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.

Cold comfort

February 25th, 2012

“POOR AS a church mouse” is one of these hard luck stories that you hope never happens to you.

I’m not a regular churchgoer but the last time I joined the Doyenne, in a country church, I saw a church mouse, still in the iron embrace of the church mousetrap, being removed from the church for disposal. It was a sad little tableau and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the small rodent. It had crept into church to escape from the winter’s blast and, if the outlook outside was bleak, the outlook inside proved worse.

Churches and church mice are two of the threads in the vestment of our ecclesiastical heritage. Can we just heedlessly humanely destroy every mouse that takes sanctuary in a church? What about “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small”?

Anyway, what is a church without a church mouse? Like love and marriage and horse and carriage, churches and church mice go together – it’s traditional, and you can’t buck tradition.

There’s a calendar of events which the dogs and I follow each spring. Tufted duck have arrived at the lochan behind the house. They’ll stay and raise a brood of ducklings and then move on, returning for occasional visits on passage to somewhere else. The mallard are pairing off. I sit with my back to my favourite tree – faithful hounds at my side – and watch the drakes chasing off competition from other drakes for their ducks’ affections.

Yet again a pair of mute swans have stopped at the lochan and yet again I get excited at the prospect of them staying and nesting. From past years’ experience they’ll move on, but hope springs eternal.

The mistle thrushes are the first of the garden song birds to nest and I’ve heard their ringing calls as early as January, letting rip from the topmost branches of the beech trees round the house. It was only a week ago that I first heard them this year. What a racket they made – making up for lost time by the sound of it.

When autumn draws in small tortoiseshell butterflies are often attracted indoors to hibernate over winter. They tuck themselves away in sheltered corners and often wake up if there’s a warm spell in early spring.

We’ve had one sitting on the upstairs corridor carpet for a week or so and it’s had a charmed life avoiding Macbeth’s attention. Eventually I decided to take protective measures and slide a sheet of paper under it and move it onto the windowsill. Macbeth trails about without any thought for any of nature’s wonders, except himself, and probably thought he was seeing a leaf. I’m surprised he didn’t eat it – he eats just about everything else.

Out last thing with the dogs on Sunday night I heard the first oystercatcher of the season. Although they are birds of the shore and tideline, in spring they come inland to breed. While most other birds settle down at dusk to roost, oystercatchers are active throughout the night. It was just an isolated call to start with, but they’re getting more vocal.

The dogs and I pass a hazel bush most mornings. The hazel is one of the earliest flowering trees. A week ago there were just, small, tight buds on it but now the familiar long, greenish-yellow catkins are appearing. It’ll be another month or so until the leaves open.

The salmon fishing season has opened on the Rivers North Esk and South Esk and the fishermen are ‘on the water’. It’s one of those esoteric expressions peculiar to fishing. Fishermen are never in the water, even if they in it are up to their oxters; it’s as if they have an arrangement with a higher authority enabling them to keep their feet dry.

If you’re there at the right moment you can see the spring fish negotiating The Loups, the waterfalls on the North Esk on the riverside walk through the Blue Door at the Gannochy Bridge, near Edzell. It’s one of the timeless experiences of nature that’s always exciting to watch. The fish fling themselves through the broken rapids to reach the calmer water and continue the eternal journey upriver to the headwaters where they will spawn.

Written on Saturday, February 25th, 2012 at 12:59 pm for Weekly.