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.

North and south, land and sea

March 5th, 2016

DSC03259THE RIVER North Esk traditionally – for folk of my generation, at any rate – formed a distinct boundary between the communities to the south of it and those to the north. The county of Angus on the south and Kincardineshire to the north. Courier readers in the south, and readers loyal to the P&J in the north. Cross the North Esk, north or south, and the timbre of the accent changes.

Improvements in communication and changes in the demographic make-up of the north-east have gradually broken down these parochial barriers. But one thing that doesn’t change is the character of the land.

Last Saturday was far too good to be sitting indoors so the Doyenne and I, and Inka too, set off up the A90 to drive across to the coast and see the sea.

Farmers had been taking advantage of the open weather to plough up the stubbles which had lain dormant over the winter, in preparation for this year’s planting. The strong midday sun on the distinctive Kincardineshire red clay soil emphasised the comparison with the rich brown loam of the Angus farms across the river.

A web of country roads criss-crosses the shoulder of hills separating the eastern limits of Strathmore from the coastal plain. We turned off the A90 at the sign to Upper Powburn which takes you past attractively named Sootywells. Keep on that road and you join the A92 at Brotherton just above Johnshaven.

But our destination this time was Gourdon. Driving down the steep hill to the harbour the sun was bouncing off a pellucid sea and the roofs of the village below us.

Compliments
Our stomachs told us it was time for lunch. We popped into the Harbour Bar and both ordered Cullen Skink which was top of the menu. It was a meal all on its own and the girl who made it comes close to the Doyenne in her soup making skills. We were served with a plate of soup my granny would have described as “thick enough to trot a mouse on”.

Next stop was the Kirktown Garden Centre at Stonehaven where the Doyenne was paid such a charming compliment that I wish I’d thought of it myself. She was giggling like a schoolgirl at the low humour of the silly birthday cards on display. The owner came out of his office – “I can’t tell you how much pleasure it’s given me listening to you laughing”, he said.

The Doyenne was so touched she bought a winter jasmine for the garden.

Our road home took us through the back hills to Auchenblae and countryside reminiscent of the Borders – wide rolling hills and large grass fields. A tractor and plough was working in one of the fields and the afternoon sun caught the sheen of newly turned earth as it fell cleanly off the plough blades.

Through narrow Drumtochty Glen, which is best seen in summer when the sun is highest in the sky and penetrates its steep wooded shoulders. And home for a cup of tea and a slice of sultana cake.

Alarums and excursions
Several times I’ve reported on being out with the dogs last thing and hearing the alarm calls of cock pheasants all round me, and queried what could have been the cause. It happened again last Wednesday evening.

I’ve recently read a remarkable report of a Lincolnshire countryman who heard prolonged crowing of pheasants on 24th January 1915, for no apparent reason.

The accepted explanation was that the birds had been disturbed by the air vibrations of heavy gunfire several hundred miles away during the First World War sea battle of Dogger Bank when the German High Seas Fleet received a pasting from squadrons of the British Grand Fleet under Admiral Beatty.

Which puts a different light on my own theories about our local disturbances but really leaves me none the wiser.

Kill or cure
Over the years I’ve written about some esoteric countryside remedies that I am invariably assured are sure-fire panaceas for the ailment they are intended to cure. One was putting corks in the bed to counteract night-time cramps.

Quite how the matter cropped up in the conversation I can’t remember, but during my last visit to the chiropodist – or podiatrist as I must now call him – he told me that an even more effective treatment is a bar of carbolic soap in the bed. He couldn’t say whether it should put at the foot of the bed, or under the pillow but the patient who recommended it swore blind it works.

The point really is – what put such an idea into someone’s head in the first place? Did it just happen by accident or is there scientific support for the remedy?

Carbolic soap started to be manufactured around the middle of the nineteenth century so it can’t truly be said to be a traditional remedy. Not like the advice against eating too large quantities of mushrooms which could result in “wishful reflection”. A safeguard against “accidents” from such overindulgence was a hen dung and vinegar emetic!

You would wonder which was worse.

Written on Saturday, March 5th, 2016 at 8:28 pm for Weekly.