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.

Light lifts the spirit

February 7th, 2015

DSC02302THOSE TWO dogs get three walks a day – a short one first thing in the morning and another last thing at night. In the afternoon Inka and I go out together for an hour’s tramp through fields or woods or somewhere near water. Sadly Macbeth can no longer keep up and can’t go the distance. I miss his company.

A reader asked whether I’m tempted to forego the night-time walk especially when the weather has been so cold. Well, no. The walks are ingrained in the dogs’ internal time clocks which govern their lives and I should worry about what fragrant offerings might greet us in the morning if they didn’t have their run last thing.

They are ingrained in my own internal time clock. For nearly fifty years these walks have been part of my daily routine. If we are away from home without the dogs I miss the discipline of taking them out.

And talking of frost, whenever I get in from a walk my bunnet goes straight onto the hot water tank so that it’s warm for the next time I go out.

I took a turn up Glenesk on Thursday. The snow changes the character of the landscape, highlighting the ribs of the hills and other features you don’t normally notice. You realise how bare and spartan the hillsides are, but it will all be forgotten in a couple of months when the spring colours change everything again.

It lifts the spirits to see the dawns breaking earlier and the days stretching out. Maybe I’ve just not been in the right place at the right time but I haven’t seen any really spectacular sunrises or sunsets so far this year. They are such transient and amorphous events anyway – blink and the skyscape has changed.

The sunrise blooms and withers, as the poet says. Clearly, if you’re not there at the right moment it’s gone. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of …sunset embers.

There was a full moon on Tuesday and it has been light enough some evenings to take the dogs out without a torch. We’ve had nights of hard frost too with the temperature dropping, on one occasion, to -7°C.

The wind often dies away completely when it is so cold and the dogs and I walk through a silent, spectral countryside. It’s so still I hardly like to raise my voice to call the dogs in case I break the spell.

Geese generally feed by day, flighting out from their roosts like Montrose Basin to their feeding grounds, and returning at dusk. In bright moonlight, when the skies are clear, they often delay returning to their roost and carry on feeding.

Instead of the large daytime skeins they fly in small packs. The last few evenings I’ve heard their bugling calls overhead but they have been quite invisible against the indigo night sky. You’re looking for them against a background of infinity and there needs to be a background of cloud for the birds to reflect off.

By a mixture of coincidence and Google I landed on a website for Lady Nairne, the now much neglected eighteenth century poet and songwriter whose verse has been compared with Robert Burns. Coincidence because last week I wrote about the privations of the old time fishermen’s lives.

Google turned up Carolina Nairne’s song, Caller (Fresh) Herrin’, whose last verse runs – Wha’ll buy my caller herrin’? / Oh, ye may ca’ them vulgar fairin’, / Wives and mithers maist despairin’, / Ca’ them lives o’ men.

If I’d had space last week I’d have related the story of the Newhaven fishwife’s robust reply to a snooty Edinburgh housewife who complained about high prices – It’s not fish you’re buying, it’s men’s lives.

Lady Nairne died in 1845 and her songs like Rowan Tree, Laird of Cockpen, Charlie is my Darling and Caller Herrin’ would have been familiar to the Victorian fisher wives. I like to imagine them cheerily singing the songs as they made their way, burdened with their heavy creels, round the houses of the well-to-do and quality of Edinburgh’s New Town, selling their fresh fish.

And I realise now where the Newhaven fishwife’s tart retort originated.

Written on Saturday, February 7th, 2015 at 10:48 pm for Weekly.