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.

Perishing sea dip no picnic

November 6th, 2018

On Monday morning I drove up Glenesk hoping to get the best of a sun which was competing with some wintery-looking clouds.  I was just too late to get a cup of coffee and a scone at The Retreat Museum for it had closed for the winter the previous evening

The Retreat originally was a single storey, stone dwelling built in 1843 by Captain (later Rear Admiral) Wemyss, Royal Navy, as a retreat from the rigours of a sailor’s life.  He was described as “a jolly mariner, rough, homespun … ready witted”.  On his death the cottage reverted to The Dalhousie Estates on whose lands it stood, was enlarged and used as a shooting lodge until the Dalhousie family offered it to the glen community to house the Glenesk Folk Museum, chronicling the daily lives of the people of the glen.

The handsome, evergreen canopy of a Cedar of Lebanon dominates the car park.  As you might guess from the name it’s not a native Scottish tree and, from the girth of its trunk, it might have been planted by the good Captain himself, perhaps collected as a seedling on one of his Mediterranean tours of duty along the coasts of Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.

The Victorians were enthusiastic planters of exotic trees collected from all over the world and which flourish in our climate.  They planted their gardens and policy grounds to be decorative and distinct from the background landscape.  The bluish-green needles of the Retreat cedar of Lebanon gleamed in the weak sunshine and I could appreciate the impact Captain Wemyss envisaged it would have in his garden, even though he would never see it in its full glory.

Cedars were also grown for their aromatic timber.  The scent is repellent to moths and the wood was used as linings for drawers especially for linen and to line brides’ claes kists (clothes chests) to store their trousseaux.  The Retreat cedar is rather special because they are not a common tree in the great gardens of the north-east.

Down to the sea again

By way of contrast, on Tuesday I drove with Inka across to St Cyrus beach by the unclassified road over The Wide Open, one of the network of little roads criss-crossing the spine of hills separating the Howe of the Mearns from the coastal plain.

Passing Hospital Shields farm and dropping down to the coast the horizon was lost between leaden seas and leaden skies.  St Cyrus Bay and Montrose Bay were awash with surging lines of white rollers dashing themselves on the shore.

The view brought back childhood memories of picnics on the beach and my insensitive mother driving me, a skinny bairn, into a battleship-grey, perishing cold sea insisting it was good for me.  It might have sounded more plausible if she had come in too, instead of building fires and boiling cups of tea!

I parked as usual at the SNH Reserve and popped into the office to have a word with Sheila Brown, the reserve assistant.  She showed me a couple of flints which I have seen often enough in museums but it was the first time I’d handled one.  They had surprisingly sharp cutting edges and I understood how their development must have transformed life for our Stone Age ancestors.

I walked over the dune ridge which protects the land from the tides and stood for a while at the high water mark listening to the metronome of the waves breaking on the shore.  A tugging wind whipped a mist of spindrift off the crests.  Beneath the sluicing sound of the sea was the constant, dull roar of a relentless energy which seemed to rise as if from the trackless deeps.

The tide was on the ebb and Inka had a glorious expanse of firm sand to race over like a free spirit.

There was little birdlife to be seen.  Solitary gulls beat into the wind coming down from the north.  A single carrion crow ranged along the tide line scavenging whatever might have been thrown up by the wild weather.  A small pack of four waders which looked big enough to be knot, scampered along the tide line ahead of me.

There was no sign of life on the inland cliffs which protect the Reserve from the prevailing westerly wind but I know that peregrines and buzzards roost on sheltered ledges in the rock face.  Kestrels hunt over the dunes and the heath at the foot of the cliffs.  It will be a different story in the spring when fulmar and herrings gulls return to their traditional nesting sites.

Last Sunday evening, at 5pm, a black nose nudged my elbow as I drank my afternoon tea.  Inka’s internal time clock hadn’t registered that the clocks went back early that morning.  So far as he was concerned it was 6pm, which meant supper.

I got some dark looks when I chased him back to his bed but it will all come right again in six months when, magically, supper time comes an hour early.

Written on Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 at 9:47 pm for Weekly.