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.

Stormy days

March 24th, 2018

Katie seagull 1“IT’S ALL that teuchat storms” was the comment from a walker of my own vintage who I meet regularly. It’s an old expression, rarely heard these days, but I knew fine what he meant.

The lapwing or peewit – teuchat, to use their old Scottish name – is very much a bird of Scotland’s north-east. Country folk spoke of the teuchat storms; wild and blustery weather such as we recently experienced, associated with this time of year and coinciding with the teuchats flying inland to nest after wintering at the coast.

They were so common when I was a youngster. Strikingly bonny birds – iridescent green back plumage contrasting sharply with conspicuous white undersides as they wheel and roll and twist in acrobatic aerial displays, uttering their plaintive, wistful p’weet, p’weet cries. Their numbers are sadly depleted now and they are on the RSPB red list, meaning they have high conservation priority.

It was classic teuchat storm weather last Saturday. Son Robert and his family were visiting for the weekend and we drove to the coast to Gourdon for a fish and chips lunch. Heavy seas, whipped up by an arctic easterly wind, broke over the breakwater, scattering foam along the quay. Storm gates installed to reduce the swell into the inner harbour in conditions like Saturday’s, were closed.

We sat watching seagulls tacking and wheeling in the tugging wind, banking, side-slipping, stalling almost motionless, riding the broken seas – always in control. I have no doubts they were having the seagulls’ equivalent of fun, revelling in their mastery of the conditions.

Making a meal of memories
Tuesday evening saw the Doyenne and me attending Brechin Farmers Club annual dinner where I gave the toast to Agriculture. It’s a great compliment to be asked to undertake such engagements, the more so as this was the second invitation from the Club.

With Brexit so much in the news the temptation might have been to indulge in lofty comment about Brexit’s affect on farming. But I’ve always said that this column is non-controversial and non-political and, anyhow, everything I know about farming and agriculture could probably have been written on the back of the menu.

So it’s good to have memories and I looked back on some of the farming I remember as a youngster.

The whole tempo of farming was slower, horses hadn’t been completely replaced by tractors, and crops such as neeps to feed cattle in winter were carted from the field to the steading in carts drawn by Clydesdale horses. I remember the horsemen riding their horses side-saddle into Montrose, to be reshoed at Harry Maiden’s blacksmith’s forge.

Montrose Auction Company, agricultural auctioneers, held a weekly sale and every Friday morning cattle were driven on foot into the town for sale. The roads down to the Mart were abundantly spattered with evidence of their passing – sharn, it was called, and you didn’t want to step in it.

Montrose had a slaughterhouse, known as ‘the killie’, and David Addison was the slaughterman.

Farms were much more labour intensive then and advertisements for orramen (general worker) appeared in the Situations Vacant column on the front page of this paper which was still published in broadsheet form – ah, now there’s a fond memory!

From manual to mechanical
Mechanisation was taking over more and more of the manual work but tatties on some farms were still planted by hand by squads from the surrounding villages and towns who relied on these seasonal jobs to help make ends meet.

Before the days of mechanical harvesters farmers could never have harvested their crop without the same squads, augmented by schoolchildren – hence the two week tattie holidays – bent double lifting the potatoes by hand.
They were stored over winter in a clamp, or pit, and covered over – happed up – with straw and earth to protect them from frost.

Combine harvesters were still in their infancy post-war and mechanical reaper-binders were commonplace. Some were still drawn by the traditional two or three horses but the majority were drawn by tractor. The reaper cut the corn which was bound into sheafs, with sisal twine round the middle, and the sheafs were tossed out onto the ground.

Eight or ten sheafs were placed head to head in A-shaped stooks to dry the grain. They were brought from the field into the corn yard and biggit (built) into stacks to await the arrival of the travelling threshing machine in the spring.

These were pre-myxomatosis days when farms were overrun with rabbits and dozens of them took cover in the growing corn. Aged about ten I remember being taken by my father at harvest time to Westerton of Rossie farm, outside Montrose, armed with a small, single-barrelled, hammer .410 shotgun. My job was to follow the binder, drawn by a grey Fergie tractor, and when the corn was nearly all cut, and just a square left, to shoot the rabbits as they bolted from the cover. Unthinkable these days.

All that was more than sixty years ago. What will be the face of farming sixty years hence?

Written on Saturday, March 24th, 2018 at 10:50 am for Weekly.