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.

A native in great danger

March 10th, 2018

shooting-conservation-grey-partridgeTHE BIG Thaw struck and the landscape took on a distinctly unhealthy colour. Deep fog descended like a wet blanket and it was all dubs and gutters underfoot. The snowdrops closed their petals and hung their heads in gloom.

Not that it made any difference to Inka who padded round the house as usual making it clear he, at least, was ready for a walk. We’re slaves to his timetable. You can set your watch by his internal time clock. Come six o’clock, on the button, he’s nudging me in the arm, telling me it’s supper time.

The countryside closes down in these conditions. There’s little birdsong in the woods and only the blackbirds are active, scratching amongst the beech leaves for insects and loudly scolding Inka when he disturbs them.

In recent days, walking along the margins of the fields near home we’ve disturbed a single partridge, one of our native, grey partridge. This time last year there was a covey of seven. Maybe it’s an old bird which has been rejected by the covey but I fear it is the only survivor, the rest fallen prey to foxes and buzzards.

Grey partridge are in danger of being a seriously endangered species and we cannot afford to lose them, even under natural conditions of predator and prey – although it’s difficult to see how that can be avoided This one likely won’t be pairing up to nest this spring and I wonder if it will even survive much longer. The partridge you see out on your walks will almost definitely be French red legged partridge, more flashy and colourful than our native species.

Dumpy little birds, rather like elderly, stout persons, brown and chestnut plumage on their flanks, soft grey underparts and a distinctive dark horseshoe of feathers on the breast, grey partridge are probably my favourite farmland bird. My memories are of being out with my father in the autumn dusk, hearing their creaky calls, like a piece of rusty fencing wire being pulled through a rusty staple as they settled down to roost for the night.

Weather conditions have been dreadful in much of Scotland but in our part of the Mearns we’ve got off lightly compared to some of the extended family. A niece in Suffolk was snowed in, without power, for two days. The husband of a cousin in a remote part of the Borders threatened to marry the dog. He couldn’t get out to buy my cousin’s daily fix of wine and matters reached such a low ebb that the dog was being kinder to him than his wife.

We heard that Waitrose in a well-to-do part of Edinburgh suffered a crisis, running out not of bread and milk and other basics, but of Prosecco and crisps – that’s up-market panic buying for you.

Our son in Inverness sent regular messages wondering what all the fuss was about as there wasn’t so much as a skinny snowflake to be seen up there. The Doyenne’s niece in New Zealand emailed to say that even with just a sheet over her she was still too hot in bed – and she wondered why the family’s responses were a tad abrupt!

While the snow lay deep and crisp and even, the walks last thing at night with Inka were quite magical. The wind dropped right away and I was surrounded by utter silence. The moon was hidden by cloud but there was enough reflected light off the snow to turn off the torch.

The night-time world can be a busy place with night travellers and night workers going about their business. Without the clutter of daytime countryside noise, sound would have travelled great distances on the still air but not so much as the hoot of an owl was heard or a dog barking, not even the wild geese’s faint cries.

Walking in the pale half-light, just me and my dog, I was cocooned in my wee personal world and the rest of the universe seemed a long way away.

A bit of history
Writing about curling last week involved research into the history of the game going back to the sixteenth century and the oldest known curling stone dated 1511. The game encouraged poets to burst into verse – “Let rogues and let fools rin to cards and to dice, / And gamblin’, sit girnin’ and gurlin’ / But honest men ken that tho’ slipp’ry the ice, / Still fair play an’ fun gang wi’ Curlin'”.

There appears to be a tradition that Blairgowrie curlers played for “beef and greens”, paid for by the losers. In 1745 a winning rink were unceremoniously deprived of their prize by hungry Jacobite clansmen – “Tradition tells a story of the village, / About the ’45 or still more early, / Of rude invasion, foraging and pillage / By some bold soldiers following Prince Charlie / Who on a winter evening came to Blair / And greedily ate up the curlers’ fare”.

Bonnie Prince Charlie may have been a prince but curlers know the game’s the king.

Written on Saturday, March 10th, 2018 at 6:38 pm for Weekly.