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.

Stroll through sands of time

June 30th, 2018

Last Monday morning dawned another hot, sun-filled day.  I was in Montrose and had Inka with me so I carried on to Lunan Bay which holds many childhood memories.  I drove to The Corbies, a community of holiday cabins and caravans at the south end of the bay, which has been established there for nearly a hundred years.

Inka was panting and needing a drink so I pushed him into the Keilor Burn, which gives its name to Inverkeilor and runs into the sea at The Corbies, to cool off.

This part of the north-east is blessed – there’s no better description – with three of the finest beaches.  There’s St Cyrus to the north, Montrose in the middle and Lunan Bay.  I’ve known them all my life and they were favourite picnic destinations for our own family when they were growing up.

Swimming dogs

The tide had newly turned and was on the ebb and the firm, damp sand and a cooling breeze coming off the sea made for easy walking.  Our east coast is not renowned for warm seas and I have painful memories as a small, skinny child, of being urged by my mother to swim in the freezing water because it was good for me.  I hardly remember her ever leading by example and joining me to share the bracing benefits of outdoor swimming  – she was too busy making a fire to boil a kettle for tea.

The sea was calm, just small waves breaking on the beach.  Halfway along the broad sweep of the bay Lunan Water empties into the North Sea below the weathered remains of Red Castle, standing guard on a bluff above the south bank and dating back to King William the Lion.

The hot sand had warmed the incoming tide and if I’d had my dookin’ suit I’d have joined Inka for a dip.

Inka’s grandfather, Inka One, loved the sea too but it was their predecessor, Sheba, who was the complete water baby.  Labradors are water dogs and it was only in the wildest weather that she hesitated to go swimming.  I’ve clear memories of her breasting what seemed dangerously high waves, like a Viking galley, and swimming so far out from the shore I would get anxious. And she revelled in being swept back to shore, like a surf boarder, on the crests of the waves.

A high bank protects the shore from the prevailing west wind and it used to provide excellent cover for our native grey partridge.  Sometimes my father and I, with his dog then, walked along the beach in the gloaming of an autumn evening listening to their creaking calls – like a strand of rusty wire scraped through a rusty staple on an old fencing post – as they settled for the night.  But grey partridge have been in decline for twenty five years and you’ll be lucky to hear them now.

Distant memories

Fifty years ago the sandy beaches at St Cyrus, Montrose and Lunan Bay provided work for a small army of salmon netsmen.  Readers of a seasoned age will remember the familiar arrowhead shapes of the stake nets poking out into the sea to catch migrating salmon returning each year to their mother rivers to spawn.

Fly nets they were called locally.  With only a footrope and a handrope to steady themselves the fishermen walked out along the net, like flies on a spider’s web, which may account for the local name, to scoop up the fish trapped in what was known as the fish court with a long-handled net called a scum net.

The nets are long gone.  The commercial salmon fishings have been bought out and closed down.  And the salmon themselves are in decline too.

Solitude

A party of children were enjoying a day at the beach beside The Corbies, otherwise I had the beach to myself.  The sand and dunes give way at each end of the bay to high cliffs and a boulder-strewn shore.  Ahead of me was The Buddon’s rocky headland with the old limekiln crouching on the point.  It brought back teenage memories of swimming off tiny Buddon harbour.

 Walking back to the car I retraced my footsteps going out and met one other solitary walker.  He greeted me and it took a moment to recognise him, away from his office and in casual gear, and enjoying the peace.

The coast at the south end of the bay, and all the way to Arbroath, is no less wild and rocky – “a lengthened chain of rugged cliffs…”   The tiny fishing settlement of Ethiehaven sits on a narrow strip of land between the cliffs and its exposed natural harbour.  The fishermen’s cottages are holiday cottages now.

Winter storms and the action of the sea have carved caves out of the soft, red sandstone cliffs.  In the best tradition there is one where you may hear the faint strains of a ghostly pibroch played by a piper, homeward bound from a wedding, who strayed into the cave and has never been seen since.

Written on Saturday, June 30th, 2018 at 6:10 pm for Weekly.