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.

A fanfare for April

April 4th, 2015

DSC02529MEMORY IS a wonderful thing. Thank goodness mine still functions, but doubtless at reduced revs.

A reference to a Talbot on a postcard jogged my memory, recalling schooldays and English masters patiently drilling the English classics into my reluctant brain.

A Talbot is a now extinct breed of white hunting dog which appears in either Shakespeare or Chaucer – possibly both. When in doubt you’re almost bound to be right with one or the other, so I hope my memory isn’t failing me.

William the Conqueror’s Normans are reputed to have introduced them to England, along with Norman architecture and Domesday Book, and they – the dogs, that is – shared a common ancestry with basset hounds and blood hounds which can be traced back to Belgian St Hubert hounds.

Little was written about them and I don’t know that they made any noticeable impact in Scotland. And just when the breed died out is now long lost in the mists of uncertainty.

Putting the clocks forward has kick-started my mornings and I’ve been out on my travels over the past week. Driving down motorways the eye is drawn to a farther horizon and there have been some wonderful cloud formations. Mostly it’s been the big, fluffy, cottonwool cumulus ones – the fair weather clouds – great white armadas driven across the sky on the strong winds.

Follow the psalmist’s advice and lift your eyes to the hills, and to the heavens too. It’s so much more rewarding than wandering along with your eyes on the ground looking for lost 5p coins that aren’t there.

March went out with a roar and April came in with no less a fanfare. I heard reports of snow in Cortachy, Blairgowrie, Blair Atholl and Dundee, and likely plenty other places too. The foothills of the Grampians behind the house had a covering, but it didn’t lie.

Walking through the woods at the foot of Glenesk gave me some shelter from the elements but a piercing wind was blowing off the hills. On the wee loch a dark shape sitting low in the water, like a U-boat, cruised up and down. The reptilian neck and hooked bill pointing confidently skywards confirmed that it was a cormorant. They are rare visitors and this one won’t stay long.

The lochan was stocked at one time with rainbow trout but they have either been fished out or died out for I haven’t seen any evidence of them for several years. With no feeding the cormorant won’t linger.

Flickering among the rushes at the water’s edge a flock of pied wagtails were busily feeding. I should think there were fifteen or sixteen – I can’t be sure, for they don’t line up to be counted. They are such irrepressible, quicksilver little birds, tirelessly on the move and darting in short flights to catch flies and insects.

I often make the point in my talks that the night time walk with the dogs can be every bit as interesting as the day time ones.

I’ve been lucky living in the country, away from the noise and light pollution of built-up areas. We live on the edge of a village now but I’m still just a step from the countryside proper.

A good example of what I mean was last weekend. I took the dogs out around midnight – it was quite still and there was a half moon. Heaven knows what alarmed it but a cock pheasant set up the most awful racket in the woods. It was taken up by another in a wood across the way. Yet another chimed in with his tuppence worth.

A solitary oystercatcher, on passage to only it knew where, flew overhead with a piping call of hail and farewell. A tawny owl added its spectral, quavering call to the celestial chorus. And all the while, miles away – for sound was travelling great distances on the windless, frosty night air – a dog barked hysterically.

I saw the moon and the stars, and the bare branches of the leafless beech trees stark against the velvet sky, the hedges, the moon reflected in the wee burn, and the familiar outline of the cottage where we turned for home.

Written on Saturday, April 4th, 2015 at 9:09 am for Weekly.