I’m sad to have to let readers know that Inka is dead. He was 13, which is a good age for a Labrador.
We knew his allotted span was getting shorter but when the end came it was sudden and, mercifully, swift.
So we’ve been feeling a bit bleak in the Whitson house.
The bed in the utility room is gone and his food bowl and water bowl too.
There’s no tail-wagging welcome greeting us when we’ve had to leave him on his own in the house for a while.
Even when he was asleep we knew there was always another beating heart in the house – that has gone.
He was an altogether couthy and well-mannered dog, always ready to say hello to other walkers, ambling across to introduce himself.
He was affectionate towards his human family and all the family returned his affection.
And he was clean and remained continent to the end. He learned to nudge our elbows whenever he wanted out to shed a tear for Nelson.
The Doyenne will miss her walks with him first thing, for that was the start to both of their mornings.
But she won’t miss his twice-yearly moult when he cast clumps of black hair all round the house and the Hoover was never off.
And there will be no one else to blame now when mud gets trailed through the house.
Happy in all company
Inka was a cheerful dog and comfy with his own company. He never fretted when he was left on his own.
And if it was necessary to leave him behind when we went away, he trotted into the Moorie kennels at St Cyrus without a backward glance.
If truth be known, I reckon the kennel girls there spoilt him rotten and they were sorry to hear my news.
For 13 years he was an integral part of the Man with Two Dogs team.
When he came to us it was clear he thought that he was marked out to be the alpha male in the Whitson household.
I was equally insistent that I was.
After a number of tussles I eventually won.
It took some time for him to accept the situation but when he did it was with grace and without recrimination.
And he lived a charmed life thereafter.
We’ll feel his presence very much still in the house for a while – you can’t just air brush such a much-loved dog out of your life – but that will lessen and we’ll be left with the memories.
But I can’t think we’ll be without a dog for long – it would be too strange after a lifetime with a dog at my heel.
Some time after the New Year we’ll be looking for another one – after all, a walk isn’t a proper walk without a dog to share it.
Dogs leave memories in every step
You cover a lot of ground in 13 years and I’ve been back walking in some of the spots Inka was familiar with.
The Burn estate near Edzell was a favourite. For six years we lived at the Courtyard House behind the Big Hoose. We opened the back door and were straight into woodland walks.
We walked at the Rocks of Solitude where the River North Esk funnels into a high-walled gorge carved out of the rocks by the action of water over millennia.
The channel narrows into a succession of deep pools – more like deep, black pots – and rapids.
They say the noise of the water plunging through the canyon drowns out all other sounds so that walkers experience a great sense of solitude – and that is the explanation for the name Rocks of Solitude. Aye – maybe.
When I wanted to escape from the winter weather we’d go walking in the shelter of the woods beside Capo Quarry lying just off the Lang Stracht.
This is the long, straight road which links Upper Northwaterbridge and the B966 Edzell/Fettercairn road.
The woods are criss-crossed with roe deer tracks and there’s plenty of interest for dogs.
And we did love to be beside the seaside
He loved walks on the beach and I’d drive to the car park at St Cyrus Nature Reserve and cross the bents to the shore.
Often we’d have the beach to ourselves which is the best way to enjoy it and Inka could stretch out and gallop along the sand.
The first time I took him there as a pup the tide was out and he was a bit wary about the apparent endless sand and sea.
I threw sticks into the water and he forgot all his apprehension and dived in to retrieve them and never looked back after that.
We walked round Fasque Lake where he would put up partridge and pheasants and I watched the swans and the waterfowl.
And then there were my secret ponds and the little loch at the foot of Glenesk – they all have Inka’s pawprint.