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.

Welcome arrival in garden

September 5th, 2015

DSC02858I’D ALMOST despaired of seeing butterflies in our garden this summer but last weekend’s sun tempted six or eight Red Admirals to feed on the buddleia. Up till now we’d had rare visits of individual insects, a Painted Lady and occasional Small Whites.

The lilac buddleia was such an attraction for them last year that we planted a white variety in the spring in expectation of attracting even more. The fickle weather has been a real deterrent for them so we were delighted to see them at last, although the drop in temperature mid-week hasn’t been encouraging.

You’ll remember how sunny it was last Saturday afternoon. Our friend Christine Smart joined us for a walk with Inka down the last tidal stretch of the River North Esk to Kinnaber beach. Goodness knows where the rest of the world was but we had the beach entirely to ourselves, and we enjoyed the sun on our faces and the mesmeric peace of the waves breaking on the shore.

It was a favourite walk for Macbeth who could be counted on to find the smelliest carcase to roll in and return to share the bouquet with the family.

Congregating and coffee shopping
The Doyenne looked out of the bedroom window on Tuesday morning and wondered what the birds were congregating on several neighbouring roofs. They were house martins, well named because they nest under house eaves rather than in outbuildings and barns which are preferred by their swallow cousins. More were wheeling high above the village, presumably feeding on high altitude insects.

There looked to be dozens of them but how can you count them accurately when they are constantly on the move? Anyhow, I hope it means that we can expect a welcome invasion next spring, but numbers can vary unaccountably from season to season.

Later that same morning I stopped the car to watch swallows coffee shopping on electricity power lines and I could clearly hear their cheery, twittering chatter. One young bird was still being fed by a parent.

I see them hawking for insects low over fields when Inka and I are walking each morning but I’m wondering if this flocking is the prelude to their long passage south for the winter. If so, it’s several weeks earlier than I’d expect.

It’s been a successful summer for the numbers of swallows and house martins seen and I’ve watched sand martins, their other cousin, at two sites in Glenesk. I looked out for more, but saw only a solitary swift flying round the spire of Fettercairn Kirk

Still in Glenesk, I wondered what the golden patches glowing in the sun on a brae face were. I had to be told it was tansy which used to be a common cottage garden herb. Glenesk was one of the most populated glens of the north-east and this was likely a survivor from the garden of a ruined croft long vanished beneath the high bracken.

Tucked away behind a hedge I came across half a dozen stalks of Lords and Ladies, or Cuckoopint, topped with a cluster of bright orange berries which are poisonous. In times past its flower was thought to symbolise human genitalia which gave rise to a range of exotic names intended to subtly imply the sexual connotation without actually saying so and offending Victorian sensitivities.

Soldiers’ blood
You’ll see Soldiers’ Blood in uncultivated fields and waste land and along roadsides. It’s the rusty-coloured seeds of common sorrel which I wrote about in April as my contribution to the discussion on sookie soorocks. It looks a bit like dried blood but I’ve still not been able to discover how the name originated.

When they weren’t engaged in clan warfare and knocking nine bells out of each other, Scottish soldiers fought in major and minor conflicts all over the world. But the battlefields of World War One claimed the lives of more Scots than any before or after and I shouldn’t be surprised if that’s where the weed got its nickname.

Retired Mearns farmer Gordon Robertson invited me to see his banana plant which had flowered for the first time after six years careful nurture in his poly tunnel. Another friend who had worked overseas in banana farming country expressed some doubt about the plant’s pedigree.

I sent a photo of the plant to Dundee Botanic Garden and Curator, Alasdair Hood, replied to say that it is called Chinese banana, Musella Iasiocarpa, and is a member of the banana family. If it will just fruit there could be a unique opportunity for Mearns farmers to be in the vanguard of the next agricultural diversification to sweep the country – bananas with no air or sea miles.

The Doyenne and I have greatly appreciated the many kind cards and letters, e-mails – from as far away as Australia – phone calls and people stopping in the street to express their sympathy at Macbeth’s death. Some have owned, or still do, a West Highland Terrier and, like us, have enjoyed their sparky character and companionship. I hope that Man with Two Dogs continues to entertain readers.

Written on Saturday, September 5th, 2015 at 9:57 am for Weekly.