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.

Cool Pictish reverie

January 13th, 2007

NEW YEAR heralds the turn in the road. Imperceptibly the mornings get lighter and the evenings lengthen out. We still have to get through February which can sometimes seem like the  dreip' on the end of winter's nose, but I've been anticipating the sense of regeneration which is evident all around.

Wildlife shares the spirit of expectancy. High in the bare branches of the beech trees jackdaws and rooks are winking and nodding at each other, as if to say it was time to give the old nest a good  red up'. They tend to return to the previous year's nests, repairing them for each new breeding season.

A friend called to tell me about McNaught's Comet which could be seen this past week in the early evening, low in the south-west sky. I know so little about the stars that I was keen to see it, so the two bold boys and I climbed the White Caterthun, the hilltop fort north of Brechin, where we could be sure of a clear view.

The setting sun drifted into dusk. Charcoal grey clouds streaked with gold and orange and ochre were eddying about in the sky. The temperature dropped as the sunset faded and nose, ear tips and cheeks felt a bit nippy. There wasn't a breath of wind and noise travelled further on the frosty air.

A raggedy chevron of geese flew south at much the same height as ourselves heading, maybe, for Forfar Loch. Below us, where the West Water runs, there was a sharp exchange of opinion between two cock pheasants. A dog barked, cattle were bawling for their tea, a flight of mallard duck, seeking their evening feed, sped by on rapid wings. Grouse barked out their distinctive call, “go back, go back, go back” – the only bit of sense I heard!

Sadly the clouds didn't clear to let me see the comet, which I'd been told has a distinct, fiery tail. After more than an hour I was perished and readily bade farewell to the elusive Mr McNaught and his comet, which probably won't turn up again for years. When I tried to stand it felt like all my hydraulics had seized up – the dogs thought it was a great game to see me stumbling about on the dark hilltop.

One thing's for sure – if I'd been a hairy wee Pict when the Caterthuns were being built, with only my bearskin to keep me warm, I'd have been a fair weather Pict. I'd have opted out of the winter activities and enjoyed my beaker of heather ale in front of a roaring fire in a cosy cave, well protected from the chilly weather.

As it was, when I got home I downed a couple of large glasses of sherry – it's the best remedy I know to chase away the cold.

  

‘dreip’ – drip, on the end of the nose, a symptom of a raw winter day

‘red up’ – to tidy, put in order

Picts – ancient peoples of Scotland