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.

A moving Highland scene

September 29th, 2018

Regular readers of this column know of my inclination to quote poetry, especially from the abundance of our Scottish vernacular poetry which I increasingly believe is a neglected tradition, a forgotten strand of our cultural emotional output.

I recently picked up a book titled Seeds in the Wind, Poems in Scots for Children by Perth poet William Soutar.  He suffered ill-health for much of his life and died at the early age of 45 in 1943.

He wrote a great number of what he called his bairn sangs and whigmaleeries in the vernacular, many of which appear in my book.  What especially pleases me is that it is the 1948 illustrated edition and the illustrator is Colin Gibson, my predecessor as The Courier’s Saturday columnist with his Nature Diary, a position he held for forty years.

Colin Gibson was a gifted writer and illustrator and the black and white illustrations in my book bear the hallmarks of scraperboard – his favourite medium for illustrative purposes.  So far as I know it was the medium for all of his Courier illustrations, but I don’t know if the drawing material is still available.

The bookseller clearly didn’t know what he was selling for I would willingly have paid more for the book than I did because of the Colin Gibson connection – though I bought it for the verses too.  Perhaps it confirms my comment that Scottish vernacular poetry is a neglected tradition.

Memories revisited

The Doyenne and I are back from a long weekend on the west coast spent in the lodge on the side of Loch Shiel where we holidayed in the  summer.  We drove across in very poor weather fearing that this would be the pattern for our break.  It certainly rained while we were there, coming down in true Highland stair-rods bursts but quickly clearing to bright, sunny spells.

Loch Shiel is in Moidart, historically part of the west Highlands known as the Rough Bounds, stretching from Loch Sunart in the south to Loch Hourn in the north-west.  Geologically it is very old, and agriculturally it is not suited to a great deal more than cattle and sheep and deer.

Traditionally these were MacDonald of Clanranald lands described, fittingly, by one writer as savage and rugged.  A seemingly unending mass of dark hills march down in broken ridges to the coast.  Travel is along coastal roads for the hinterland is only reached by stalkers’ and estate tracks.  Even now there is a palpable sense of remoteness.  You’d have to have no imagination at all not to be moved by this ancient landscape.

It’s a delight to return to an area that has so many family memories.   On Saturday we drove into Ardnamurchan and along to Kilchoan where our five year old daughter famously fell off nearby Mingary pier while fishing for poddlies.  Like any gallant father I dashed to her rescue.  I didn’t want to get wet too and I managed to pull her far enough up by her fishing line to get a hold of her anorak.  The Doyenne was pretty tight-lipped about the whole affair and gave me the most frightful rocket for being a careless parent so the next time we went fishing I roped her to the pier so that she could only just peep over the edge.

We drove to Portuairk where the road ends and ate our picnic looking out over Rum and Eigg towering over low-lying Muck.  It was a classic west Highland day – endless clear views up the coast with restless waves breaking white on the rocky outcrops in the bay.  A perfect sailing breeze was blowing and we watched a yacht sail down from Skye and the Sound of Sleat, positively scampering past Muck on a broad reach and onwards down to Mull – and we felt very jealous.

The local cattle have an awkward habit of standing on the road to the

discomfiture of passing motorists.  We hesitated to chivvy them to get out of the way as their rear ends were alarmingly in line with our windscreen.  A farewell message from an irate Highland coo could obscure the view for a mile or two.

Their autumn is a bit ahead of us here on the east.  The bracken on the hillsides and in the old woodlands of hazel and ash, mountain oak and birch has died back to its winter crotal brown.  The leaves are turning sere and fluttering off the branches.  In the evenings the sun dipped behind indigo hills and across the pasture in front of the lodge the waters of the loch gleamed like a strip of dull silver and dark, patchy clouds slipped unobtrusively in from the west.

We’ll miss the smell of the bog myrtle, the evening visits from Mungo the collie, the pied wagtails quartering across the lawn in their constant search for food, the soft, peaty-brown water which comes from the stream above the farm – excellent with whisky.  There’s no TV, no wifi and no mobile signal – we’ll be going back.

Written on Saturday, September 29th, 2018 at 9:53 am for Weekly.