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.

Trees bow to wind of time

January 5th, 2019

A message from David Turner, the Bursar at The Burn, near Edzell, was to tell us of the demise of an old friend.  Recent high winds had brought down the hundred years old towering monkey puzzle tree in the part of the gardens known as the Arboretum.

The Arboretum dates back to the early days of the house which was completed in 1796 by General Lord Adam Gordon, a noted agricultural improver and arboriculturist of his day.  He died in 1801 so it wasn’t he who planted the exotic tree which was a mid-Victorian introduction from South America to enhance the gardens of the great and the good.

Broad of girth and maybe ninety feet tall, the spectacular giant dominated a part of the grounds adjoining the old walled gardens.  But it’s brought low now by nature’s destructive force.  There’s a hole in the sky just like there’d be a hole in your face if one of your front teeth fell out.

One summer a colourful fungus with bright coral pink lobes appeared at the foot of the tree.  It turned out to be Salmon Salad and, from a distance, it was certainly suggestive of a slice of cold salmon on a plate, but I’ve not seen it since.  As the tree’s roots will no longer be absorbing all the nutrients from the surrounding area I’m wondering if the Salmon Salad may appear once more.

They say the monkey puzzle tree got its name because it would puzzle a monkey trying to climb between the razor-sharp leaves.  I don’t think I go for that explanation.  If it is true, why didn’t they call it the Puzzled Monkey Tree?

Travelling Scots

By comparison with the Fortingall Yew in Fortingall churchyard, in central Perthshire, and reckoned to be the oldest tree in Scotland, the fallen monkey puzzle was scarcely out of short pants.  Depending on which estimate you accept, the yew is anything from 2000-5000 years old.  There’s a tradition that Pontius Pilate who was judge at the trial of Jesus Christ and washed his hands of him, was born in the shade of the Fortingall Yew.

I don’t think I go for that story either.  Pilate’s father was a centurion and a centurion’s wife would surely have had a comfier birthing suite than beneath the spreading branches of a 3000 year old yew tree.  Unless of course his mother was a camp follower from one of the local Caledonian tribes when she likely would have been treated with less consideration.

But Pilate’s father took his son back with him to Rome and he grew up as a Roman citizen, which probably makes him the original Scottish lad o’ pairts who had to travel abroad to better himself.

Lofty trees laid low

Whimsy apart, the most recent victim of The Burn’s specimen trees was just a youngster compared with some of the previous casualties.  Lord Adam Gordon planted hundreds of thousands of beech trees on his estate which he acquired in 1780, so the oldest survivors will be nearly 240 years old.

Over the years a number of these old soldiers have succumbed to the destructive force of the elements.  There was a twisted and gnarled oak in whose shade I used to sit in the heat of the summer.  A rarer Scotch pine measured its length, snapped like a matchstick in the battering wind.

Two ancient lime trees sat in an isolated corner of a field, at what would have been the march of the original Burn Estate, which extended to 6000 acres, with neighbouring Fasque Estate.  One has been heavily coppiced and I’ve counted seventeen trunks growing out of the main bole.  The other was a victim of a winter gale howling out of the north, ripping it out by its roots from the soil.

Avenues of limes were planted to emphasise the grandeur of the property they led to.  But lime wood is lightly grained and easily worked and was used for household items such as bowls, ladles and spurtles.  So perhaps these two, in their remote spot, were planted for purely utilitarian domestic purposes.

The leaf withereth

We take veterans like these for granted.  They’ve been there for generations, rooted in the same spot – patiently growing, season on season, taller and broader.  They are more than just markers for dog walkers like me.  You expect, as something ordained, to always see their familiar outline whenever you pass their way.

The Doyenne and I lived at The Burn for six years and the 200 acres of amenity woodland around the house were a wonderful playground for walking dogs.  As the seasons change so do walks in the woods.  Just months ago I was walking through green canopies of shade, pushing aside branches which swept down to the ground with the weight of their leaves.

But the leaves wither and fall and I walk unhindered beneath the bare poles of the same trees.  I look forward to my winter walks but I’ll soon be looking out for the emergent green of next spring’s leaf crop.

Written on Saturday, January 5th, 2019 at 10:04 pm for Weekly.