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.

Hedgerow fruits head for the pot

July 16th, 2016

DSC03561WE TAKE it for granted that the countryside is full of colour but, surprisingly, the palette of colours of our Scottish wild flowers is just five.

Inka and I took a favourite walk up the bank of the River North Esk starting at Inveriscandye, below Edzell. It’s a walk where there is something new to see and to hear almost at every step. The farm sits in the middle of the Strathmore plain, the river its east boundary, and there are 360° views all along the way.

As we left the farm steading a well grown leveret burst out of the growing corn and hotfooted it up the track. Like most hunting dogs, when he was young Inka would have taken off after it. Now, after much serious talking and gazing deep into each others’ eyes, he has not lost the instinct to chase but he comes to heel when he is told.

The river level was low, exposing ledges of rock on the far bank normally under water. No sign of fishermen, but no fish were moving.

New life
Inka disturbed a hen pheasant which ran ahead of us, tempting Inka to chase her. I’ve little doubt she had chicks hiding in the undergrowth. 100 yards further on we caught up with her and this time she rose and I watched her fly in a low, wide arc back to her chicks.

As we turned to walk back a covey of five grey partridge rose from beneath a hedge. They were half grown and flying weakly but it was good to see them. Our native grey breed have been in decline for many years, so much so that they are on the RSPB’s red list of endangered birds.

Grey partridge are endearing birds and, for me, much more attractive than the introduced French or red legged partridge which are now so well established they are almost regarded as indigenous to Scotland. My authentic voice of autumn, going back to my childhood, has been the sound of grey partridge calling to each other as they settle for the night in the October dusk, their creaking calls sounding like a piece of rusty wire pulled through an old fencing staple.

Pleasure and pain
My indispensible reference book, Scottish Wild Flowers by Mary McMurtrie, classifies our native flowers by colour into white, red/pink, yellow, blue/purple and green.

I picked several of the flowers on the riverbank. Most don’t have a long life in the vase but they’re a flash of colour and the Doyenne enjoys them. I found the strangely named purple Melancholy thistle, so-called because in mediaeval times a distillation of the plant was used to treat melancholia. Tiny white stitchwort struggled to climb through the tall, rank grasses but it peeped through the shorter grass by the side of the track. Blue cranesbill and purple vetch grow in profusion. Although it is from the same family, meadow vetchling is yellow.

It’s the season for blowsy, white flowers like Fool’s parsley and pignut or Lucy Arnot, and frothy meadowsweet which crowds the riverbank. Red campion reminds me of ragged robin which hasn’t gone ragged. And completing my colour chart were the only-too painfully familiar stinging nettles – but I didn’t bother picking any of them!

Nature’s gifts
It’s the season of the year when my gathering rather than my hunting instincts come into their own and the Doyenne’s kitchen has an air of the witches’ cave in Macbeth – double, double toil and trouble, and all that.

It’s a good year for hedgerow harvesting. The elderflower bushes are covered in plate-sized heads of white blossom and there’s still time to make delicious elderflower cordial. There’s nothing more restorative after an afternoon cutting the grass than a cooling glass of ice cold cordial with several crushed spearmint leaves to add extra zing.

The Doyenne drizzles a little of the syrup on strawberries and to ginger up fruit salads. And we freeze it in ice trays and add a frozen cube to gin and tonic – it’s just part of our simple homespun lifestyle.

The bramble blossom is flourishing and it promises to be a good harvest of the delicious black berries. The Doyenne will make bramble jelly which is one of life’s moreish experiences. She’s made this year’s raspberry jam and jelly and strawberry jam – little wonder I cast a generous shadow. The wild raspberries, which ripen before the brambles, are forming well on the bushes.

Contrast
The silhouette against the blue sky was unmistakably a swift and it was a surprise visitor. Although their flight, shape and general appearance are similar to the swallows they are not the same family. The plumage is dark brown with just a chinstrap of white feathers to break the over-all colour and their scimitar-shaped wings make them instantly recognisable.

It’s been three years since I’ve seen one over the house so its arrival really was special. My hope is that it has a mate and is nesting perhaps in one of the neighbouring farm buildings. So often you don’t realise what you have been missing until it makes a welcome reappearance.

Written on Saturday, July 16th, 2016 at 12:30 pm for Weekly.