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.

Calm contemplation at kirk

November 17th, 2018

Several weekends ago we – the Doyenne and I, that is, and son Robert and his family – were frustrated by the weather from meeting for a family lunch at the Finzean Farmshop.  The Lecht was closed to the north and Cairn o’ Mount closed to the south with our intended destination marooned in the middle.

But last Saturday held no such disappointments.  A wintery sun greeted us as we got up and I needed little encouragement from the Doyenne to book a table at our favourite eatery.

However often we drive over the Cairn that long view into Aberdeenshire from the summit always gives us something new to enjoy except, perhaps, when it is shrouded in Stygian fog and you can barely see your hand in front of your face.

No such problems on Saturday.  As we started the descent to the Bridge of Dye, the eye was taken to the far peaks of the eastern boundary of the Grampian Mountains, across dark stands of Forestry Commission plantations interspersed with the cinnamon of the dying pine needles of larches, the only conifer to shed its leaves.

The ephemeral autumn colours which can match anything summer offers – strange, though, that there is no blue in autumn – were dying back.  Crotal of dead bracken at the woodland margins; the wheaten colours of the dead grasses gave the roadsides a bleached look and the heather bloom had faded, clothing the brae faces almost black.

At the foot of the hill the old Brig o’ Dye crosses the Water of Dye.  It’s a bridge of considerable character and was only replaced by the modern bridge running alongside it some forty years ago.

From its single arch, humpback shape it’s easy to imagine it must be a General Wade Bridge; one of dozens built by Wade who was appointed by King George I after the failure of the 1715 Jacobite Uprising to build a network of military roads and bridges to assist with the “civilisation” – a typical eighteenth century political euphemism for military suppression – of the Highland clans and their way of life.

But, built in 1680 and one of the earliest bridges built in the north-east, it precedes the worthy General by four decades.  It says something of the skills of the bridge builder that the old was replaced by the new, not because of its condition, but because the low chassis of tour buses got stuck on its high crown.

Lunch over and a Selkirk Bannock, one of my favourite teacakes, added to the shopping basket, we continued to the South Deeside Road, past the bridge to Aboyne and crossed the river at Dinnet.  Then straight across the crossroads and follow the A97 through Logie Coldstone.

Kirk in the glen

Several miles further on and beside the gates of Tillypronie House, a finger post points to Migvie.  A mile and a half down that road, on the left, a low, plain building sits amongst gravestones.  Without even the simplest bell-housing on the gable, there’s no indication that it is ancient Migvie Kirk, near Tarland.  The Migvie Stone, an 8th century carved Pictish symbol stone, confirms the antiquity of the site which is dedicated to Welsh Celtic missionary, St Finan.

The present building dates from about 1770 and was used for worship until 1979.  It fell into disrepair and was acquired by Hon. Philip Astor, then laird of Tillypronie Estate, who restored the building and transformed the interior to a place of beauty and peace for quiet reflection in memory of his parents.

The best skills of local artists – stained glass craftsman, sculptor, decorative painter and wood carver, take the visitor on a journey of contemplation.  Round the walls are panels with biblical and secular quotations and a great cross, carved out of the plasterwork, imposes itself on the whole space.

This natural building encourages you to empty your mind, and in the calming influence of its simplicity, think about the value of our lives.

A painted panel bears the words – If death is the end, then life is absurd.  On the weekend of the one hundredth anniversary of the Armistice bringing an end to the First World War it brought home for me the message of honouring the memory of the dead – for what, indeed, is life if death obliterates the memories.

Several abiding memories of the unique centenary will stay with me.  One is the images of the utter devastation of the French and Belgian countryside by the endless artillery barrages by both armies contrasted with nature’s quiet capacity to recover and reinvigorate itself.  It seems we can destroy ourselves much more readily than the natural world which sustains us.

Another is the hymn of remembrance O Valiant Hearts set to the haunting tune The Supreme Sacrifice (composed in 1919 by Rev Charles Harris who lost a son in the war), sung by the Chapel Choir and congregation of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.  I find myself humming it when I’m out walking with Inka.

Written on Saturday, November 17th, 2018 at 5:15 pm for Weekly.