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.

Spirit of Jock Tamson’s bairns lives on

January 19th, 2019

The sky was flushed with a glowing, pink sunrise as Inka and I went out for the morning walk on Monday.  The pity is it was so fleeting, the colour fading imperceptibly into infinity – for where else was there for the colour to go?

Despite what the weather forecasters say you can never be completely sure when you’ll get as good a morning again.  I decided it was time for a change of scene and mood and, packing Inka into the car, headed for the old fisher toun or village of Fishtown of Usan, five miles south of Montrose.

The sun sits low in the sky at this time of year.  Its trajectory from east to west never reaches summertime’s midday zenith. The sun reflecting off the melted overnight frost was quite blinding in places and made driving a touch hairy.

At the Fishtown I called in to see an old friend, Dave Pullar, retired salmon fisher and an endless source of information.  His cottage is the former salmon bothy and net store perched right on the edge of the cliff.  We sat at his kitchen window counting the waves breaking over the rocky shore and talking about village life in the old days.

There’s been a fishing community at Usan for a very long time.  Peter Anson, in his seminal book Fishing Boats and Fishing Folk on the East Coast of Scotland wrote that “Usan has been a fishing station for many centuries.”

The name is supposed to be a contraction of Ulysses Haven and tradition is it was originally settled by Viking Danes.  In those early days the fishermen went out from the “natural boat haven” in small, open boats to catch white fish – cod and haddock and herring – and theirs was a hazardous occupation.

I’ve always understood that the square tower rising from the middle of the row of low fishermen’s cottages was a landmark for shipping and a signal tower for the fishermen – in dirty weather a beacon was lit on the roof to guide them to safety.

However Dave tells me it was built as a folly by an owner of Usan estate who used to take picnics up to the flat roof to keep a watch on how hard his farm servants – as they were called in those faraway days – were working.  All the floors and stairs have collapsed and today the tower is home just to rock pigeons.

Dave showed me a photograph of the village in 1902.  The two-room cottages were whitewashed with small front gardens and picket fences.  Tarry sheds lined the other side of the main street which were net sheds and privies.

The expression “We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns” generally means we’re all equal under the skin.  John Thompson kept the inn at the Fishtown, in the cottage on the upside of the tower.  It was he who originated the expression, meaning that no one of his customers was better than the rest – everyone was equal under his roof.  His grandson, also John Thompson, had a plumbers business in Montrose.

Peter Paton, known as Toorie Pete, kept a grocers business on the ground floor of the tower.  The late David Paton, along with Charlie Lorimer who died last year aged 100, were the last two time served cabinet makers in Montrose, and worked for the firm of A. Grieve Ltd.  David told me he was the last Paton born in the Fishtown and I presume he may have been the son of Toorie Pete, though he never mentioned it.

In the 13th century the Cadger’s Road ran from the Fishtown across Rossie Moor and Montreathmont Moor to Forfar.  The King’s Cadger, a minor officer of the crown, had the monopoly of supplying Forfar Castle, an important centre of royal administration, with fish whenever the King was in residence.  Hardy fishwives walked the 35 miles there and back, daily, with their creels of fresh fish on their backs to supply the king’s table.  Remnants of the old road can still be traced on Rossie Moor.

Time slips by when you don’t keep your eye on the clock and I had Inka in the car fretting to go a walk.  We set off along the edge of a field looking over the rocky shore and out to sea.  We hadn’t been along that way for months.  It’s as good for dogs to have variety in their walks as it is for their owners, otherwise walks become stale.

There was bright sunshine but an edge to the prevailing west wind. I tucked myself into a sheltered spot in the grassy bank below the lip of the field and lay there, shielded from the wind and with the sun on my face.  Inka found his way down to the shore and had a grand time exploring new smells.  He never goes far and with the enduring constant of the waves breaking on the shore, I closed my eyes and thought my own thoughts for a while.

Written on Saturday, January 19th, 2019 at 10:29 pm for Weekly.