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.

Festive gatherings

December 27th, 2014

WE’VE BEEN reading a letter from a Finnish friend of the Doyenne’s who we visited in Turku, Finland’s second city. We sent her a copy of the second Man with Two Dogs books, Tales from the Scottish Countryside.

I wrote about the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, which I imagined was a regular experience for the Finns on any clear night at this time of year. It might be so in Lapland, Finland’s most northerly region, and closest to the North Pole. But Turku is nearly at the toe of Finland, about the same latitude as Bergen in Norway, and Britta hadn’t seen the Lights for twenty years.

She told us about the Lapps’ legend of the giant, magical fox which rushes across the heavens, furiously wagging its tail and creating the Aurora phenomenon. In Finland the Lights are called Fox Tail. Are we Scots as imaginative with our descriptions?

I’m a hunter-gatherer. I go hunting for wild fruits in season and I gather them. When the wild raspberries and brambles are ripe I bundle the dogs into the car and we set off on gathering expeditions.

Macbeth puddles about checking all the best scents but soon settles down in a sheltered, sunny corner for a spot of shut-eye. Inka never wanders far but in the couple of hours that I’m picking he exercises himself as well as if we had been walking for an hour. A win-win situation all round.

Now two 2-litre Kilner jars are gently brewing with wild raspberry vodka and bramble brandy. My father would have euphemistically called them hedgerow cordials.

They take several months to mature. I’m confident about the vodka because I’ve made it before. We tasted it several nights ago and it is up to standard.

I added plenty of sugar to the bramble brandy but the fruit seems overpowered by the strong taste of the alcohol. Mind you, they were only tentative, exploratory tastings and a proper slurp at New Year may prove more rewarding.

Most of what I bring home goes into the Doyenne’s jelly pan and much of what comes out of her kitchen is given in presents at this time. But I still have to square up to the Doyenne’s wild raspberry jelly, raspberry jam, bramble jelly, wild gooseberry jelly and more and, at this time of year, her mince pies too. You can understand how there’s only a slim chance of my shadow ever shrinking!

My father was more gourmand than gourmet, although he always appreciated a well-cooked meal. His Christmas grace was ‘Better belly rive than guid meat spile’. In other words, better that your stomach should burst than that good food go to waste.

Probably non-PC these days, but when you know that his Orcadian mother would lay on six course lunches it rather set the pace for him.

Long-tailed tits are one of our most engaging song birds. The Doyenne was delighted to watch a flock of them feeding in a friend’s garden. They’ll be gone in a day, she was told. It’s our experience too. I’ve never discovered a magic menu that persuades them to stay longer, but they do spread pleasure round lots of gardens.

Short eared owls are the only owl species that commonly hunt in daytime. Their clock-dial face is quite distinctive and out walking near Memus I couldn’t mistake it when one slipped out of a wood and flew, ghost-like, over my head with deliberate, slow wing beats that carry it through the air faster than you might imagine.

The birds’ apparent ears are, in fact, tufts of feathers which have no hearing function but are used in courtship and aggression displays.

I thought all wise hedgehogs would be tucked up and hibernating by now, so finding one in the middle of a grass field was unusual. Memus is about 350 feet above sea level and there had been enough frost to freeze the puddles and ponds.

Possibly my hedgehog had woken in response to the warm sunshine and blundered off into the field. It needed to get back to the warmth and security of the wood because the temperature was falling and it wouldn’t last the night in the open.

Written on Saturday, December 27th, 2014 at 6:56 pm for Weekly.