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.

Mixed emotions

November 15th, 2014

I FIND that much of the language used for death and funerals doesn’t fit in with my personal notion that life is sustained in memories.

The Doyenne and I are home from a family funeral held at Eastleigh, on the outskirts of Southampton. It’s sad to say farewell to someone so fondly remembered but, after the sadness, family and friends met and shared laughter and memories.

It was a celebration of a life well lived, in the very best sense, and the shadow of loss was lightened by memories of all she gave to her family, and to the wider community of her friends.

I like the Wiltshire and Hampshire area. We stayed with a sister-in-law in the archetypal English village of Coombe Bissett; the sort of village Bill Bryson or my favourite itinerant travel writer, HV Morton, might have written about.

It has all the essentials – village church mentioned in Domesday Book, village pub, village shop, village school, cricket club, village bowls and tennis clubs, and the mandatory village ducks puddling about in the River Ebble which runs through the middle.

Flint and stone churches, half-timbered houses and thatched cottages contrast markedly with our bleaker north-east landscape. It’s a well-wooded area on the edge of the New Forest and much of the roadsides are hedge lined. Most of the fields we passed were enclosed with hedges too – ideal cover for ground nesting and song birds as well as the insect life on which so many depend.

The crematorium – another word, like funeral, which has its roots in the language the Romans spoke – is outside the town. As we waited to be called, two roe deer ran along the crest of the ridge above us, scarcely a hundred yards away, clear against the skyline.

It just spontaneously brought to mind the words of the psalm – Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks….

We visited Salisbury Cathedral, notable for its 404 foot high spire, the tallest in Britain. We were greeted by Steve Dunn, the Head Guide, who explained how Salisbury has retained its original architectural integrity and is considered to be the finest example of an English Gothic cathedral.

An interesting ecclesiastical initiation for cathedral choristers is the bumping stone on which new choristers’ heads are banged by way of welcome. Nowadays they probably wear hard hats, but earlier choristers appear to have been made of sterner stuff for a clear, deep indentation has been worn in the stone over seven centuries.

It must have seemed hard for wee laddies, excited at the prospect of raising their voice in praise to their god in such a place, to receive several severe dunts to the innocent pow and spend their first choir practise with a cracking headache!

In August 2006 I wrote about a peregrine falcon that roosted at the top of the Auld Kirk steeple, in the centre of Montrose, where I grew up. We learned from Steve that a pair of peregrines nested at the top of the cathedral spire this season, and fledged four chicks.

A camera was installed above the nest and people came from miles just to see the chicks. I tell my audience, at my talks, that the countryside is important to the health of the human spirit. If that camera helped some people discover their countryside at the top of a tall spire it achieved something very valuable.

In the Chapter House the Salisbury Magna Carta, one of four surviving original charters, is exhibited. It enshrines the ideals of our freedom and democracy but I think we all were more moved by the Wiltshire primary schools’ Wall of Poppies, commemorating the Wiltshire servicemen who lost their lives in WW1.

The children cut out and coloured crosses and poppies from cardboard and wrote the name of a dead soldier on each. Then touchingly, they added a short message – Thank you for sacrificing yourself for your country. May you rest in peace and be happy – and other personal reflections.

10,000 crosses are on the Wall of Remembrance, sustaining not only memories of the individuals, but also the collective memory of the enormity of the wanton loss of life.

Written on Saturday, November 15th, 2014 at 10:10 am for Weekly.