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.

Beyond the Kitchen Window 2

March 2nd, 2011

JOHN KEATS, the English Romantic poet whose short life ended in 1821 aged only 25, visited Scotland on a walking tour in 1818   Sadly, for Keats at least, his itinerary took him nowhere near The Burn, for he arrived in Dumfriesshire on first July on his way to visit Robert Burns' cottage and grave   He continued up the west coast to Inverness from where he took a boat back to London because of ill health, the first hint of the consumption from which he was to die within three years.

Keats acknowledged the sense of self-discovery and spiritual nourishment he experienced on his North Britain holiday   He responded with a number of poems and odes, the best known of which, to this Scotsman at least, is  €œOn Visiting the Tomb of Burns € written, as he had promised himself, while he visited the Bard's cottage at Alloway.

His Scottish visit ended in early August   Had he been able to extend his holiday into September he surely would have written his poem  To Autumn', celebrating the  €œseason of mists and mellow fruitfulness €, very differently   August is scarcely autumn by my seasonal clock, so he drew only on his southern experiences and the poem lacks the benefits a visit to The Burn and exposure to its special qualities could have contributed.

1818 was still The Burn estate's early glory days and General Lord Adam Gordon's inspirational spadework was taking shape   The woodlands which he had laid out, and which visitors so enjoy today, were close on forty years old and mature enough for earlier visitors to appreciate the General's vision, and share in his enthusiasm for his estate which he enjoyed for such a relatively short time.

As for the season of mists, here on Scotland's east coast we don't experience the mellow influences of southern Britain   If we get a mist it's usually a real  pea-souper' and you're lucky to be able to see the hand in front of your face. Keats might, however, have experienced a haar, the raw, piercing sea fog which rolls in off the North Sea and quickly spoils a day that started fine. Fortunately the haars rarely penetrate as far inland as The Burn.

The  €œhairst €, our north-east rendering of the harvest starts early in August, and is in full swing by September   If weather permits, farmers work every hour of the day   When I take my dogs out last thing it's not unusual to hear the combine harvesters working through the night to get in the barley prized by whisky distillers to make the blessed  €œwater of life €.

For the would-be whisky connoisseur who stays at The Burn there's no better place to start the journey to nirvana than a visit to Fettercairn Distillery, scarcely three miles beyond the kitchen window   There you'll taste Old Fettercairn, a single malt whisky made from finest barley – possibly harvested from neighbouring fields – distilled with pure, clear water drawn from springs in the Cairngorm Mountains.

Stand in the bellmouth of a field that's just been combined and breathe in the familiar dusty smell of the cut grain   Only the stubbles are left, the short stems of the plants left by the combine harvester   It means new walks for the dogs where Inka, especially, can stretch his legs until the field is ploughed in readiness for next year's crop to be planted.

 €œTouch the stubble-plains with rosy hue €, says the poet   Sunsets at The Burn would inspire the most impoverished poet     Take the riverside walk up the River North Esk which forms the western boundary of the estate; where the trees thin on the far bank above The Loups you can watch the sun dip behind the Hill of Wirren and settle into neighbouring Glen Lethnot   You're well away from urban pollution and the fading radiance stirs the emotions.

 €œPlump the hazel shells €¦ € he wrote   You'll find a couple of common hazel trees in the wood beyond the kitchen window but they are little more than straggly wee bushes   They've produced only poor harvests of nuts in the autumn and the red squirrels take them before they are ripe enough for human consumption and bury them in places they forget about   It's early springtime when the hazels show themselves at their best and their long catkins flower – lambs tails we call them, and it is a most apt description.

Keats finishes with the lines –
 €œThe redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies €.

Despite their Christmas card appearance robins are amongst the most pugnacious of our small song birds, defending their territories vigorously   Their  €œwhistles € which entertain us so, are the birds asserting their territorial rights and their equivalent of us humans' lower deck fluency.

We saw few  gathering swallows' this year   They deserted The Burn for some reason and we missed their chatter in the sky and explosive aerobatics, skimming over the rooftops and volplaning down to catch insects   I can't find a reason for it and only hope they make a welcome return next year.

How Keats would have profited from a visit to The Burn – walks in the brisk east coast air, skies to inspire his writing, the company of like-minded thinkers to explore his ideas with – and a sustaining glass of whisky.

Written on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 at 9:40 pm for Claivers.