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.

Do Whiffenpoofs do raspberries…?

August 18th, 2007

THE HAIRST – harvest time, the culmination of every farmer's year when he learns how successful all the hard work of previous months has been. Combine harvesters are in the fields as farmers push on to get their barley cut before the next downfall of rain. And I see tattie harvesters too. We'll not see our neighbours for a week or two until their crops are safely in and secure from any more bad weather.

The last picking of raspberries wasn't really fit for the table so I used the fruit to make raspberry vodka. I needed a recipe and I phoned a friend whose instincts in these matters I knew I could rely on. It's quite simple – just raspberries, vodka and sugar in the right quantities.

And then comes the hard bit. I have to wait at least till Christmas for the mysteries and chemistry to complete their magic. In the meantime I'm giving the bottles a good shaking every other day or so to mix all the ingredients and ensure the brew is in peak condition for a Hogmanay toast.

Like many others, when the word got out I hot-footed it up to Cortachy at the foot of Glen Clova to get a sighting of the whiffenpoofs. This was a first appearance so far north and there was no knowing if they would come back again in my lifetime.

No one could say if their arrival at this unlikely spot was another result of global warming, or whether they had been blown off course by high winds in their migration across the Atlantic. Shy creatures, they were slow to make an appearance straight away, but the wait was worth it.

Their distinct plumage of long black tails and white breasts was reminiscent of the magpies of their eastern American homeland, and they had a remarkable range of exotic and tuneful call-notes. They are obviously social birds and there was some discussion whether their singing was to defend their territory or attract females €¦ €¦.

I'm afraid I'm being rather frivolous. The reality is that The Whiffenpoofs from America's Yale University are the oldest collegiate unaccompanied a cappella group in the US. As part of their annual singing tour they appeared at Cortachy Castle and for over an hour entertained an enthusiastic audience.

The group's wide range of voices matched their wide repertoire of songs from Cole Porter to Johnny Cash, and their signature Whiffenpoof Song with its chorus adapted from Rudyard Kipling's poem, Gentlemen-Rankers. The castle setting was ideal for their formal white tie and tails presentation, and the singers' pleasure in making music together was very evident. And the audience loved it all.

Much is written about the dawn chorus, but as the evening light faded we enjoyed a dusk chorus to equal anything heard in the half light of early morning.




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Written on Saturday, August 18th, 2007 at 8:40 pm for Weekly.