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.

Mrs Tiggywinkle’s boys

May 21st, 2016

DSC03421MAY IS bustin’ out all over – well, it is here in the Mearns. In the song from the 1960s musical, Carousel, it’s actually June that is bustin’ out all over. The story is set in the fishing port of Maine, in New England, on the US eastern seaboard, and perhaps the season is later over there. Or did June just sound better in the lyrics? – I haven’t the faintest idea.

Carousel is one of my schoolboy memories as it was the first film I ever bunked off from boarding school to see. On a sunny, Saturday afternoon when we would have been better off enjoying the outdoors, four of us cycled from Musselburgh to the cinema in Dalkeith, saw the film and cycled back to school in time for tea.

But so much for my shady past. Green is the dominant colour in the countryside just now. The trees are certainly bustin’ into leaf, and more. One of my walks with Inka is through an old felled plantation which has reseeded naturally with birches. In just the last few days the new leaves have opened, shivering in the slightest breeze and catching the sun.

Spring promises
We pass a horse-chestnut tree every morning with broad leaves divided like the fingers of a plump hand. Its white Roman Candle blossoms have erupted into flower which will transform into conkers in the autumn. A pink variation of the blossom can be seen on chestnut trees along the main drive of The Burn House, outside Edzell.

Horse-chestnuts are so-called because new twigs grow from distinctive horseshoe-shaped leaf scars left over from previous years.

The north-east of Scotland has a legacy of beech woods planted up to 250 years ago by the agricultural improvers of the time. I look forward at this time of year to walking through these gracious cathedrals of greenery, the sun streaming through the translucent, fresh green foliage, and a mood of peaceful withdrawal from the world.

The ground has warmed up with the recent good weather and another miracle of nature has taken place. One day, driving round the countryside, all I saw were brown fields, and the next a shadow of green had carpeted the bare earth. Not the famous green shoots of recovery, but the green shoots of new growth and the promise of a harvest.

Prickly questions
We found a hedgehog in our garden several nights ago, which hasn’t happened for a long time. Unfortunately it seemed to have disappeared by the morning but it was encouraging to think that there might be a breeding pair and we should see more of them.

They are the gardener’s friend and, given the right habitat, they can be encouraged to move in and clear a garden of slugs and unwelcome insects such as beetles which are the gardener’s nightmare. Hedgehogs used to be so common, but their numbers have declined until they are now heading for the endangered list. Changes in farming practises have been blamed but gardening habits are probably as much, if not more, to blame.

Hedgehogs get their name for good reason – they are most at home rootling around hedge bottoms and rough, uncultivated areas where they find their prey. Modern gardens have perimeter walls and fencing to exclude them and, anyway, the average urban garden is manicured to within an inch of its life. Hedgehogs will stay in your garden if you provide them with the right shelter – compost heaps are ideal.

They are generally nocturnal animals and have a strange effect on dogs – at least on mine. Whenever Inka has found one, curled up in its protective ball, he doesn’t know how to deal with it and capers round about it whining like a demented idiot. His grandfather, Inka One, went slightly doolally and barked hysterically at them until I chased him off. The late, lamented Macbeth showed his utter disregard by lifting his leg and peeing on them.

Some years ago I had a springer spaniel called Stan who lovingly retrieved them to me. Despite the most horrible threats he refused to drop them. The answer to the problem was to chuck him under the chin and give him a mouthful of spines. But he never seemed to injure them because they wouldn’t be where we left them when we looked again.

They aren’t the flea-ridden, spiny rats that urban myth would have us believe. They are not Mrs Tiggywinkle either, but a healthy hedgehog has no more fleas than any other wild animal. And a bit of universal advice – don’t put out saucers of milk to attract them; the milk gives them diarrhoea which can result in death.

A recent article suggested that hedgehog numbers have stabilised and that the reason we see so few is that the population has become more thinly spread throughout the countryside.

It’s true that I see fewer roadkill hedgehogs but that might be telling its own story that they are indeed vanishing, at least from this part of the north-east, and consequently there are fewer left to fall victim to speeding cars.

Written on Saturday, May 21st, 2016 at 6:36 pm for Weekly.