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.

Scotland seems moody right now

January 9th, 2016

DSC03156DECEMBER PAST has been the wettest December on record and already they are telling us that January is heading the same way. The last time the Doyenne and I saw sunshine was on 29th December, driving home from the Black Isle after Christmas.

HV Morton in his classic travelogue, In Search of Scotland, wrote “…nowhere on earth is quite like Scotland. It is an incredibly beautiful and moody country. No, it isn’t all sunshine, flowers and warmth…..There is only mist, wind, rain, the cry of the curlew and the slow clouds above damp moorland. That is the real Scotland; … that is the Scotland that even a stranger learns to love”.
Morton was getting emotional about Scotland which he generally wrote about very realistically and entertainingly. But he had a get-out clause – if he had been faced with December’s destructive weather he didn’t need to hang around long enough to learn to love it. He would have jumped in his car and driven back home to London.
Moody Scotland
Robert Burns described a walk during a wild storm. “There is scarcely any earthly object gives me more – I do not know if I should call it pleasure, but something which exalts me, something which enraptures me – than a walk on the sheltered side of a wood or high plantation on a cloudy winter day, and hear the stormy wind howling among the trees and raving over the plain.”

I can identify with those sentiments. Inka and I go out each afternoon, sometimes in fairly disagreeable conditions. He’s got an effective waterproof hair shirt – after all, Labradors are water dogs. I dress according to the conditions and the weather presents no problems.

We walk on the sheltered side of the woods and hear the wind howling through the high branches. We don’t venture beyond the trees to experience the wind raving over the plain, which seems a bit extreme.

Like HV Morton, I can love this moody Scotland. Like Burns, I find it exhilarating to walk through wild winds and driving rain, meeting the elements head on.

We have been fortunate in our corner of the Mearns. We haven’t escaped the incessant rain but we have been spared its worst excesses which have so disastrously affected so many lives. It would be hardly surprising, however, if those whose homes have been devastated by the flooding don’t recognise the rosy landscape conjured up by Burns and HV Morton.

I miss one thing though. We lived for a time in a house which had an ancient Wellstood stove in the kitchen. Above the stove was a plate rack which I put my cap on whenever I came indoors so that it was warmed through whenever I went outdoors again. I still have the same bunnet but I miss the old stove.

Wet wildlife
Wildlife has been affected too. Waterfowl and the likes of otters can cope with the conditions better but for other creatures feathers and fur are protection against the elements only for so long.

I’ve hardly seen a pheasant scratching about on the stubbles – they’ve taken to the shelter of the woods. From beneath a hedge of broom Inka put up a small covey of our native grey partridge, which was exciting in itself as they have suffered such a decline in numbers.

I sometimes see brown hares which, unlike rabbits, live above ground and rest in a shallow scrape called a form – which I was brought up to call a flap. With so much water standing in the fields they have come into the woods too.

I’ve kept the bird feeders well stocked which has attracted a lot more visitors. A great spotted woodpecker – a female – has made a welcome return to the peanuts. Both sexes have bright red rumps but the males have a splash of crimson plumage on the crown of their heads as well.

Around the end of March I’ll be listening for the familiar drumming on a resonant old tree or branch, which is their mating call.

The garden songbirds descend on the seed feeder as soon as I put it out. They are fussy devils. I watch them picking through the various seeds, discarding those they don’t want onto the grass below. Luckily there are blackbirds, a woodpigeon and collared doves waiting to hoover them up.

Tricky hats
The weather has brought out a rash of hats on ladies. Not just ordinary hats that you might see walking down any High Street but fierce, confrontational hats made from waxed cotton, clearly intended to catch strong men off their guard.

They are worn low down on the forehead so that you have no idea who is beneath them. You see them in glossy, sporty magazines usually on ladies with packs of Labradors or spaniels, striding across windswept hillsides.

I met one such hat while walking Inka on Tuesday. What with her long stockman’s-style waterproof coat and wellies, I should have had no idea whether or not to acknowledge the lady if I hadn’t recognised her dog. So a potential etiquette gaffe was avoided – thanks to a dog.

Written on Saturday, January 9th, 2016 at 10:16 pm for Weekly.