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.

Colourful spring

April 9th, 2016

DSC03347THE LYCRA season is hotting up. The Doyenne and I drove to St Fillans last weekend to meet her niece and her partner at The Four Seasons Hotel and we noticed more than usual Lycrist activity on the road. Yellow, red, white, even blue plumaged Lycrists speeding along their traditional migratory routes.

Cycling is all rather too intense for me these days. My first bike had sit-up-and-beg handlebars and I often cycled from Montrose to Forfar, returning by Aberlemno and Brechin. I could watch the countryside but I do wonder how much today’s cyclists see, crouched over their handlebars.

Every outing seems to be a race, legs pumping, breathing laboured. And, as often as not, solitary too. I wouldn’t mind the solitary bit – I’m quite comfortable with my own company. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely.

You’ll realise I’m for the easy option. Anyway Lycra is not my style; muted tweeds are more my thing. You won’t meet me toiling on two wheels along some Highland road or over a desolate mountain pass. I shall be walking dogs or in my car, which is why my shadow remains stubbornly generous. The Lycrists, on the other hand, are lean, fit and in the pink, which may turn out to be this year’s fashion statement.

Roman legend
The road to St Fillans is a familiar one. Over the years it has been our usual route to the west. From Perth we head for Crieff and Comrie in Strathearn, the valley of the River Earn. It is on the line of the Highland Boundary Fault – Highland glens, lochs and mountains to the north; fertile Lowland farmland and towns to the south. There’s a legend that Pontius Pilate was born in Strathearn.

To find a spot to have our picnic and to walk Inka we turned off the A85 at Gilmerton, just before Crieff, and took the high road (A822) through the Sma’ Glen towards romantically sounding Amulree, and Aberfeldy. Historically, it was one of the principal drove roads from the Highlands to the important Cattle Tryst or market at Crieff.

Once you are on the tops there are wonderful views west and east. I can never decide which I like better but it’s a lovely road to drive either way, especially later in the spring when there’s more colour on the hills.

The Shakky Toun
Comrie is the earthquake centre of Scotland due to its position on the Highland Fault and the movement of its tectonic plates. The Earthquake House, housing one of the first ever seismometers, was built in 1874 to measure earthquake activity and it is still going strong. I’ve never experienced so much as a nervous shiver on my visits to the village but it is the origin of its nickname of the Shakky Toun.

It was overcast when we got to St Fillans, but the view up Loch Earn was still magnificent. Hardy early-season sailors and waterskiers were out on the water and it must have been chilly. Years ago I lay, in blazing sunshine, on a heather-topped hill in Glen Ogle, which extends westwards from Lochearnhead, and watched seven golden eagles wheeling miles high in the sky above me, looking about the size of starlings. A magical experience.

Opposite the hotel, standing in the shallows of the loch is a stainless steel statue of a man known as STILL. Further out, a mute swan repeatedly called to its mate. They are anything but mute although you don’t often hear their call. It’s an explosive grunt or bark that’s at odds with such a graceful bird.

I was pleased to hear that the hotel is dog friendly and that Jane’s labrador, Fergus, could spend the night in the bedroom, in comfort.

Spring surprises
Each morning Inka and I leave the house and pass a horse chestnut tree with its sticky young buds. They’ll soon open out into the familiar white roman candle-shaped blossom. Further on we pass a patch of white butterbur, one of the earlier spring flowers. The flowers are bunched together in clusters at the top of the stalk and it has long heart-shaped leaves. When we lived outside Brechin I found pink butterbur in the local woods.

The bird feeders in the garden are attracting several new visitors. A cock pheasant calls daily. He stays about twenty minutes feeding on the discarded seeds lying in the grass then stalks grandly over to the fence and flies into our neighbours’ garden, giving us a haughty gaze as we watch him from the window. A pigeon with a gammy foot, which looks quite painful, hirples across the grass.

The surprises are yellowhammers which I associate more with farmland. We live on the edge of farmland but I don’t expect to see them in the garden. More surprising are siskins whose natural habitat is conifers, and the nearest are about a quarter of a mile away. They feed only on the nyger seeds along with the goldfinches. I don’t question the why of their appearance, I’m just delighted to see such colourful visitors.

Written on Saturday, April 9th, 2016 at 11:12 am for Weekly.