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.

Morris Dancing and quails

November 5th, 2005

MORRIS DANCERS, with their straw hats and colourful ribbons and bells, dancing their hearts out in the middle of Montrose High Street, would always seem a bit out of context. But seeing them there at the end of October, waving their hankies and whacking away at each other with their sticks, stopped me in my tracks.

What surprised me even more was that they had come down from Banchory, where there's been a Morris Dancing  side' (technical term) dancing for the past thirty years.

I had a word with the young man collecting donations in a straw hat. He was wearing a rather natty  horse' costume, tastefully fashioned from fabric stitched over a frame.

 Horseman' told me that the earliest references to the dancing could be traced back to the time of James Second of Scotland who died in 1460. In case it was a hitherto unknown Scottish tradition I checked on the Internet.

 Morris' is believed to derive from Moorish, and Morris dancing was indeed first mentioned in the fifteenth century, but not in Scotland. Which was a relief, because it would have been too much at odds with my perception of wild Highlanders celebrating their victories in battle by dancing reels and flings to the clamour of bagpipes.

In complete contrast, I've been learning a little about quail, which up till now I've known next to nothing.

They migrate here from Europe to breed, and apparently the chicks which hatch in the springtime are ready to mate and breed by late summer. So three generations of birds fly south in the autumn.

A big hit with youngsters at the Scottish Countryside Alliance's Countryside Festival at Glamis Castle was an incubator with quail eggs hatching. They were able to experience something totally natural, which they wouldn't normally see.

There are farms around Arbroath where they expect to see or hear an odd pair each year. But this past season, quail have been seen in almost every field.

I've heard also that the birds arrive annually on farms in the Fern area, between Brechin and Kirriemuir. And my father told me that two wee coveys used to appear each year among the bents on Kinnaber Moor, just north of Montrose.

Although I've never seen them in the wild – they are about the size of a thrush – and I've never heard one, I have eaten them. They have a mild, subtle flavour that doesn't compare with any other meat.

Hard-boiled quails' eggs, dipped in celery salt, are regarded as a special treat at parties. Real show-offs peel the shells between the thumb and forefinger of one hand.

The Doyenne has bought eggs from Neil Watt, butcher in Montrose, who has a local supplier for them. So I should go and see them in captivity and I'll get to know a lot more about them.




Written on Saturday, November 5th, 2005 at 11:04 pm for Weekly.