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.

Voices trailing through the air

April 21st, 2018

THE NORTH-EAST of Scotland has had its share of nasty historical characters who displayed a spine-chilling lack of social accountability even for the lawless times in which they lived.


I drove from Laurencekirk over Garvock Hill and parked near the infamous Sheriff’s Kettle, or Shirra’s Pot, the site of the particularly gruesome murder in 1420 of the high-handed and autocratic Sheriff John Melville of Glenbervie.


His neighbouring lairds repeatedly complained about his behaviour to Robert, Duke of Albany, Governor of Scotland while the uncrowned James I was a hostage of the English King Henry V.  Eventually, in exasperation, Albany ill-advisedly burst out, “Sorrow gin that the Sheriff were sodden and suppit in broo.”  In other words, for all he cared they could boil the Sheriff up for soup.


Acting on that doubtful authority, Barclay of Mathers, as ringleader, along with the lairds of Lauriston, Arbuthnott, Pitarrow and Halkerton invited the Sheriff to join them on a hunting party in the Forest of Garvock on the east side of the Hill of Garvock.


In the fifteenth century the area was heavily wooded and the Sheriff was lured to a secluded spot in the forest – “a retired place” – where he was struck down, stripped naked and thrown into a huge boiling cauldron, or “kettle”.


After he was boiled, or “sodden”, it is said that each of the conspirators compounded the barbarity of their deed and “suppit” a spoonful of the “broo”.  Or, as a later historian described it, the conspirators “concluded the scene of abomination by actually partaking of the hell broth” – they knew how to add colourful embellishment to a story in those days.


However, I wasn’t there to brood over man’s inhumanity to man but to take a walk I first took with Inka’s grandfather.


The broad view

It was a lovely morning, clouds high in the sky and a brisk wind which had dried off the early morning haze.  A pair of teal – our prettiest little ducks – sitting on a wee pond, swam behind the shelter of an island.


We carried on down to the point of a field of spring barley.  Inka stuck his nose between two strands of fencing wire and a hen pheasant exploded into the air.  I counted seven eggs in the nest and hurried Inka away.  In that isolated spot it’s probably the only disturbance she’ll have and I have no doubts she returned to her eggs with little delay.


The broad valley of the Mearns was looking its spring best.  Mearns red clay, splashes of golden gorse, green of the spring growing crops, the yellow of the fields of daffodils replaced by ripening oil seed rape.


And what a grand place for a crop of wind turbines – I lost count after about four dozen.  I don’t know why they call them wind farms – nobody ploughs the fields and scatters wind seeds and you can’t combine wind.  Why not call them what they are – electricity generating stations.


I was really up there to hear the song of skylarks and disappointed not to hear them.  But the wind died away and almost immediately I was standing in the mid-morning sun listening to the full-throated song of larks showering the earth with ‘a rain of melody’.  It was something to lift the spirit – a delicious cascade of joy.


As we walked back to the car a roe deer trotted unconcernedly ahead of us, gracefully jumping the fence and disappearing into the cover of a thicket of scrubby bushes.


On the way home I stopped briefly at the viewpoint on the summit of Garvock Hill, remembering my father reading me Violet Jacob’s poems there which sowed the seeds of my love of Scottish vernacular poetry.


Nothing stays the same

Earlier in the week I walked with Inka to one of my secret ponds where I expect to see bogbean.  Its somewhat unprepossessing name doesn’t do justice to this pretty flower – star-shaped, five petalled, pinkish outside and white within and with a ragged white fringe.


I’ve seen it in the Highlands but I can’t think where else I’ve seen it in the north -east.  The pond, hidden amongst trees, is known locally as the Teal Pond because teal used to flight into it in early autumn.  Perhaps a passing teal brought seeds on its legs or feet from some distant wetland, which took root.


Teal hardly seem to visit the pond now – I’ve never seen more than five on it – and this year I’m disappointed to find that the bogbean, which used to cover the whole surface, has died back considerably.


By contrast pink and white purslane, described by Mary McMurtrie in her informative  Scottish Wild Flowers as a North American introduction, has spread from isolated patches six years ago, to covering the ground in the damp, shaded parts of the woods behind the house.


The story of the Sheriff’s Kettle is no Brothers Grimm fairy tale – it really happened and the site, near Brownieleys Farm, can be found on and click on Canmore ID 36496.

Voices trailing through the air

April 21st, 2018

TOO COMMON a sight at this time of year are the crumpled corpses of cock pheasants lying at the roadsides. …read on »

Food and food for thought

April 14th, 2018

BEING SOLD at Taylors Auctions, Montrose, last Saturday was an unusual item of Scottish domestic history.  It was a pine bacon settle and it was only the second one I’ve come across.  I could get no information about them from Marion Lochhead’s The Scottish Household in the 18th Century, nor from F. Marion McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen, which suggests they are pretty rare. …read on »

Feasting on the seasons

April 7th, 2018

ALL MY enthusiastic predictions about spring have turned – I was going to say to ashes – but to snow.  Easter is supposed to herald spring – or is it the other way round?  There is early spring and late spring, meteorological spring and the astrological one.  Frankly, the whole thing is a liturgical nightmare. …read on »

Feathering the nest

March 31st, 2018

imagesTHE WIDEOPEN is a secondary road crossing the ridge of hills linking Marykirk in the Howe of the Mearns with St Cyrus on the coastal plain. The Doyenne and I had bought a bag of Inka’s favourite dog meal at the Moorie Kennels and were heading home. …read on »

Stormy days

March 24th, 2018

Katie seagull 1“IT’S ALL that teuchat storms” was the comment from a walker of my own vintage who I meet regularly. It’s an old expression, rarely heard these days, but I knew fine what he meant. …read on »

The shifting sands of time

March 17th, 2018

005I LOOKED back to this time last year to see what I had written about and it confirmed what the Doyenne and I suspected. The weather was milder a year ago but, despite the recent cold snap, signs of spring this year seem at least a fortnight earlier. …read on »

A native in great danger

March 10th, 2018

shooting-conservation-grey-partridgeTHE BIG Thaw struck and the landscape took on a distinctly unhealthy colour. Deep fog descended like a wet blanket and it was all dubs and gutters underfoot. The snowdrops closed their petals and hung their heads in gloom. …read on »

Tale sends shivers down spine

March 3rd, 2018

017SO OFTEN the weather has the last word. Last week I was counting the days till spring arrived and this week the Beast from the East blew in and turned things upside down. …read on »

Early signs of a busy spring

February 24th, 2018

Initial Import 655THE LENGTHENING days raise my spirits. I can put up with the dreich mornings knowing that spring is just biding her time to make an entrance. The snowdrops in the woods are in full bloom and the pencil heads of daffodils are showing above ground and will add new colour when the snowdrops die away. …read on »