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.

Getting ready for the geese

October 3rd, 2015

DSC02935AT THIS time of year, every year, two things happen as surely as the Changing of the Guard.

The grey geese start their autumn migration here from Iceland and Greenland where they have been nesting over the summer months. As winter takes a grip up there, and snow covers their grazing, they must fly south to our more temperate conditions to overwinter.

I heard them, faintly, for the first time, ten days ago. I couldn’t tell if they were pink footed or greylags but it’s like hearing bagpipes in the distance, I’m compelled to stop and listen to their music. I’ll be looking out for them now, beating down our north-east coast in increasing numbers, some flying to the Montrose Basin, some flying as far as Norfolk.

And the Doyenne’s kitchen could be mistaken for the witches’ cavern in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, as she boils up jellies from the autumn berries I bring home.

I passed a roadside rowan tree dripping with the juiciest berries, their waxy skins glowing in the sunshine. In five minutes I’d picked enough. Because of the amount of blossom, I’ve been saying for several months that I expected a good harvest of brambles. In the ditch beside the rowan tree I picked a feastful of large and well-formed berries.

A spoonful of jelly
We’ve already had the season’s first of the Doyenne’s renowned bramble and apple pies. The rowan and apple jelly is made and I look forward to several slices of venison or of pheasant breast, cooked to irreproachable perfection, with a generous spoonful of jelly gracing the side of the plate.

I’m carrying the scars of a second trip to pick more fruit for bramble jelly, and also bramble brandy which we made last year for the first time and which was such a success. Which all may account for the lengthening shadow I cast in the lingering autumn sun!

With the autumn equinox come changes in wildlife behaviour. For instance, blackbirds go quite silent during their breeding season and until after their annual moult, but they are starting to become vocal again.

All the while I was picking brambles one was muttering away to himself somewhere deep in the tangle of briars, probably giving me my character for pinching his tea. It won’t be until around the turn of the year that they get back to their full-throated song, getting ready for mating, and I’ll hear their rattling, outraged shrieks at Inka for startling them.

Nasty Scottish complaint
Because fungi produce no fruit or seeds and had no visible means of reproduction, the early botanists regarded them as vapours or emissions of foul soil, and devilish creations.

They were right to be wary of fungi, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Some are highly toxic and potentially fatal if eaten. Others, though not deadly can cause unpleasant gastric side effects resulting in that now, largely forgotten, fine old Scottish complaint, a nasty pain in the peenie. Of course readers who are a bit smooth in the tooth will know that that’s just a pain in the waim.

As I don’t have confidence in my knowledge of edible mushrooms, I confine my foraging to field mushrooms and chanterelles. Field mushrooms can grow as big as plates but other fungi, like the little yellow stagshorn fungus, are quite inconspicuous and I have to keep my eyes peeled to find it. I’ve only ever found it in small clumps in conifer woods, especially on old rotting conifer stumps.

I couldn’t miss the ones in the picture which were bang in the middle of the track in what I call the Crow Wood, which are the woods on the left hand side of the road from the Upper Northwaterbridge to Fettercairn. You can see from the picture just how small the wee antlers are compared with the pine cone.

High expectations
The alarm went off at 2.30am on Monday morning and I leapt out of bed to see the promised Total Lunar Eclipse, or blood moon. Earlier, when I took Inka out for his last walk, the night sky had been sparkling clear and my expectations were high.

By 2.45 I could see through broken clouds that the moon was about half eclipsed. By three o’clock the eclipse was complete but the deep red glow that accompanies a total eclipse was obscured by more cloud and was a disappointing dirty brown.

Friends all round Scotland reported spectacular displays of the Northern Lights earlier in the year. Each time the dancing Lights were promised in our neck of the woods clouds rolled in and I missed them.

In 2007 a reader alerted me to McNaught’s Comet which was going to make a rare appearance on 10th January. I took the two dogs and climbed the White Caterthun to get the best view of it and – you’ve guessed – clouds waiting in the wings took centre stage and eclipsed everything.

I damn near froze to death and learned later that Mr McNaught and his comet wouldn’t return for forty years. I don’t seem to have much luck viewing celestial phenomena.

Written on Saturday, October 3rd, 2015 at 12:28 pm for Weekly.