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.

Jam filling

August 11th, 2012

THE DOGS have been off the radar for the last couple of weeks but I can report that there’s been nothing coming over them. In fact things have looked up with the arrival of Sybil, delicious slinky young Jack Russell, which has caused a sharp rise in testosterone levels. She arrived with daughter-in-law Harriet and grandchildren Alfie and Mathilda to stay for a week.

Inka is like a smitten teenager trying to attract Sybil’s attention with his new party trick of galloping round the garden with the Doyenne’s parsley pot in his mouth, scattering earth and parsley all over the lawn. He has a very unconvincing look of bewildered contrition in response to her brisk rebukes.

Macbeth, who is smoother in the tooth and seen it all before but doesn’t like to pass up an opportunity, takes everything at a steadier pace. Sybil has already learned the benefits of playing admirers off against one another – we may be in for a torrid time.

There’s Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle but it’s hard to think of another Scottish castle to beat the drama and atmosphere of Dunnottar Castle. The family spent an exciting afternoon there and told us that it was mobbed with visitors but that they hardly heard another English-speaking voice. It’s good to think we have such a popular destination on our doorstep attracting overseas visitors and contributing to the local economy.

It’s the time of year when the Doyenne’s kitchen resembles the witches’ cauldron from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The jam pot has been bubbling with raspberries and blackcurrants and strawberries for jams and jellies and, for all I know, eye of newt and toe of frog bunged in for added flavour.

I got a good picking of gooseberries from bushes which must have seeded naturally for they have grown up through an old hedge. Some years the birds get to them first so I did well to pick nearly three pounds. The fruit is small and sweet but their prickles are far more vicious than the garden variety. My hands are in tatters, but it’s all in the best cause.

All year the Doyenne collects jam pots for her sweet confections and she can’t rest till the last one is filled. We’re hardly half-way through the season and there’s still a terrible lot of jars which means there’s still a terrible lot of picking.

Sometimes, despite your best endeavours, an error creeps in – which happened last week when I described my visit to the Isle of May.

I confidently wrote that we sailed to the island from Pittenweem harbour only to be told that it was Anstruther, just a mile up the coast, which was our point of departure – and explains why we were parked across the road from that royally-approved chipper, the Anstruther Fish Bar.

Peter Anson in his marvellous book, Fishing Boats and Fisher Folk on the East Coast of Scotland, wrote that records for the ancient port go back to pre-Reformation times. It has always been a centre of the east coast fishing industry and, in the days before motors, it must have been a grand sight seeing forty or fifty of the eponymous “Fifie” fishing boats setting sail in the morning sun for the fishing grounds.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries whaling ships left Anstruther for a year and more to hunt whales in the Arctic seas. Life as a land-based fisherman was hard enough in those times; it must have been a frozen hell for the whalers with next to no physical comforts in their wooden-hulled ships.

Links with the sea and fishing endure and now the town is home to the splendid Scottish Fisheries Museum which charts the story of our fishing industry from earliest times.

Anyhow, I probably confused the good folk of both towns, or possibly worse – you never know where these blunders can lead – so all I can do is say sorry and promise I’ll do better next time.

It all reminds me of the man who faltered, and in his despair he cried out – “Oh Lord, Lord, I didnae ken.” And the Lord looked down on the miscreant and, in his infinite compassion, said – “Weel, ye ken noo.”

As indeed I do. But I was nearly right – I was only a mile out, after all!

Written on Saturday, August 11th, 2012 at 8:36 am for Weekly.