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.

Music of the spheres

March 1st, 2009

“THE HEAVENS are telling the glory of God” – the opening words of one of the mighty choruses of Haydn's oratorio The Creation, which tells the story of the creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. I sang it as an anthem at school Sunday services in the 1950s and I recall the sense of power the music gave the words.

What prompted this devotional memory was meeting a group of students from Glasgow University Astronomy Department staying at The Burn House near Edzell for a study weekend. For over forty years I have taken my dogs out last thing before bed to shed a final tear for Nelson, and while I have frequently marvelled at the night sky I have never taken the time to learn about it. It is the vastest environment we have so this was a chance to fill some gaps in my experience.

As I joined Alec Mackinnon and some of his students I could see a bright star to the west, which I have so often noticed, dipping out of sight behind The Wirren, one of the hills lying between Glen Esk and Glen Lethnot. This was Venus, the evening star. I just had time to look at her (with a name like Venus it is surely a she) through the telescope before she disappeared leaving a glow behind that quickly dimmed into the gloom.

Next Sirius, the dog star, was pointed out. Alec could hardly have realised the significance of this for me! I'd heard of The Plough constellation and to the left of it, and due north, he showed me Polaris.

The students experience very different conditions at The Burn, with none of the city light pollution of the darkness they encounter in Glasgow. It gives them a practical opportunity to familiarise themselves with the night sky which, after all, is their workplace.

Astronomy students probably don't come properly to life until nightfall when they can erect their telescopes and look into the remote regions of the cosmos. Away from the bear pit of academia and lectures they could indulge their passion for their subject, and one described coming to The Burn as a pilgrimage. I think he meant he was doing the simple things of his calling and that away from the lecture room influence he could mould practical experience onto his theoretical knowledge.

It seems that Haydn may have had at least a passing interest in astronomy as he was a friend of the great astronomer Sir William Herschel, discoverer of the star Uranus and himself an amateur composer.

“The wonder of his works displays the firmament” declared Haydn. You don't need to believe that a god created the wonders of the firmament, but standing with these students you couldn't fail to be aware of the forces that fashioned it.

Written on Sunday, March 1st, 2009 at 1:06 am for Weekly.