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.

Cats have a place in the world too

December 10th, 2016

dsc03884CATS DON’T get much of an airing in this column. It’s not that as a family we have an aversion to them, just that we’ve never been very successful as cat people. So, long ago we decided that we were better sticking to dogs.

We did try to have a mixed animal family and over a period had three kittens, none of which survived into adulthood. They are buried in a garden along with Syd the rabbit and a hamster that, in a bid for freedom, hid behind a door and was sadly crushed. I can’t remember its name now but it was rather unkindly referred to as Flat Stanley for a while thereafter.

Buried in the same garden are Jasper and Stan, two hard-working springer spaniels of whom I have fond memories. And Gibby, an imposing black Labrador who had one of the most noble Labrador heads that I’ve known.

Our grandchildren have cats and dogs that live together amicably although the cats display an air of bored superiority and distant toleration of the canine members of the family. We have visited with Inka – and Macbeth when he was alive – and so long as they have been in the house there has never been any aggression.

Away from the domestic situation can be different and it is an awkward fact of life that a dog meeting a strange cat may want to chase it.

Out last thing with Inka on Tuesday it was foggy and so dark that I lost sight of his shadowy black figure moving about beyond the light of the torch. I knew he wouldn’t be far away but he was closer than I thought. There was an angry growl and an explosive burst of activity; something very black raced across my feet with Inka so close behind he just about couped me over.

Luckily I can stop Inka on a sixpence if he starts to chase a cat, which I presumed it was. The cat was safe anyway, lost among the high branches of a thick yew tree and Inka prowling round the foot of it.

I don’t know how many lives that cat started off the evening with, but I’d say it gave at least one a sair fleg.

Early visitors
We hadn’t been up to the wee loch at the foot of Glen Esk for several days. There hadn’t been much to see then as it was almost completely frozen over except for a rushy patch at the top. Hemmed in with trees on three sides it is a real frost pocket.

There was still ice round the fringes when Inka and I were up again this week but there was more activity. I heard, before I saw, the resident mallard duck coffee shopping amongst themselves as usual. There was also a pack of 60 or 70 widgeon which I expect had flown in from the coast. Their unmistakable whee-oo whistling calls mixed in with those of the mallard.

They were as wild as the very devil and catapulted themselves into the air as soon as they caught sight of Inka and flew round the loch several times in tight formation watching me as I settled into my regular seat among the roots of an elder statesman beech tree close to the water’s edge.

It was probably about seven years ago that I first reported a pair of wigeon up there, which arrived in the spring and stayed on to nest. The numbers of visiting birds has risen each winter, although in springtime most pair up and disperse to nest elsewhere.

A pair of mute swans and a cygnet still in immature plumage were cruising gracefully along the foot of the loch. Swans will lay up to eight eggs so I’m wondering whether this pair simply had a disastrous hatch or lost cygnets through some other natural cause.

The leaf withereth
Trees are plants on a grand scale. The tallest, oldest and most massive living things on our planet are trees. They don’t wither and die in winter and they shape our landscape, providing colour and visual pleasure and habitats for wildlife from the tiniest insect to our largest mammal.

As the seasons change so do walks in the woods. Just weeks ago I was walking through green canopies of shade, pushing aside branches which swept down to the ground with the weight of their leaves. A tree surgeon told me that leaves can add up to 50% to the weight of a main limb of a tree.

But the leaves have withered and fallen and I walk unhindered beneath the bare poles of the same trees. I admire their patient gravitas – some planted two centuries ago. I look forward to my winter walks but I’ll soon be looking out for the emergent green of next spring’s leaf crop.

You can’t keep a good Whitson down. As you read this, Astronaut Peggy Whitson is circling in space as current commander of the International Space Station. It’s her third mission and second as commander. Cream, as they say, always rises to the top.

Written on Saturday, December 10th, 2016 at 5:30 pm for Weekly.