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.

Voice of winter

October 5th, 2013

THE GEESE have returned. Regular readers will know how excited I get at this time of year when their straggled chevrons beat down the Howe of Strathmore. The wild and wary grey geese are the elemental spirits of nature.

Each autumn they leave their summer breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland and, following immemorial flight lines, fly more than a thousand miles over lumpy leaden seas to escape an arctic winter for our more benign climate.

Their last sight of land will have been by the light of the midnight sun, and they won’t see land again until they pass over our northern coast.

Denys Watkins-Pitchford, one-time art master at Rugby School, who became a prolific writer on the countryside under the pen-name BB, wrote – “I do not think that any man who has a spark of imagination within him can fail to be moved by the almost unearthly music of a large skein of wild geese upon the wing.”

They talk of goose fever, although it’s usually in relation to wildfowling. I have a love affair with the wild geese – the hounds of heaven, someone called them, and it’s easy to understand why when you hear their yelping calls blown in on the wind. I rush to get a good view of them whenever I hear their “cryin’ voices”. For me they are the authentic voice of winter.

And it’s conker time. Youngsters hardly seem to play conkers nowadays but grown men of a certain age will remember times as small laddies when they challenged each other to serious conker competitions.

I pass a conker tree every morning walking the dogs and right now there’s new, shiny nuts lying in the grass. They are quite small this year, probably because of the long, dry summer and too little moisture to fatten them up.

A visit to Montrose Library earlier in the week landed me a prize. Readers who are a touch smooth in the tooth will remember my predecessor Colin Gibson’s Nature Diary which appeared in this paper for forty-two years. In a trolley of books for sale I spied a copy of the collection of his weekly articles selected from 1954-1998. What a piece of luck – I snapped it up.

The Doyenne and I took the dogs on the walk through the Blue Door at Gannochy Bridge, near Edzell, up the bank of the River North Esk.

A number of ancient trees which had clung to the high banks overlooking the river for a century and more, have succumbed to the prolonged dry weather and toppled onto the rocks below. The soil round their roots had dried out to the point where it could no longer support their weight.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen the bones of the river so exposed. It had shrunk to a sluggish stream in some places, quite changing its character. I’ve seen Highland burns put on a better show.

It’s been so bad the autumn run of salmon to the headwaters of the river system to spawn has been delayed. The North Esk is known as a spate river, requiring rain to keep the water levels high enough to let the fish upstream.

For weeks they have been moving in and out of the holding pools at the mouth of the river with the tides, unable to get any further. The rain of the last few days has come just in time. The water level has risen and fish can run the river.

Inka appeared from the bottom of a ditch where he had retrieved a very dead black corpse. I had a quick look round to check no one was looking and tried to think which of our neighbours had a black cat.

It turned out to be a black rabbit – my father called them parsons. They are quite uncommon but I was surprised I’d never noticed it on previous walks.

Their glossy black fur is a genetic recession in the rabbit in the same way a black sheep is black. I’ve seen ginger rabbits on the Island of Sanday in the Orkneys. In their case I was assured they are a true mutant strain and not the result of interbreeding between wild animals and escaped pets.

Written on Saturday, October 5th, 2013 at 8:52 pm for Weekly.