Earlier this year I visited the ancient and quiet village of Oldhamstocks. Well it’s quiet now, but it’s not always been that way.

It used to be on the main road from the south, with an inn and nearby castle. It was an important market in days gone by and Alexander Carse’s wonderful painting of a fair in 1796 around the village’s mercat cross is one of my favourite Scottish paintings.

Today there is no inn or even shops and it’s on a quiet road away from main routes of traffic. In fact, it’s not easy to find and its seclusion from the modern world make it the kind of place many of us would dream of living in. It seeps with Anglo-Saxon atmosphere.

It was a lovely spring day when I visited, and I remember the chill of the morning had given way to that fresh, cool atmosphere that tells you spring is still struggling with winter for dominance.

It would have been a similar kind of day when James Johnstone took his final walk through the village in 1859.

He was often seen there, especially on market days, although he lived just beyond the village at Springfield. He was a shepherd and on this chilly early spring morning he was moving silently through the village even before the sun began to peep over the horizon. At his side was his faithful collie.

James was headed for Longformacus. He planned to collect some cattle there, and he reckoned he’d be away for three days.

His footsteps went unheard as he passed the deserted green around the Mercat Cross and the cottages of sleeping inhabitants. At 54 he was no longer a young man in years, but still young at heart.

He had walked this journey many times and he looked forward to the day ahead. The walk would take the best part of the day and he would take longer on the return journey.

So he would stay overnight at Longformacus, the place of his birth where he still had relatives. Soon the sun would streak across the hills, making the dew sparkle. But he would be at his destination before sunset.

Except James never made it to Longformacus.

The day after James had set off, two farm workers from Harehead Farm in the Lammermuirs noticed something on the moor. The men were Peter Gillie and Matthew Purves.

They wondered what it was, perhaps a large hare, or even a deer. So they decided to take a closer look.

As they neared the animal, they realised it was a dog. It was a collie, and it was sitting as if guarding something.

The two men were curious and so walked towards the dog. But as they approached, the collie began to growl aggressively, forcing the men to keep their distance.

“There’s something in the heather next to the dog,” said Peter.

The two men stood, screwed their eyes and tipped back their heads as they studied the shape lying in the heather.

Then they felt a chill. They looked at each other, both realising that what they were looking at was a man lying motionless.

“I think he’s deid,” said Matthew, “but we’d better make sure.” Peter knew his friend was right, but the dog looked ferocious. So they approached cautiously.

Sure enough, a man was lying face down in the heather. He was still holding a walking stick but wasn’t moving. The dog barked, moving closer to his master, as if defending him from intruders.

Peter sank one knee to the ground and carefully put out his hand, speaking softly to the dog. It barked at first, but then stopped and lowered its head. It seemed confused, turned towards the man lying on the ground, licked his unmoving hand, then looked at the two men, and began to whimper.

The two men took this as a sign that they were now allowed to approach.

The man lying dead on the heather was, of course, James Johnstone. Yet his dog stood guard over him, despite being cold and hungry.

Perhaps the poor animal allowed the men to approach his master because he thought the two men could help his master. But when they attempted to remove James’ body, the dog again became aggressive.

They had to retreat back to Harehead for help, and only managed to remove the body when the dog was finally chained up.

The police were alerted, and a Sergeant Bain from Dunbar arrived, and quickly managed to establish the identity of the body. Two doctors from Dunbar, called Dunlop and Turnbull, conducted the post mortem and concluded that James had suffered a contusion to the brain. During the examination his dog, kept in an outhouse, barked, scratched and whined in grief.

Then, as James’ body was taken to his native town of Longformacus, his faithful dog followed, despite attempts to prevent him. He sat at the graveside, in deep grief. His master had trained him when a puppy, and he had spent his life at his side. Now he was the principal mourner. Finally, another member of the family took the grieving dog away.

The story was reported in The Haddingtonshire Courier, from which we get the tale. Sadly the name of the faithful collie was omitted. Yet it is a sad but lovely tale of a dog’s loyalty to his master, and this took place before the more famous story of Greyfriar’s Bobby.