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.

A nightly routine

May 25th, 2013

EVERY NIGHT, without fail, I take Inka and Macbeth for their bedtime walk. Any time between half past ten and half past midnight we step out come snowstorm, tempest, moonshine or stygian gloom.

It’s a ritual that’s embedded in the dogs’ internal time clock. I couldn’t stop it now for fear of what overnight offerings might greet us in the morning.

For fifty years and more, whatever the weather, I’ve taken my dogs for that ‘last thing’ walk, so it’s a ritual that’s embedded in my own internal time clock.
Whenever we’re away from home without dogs I’m subconsciously aware that there’s something needs doing before I go to bed.

The sky at night can be just as dramatic as in daytime. By the time you read this the full moon will have just passed and the moon will be on the wane.

A fortnight ago when the new sickle moon was in the ascendant there were a couple of evenings when the cloudless sky could best be described as velvet indigo. The trees, the shapes of the hills, melted into infinity rather than standing out from it. It was such a tactile experience I felt I could have reached out and pulled the sky out of the heavens.

Tawny owls and oystercatchers keep us company most evenings. They were a lot more vocal earlier in the season but are quite subdued now while they are nesting.

The oystercatchers are active throughout the whole twenty-four hours of the day. I don’t know whether their night-time calls are to do with feeding patterns, defending territory or an air traffic control warning to other oystercatchers that are also on the wing. I know I’ll hear them intermittently until it’s time for them to return to the coast for winter.

I don’t always need a torch at this time of year, but right now I’m conscious that hardly any moths or other night flying insects are attracted to its beam. It’s the same with night driving and the headlights. Warmer weather has to be on its way when we’ll surely see more nocturnal activity.

The Doyenne and I were on grandparent duty again when son James brought Alfie and Mathilda up from Peebles to see us for the weekend. It was time too for one of the favourite walks at The Burn, at the foot of Glenesk.

Alfie and his father walked to the strange, ruined Doulie Tower, near the Rocks of Solitude – nobody seems able to say for certain what its purpose was.

Mathilda and I took the dogs round by The Loups where the River North Esk crowds its way between high rocks. We watched the Fire Brigade, with ropes and life jackets, training for river crossings in the fast waters of the gorge presumably as part of their life saving drill.

The trees couldn’t wait for spring any longer and we walked beneath the canopy of fresh, green foliage that I always look forward to when the leaves are newly opened from their buds.

Mathilda picked up a couple of dead holly leaves whose flesh had decomposed leaving only the thready network of veins. This prompted son James to tell us about an anti-forgery process invented by famous American polymath Benjamin Franklin.

Early paper money was easy to counterfeit – printing technology was fairly unsophisticated – but Franklin ingeniously solved the problem by printing pictures of leaves on every piece of money. Counterfeiters could not duplicate or even imitate the fine lines and irregular patterns.

Nature doesn’t work in straight lines because, as every schoolboy knows, there is no such thing as a straight line. It fascinates me how the simplicity of nature was applied to resolve what would otherwise have been an expensive problem.

Still in Glenesk, I’ve been up at The Retreat Museum restaurant a couple of times for lunch. Each time a cuckoo, somewhere further up the glen, has called continuously throughout my meal.

Not so many years ago you heard them all through the glen – but not now. The Doyenne heard David Attenborough comment that even he hasn’t heard his first cuckoo this year.

I never expected to say get up there and hear them while you can. But maybe you should.

Written on Saturday, May 25th, 2013 at 7:02 am for Weekly.