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.

Perfect catch, perfect bite

September 26th, 2015

DSC02926IT WAS the expression ‘A fry of fish’, thrown into a casual conversation that brought back memories of childhood caravanning holidays at Ullapool.

The port of Ullapool was established as a fishing station in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society to exploit the boom in herring fishing at the time, and to provide work opportunities in the area for fishermen, boat builders and associated trades.

In the 1950s another herring boom was in full swing and during the summer the herring drifters rafted up to the Ullapool pier each morning waiting their turn to unload their catch.

A fry of herring
My father used to send me, a skinny, undernourished-looking child in short pants, onto the pier to ask for some free fish. I’d shout down to a fisherman winching up the round, cran-weight baskets of fish, ‘Can I get a fry of herring?’ ‘How many for?’ would be the reply. ‘There’s me and my sister and my Mum and Dad’.

Six fat, juicy herrings would sail up onto the pier. I’d look round for a piece of tow to string through their gills and out of the mouth for easy carrying, hoping that no thieving seagull stole any of our high tea when I wasn’t looking. Then it was back to the caravan at Leckmelm Farm, three miles out of Ullapool, by the side of Loch Broom. It was my job to take the fish down to the loch side to gut and prepare them for the frying pan.

And with the passage of years and benefit of rose tinted spectacles you’ll understand, I’m sure, that they were the largest and juiciest and tastiest herrings that ever came out of The Minch.

As a historical aside, and as wartime memories are so much in peoples’ minds, during the Second World War Ullapool became a favoured port for east coast fishing boats from Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen, not just because of its safe anchorage but because the threat of enemy mines made the east coast waters so hazardous for fishing.

Montrose memories
I grew up in Montrose and the harbour there has memories too. When I’m in the town I like to go down to it just to see what’s happening. Like Ullapool, it’s completely changed now but I enjoy watching the wildfowl.

Eider duck with their distinctive plumage of white feathers on the back and black feathers below, are usually the most eye-catching. But that’s only the drakes; the ducks are brown and rather drab by comparison.

And all other ducks, so far as I can think, have a distinct break between their brow and beak. Eiders’ brow and beak are formed in a straight wedge shape, giving them a distinctly Roman appearance.

The eider is the only duck or coastal bird with its particular pattern of plumage. Tufted duck (drakes only, again), guillemot, puffin, Manx Shearwaters, oystercatchers, all have black and white feathering but the black plumage is on the back with a white undercarriage.

I drove round to Ferryden pier. Across the road from it, at No.3 Brownlow Place, Mr and Mrs Tindal kept the village shop and Post Office. During school holidays I cycled across there to fish off the end of the pier although I never caught anything. The Tindal family were very good to me, keeping an eye on me and I could count on a boiled egg for my tea before I cycled home.

It was a long time before I realised what a treat that boiled egg would have been in the early post-war years. Food rationing started in 1940 and eggs were put on ration in 1941. I don’t know when they were taken off the list but I hope that none of the Tindal family went short on my account.

My mother told me that because of the shortage of hens’ eggs during the war, Jim Tindal climbed down the rocks around the Elephant Rock, south of Montrose, near Lunan Bay, and collected gulls eggs to make my christening cake.

Speedy partridge
I often say that nature writes this column for me. I go out with Inka and look and listen, and come home and write about what I’ve seen and heard.

Driving home from a woodland walk with Inka I met a covey of eleven red legged, or French, partridge in the middle of the road. I slowed, expecting them to take flight but in a fit of collective daftness they decided to make a run for it. For several hundred yards they scampered ahead of me veering wildly from side to side of the narrow country road, looking for a gap for a quick exit.

At the bellmouth of a field gate half of them ducked under the gate and the rest at last took flight. Their speed up the road had been at least 10mph. With their dumpy bodies and wee, sawn-off legs it seemed an impressive turn of speed.

Tawny owls go quiet over the breeding season but they are starting to chime up again, warning each other that Inka and I are out for the last walk before bed.

Written on Saturday, September 26th, 2015 at 8:51 am for Weekly.