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.

If you want to get ahead get a horn

January 14th, 2012

IMPERIAL HEAD – a term possibly more readily associated with heads of state or empires, but last weekend the Doyenne and I saw at least one.

We had joined son Robert and his family at Ardverikie, the Highland estate where the Monarch of the Glen series was filmed. On Saturday morning he took us out with Cecily and Fergus to feed the stags. You might think that such truly wild animals, living deep amongst lonely hills, can survive anything the winter throws at them and shouldn’t need supplementary feeding.

Last winter the red deer population, generally, suffered badly because the snow was too deep for them to reach the grass on which they feed, and most deer forests suffered high losses. So, even in a fairly open winter like this one they are fed daily to help maintain their condition and give them every fighting chance.

The Doyenne was just fascinated by it all. It’s rather exciting driving into the hills and finding yourself surrounded by two or three hundred monarchs of the glen all gazing down their long noses in the supercilious way they do, making it clear we were late with breakfast and we might just buck up our ideas for tomorrow.

A royal, in deerstalking terms, is a stag whose antlers have twelve points and it is considered a great prize by stalkers. Even more prized are imperial heads which have fourteen points, indicating a beast of the highest quality in the gene pool. They are mostly left until they are old beasts and “going back” before they are shot. We were lucky to be able to photograph one imperial, and Robert thought he saw another milling around in the scrum.

A number of them had malformed heads indicating poor quality beasts which should be culled. Also switch heads which have no branches, just two curved spikes without points which can be lethally dangerous to other stags during the rutting contests. The stalkers will take them out too in order to maintain the integrity and quality of the breeding herd.

Spring is sending out cautious messages. When I take the dogs out in the morning the jackdaws are yakking away nineteen to the dozen in what you might call introductory mating meetings. Woodpigeon are getting vocal too, a sure sign that they are starting to get nesting fever.

We – the dogs and I, that is – took a turn round by the wee loch at the back of the house. Whatever else may change with the changing of the seasons up there, the resident population of mallard duck remains constant. Standing out clearly amongst them I saw the pale flank of a drake wigeon and heard his short, whistling call in amongst the mallard’s coffee-shop quacking.

Each spring at least one pair of wigeon nests in the rushes round the water’s edge.

Written on Saturday, January 14th, 2012 at 10:39 pm for Weekly.