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.

Remote but not lonely in Scotland

July 28th, 2018

Scotland is a compact country – wherever you are you are never more than fifty miles from the sea.  Even in the centre of our largest cities we are in easy striking distance of open countryside with stunning scenery, solitude and peace – Glasgow with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and Edinburgh with the Pentland Hills on its doorstep.  Sure, some visitors to the countryside need the security of crowds and don’t want solitude, but it’s there if ever they should.

The late Tom Weir showed us in his TV series, Weir’s Way, just how varied our Scottish landscape is.  The climber, author and broadcaster travelled round Scotland taking us into lonely places few of us would otherwise see and talking with people we likely would never meet.

It’s not difficult to find remote places in Scotland – drive to the end of the road, pull on your walking boots and walk.  Look at a map of any rural part of Scotland – a good example is Glenesk and Glentanar OS Explorer OL54 – and see how much of it shows only contour lines and hill names and not a sign of habitation.

Go to the head of any of the Angus glens and you’ll soon know what remoteness is.   Carry on past the head of Glen Clova into Glen Doll where Jock’s Road finishes.  Named after shepherd Jock Winter, the track is an old drove road linking Braemar with Glen Clova and from there on to the cattle trysts at Crieff and Falkirk.  Get caught in a winter storm on some of the high parts of the road (you skirt round several Munro’s along the way) and you’ll appreciate the insignificance of man in lonely places.

The Crask Inn between Lairg and Altnaharra on the A836 in Sutherland is one of the most remote habitations I know, sitting on a high plateau surrounded by rugged mountains disappearing into the trackless parts of Scotland’s high hilly places.  There are no artificial urban lights within ten miles in any direction so it is the archetypal dark sky destination.

What a welcome sight the inn must have seemed when the road would have been a water bound track and the sense of remoteness more profound.  Travellers then were better used to the idea of remoteness but the idea of a sustaining dram would likely have helped hurry their steps along.

Fishing on Loch Maree, Ian, the ghillie pointed out where a shepherd’s cottage lay in a fold in the hills.  His children walked, doubtless barefoot in the summer, four miles every day along lonely sheep tracks to get to school, and four miles back.  What must those bairns have felt when the weather closed in and rain, even snow, blotted out the familiar landmarks they needed to guide them home.

She must have been a girl of some spirit who married the shepherd and went with him to live there, bringing up their family with no services but the spring outside for water.  She must have prayed there were no medical emergencies and she certainly made sure she forgot nothing on the shopping list when she went for the messages!  Yes, I’d call that remote.

OK, so “remote” is relative, and compared to the vastness of the Himalayas there are fewer places in wee Scotland that can be judged as truly so.  Some years ago I received a letter from Nepal.   My correspondent was Lt. Col. John Cross, one of the most renowned British Officers in the history of the Brigade of Gurkhas.  He had been given a copy of the second Man with Two Dogs books, Tales from the Scottish Countryside, and he wrote to tell me how much he had enjoyed it.

From the stories he told the similarities in our lives are distinguished by their contrasts.  From his windows he looks out on 200 miles of Himalayas.  When the weather is clear he wakes to the sight of five peaks over 25,000 feet and ten over 20,000 feet.  By comparison the Grampians are scarcely foothills, so I suppose remoteness for some is a state of mind and for others it’s a geographical distance.

It was driving up to the Black Isle to spend a weekend with son Robert and his family that brought on this rush of reminiscences.  From the top of Cairn o’ Mount, through Deeside and Donside and the long climb over the Lecht with the panorama of the Cairngorm National Park the journey is a series of horizons of distant peaks, some of them Munros but ranged amongst them the lower peaks of Corbetts, mere hills between 2500 and 3000 feet high.

Each morning I take Inka and Robert’s two dogs, Porridge and Tiggy, a walk along a ridge with yet more views across to the Cairngorms, with Cairn Gorm itself in the far distance.  It looks remote and isolated but there’s a funicular railway up to the Ptarmigan Restaurant at the summit and a track for mountain bikers.  Not what I had in mind for remote.

Written on Saturday, July 28th, 2018 at 9:10 am for uncategorized, Weekly.