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.

Midlothian expedition

August 9th, 2003

TANTALLON CASTLE just south of North Berwick has to be one of the most exciting old castles to visit. Although it has been unoccupied for about three hundred and fifty years, much of it is still complete, and it hasn't been too badly plundered for its stones and masonry. It has been well restored by Historic Scotland and is an adventurous place to take youngsters like our four year old grandson Alfie.

The castle perches right on the edge of a cliff and looks out to the Bass Rock which is probably the best known nesting site for gannets in Britain. It is covered in droppings from generations of these birds, giving it a dirty yellow appearance. French POWs from the Napoleonic War were imprisoned on the Rock, and the conditions must have been more than usually harsh for them.

Built of rose-red sandstone by the Douglas Earls of Angus, you can climb to the topmost parts of the castle ramparts to get exceptional views south to the Lammermuir hills. Looking east over the River Forth and past the Bass is the Isle of May, which is another important breeding site for seabirds.

Banks beside the pathways round the castle have been left to grow wild. One of the common butterflies in this part of East Lothian is the green-veined white, and we saw them in some numbers. Above us skylarks filled the air with their characteristic soaring song-flight.

Looking down from the high ramparts we had the unusual experience of watching house martins flying below us, easily recognisable by the white patches on their rumps. Some were obviously nesting in the castle. Cormorants were clustered on rocks, standing with their wings akimbo drying out their feathers. The sea was flat calm and, in spite of the rather overcast day, was a deep turquoise colour where the seaweed growing on the rocks stopped and the sand started.

Down on the rocky beach we had a picnic and son James took Alfie paddling in the rock pools. Lots of hermit crabs had taken up residence in empty buckie shells and were crawling about the bottom of the pools rather aggressively. Sand hoppers were hopping amongst the seaweed, and our picnic was plagued with dozens of tiny flies.

A party of eider duck swam with the incoming tide into one of the bays practically up to where we stood. Perhaps they were used to being fed by other picnickers, in which case we were a disappointment. About fifty yards offshore a seal popped its head through the calm surface of the sea and gazed at us odd humans scampering around on the shore.

It was a great day out to share with our grandson, and it was just as well Alfie took his sword with him to the castle, to see off all the baddies.

Written on Saturday, August 9th, 2003 at 8:25 pm for Weekly.