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.

Snowy footfall

February 14th, 2009

THE SNOW changes the landscape and highlights features that normally blend into the surrounding countryside. And it highlights the variety of wildlife that normally keeps quietly out of the way when Macbeth and I are out walking.

For all the number of rabbits that we actually disturb it is easy to see how many more there are from the tracks criss-crossing the fields. Most are in their burrows during daylight for they are mainly nocturnal feeders. Not so the hares which live above ground and are identified from their larger and more widely spaced tracks. In the woods I've seen roe deer slots, as their tracks are known. Further evidence are their scrapes in the snow where they have been foraging for food.

I found owl pellets at the foot of a dead tree. They were almost certainly tawny owl droppings because those are the only owls I hear when I take Macbeth out for his last-thing-at-night walk. I haven't had to bother with a torch to see my way, for the nights have been clear and the moon reflecting off the snow provides ample light.

The lochan at the back of the house has been frozen for over a week. A pair of tufted duck appeared before the cold weather set in and also a single eider drake, which is quite unusual because I can't recall ever seeing an eider so far inland. The visitors have gone, probably back to the coast and more readily available feeding. The resident mallard are still there slipping and sliding about on the ice whenever we appear. I'm quite surprised that they haven't moved out, even temporarily, but they must fly off to feed at some point in the day because, like all birds, they lose body weight very quickly if they can't feed regularly.

Last Sunday I drove up to the car park at the head of Glen Esk. The talk is all about this being the worst winter for snow for eighteen years but the weather hadn't deterred the walkers from getting out into the glen. I recalled a story (it may be no more than that) from the 1960s about a gamekeeper who lived in a cottage at the head of Loch Lee and whose wife couldn't leave home for six weeks because of snow blocking the road.

Driving home I saw the shadows of leaping flames flickering on the snow. I'm far too inquisitive to pass something like that by, and poked my nose round a handsome wooden shelter beside the glen curling rink. A band of hardy Glenners had just come off the ice after a game in the open air. They had a grand fire in a brazier and before I left I was offered a toot of sloe gin. Now, that's the way to enjoy the  roarin' game'.