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.

What a coincidence

September 21st, 2013

THE NATURE of coincidence is its element of surprise.

I picked up a book which came from the Doyenne’s parents and has lain about the house for years. Highways & Byways in the Lake District by AG Bradley is a guide to “the English Lake Country”, much like Alfred Wainwright’s handbooks or HV Morton’s travelogues but written in a slushy late-Victorian style.

I opened it at random at a page headed A Faithful Dog – an encouraging start for a man with two dogs. It was the story of a young poet called Charles Gough who is presumed to have fallen, fatally, from Striding Edge, a treacherous knife-edged ridge near the summit of Helvellyn, the Lake District’s third highest peak, which has a fearsome reputation amongst hill walkers.

Gough’s remains were found three months later by a shepherd who heard his pet Irish terrier, Foxey, barking. Ghoulish stories circulated that Foxey “could only have maintained life for so long by feeding on her dead master’s flesh.”

Wiser counsels pointed out that there were plenty dead sheep lying about the bleak mountainside for the dog to survive on. I favour that – Foxey was guarding her master. Natural decomposition would have occurred over the period without any assistance from Foxey.

The story went national. William Wordsworth, who lived some five miles away, wrote a poem about the tragedy entitled Fidelity.

Surprisingly, because it all happened rather far from his ain kail yaird, Sir Walter Scott recounted the story in another poem, Hellvellyn. Gough’s only mourner was faithful Foxey, and Scott’s poem ends – And more stately thy couch by this desert lake lying, / Thy obsequies sung by the grey plover flying, / With one faithful friend but to witness thy dying, / In the arms of Hellvellyn and Catchedicam.

It all took me back to Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Bobby whose statue stands at the top of Candlemaker Row. And to student memories when the Doyenne and I slipped into Greyfriars Bobby pub for a sustaining glass of ale.

Walt Disney made a film of Greyfriars Bobby’s story and we met the actor dog several times which Disney had given to William Merrilees, retired Chief Constable of the Lothians & Peebles Constabulary.

It was enough of a coincidence to me that I should open a book, which I’d never opened before, at such a poignant canine story. But the same evening BBC One’s history man, Dan Snow, was filmed for the One Show on Helvellyn, showing graphic shots of how hazardous Striding Edge would have been for Charles Gough, and also the memorial near the summit commemorating Gough and his dog’s devotion.

In a recent talk I gave to Perth Burns Club I mentioned digging up and eating pignuts or ground nuts, known locally as Lucy Arnots – and I’ve no idea of the derivation of the name. In conversation at the end, one of the audience remembered eating soorocks as a laddie. They were very bitter, he said, but if you were hungry enough you put up with it.

Soorocks are the common sorrel and I’m grateful to committee member, Elliott Boyle, for telling me that they were also called soor leeks. He could also tell me about lammie’s soorocks which is sheep sorrel (anything to do with lammie’s ears?) and soukie sorrocks or wood sorrel.

I’ve never eaten soorocks myself and I think I’ll stick to Lucy Arnots which are about the size of hazel nuts and have a spicy aftertaste.

I took my own two canines on a much less testing walk along the west bank of the River North Esk, above the Upper Northwaterbridge, where I had picked cowslips with my father for his home-made wine.

The water has been consistently low for as long a period as I can remember, which has been disappointing for anglers. From the high bank I watched one, patiently casting on the Pert water. The water was almost gin clear and he was casting more in hope than expectation, I should have thought.

He was joined by a fellow angler on the bank. I felt like calling down the fishermen’s enduring admonition – If yer flees are nae on the water, ye’re nae catchin’ fish.

But I held back. He’d maybe had enough disappointment for one day!

Written on Saturday, September 21st, 2013 at 7:53 am for Weekly.