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.

The French Connection

March 21st, 2009

CHERRY BLOSSOM flowers last and cherries are the first fruit to be harvested, whereas almond blossom flowers first and the nuts are the last fruit to be gathered. I didn't know that ten days ago, but I couldn't have made the comparison before because we don't grow almonds in Angus.

The Doyenne and I are back from a short holiday in the Roussillon region of southern France where we stayed with my sister and her husband in the village of St. Jean Lasseille about twenty kilometres west of Perpignan, in the great plain between the Pyrenean foothills and the Mediterranean.

It's one of the great wine producing regions of France but too many small producers are competing in a diminishing market and many vines have been ripped out and replaced with almond, cherry and olive trees. Nevertheless there are still acres and acres of vines, some growing on historic stepped terraces, hundreds of years old, reaching all the way to the top of the lower slopes.

We were taken a walk through an almond orchard and our guide cracked open the shells between two stones to get at the sweet nut. He gave us wild almonds too, which are very bitter. It wasn't until we had eaten one that he casually advised us not to eat too many because the wild variety contain cyanide – which could have strained the entente cordiale!

He also found wild asparagus for us which he recommended should be chopped fine and cooked in an omelette. The following morning I created a wild asparagus omelette for the Doyenne's breakfast. The flavour is quite mild and comes through the egg as an aftertaste.

Yellow clusters of mimosa on the roadsides and in the gardens, camellias and magnolias, and fields of nectarine and peach blossom made this one of the most colourful times to be visiting.

I saw less wildlife than I expected, especially up in the mountains where I hoped we might see some birds of prey. House sparrows and starlings were everywhere in the village, lots of magpies and a single gecko; and in the evening walking back after visiting friends we heard the  kwee, kwee, kwee' calls of a Little Owl.

The temperature managed to creep only as high as 24 degrees; we ate splendidly and I can't remember ever testing such a wide variety of wines in just five days. I'd never want to live permanently anywhere else but Scotland, but once in a while the Mediterranean experience is a delicious one.

The snow-topped massif of Canigou dominates the landscape. I was familiar with the mountain in my mind's eye having seen the series of paintings of it by our friend James Morrison, Scotland's leading landscape artist.

Macbeth welcomed us home with affectionate wafts of bad breath. He had spent his holiday with Vera who spoiled him rotten.

Written on Saturday, March 21st, 2009 at 4:43 pm for Weekly.