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.

Bewitched by tales of past

July 21st, 2018

Regular readers will know of my interest in Scottish vernacular poetry.  I’ve managed, after hunting for it for a long time, to lay my hands on a small and rare book of poetry entitled Rhymes Frae the Back o’ Catter by Angus poet Henry Don Keith.

Don, as he was known to his friends, led a full and active life, emigrating briefly to America in 1867 but returning to his roots just two years later.  He became a gamekeeper and for many years was head keeper at Brechin Castle and Invermark estates serving, it is said, “with much acceptance” under three Earls of Dalhousie.

 He was a prolific poet but little of his work survives as he was in the habit of writing a poem and handing it to a friend without keeping a copy.  Back o’ Catter was one of his pen names referring, of course, to the White and Brown Caterthuns, the Iron Age forts overlooking Glen Lethnot.

Don had a great affection and respect for his working dogs as he describes in the poem To My Auld Retriever Dog – For years we’ve trudged alang thegither, / Thro’ summer heat an’ winter weather; / Sin’ first I got you frae your mither, / A wee bit pup, / To me you’ve aye been like a brither, / An’ shared my sup.

Fond as I am of Inka I have to admit that it has never crossed my mind to share my supper with him.

Fairy tales

There’s been age-old debate about the history and purpose of the Caterthuns. Some think that the Celts built them as military defences against Roman invaders, others that they were associated with Druidical ceremonies.  Dates for their construction ranging from 3000BC to 500BC muddy the waters of speculation further.

I much prefer the explanation found in another small book that I’ve recently picked up – Historical Guide to the Edzell & Glenesk Districts – that the forts were built by local witches as fairy dwellings.  In the course of one morning a “brawny” witch carried stones collected from the bed of the neighbouring Westwater for the walls, in her apron.  She would have collected more but her apron strings broke under the weight of a particularly large stone which even now can be seen where it fell on the north slope of the hill.

Yes, the story we receive, / And the country fouks believe, / Is, that Sin, the Devil’s mother, / Brought those ragged stones together, / Piled them round and built the Ring; / Till one day her apron string / Broke beneath  the mighty weight ….

Fragrant flower

Honeysuckle is quite my favourite wild flower and for the last month it has lit up the hedgerows with its colourful blossom and the most romantic scent in the countryside.  I’ve taken bunches home for the Doyenne and in the evenings when the air is slightly damp their scent fills our sitting room.  Inka and I take a last walk each night past a beech hedge with honeysuckle growing through it and its dreamy fragrance chases away the aggravations of the day.  It’s coming to an end now but I’ll have the memory of it until next year.

Passion and death

My father first took me to see Melgund Castle when I was about seven years old.  It was in a poor state then but with the passion that grips people who fall in love with old buildings – usually against all their friends’ better judgement – Martyn and Penelope Gregory bought the castle and have restored much of the best preserved parts of it and secured the rest.

Last Sunday the walled garden was opened to visitors under Scotland’s Garden Scheme.  The garden is laid out in an interpretation of the mediaeval style and divided into three parts.  The first part, a physic garden, has raised beds filled with herbs and plants used for medical and culinary purposes.

This leads into a secluded garden with a raised thyme seat, a place of reflection infused with the scent of thyme where ladies could seek privacy.  Beyond this lies the pleasure garden where the ladies might have gossiped and sewn.

Melgund Castle was built by the controversial Cardinal David Beaton (1494-1546) in 1543 for his mistress Marion Ogilvy – known by her detractors as Beaton’s “chief lewd” – and the eight children he fathered with her in open defiance of the rule of clerical celibacy.  There must have been a number of junior lewds as he is credited with fathering at least twenty illegitimate children.

The Cardinal was to enjoy his new castle for only three years.  He had made many political and personal enemies, especially amongst the emergent Protestants led by John Knox.  He met a typically grisly sixteenth century death at the hands of local Fife lairds who attacked him in St Andrews Castle where he thought himself safe.  Stabbed to death screaming – “I am a priest; do not slay me”, his mutilated body was hung from a castle window by his bedclothes.

Written on Saturday, July 21st, 2018 at 9:06 am for Weekly.