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.

It’s a puzzle for the squirrels

February 10th, 2007

A RED squirrel up a Monkey Puzzle tree – well, in the depths of the Angus winter I suppose you don't expect to see the monkey. It was Emma who spotted it first and we all clustered round and craned our necks to see him. It was a bit too much attention and he – or perhaps it was she – shot off up the trunk to the safety of the upper branches.

Something I didn't know until I'd looked in the tree book is that monkey puzzles have an edible seed about the size of an almond. I went back to the tree to see if I could find some. I picked up plenty of the sharp, spiny leaves but, not knowing quite what I was looking for, left empty handed. Doubtless the squirrel knows the secret, so what better reason to make your home in a tree which has such a ready supply of breakfasts, teas and suppers?

The day had turned into a perfect winter afternoon and the sun shone out of a flawless sky, so we – the dogs and I, that is – carried on down to the riverside walk through the blue gate at The Burn, near Edzell.

At a bend of the river, at the start of the upper beat fishings, I stopped to enjoy the sunshine. The heat's gone out of it by three o'clock, but the mood raised the spirits. The water sparkled and clattered down the short way to the Loups, where the rocky channel narrows and tumbles over the falls which the salmon must leap or  loup' on their journey upstream to the river's headwaters to spawn.

There have been some lovely morning skies and sunsets over recent days. Red sky in the morning and red sky at night, enough to put a shepherd in a fever of indecision about what to do with his sheep. The ones grazing on the other side of the river seemed pretty contented. No doubt life is fairly routine for a sheep until someone says  mint sauce'.

I hadn't heard of a West Dart water terrier, so called because it was bred beside the River Dart in Devon. Several of its antecedents must have had scant regard for “the consequences”, for it was an agglomeration of a wire haired terrier, lahso apso, Pekingese and poodle! Its most endearing characteristic was a fanatical love of water which it could scarcely be kept away from. Its owner held it in high regard, saying it looked much like an oily rag. It's dead now, so there's not much more to tell.

They say the monkey puzzle tree got its name because it would “puzzle a monkey” trying to climb between the razor-sharp leaves. I don't think I go for that explanation. If it was true, why didn't they call it the Puzzled Monkey Tree?

Written on Saturday, February 10th, 2007 at 11:48 pm for Weekly.