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.

The scenic route

September 8th, 2012

ON WEDNESDAY I drove to Kingsmuir, outside Forfar, to give a talk to the Senior Citizens club. I was so delighted to see the sun I decided to take the scenic route and enjoy the views, rather than belt down the dual carriageway.

Leaving Brechin on the A933 Friockheim/Arbroath road, I crossed the River North Esk and took first right almost immediately and, at the top of the brae, turned right again along the side of Burghill Wood.

You’re up on a plateau then and there are tremendous views in all directions, especially westwards to the foothills of the Grampians, as you pass Mains of Ardovie and Muirside of Aldbar farms.

I was in plenty of time and dandered along at my own pace. Side roads go off a’weys and, even if you tried, you can’t get lost because you’re soon back on a road you recognise. I got onto the B9134 just below Aberlemno (where the Pictish sculptured stones are) which took me down to Forfar.

The farmers were clearly taking advantage of the good weather and pressing on with the combining. A lot of fields had been cut and baled but there seemed an awful lot more still to cut. That’s the problem with a seasonal business – you are so dependent on the weather.

Sixty years ago harvesting was very different. Farms were generally smaller, fields were smaller and machinery was smaller.

My father was solicitor to what was then known as Rossie Farm School, outside Montrose, where the farm was an integral part of the school and used as part of the education programme. I remember being sent there to help with the harvest; in reality it was probably to keep me occupied on a Saturday.

Combine harvesters were unusual in the east of Scotland so soon after the end of the war and at Westerton of Rossie the corn was cut with a reaper and binder pulled behind a grey Fergie (Ferguson TE20) tractor.

Before the tractor and binder could get in, a strip of corn all round the edge of the field was cut by hand with a scythe so that none of the valuable crop was flattened and destroyed.

The reaper cut the corn which was bound into sheafs, with sisal twine round the middle, and the sheafs were tossed out onto the ground.

In these pre-myxomatosis days lots of rabbits took cover in the corn. When it was nearly all cut, and just a square left, the rabbits started to bolt and the youngsters who lived on the farm and I tried to hit them with stones – fat chance of success we had!

Us young lads were put to work picking up the sheafs and helping the men build the stooks. Eight or ten sheafs were placed head to head in an A-shape. It was a skilled job to place them correctly so that they didn’t fall down and spoil the grain.
For an excellent video of post-war harvesting, see www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/h/video_tcm4632360.asp

This is the time of year when summer’s abundance starts to die back; leaves lose their bloom and the countryside looks a bit weary. Out with the dogs I was thinking how little colour there was – but I just wasn’t paying attention.

Yes, many of the wild flowers have had their season but there are splashes of colour if you look for them.

Along the burn I found yellow mimulus and wild mint which has a purplish round flower; rub the leaves between your fingers and they smell strongly of mint.

Bindweed, straggling across an old garden wall, fought for space with a white, wild rose that was doing well to still be in flower. Small, round, sky-blue bugloss beamed at me from under the beech hedge on the other side of the track. Where the foxgloves had flourished, spears of purple willowherb flower in their place.

Out in the fields and the wood margins invasive, dusty yellow ragwort, so poisonous for horses, is probably the most conspicuous flowering plant, but I saw yarrow, birds-foot trefoil, buttercups. Do children still hold buttercups under each other’s chins to see if they like butter – do parents still teach them this innocent game?

And there’s plenty more, like tiny heartsease or wild pansy, which flowers on for a couple of months yet. Just keep your eyes open.

Written on Saturday, September 8th, 2012 at 10:35 am for Weekly.