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.

Ancestors and Orkney

May 28th, 2005

RAKING OVER old bones in search of ancestors was one of the reasons the Doyenne and I have just spent a week's holiday in Orkney. My paternal grandmother was born in Kirkwall, and brought up, we think, on a farm several miles outside the town. Because of duplication of place names we need to do more research.Some years ago we spent a long weekend in the Northern Islands, as they are known, and promised ourselves we would go back. As so often happens, it has taken a lot longer to do so than we originally intended.

Orcadians come from Orkney, not Scotland. The islands' historic allegiances, going back to the Vikings, mean that they identify more with Scandinavia than with what is generally referred to as mainland Scotland.

Tell an Orcadian you come from “the mainland” and they'll assume you are from the Mainland island of the Orkneys, which is how that island appears on Ordnance Survey maps. Cross the Pentland Firth and you land on what Orcadians call “Scotland”.

The islands are a sublime experience. We  island hopped' one day and took the ferry to Sanday. We saw our first short-eared owl, which was hunting the dunes beside the 9-hole Sanday Golf Course.

I'm not a golfer but it must be one of the most  natural' links courses in the world. In addition to the usual hazards it has a number of interesting animal by-products for players to avoid!

I was astonished to see ginger rabbits feeding in a field by the roadside. I spoke to a couple of farmers who told me they are a true mutant strain and not the result of interbreeding between wild animals and escaped pets.

Walking round North Loch, what I mistook for a skylark flew out of a clump of dried grass. In fact we had narrowly missed standing on a meadow pipit's nest containing five little brown marbled eggs.

Back on the mainland we saw a great black-backed gull and what looked like one of its young, sitting in a grass field. The immature gull turned out to be a great skua, which was another  first' for both of us. Both birds are great scavengers, and lying between them was the carcase of a lamb they had been feeding on.

Starlings are very common and I watched a pair landing and then disappearing. Remains of WW2 defence installations are everywhere and this pair of birds had nested underground, beneath the cracked concrete base of a demolished hut. In the absence of a more suitable site they had adapted to local conditions.

Because Orkney has so few hills you are very aware of the infinite light which mantles the islands. That, and profuse yellow splashes of primroses on brae faces and along roadsides and ditches, are two enduring memories until the next visit.