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.

Tall ship, tall tale?

June 2nd, 2012

THERE’S A large population of jackdaws in the woods round the house. They are noisy birds at the best of times but just now it’s mostly the chicks I hear, constantly calling the parent birds, demanding food.

Out with the dogs last thing I heard the juvenile squeaks of a clutch of tawny owls coming from the trees beside the back door. I tried to catch one in the light of the torch but they must have been well fledged because they kept moving a step ahead of me further and further into the woods.

As you might imagine, I like words and I learnt a new one this week. Phenology is the science of keeping track of seasonal changes or, if you consult your Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (which at 2515 pages long is anything but short, so imagine what the longer version is like) the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena. So, if I write that the swallows are nesting later this year than last, that is a phenological observation.

Which is what I want to talk about next. Thinking back to previous springs the numbers of swallows arriving has got steadily fewer and is really noticeable this year. Hopefully it’s just a local thing and readers elsewhere are enjoying their familiar aerial displays but I would expect by now to see a fair community swooping over the rooftops or skimming across the surface of the lochan behind the house, hunting for flying insects.

Friends who live near the coast look forward to house martins nesting under the eaves of their house beside their bedroom window. I can’t think when we last had house martins nesting at our house and as for swifts, they seem to be a lost species in the north east – I’d be interested to hear from readers who see them.

Splashes of blue have appeared in the wood edges and along the ditches. Patches of bugle which I mistake for gentians (it’s too early for them), sweet violets dancing on threadlike stalks and tiny speedwell.

Honeysuckle is probably my favourite flower. The Doyenne has an arrangement with sprigs of honeysuckle mixed in and in the evenings it fills the room with its romantic scent.

Along the roadsides the hawthorn trees are showing spectacular blossom – the May flower – which has a place in Whitson family tradition that goes back to The Battle of Flodden in 1513 when the Scots King James IV was the last king to be killed on British soil along with the flower of the Scottish nobility and 10,000 soldiers. Many who weren’t killed were captured by the English and marched south to be ransomed by their families.

The story goes that a Border-bred Whitson and his six sons fought on the Scottish side. The father and five of his sons perished and the sixth was a weedy individual who was thrown in as a job lot by the Welsh archers and taken to Wales. When it came to the bit however, none of his family thought he was worth ransoming and he remained in Wales.

Fast forward nearly a century. A hitherto unknown John Whitson left Wales as a young man and went to Bristol to be apprenticed to one of that city’s Merchant Venturers, or entrepreneurs. When his master died John married the widow and became a hugely successful Merchant Venturer himself, and Lord Mayor and Member of Parliament for Bristol for more than twenty years.

The family tradition is that he was one-time owner of the ship the Mayflower which, along with the Speedwell, carried the Pilgrim Fathers to a new life in the New World of America. He must have sold the Mayflower before 1620 when the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for it is known they chartered her from new owners.

Mayflower needed a new set of sails to complete the long voyage, and the Pilgrim Fathers sought John Whitson’s help. He agreed to supply the sails on condition the adventurers took Cheviot wool with them to trade for native goods which would be sent back to England and provide him with a profit.

Are there enough grains of credibility about it to think the story might be true? There are if you’re writing it!

Written on Saturday, June 2nd, 2012 at 6:02 pm for Weekly.