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.

Become enchanted

September 20th, 2014

I BEAR the scars from picking six pounds of brambles last Sunday. It’s a small price to pay for the scrummy bramble jelly that the Doyenne brews up. If the surest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, the Doyenne has it cracked!

Some of the berries are in the freezer. It takes care of the bramble and apple pies which are a Christmas tradition in the Whitson family.

It’s been a good season generally for wild fruit with the exception of cherries, but maybe elsewhere they’ve been picking them in bucket loads. And there’s more of the wild harvest to come.

A kind friend offered us windfall plums and cooking apples from his garden. I had thought of making plum brandy but the Doyenne had the whole lot bubbling in her jam pan, along with eyes of newts and tongues of dogs, before I could make a move. No complaints, though – the results are quite delicious on a warm croissant.

My father was a dedicated home wine maker. Hedgerow cordials he called them – as if they were just a step up from mother’s milk, when in reality some of them had a kick like a demented mule.

Something he never made was bullace which is more of a liqueur than a wine, smooth and warming, reminiscent perhaps of sloe gin. It’s a drink best appreciated outdoors and I’ve enjoyed a tumbler of it on sharp, winter days out in the field.

Bullaces are a variety of wild plum, larger than sloes. I don’t think they grow wild in Scotland, but I’d be delighted to know if they do. Along with damsons, plums, sloes, and berries such as rowans and brambles, they are all ingredients for flavourful drinks and spreads, provided with nature’s compliments.

Two elegant cast iron hounds flanking the dignified main entrance was a fitting welcome for a man with two dogs to Hospitalfield House, on the outskirts of Arbroath.

I was meeting Moira Coleman, a volunteer gardener at Hospitalfield, to look at the old fernery, reputed to be one of only four left in Scotland. There are plans for restoration, but much of it is a mystery as there are practically no records or plans to refer to.

Hospitalfield House was the home of Patrick and Elizabeth Allan-Fraser who left the house in trust for the establishment, in 1900, of Scotland’s first art school and artist residency, which is still its core role.

The fernery was built around 1863 to house three New Zealand tree ferns brought back for Patrick by a Capt. Logan who took emigrants from Scotland to New Zealand. Reminiscent of a small Victorian grotto with arched chambers, part of it is sunken because ferns are shade lovers and need humidity.

It is likely that Patrick designed the fernery himself as architecture was amongst his wide ranging interests and he was responsible for much of the remodelling of Hospitalfield. The smallness of the interior was enhanced by eye-catching architectural features and stone carvings probably executed by local stonemason James Peters, who Patrick championed.

The original Carron boiler which provided heat for a hot wall – a very Victorian feature – has been saved. Exotic fruits such as peaches and figs were grown against the hot wall.

Nothing remains of the original tree ferns but a fern, still to be properly identified but believed to be of the polypodium variety which has naturalised over the years, is growing out of the upper gallery.

Historic Scotland has shown interest in the unusual little building. Much research needs to be done – for instance, did the fernery have a roof? There are old photographs but none, frustratingly, which show its original state.

The fernery and gardens are open to visitors. Over the winter months access can be arranged by telephoning Hospitalfield House or checking on the website. With so few others to compare it with there is much about the fernery that is unexplained. Moira hopes that visitors’ experiences and knowledge may provide answers to some of the puzzles. Restoration to its former glory is her long term ambition.

It’s a romantic spot. Couples getting married at Hospitalfield have been enchanted by the fernery’s old-fashioned charm and had their wedding photographs taken in it.

Written on Saturday, September 20th, 2014 at 9:01 am for Weekly.