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.

Cows and fishers

October 1st, 2011

‘Katie Beardie had a coo / A’ black about the moo / Wasna yon a denty coo? / Dance, Katie Beardie.’

WHO WAS Katie Beardie? – the question was asked by a member of Montrose Probus Club at the end of a talk I had just given. There was a familiarity about the quotation which took me back to primary school days but I’d no idea why the lady is celebrated in a playground jingle.

Lots of children’s songs are just rhythmic accompaniments to skipping and hopscotch, and ball and hand games, but sometimes there’s a story behind them; a bit of social history explaining the background to the words.

A good starting point was Ord’s Bothy Songs & Ballads of Aberdeen, Banff & Moray, Angus and the Mearns, but I could find no mention of the lassie there. And it wouldn’t likely be a cornkister, the ballads sung by the ferm loons after lowsin’ time, seated on the corn kist which held the horse’s meal.

I called several ladies of golden age who confirmed that they remembered skipping to it, but Katie’s antecedents still remained a mystery. She was clearly a busy lady, for she had a hen and a cat and a yowe (ewe) too; nearly as much livestock as Old Macdonald.

This time of year the robins start establishing their winter territories. They are one of the most aggressive small garden birds and chase off other robins that intrude and threaten their winter food supply. We’ve one which is laying claim to the area round the bird table at the back door. Another has staked his claim outside the bedroom window.

They are tireless singers and sing almost throughout the entire year. Out with the dogs yesterday morning I was serenaded by one sitting on the topmost branch of a hawthorn tree. I heard him long before I reached his perch, loudly declaiming to the world at large – “Everything I survey is mine.”

I’d almost given up on Katie Beardie when a thought flashed through the muddle which passes for my memory. I had a couple of false starts with Violet Jacob’s novels – being female I thought it possible that she had sung the song as a child and then used it in one of her stories.

It was in chapter four of John Buchan’s novel The Free Fishers that I tracked it down. The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and here tells of Jock Kinloch giving a “lusty” rendition of the verse after a hearty supper of a mutton ham.

So Katie Beardie is older than I thought , and why did Buchan choose a man as the singer or was it just that he learnt it as a bairn at his nurse’s knee?

And I’m still no nearer knowing who Katie Beardie was – or why she danced.

Written on Saturday, October 1st, 2011 at 4:40 pm for Weekly.