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.

Riding L-plates

August 3rd, 2013

THE PHOTOGRAPH of donkeys Mary and Joseph, which accompanied last week’s article, brought childhood memories flooding back for one Irish girl.

She learned to ride, aged four, on Nellie, an elderly donkey who introduced generations of four-year olds to riding.

She – my Irish girl, that is – remembers she had a numnah saddle which is a type of thick, felt saddle cloth, rather than a conventional leather saddle, and her little legs stuck out on either side. She wore a velvet deerstalker-style cap – no suggestion of a protective helmet. Youngsters in those days were expected to just bounce back in the event of a fall.

In the early training her father rode behind them on his bicycle, waving a stick to encourage Nellie. Donkey and rider graduated to the hunting field and usually managed the first covert, by which time Nellie’s elderly legs and failing wind made it clear there had been altogether enough excitement for the day.

Nellie lived to an honourable 42 years. Latterly she could only eat boiled turnips because her teeth were too old to eat them raw.

Paddy Mulligan, a disreputable donkey, was taught to lie down and die for his country – a dog’s party trick, surely? Paddy was so named after his mother, Biddy Mulligan the Pride of The Coombes. The real Biddy was a Dublin music hall character, a bit like Molly Malone. Once down the only way to persuade Paddy to get up was for the children to jump over him – odd, but that’s Irish donkeys for you.

It sounds like a proper salmagundi of RS Surtees and Jorrocks, and Somerville and Ross’s Experiences of an Irish RM. I should have loved to have seen Nellie wearing her old straw hat with holes cut in the crown to let her ears poke through – I’d have known then I’d arrived in Lynn Doyle’s fantasy Ballygullion.

Wednesday was a near-perfect summer’s day and business took me from Montrose to Forfar. The sun shone, fluffy cumulus clouds sailed majestically across a cornflower-blue sky, a breeze blew away the stuffy humidity of previous days – the land smiled.

In the short ten years that I was a solicitor in Montrose (I took very early retirement from law in 1977) I regularly travelled that road to appear at Forfar Sheriff Court to plead the cause of clients. Most times I was in too much of a tearing hurry to notice the countryside but I have fond memories of what an attractive road it is.

I stopped at Rossie Mills, just south of Montrose, and looked across Montrose Basin. The sun was mirrored in the high tide, there was a ripple on the water and the Auld Kirk steeple towered above the rooftops of Montrose High Street.

The familiar hills on the far side of Strathmore, veiled in heat haze in recent days, stood out in the clear light. The strong yellow of the ripening crops and lush green were the dominant colours.

The landscape hasn’t changed greatly in 35 years. Farmers still plough the fields and scatter, but with improved mechanisation and the benefits of economies of scale they do it more efficiently now.

I watched the two swans and their cygnets, swimming in line astern, the cob and pen keeping a watchful eye. You realise how good the world is when you see a sight like this.

Mute swans lay up to twelve eggs so a clutch of eight is a fair family. The cygnets leave the nest and start feeding independently on their main diet of water plants after just one or two days.

July’s hot, dry weather has caused problems for the thrushes, starlings and blackbirds which feed on our back green. The earthworms and larvae which they rely on for food have retreated deep to moist, soft soil well out of reach of their predators which are having to forage elsewhere.

Lastly, a biological post script – two readers called to tell me about the cross of dark hair on the donkey’s back and shoulders. Donkeys come from the same family as zebras and the cross is a throwback to shared characteristics and colour patterns in the original, primitive breeds.

I can’t help thinking I prefer the legend of Christ’s cross.

Written on Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 at 10:49 pm for Weekly.