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.

Lucky strike

December 8th, 2007

LUCK SOMETIMES favours you when you want to record something special from nature, and that's what happened to John Murphy who had his video camera to hand at just the right moment.

John and wife Heather, who live at Home Farm, Kinblethmont, near Arbroath had read about my encounter with the merlin and thought they had a story to cap it. They sent me a video clip which John had filmed of a sparrowhawk at the foot of his front door steps plucking the breast feathers from a pigeon which it had grounded and was preparing to feed on.

Feathers littered the gravel and as the video continued I watched the hawk ripping open the breast and tearing off bits of flesh. It opened up a red gash of a wound and when it turned its head towards the camera its beak was bloodied too.

John's movements disturbed the hawk which flew off leaving its meal behind, half eaten. It looked as though it was all up for the pigeon so I was astonished to see it give itself a shake and waddle off, half naked, to safety. John followed it into a shed where it had flown into the rafters. Maybe it recovered but I suspect its injuries were too great for it to have survived the night. It would hardly have had the strength to fly off again if it went down to the ground to feed and likely ended its days providing a hungry fox with a welcome snack.

I hadn't been over the Lower Northwaterbridge for weeks and as I drove to St Cyrus I wasn't looking out for the old Toll House, which sits at the St Cyrus end and had slipped out of my consciousness years ago when it disappeared from sight under climbing ivy and tall grasses. It used to be such a familiar landmark and now that all the ivy has been cleared away it quite took me back to see it again.

It's an octagonal building of dressed stone with a double lum rising from the middle of the floor. It must have been cosy in winter with one fire heating the front of the house and another the back. On one side there's what looks like the remains of a leanto pigsty which was a later addition of traditional clay biggin construction. The tollbooth window faces down the bridge to catch crossing travellers and relieve them of their bawbee.

At the Montrose end of the bridge there's a tall carved stone panel which confirms, in Latin, that originally travellers could “pass safe and free” over the bridge. What changed that they decided to charge a toll?    In today's Scotland bridge tolls are a thing of the past!

It's grand to see this small and unpretentious reminder of former days emerge into the light of day again.

READ ON

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Written on Saturday, December 8th, 2007 at 7:15 am for Weekly.