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.

‘Strangers’ most welcome

June 6th, 2015

THE CONSPICUOUS white rump caught my attention – it was so unexpected for I’d been looking out for the return of the swallows that nested under the eaves last year. But now a pair of house martins have almost completed building a nest in the eaves too, with mud from puddles in the scrub land beside the stream across from the house.

They arrive in this country from over-wintering in Africa in May, about a month after their swallow cousins. It’s such a pleasure to see them for their numbers – certainly in this part of the north-east – have decreased in recent years so much that they are almost strangers. I don’t know if having house martins nesting on your house brings luck, but we certainly feel lucky.

About the end of the month we should expect to see the chicks peering out of the nest, clamouring to be fed. Meantime, the house sparrows that nested in the nesting box in the garden have fledged their young. The chicks are still dependent on their over-worked parents feeding them and I managed to snap a quick picture of two sitting on the garden fence waiting for the next course.

I drove up the hill from Lunan Bay past hawthorn blossom which is just coming to its best. By the time you read this the bushes bordering the roadsides should be a frothing mass of lacy white flowers. Perhaps it’s due to the exceptional amount of rain last month but there’s a riot of red campion, which likes damp places, growing along the roadside verges too.

Love potion or laxative?
In a field beside Greenburn Croft, up Glenesk, you’ll see large patches of startling blue flowers close to the road. They are wild pansies, known in Scotland as Heartsease, and they’ll continue to flower throughout the summer.

It’s an interesting plant. In days past some people regarded an infusion of its petals as a love potion, and others used it as a laxative. A fine example, surely, of Scottish pragmatism at its best. If the first draught failed to work its magic on the object of your affections, the second would purge your own system of all that silly romance nonsense!

The Doyenne and I were introducing her great-niece and her boyfriend – the great-niece’s, you’ll understand – to the glories of the glen. Hannah is due to enter Sandhurst in September, to become an army officer, and thought a walking or a climbing holiday in Scotland would help her get fit. So we sent them up Mount Keen, the easternmost of the Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000 feet high).

We collected them four hours later and stopped on the way down at The Retreat Museum for tea and cakes. An 80th birthday party was enjoying high tea and we had to explain what this grand Scottish institution involved for Hannah and Xander, who live in London, had never heard of it.

We’d had a discussion at breakfast about butteries, which were new to them too. I explained that they are called roweys or rowleys in different parts of Aberdeenshire.

I once asked for bannocks in a Laurencekirk baker and was offered large, plate-sized pancakes. A lady who had lived in New Deer for many years called bannocks ‘breid’. So if you get flustered the next time you’re in an Aberdeenshire bakers, it’s might be easier to point to the oatcakes and say “I’ll take some of those.”

Croissants or crescent rolls?
When I brought the Doyenne back to Montrose as a new bride she asked in the baker’s for croissants, to impress her mother-in-law who was coming to stay. “Is that crescent rolls, dear?” asked the assistant, and the Doyenne had to admit it was.

You might think that croissants are just fancy breakfast rolls but Xander, who is a military history graduate, was able to explain some of the social history behind them.

In 1683 Vienna was besieged by the Ottoman Turks. Jan III Sobieski (King of Poland) came to Vienna’s rescue and the charge of his Winged Hussars – said to be the largest cavalry charge in history – broke and scattered the Ottoman forces.

To make their rations go further during the siege, the Viennese bakers made dough for the bread like puff pastry, so that it puffed up in the baking and looked bigger. After the siege was lifted they continued to make puff pastry but shaped their bread rolls into the Ottoman crescent in celebration of their deliverance. Which may account for the glory expression “we just ate them for breakfast”.

Doggie birthdays
I wrote last week that calculating seven dog years as equivalent to one human year meant that Macbeth is 98. A reader contacted me to say that the 7:1 rule is a bit out of date now. A dog’s age is usually calculated by taking the first two years as equivalent to 20 human years and each successive year as equivalent to five human ones, which would make Macbeth 80.

In a lifetime of dogs I’ve never heard such a thing. What do other readers think? – I’d like to hear.

Written on Saturday, June 6th, 2015 at 11:39 am for Weekly.