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 chills of winter

December 8th, 2012

I FEAR that Macbeth is starting to feel his age. If it’s true that each dog year is equivalent to seven human ones then he is about 77 years old, so he’s a lot older than me. It’s no good reason to be turning into a grumpy old man, which on recent behaviour is just what he is.

Perhaps it’s the weather that’s turned him. Even last winter he still greeted the snow with paroxysms of pleasure, rolling about in it and scampering around like a teenager. The last few days, however, have been hard on both of us. He’s been sweir to leave the house for walks and there’s been a lot of exasperated lower deck fluency on my part and dumb insolence on his.

Of course, he’s a West Highland terrier with sawn-off legs and it doesn’t take much of a snowfall for him to get his stomach soaking wet, which seems to be the problem. In fairness, if the Doyenne came home with a wet stomach every time she went out in the snow I can imagine her getting crabby too!

It’s been such a while since I saw one that I might have thought that foot-washings – or blackenings – had probably become a thing of the past. They are traditionally part of Scottish pre-wedding celebrations, with the bride and groom as the victims of their pals’ ideas of fun.

The custom goes back a long time and signified a couple’s farewell to their single state. Originally girls had their feet washed in a tub, and grooms had their feet smeared or ‘blackened’ with soot and ashes, but the style of the celebrations have degenerated somewhat.

Last Saturday in Montrose an unfortunate bridegroom-to-be passed us lashed hand and foot to a frame in the back of a pickup truck. He seemed to have been liberally smeared with engine grease which was bad enough, but to add to his troubles he was stripped to his boxer shorts.

It was no way to be driving through Montrose in the height of summer, but Saturday was perishing cold and his sense of humour must have been down to a small peep by the time his mates released him from his ordeal.

Regular readers of this column know my utter fascination with the wild geese which arrive here each winter, so I make no apologies for writing about them again.

The dogs and I had walked to the top of the wee loch, as I’ve often described before, and a pair of greylags came honking over the trees, circled round several times and flew off. One must have had a damaged flight feather, which thrummed loudly with each wing beat.

We hadn’t time to move much further on and were still in full view in the open field when a pack of about thirty flew in. They appeared quite cautious, circling round half a dozen times to reassure themselves that we weren’t a threat and pitching down in the shallows in front of us. I could hear the bird with the damaged feather was one of them.

My experience of the grey geese is that they are some of the canniest of birds, suspicious and easily alarmed, but the dogs and I might not have been there for all the notice they took of us.

I paced it out afterwards and only thirty paces separated us. Motionless, for maybe quarter of an hour, I stood and watched them preening and coffee-shopping amongst themselves. Inka, who had been lying down, had shot up into the sitting position and Macbeth was snuffling around in the snow behind me.

It was getting darker, my feet were turning into blocks of ice and I had to make a move. It’s surprising the noise even thirty geese make when they all take flight at once with a roar of beating wings and outraged calls of the wild north.

I came away thinking that Nature can be a bit surreal sometimes.

The snow brings out dog walkers with a difference. Inka saw him first, langlaufing or Nordic cross country skiing, in the field alongside the track we were on. And like the good page in the Christmas carol, his woolly Labradoodle followed faithfully in his master’s ski tracks.

Written on Saturday, December 8th, 2012 at 1:53 pm for Weekly.