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.

Nesting is a sign

March 16th, 2013

RECENT MENTION of the first charabanc to ascend Cairn o’ Mount prompted a call from John Gove of Gourdon to tell me about Sir Sidney Gammell, one-time laird of Drumtochty which marches with Glen Saugh and the Cairn road.

Sir Sidney had a 1907 Rolls Royce with the registration SU 13 because it was the thirteenth car to be registered in Kincardineshire. When he came to change it, rather than sell the car he gave it back to Rolls Royce who restored it and it is now in the company’s museum. Nicknamed Little Sue Barker after the registration and Barkers the London coach builders, a photograph can be seen on the museum website.

John and I agreed that, in the best traditions of the pioneer motorists, Sir Sidney, dressed in his Inverness cape, pickie-sae hat and goggles, would have likely tested his car’s capabilities by driving over the Cairn. It was the sort of thing they did in Edwardian days.

Not so terribly long after, in 1928, a Baby Austin was famously driven to the top of Ben Nevis.

An Australian called Bob Myers taught geography at my boarding school and he used to tell us about driving his Austin 7 over the Alps when he toured Europe. It must have been about the mid-1950s, still relatively soon after the end of WWII, and I think could be regarded as a fair test of driver and car.

And a final piece of motoring trivia – my father’s first car was an Austin Chummy with the engine block number 1001. He always wished he’d had the foresight to hang onto it. So do I!

All the talk of Cairn o’ Mount prompted the Doyenne to suggest a trip over the Cairn to a favourite destination, the Finzean (pronounced Fingan) Farm Shop (B976), for lunch. There was a narrow window of opportunity to get over to Deeside because the road had been closed with snow the day before and, as it happened, it was closed the day after.

Meaning “the fair place“in Gaelic, the Finzean Estate has been in the Farquharson family for generations. A former laird was Joseph Farquharson, the Victorian landscape painter, possibly best known for his paintings of winter scenes with sheep and snow.

He and my great grandfather Joseph Henderson, who was a marine and seascape painter, were contemporaries and I can’t help wondering if they knew each other.

Catriona Farquharson, one of the partners in the Farm Shop, showed me a photo of March hares running in the field just below the restaurant. It had been an exciting moment to see them because they are so scarce.

Forty years ago they were so common they were treated as vermin because of the damage they did to crops. Whatever reasons caused their numbers to plummet, and many have been suggested, there are places where the hares have never re-established themselves. Such bonny beasts and they have a special place in Scottish mythology and literature.

I’ve been banging on about the vagaries of the weather, but spring really is on its way despite the fickle conditions – it’s inevitable, unstoppable. A sure-fire pointer is the dogs disturbing pairs of mallard duck puddling about in drains and ditches where we wouldn’t normally expect to see them. They are looking for suitable nesting sites with water close by.

There’s a healthy population of wrens on a couple of our regular walks. Not our smallest native song bird – that’s the goldcrest – they make up in pugnacity what they lack in size. And their song, especially when disturbed or excited, is a torrent of noise quite disproportionate to their size.

We seriously provoked one wren that sat on a log and gave us dog’s abuse as we passed. I’d have thought it was early yet for wrens to be mating but I’ve learnt never to say never where nature’s concerned. Maybe we had disturbed a precious moment.

All the talk of singing seems a suitable moment to throw in a nonsense poem.

There was a young lady of Finzean / Whose telephone never stopped rinzean. / She said to her friend / You must stay the weekend /
And we’ll spend the time dancing and sinzean.

Do you think that makes a case for phonetic spelling?

Written on Saturday, March 16th, 2013 at 10:13 pm for Weekly.