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.

Aga Cooker

February 26th, 2005

WAKING UP with snow on the ground and hearing the central heating fire up, got me thinking back to the years when the Doyenne and I were bringing up our family at the Kirklands.It was a large old manse with five bedrooms – Z-shaped and only one room thick throughout. So there were lots of outside walls exposed to the weather, making it a difficult house to heat.

We had no central heating then and relied on electric night storage heaters, coal, logs and paraffin stoves. What a palaver it all was! Daughter Cait can't smell paraffin now without having memory flashes back to her childhood.

There were sump heaters in the loft to keep the air circulating and stop the water pipes from freezing. But when the wind was from the north it got under the eaves and we never did find a way to completely beat the extra chill factor which sometimes froze the intake to the water tank.

What we did have was an old oil-fired Aga cooker. The oil was gravity fed to the burner, so there was no electric pump which would stop pumping fuel during a power cut. What a boon that was. It meant there was one room in the house which was always warm, whatever happened elsewhere.

It was a struggle some mornings, chasing three reluctant teenagers to get out of bed when there was ice on the inside of the windows. We think how it all helped shape them into the fine parents they have become, as history repeats itself with their own families!

There's a tip for people whose houses still have old lead pipes, which can be prone to burst in the frost.

Wrap a strip of bicycle inner tube (if such things are still available) several times round the burst. Tightly wrap the tubing all around with strong string, ensuring it extends above and below the burst. The pressure of the water trying to get out compresses the layers of tube against each other and forms a very efficient seal until the plumber arrives.

You never know who you might encounter when you're standing on a riverbank. I met a man from South Uist by the side of the River North Esk. Several spring run salmon on their migration upstream were leaping from the water, and dippers were working the shallows of the river.

The Man from Uist told me the little birds are very partial to salmon eggs. He explained that they dive down and plunder the spawn from depressions in the riverbed, called  redds', where the fish have laid their eggs to hatch.

The songbirds in the garden are content with much more conventional diet. The snow has brought them flocking to the bird table. From crack of dawn they mob the seed and peanut feeders for the easy food.