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.

Autumn’s special attractions

October 24th, 2015

DSC03007THISTLEDOWN BLOWING past my study window on a brisk breeze brought home to me that we are well and truly into autumn. It’s not as though I didn’t know it anyway, with fields combined and baled ready for ploughing and for sowing the winter wheat and barley.

The green shoots of oil seed rape, which is usually the first of the next season’s crops to be planted, are well through and are an invitation to hungry geese. The arrival of the geese is the surest sign that autumn is not far behind and I am seeing and hearing substantially more geese this year than I did a year ago.

Tiny thistle seeds, carried on their downy parachutes, have a Children’s Garden of Verse attraction about them. But thistles are invasive plants, like rosebay willowherb which is also casting its parachute seeds. Willowherb throws out long, creeping roots which are difficult to completely eradicate and even the smallest snippet of root left in the ground can produce a new plant.

Autumn brings its special attractions. There’s plenty of colour still in the countryside, you just have to look for it. The big wild flowers with big colours have all died back, but keep your eyes open for the wee splashes of colour that help raise the spirits.

There’s purple vetch on the roadside verges, and yellow ragwort which is so deadly for horses and ponies. And yarrow too, which was used as a bittering agent in the brewing of ale before hops became popular

Buttercups should be over by now but I find plenty when I’m walking dogs each morning in a nearby field. I wonder if kids still hold buttercups under each others’ chins to see if they like butter.

Unrequited love
Dandelion clocks – ghostly balls of yet more parachute seeds – are the reincarnation of the dead yellow flowers. I can’t think when I last saw kids playing another harmless country game, blowing the parachute seeds off a dandelion head and chanting She loves me, She loves me not.

It’s a chancy business though. You have to be sure to have at least one seed left for She loves me, or love might go unrequited.

And it’s the time for hunting for conkers and conker fights. Are they becoming just part of the folk memory?

I have to admit to knowing next to nothing about the wild grasses that grow in our countryside. But walking through fields on a rimey morning, a weak sun reflecting in the moisture hanging off the grass heads, you realise what a range of varieties and colours there is.

There are still pockets of purslane in sheltered places but the first hard frost will finish it off. And always there’s the hardy daisy, seen almost everywhere and flowering practically throughout the year whatever the weather.

I took a turn round by the wee loch at the foot of Glenesk. Near the water’s edge little mouse-eared chickweed and shepherd’s purse are still in flower. I saw clumps of what I thought were ox-eye daisies, but a quick check in Mary McMurtrie’s Scottish Wild Flowers confirmed that they were Scentless Mayweed, identified by their small, lacy leaves.

Easing the way
Flashes of blue, almost lost beneath the undergrowth, are Heartsease, or wild pansies, one of my favourite little blue flowers and coming to the end of their flowering season. Flowers of uncommon versatility. In days past some people used a distillation of the petals as a love potion. Others brewed it up as a laxative. It clearly eased more than hearts!

Almost as a contradiction of their exotic plumage, which you might think they would want to display, jays are canny birds that prefer to keep to the cover of the woods, much more than their rowdy crow cousins.

There’s a healthy population which I hear calling in the woods where I walk with Inka, but I’ve disturbed several out in open fields, a couple of hundred yards from their normal security, feeding on the bumper crop of waxy, red hawthorn berries.

There’s been a last flush of brambles and I thought the Doyenne was unnecessarily abrupt when I offered to pick her some more. It’s a good year for rosehips too, but she said long ago that they are such a scutter to prepare that she preferred not to have them again. It can be a bit frustrating being a hunter/gatherer.

Rosie came to stay last week. She’s daughter Cait and her family’s Jack Russell, or should it be Jill Russell? She is a fiery little lady with a butterball figure and legs that may be even more sawn-off than Macbeth’s were, but they certainly don’t hinder her when she’s racing after Inka.

She regards all men dogs as beneath contempt and absolutely terrorises and dominates Inka. He should give her a nip on her well-upholstered rear end but he probably realises that she believes attack is the best form of defence, and she would nip him back.

But it was fun having two dogs for a wee while.

Written on Saturday, October 24th, 2015 at 11:21 am for Weekly.