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.

Floral Folklore

June 8th, 2013

WHY DO they call sorrel, Soldiers’ Blood? It was a question from the audience at a talk I gave as the Man with Two Dogs, and I had to confess I didn’t know.

Initially I got myself confused with wood sorrel, the wild flower which appears in our woodlands in April and May. But of course the question was about common sorrel, the perennial wild plant that grows on roadsides and grassy places and is regarded by gardeners as a weed.

Its small blood-red flowers die away to rusty coloured seeds which may be the simple explanation. But I haven’t been able to track down a specific association with soldiers’ rather than anyone else’s blood.

Of course, there could be a socio-historical association like the children’s game of Carl Doddies, played with ribwort plantain. This goes back to the Battle of Culloden in 1746 with Bonnie Prince Charles as Carl, and George II as Doddie.

Other floral tributes are associated with Culloden. Dianthus barbatus, the flower we know as Sweet William, was supposedly so named by the English to honour the English commander and king’s third son William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, and to celebrate his great victory over the Scots.

Not to be outdone, and in memory of Butcher Cumberland’s brutal suppression of the Highland clans after the battle, we Scots named the rather noxious-smelling ragwort, Stinking Billy.

A folklore has grown up around many of our plants and flowers. Some say that the lyrics of the children’s party game of Ring-a-ring-a-roses are a description of the symptoms of the Black Death in the 1340s. Others believe they originated during the Great Plague of London in 1665.

So, perhaps a terrible battle took place on a field of flowering sorrel and the name Soldiers Blood just naturally evolved from the spilt blood of the fallen soldiers on the crimson flowers – in the way these things do.

Other children’s games are associated with wild flowers. Do children still know about the harmless old fashioned games that readers of a certain age will remember playing? Do they still pick the dead heads of dandelions – dandelion clocks, they are called – covered with the wispy seed-bearing parachutes which are carried on the wind to reproduce the plant wherever they land?

“He/she loves me, he/she loves me not” small girls and boys chanted to each other as they blew the parachute seeds off the flower heads. A chancy business, mind you. Many an innocent heart must have been irreparably broken because the loved one blew away the last seed before the lover could finally express his or her undying devotion.

Recent walks with the dogs have been through fields of old permanent pasture peppered with dandelion clocks. In others there’s an abundance of buttercups. If we had a granddaughter visiting I could hold a buttercup under her chin and if the gold of the petals reflects on her skin it’s proof that she likes butter. It’s always been so, ever since there have been grandfathers!

It’s been an age since I’ve seen swallows, house martins and swifts all in the same week. In fact, it had been so long since I saw a swift I’d begun to think they must have deserted our corner of the north-east for good.

Swallows and house martins have been active round the house for several weeks now. The house martins are easily recognised by their conspicuous white rump as they swoop around the roofs and chimneys. Sitting in a Brechin garden at the beginning of the week I was suddenly aware of the flashing, scimitar wings and aerial mastery that could only mean swifts – I was so delighted to see them.

Not only that, we watched a buzzard being mobbed by a crow. You don’t expect to see that in such an urban setting, but of course Brechin is surrounded by a lot of woodland.

A final word on sorrel. Several ladies in my audience had memories of playing Shoppies when they were bairns. They’d wrap the dried sorrel seeds in docken leaves and sell them in the shoppie as packets of mince.

There’s no end to children’s imagination and simple ingenuity when left to their own devices.

Written on Saturday, June 8th, 2013 at 10:18 am for Weekly.