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.

Old names recalled

May 17th, 2014

WE’RE DELIGHTED that one of the two bird boxes we put up at the start of the year has a great tit nesting in it. I saw them investigating the box and carrying in nesting material around the end of April and I know the hen bird is sitting on eggs.

The robin box remains empty. There were three or four of the birds about at the start of spring but no takers so far. There’s still time as their nesting season goes on until the end of June.

As I crossed a road with the dogs a pigeon flew at high speed out of thick shrubbery, hotly pursued by an angry male blackbird. Pigeons are in no way predatory and I can only assume this one had strayed too close to the blackbird’s nest and the hen sitting on eggs, and the cock bird was having none of it.

It was a different story up Glenesk. I watched a peewit driving off a larger herring gull which would certainly have been threatening its eggs. Smaller and more agile, the peewit gave its bigger aggressor a hard time, chasing it most determinedly well away from the nest. The parenting instinct is very assertive and, despite the stimulus to feed, when the bigger bird realised the game was up it moved on to find an easier meal.

Several weeks ago I wrote about old place names and expressions that have fallen out of use, which prompted Will Lyall of Arbroath to get in touch.

He recalled when he was young the name for the village of Drumlithie, south of Stonehaven on the A90, was Skite. I’d never heard it called that but I’ve learnt that the name is still regularly used locally.

He reminded me that Steenhive was the local variation of Stonehaven. I first heard it when our mother took my sister and me to see Dunnottar Castle. The old boy who took the entrance money used the name. It’s a while since I’ve heard it so I hope it’s not fallen victim to the type of social engineering that can’t be doing with the old days and the old ways.

The gatekeeper told us to go down to the seashore below the castle and hunt amongst the pebbles for John o’ Groaties. It was his name for small shells shaped like cowries. I’ve no idea what their proper name is nor, indeed, their connection with John o’ Groats.

I was familiar with Taranty as the local variation of Trinity, the street of houses outside Brechin, beside Brechin golf course. The Taranty Fair is still held on the old Taranty Muir each June, now just a funfair and switchies – themselves a hark back to switchbacks, the old steam-driven fairground mechanical rides.

The Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707 opened up new markets for Scottish beef, and the original Taranty Fair was an important annual cattle market which was a feeder for the two great Trysts (markets) at Crieff and Falkirk. From there the cattle were driven south to feed the hungry mouths of London and other English cities.

When we lived at Logie Pert, six miles away, our children badgered us each year to let them go to the sideshows like all the other kids in the village. Not so much fun for us – we were just a mobile bank!

About this time of year – when the peewits were nesting – Will remembers accompanying his father on the Cadgers’ Road, which runs across Rossie Muir, west of Montrose Basin. Fishwives from the Fishtown of Usan travelled the road to sell their fish when the kings of Scotland were in residence at Forfar Castle.

I had written about black headed gulls and Will told me that the old name he knew them by was pitarnies. It’s one of eleven dialect variations mentioned in a useful little book called A Guide to Scots Bird Names.

Enough of the history lesson. Inka put up a duck from a ditch. I called him straight back to heel. The mother bird had flown off to divert our attention from her ducklings which were almost certainly nearby, well hidden in the undergrowth. I didn’t want Inka scenting them and thinking they were game he should retrieve.

Written on Saturday, May 17th, 2014 at 10:15 pm for Weekly.