unchanged but three-storey Dalilea House with its pepperpot towers, dating back to the fifteenth century and standing four-square among centuries old sycamores and oak trees, is as I remembered it.  And the farm is still farmed by the Macaulay family – third generation John and Izzy, and maybe a fourth generation farmer among their four youngsters.

I’d taken with me memories of yellow flags (irises), white water lilies floating in roadside lochans, cotton grass and pink and white dog roses, and hardy sea pinks quivering in the breeze on the shore.  The light, the views, the scent on the air, the mood of the landscape brought back so many happy times which are undimmed.

Honeysuckle was flowering at the roadsides and in the hedges, and rowans swelling on the branches. Conkers were well formed on an ancient horse chestnut tree in a corner of Dalilea garden and winged seed keys hung off the sycamores ready to drop.

Prince in the heather

Moidart is Bonnie Prince Charlie country and reeks of Jacobite history.  On 25th July, 1745, the Young Pretender, with seven companions known as the Seven Men of Moidart, landed just up the coast in Loch nan Uamh and began his tragic adventure.  The prince marched to Dalilea and was rowed to Glenfinnan at the head of the loch where he raised his standard and rallied the Highland clans.

Mediaeval memorials

The burial isle of Green Isle, or St Finan’s Isle, sits in a dog-leg in the loch in the shadow of Beinn Resipol.  It is a site of great antiquity and is linked by indissoluble clan ties with Castle Tioram as ancestral seat and burial ground of the MacDonald of Clanranald chiefs.

On death, their coffins were carried shoulder high by relays of clansmen along a track on the north shore of the loch, known as the coffin road, past Dalilea to the pier opposite the island for the final step across the water by boat.  Coffin cairns mark the resting places where the mourners paused for a sustaining dram.

I hired one of the fishing boats from the farm and the Doyenne and I motored to the Isle in hot sunshine.  We climbed up through a profusion of wild blue hyacinths and patches of ragged robin to the chapel dedicated to the saint on the summit.

I was last on the island as a teenager but the ruined walls and stone altar table are much as I remember them.  A stone crucifix with a carved figure, weather-worn and almost unrecognisable now, sits in an alcove above the altar.  Beside it is a mediaeval Celtic hand bell, matt smooth and with a green patina consistent with its age, reputed to have been cast in Ireland and to be over 1200 years old.  St Finan’s dates are circa 520-600 AD so the bell might fall within that historical time frame and be the bell with which the good saint summoned the faithful to prayer from across the water.

Wildlife centre

The wind died away as we ate our lunch.  An oyster catcher flew purposefully

to only it knew where, uttering its sharp kleep kleep call.  Somewhere in the old oak woods a cuckoo called.  From a cliff opposite came a raven’s deep croak – sepulchral almost, as if to remind us where we were.

 Seventeen miles long from Acharacle at its foot to Glenfinnan at the head, Loch Shiel is one of Scotland’s longest lochs.  It’s a true wilderness area where distances are measured as the crow – or more properly, the hoodie  crow – flies, for few roads run along its shores.  You have a sporting chance of seeing golden eagles and sea eagles and red deer and otters and, in the right season, ospreys and rare black throated divers that come to breed by our northern lochs.

Yes, there had been changes since my halcyon teenage days – places and people don’t stand still.  But the old things and the old ways I remember have their place.  The Doyenne shared my enthusiasm for this peaceful spot and we promised we’d be back.

With the car packed, ready to drive home, a cuckoo called farewell from a hillside on the far side of the loch.

Written on Saturday, June 16th, 2018 at 6:03 pm for Weekly.