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.

Great family walk

April 5th, 2014

IT WAS busy last weekend. Son James and family and Sybil, their Jack Russell, descended on us and the Doyenne and I had to galvanise ourselves to keep up. It’s good when youngsters are happy to close down their screens and want to get out into the countryside.

The decision was a walk in Glenesk, a favourite destination of the Whitson family. For thirteen Easters we holidayed at St Drostan’s Lodge, the old school at Tarfside, near the head of the glen, converted to a residential centre run by the Episcopal Church.

We finished our afternoon trek with high tea at The Retreat Museum. This was a new experience for the grandchildren and the question was asked – why high tea?

Nightmare – grandfathers are expected to know the answers to such things. High tea used to be a centrepiece of Scottish family life, especially at weekends. It was the meal when a busy family would meet together, eat together and talk together. Readers who are a bit smooth in the tooth will remember that there was a ceremonial to the event. Duncan Glen, in his poem Innocence, recalled the cream cookies – “braw sugar-tapped anes wi the cream oozed oot for lickin.”

For whatever reasons of social engineering it fell out of favour, but it is making a come back. A look into history suggests that high tea, as we know it today, emerged as a respectable Victorian alternative to the previously fashionable four or five o’clock dinner, marathons of food and drink, lasting long into the evening.

HV Morton, in his immortal travelogue In Search of Scotland, wrote – “No southerner can conceive the reckless generosity of Scottish teas. They are of two calibres: heavy and light, but known technically as high or plain. There is nothing you cannot eat at high tea in Scotland. You could order ham and eggs, half a cold grouse, with outriders in the form of bannocks and cakes and many varieties of bread.”

Such was an English visitor’s memorable experience of high tea.

Orkney-born and daughter of the manse, F Marian McNeill, recalls in The Scots Cellar published in 1956 – “… the farm-house tea! How one used to tuck in after a long tramp over the hill. There is no tea like it, plain or high, with its variety of scones and light teabread …; and the big brown teapot, as couthy and comforting as any tappit-hen…”

We saw a number of grouse on our walk. They are starting to pair up and will be nesting shortly. The shooting season ended last December 10th so it was no good the Doyenne hoping to order half a cold grouse for her high tea. If the Retreat’s kitchen had been able to produce one the estate Factor most likely would have had a few kind words to say!

One of the pleasures of grandparenthood is sharing experiences with the grandchildren. We watched peesweeps (peewits) tumbling in the sky in their courtship displays. Their wild calls mixed with the curlews’ trilling, bubbling song associated with the start of their own breeding season.

I watched a heron landing in a tree. Its heavy, deliberate flight gives a wrong impression that it is a clumsy bird. With its long, gangly legs and flapping wings you might think it would have an awkward landing but it touched down light as a feather. In reality they are surprisingly agile.

Early garden shrubs like forsythia are flowering well and the hedgerow shrubs are following on. Pink flowering currant looked well growing through a glossy green holly bush, but I passed it by. It smells of cat pee and the Doyenne wouldn’t thank me if I took some home.

And I’ve seen my first primroses which always gives a lift to the spirit.

A word of caution. If you are thinking of taking your dogs a walk in Glenesk, or indeed any of the Angus glens, keep them under control. Ground nesting birds will desert a nest and their eggs if disturbed, and there are sheep and their lambs on the hills to consider.

They are part of the countryside experience for everyone to enjoy, but they are someone’s livelihood too.

And, finally, I’m not sure I’ve answered the original question.

Written on Saturday, April 5th, 2014 at 10:57 am for Weekly.