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.

Feasting on the seasons

April 7th, 2018

ALL MY enthusiastic predictions about spring have turned – I was going to say to ashes – but to snow.  Easter is supposed to herald spring – or is it the other way round?  There is early spring and late spring, meteorological spring and the astrological one.  Frankly, the whole thing is a liturgical nightmare.

This year, falling on first April, Easter was early.  The Doyenne, who has a mind for these things, remembers it falling as early as 26th March.

The natural rotation of the earth round the sun forms the basis for the astronomical calendar and the seasons are defined by the vernal or spring equinox and autumnal equinox and by the summer and winter solstices.  Every four years the whole system is thrown into confusion by the inclusion of an extra day each Leap Year.

Meteorological spring encompasses the months of March, April and May and the succeeding seasons follow in three monthly periods – altogether a simpler and more consistent system.

While our family were school age the Whitson family, for the Easter school holiday, used to decant up to St Drostan’s Lodge, just beyond Tarfside at the head of Glenesk, which is managed by the Episcopal Church but is available to groups on a non-denominational basis.

The re-opening of the Lodge after winter always coincided with Easter.  Some years we arrived in deep snow and, others, lambs were being born in the field across the road in glorious sunshine – an instructive experience especially for the children of our friends who joined us each year from the south of England.

In contrast to Christmas which is celebrated each year on December 25th, Easter is designated as a moveable feast having no fixed date and falling, as it does, on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal or spring equinox which occurs on 20th March.

An eight line stanza of unknown origin and antiquity was our forebears’ ready reckoner for calculating Easter’s annual moveable date. 

First comes Candlemas, / An syne the new meen, / The first Tuesday aifter that / Is Fastern’s Een. / That meen oot / An the neist meen’s hicht / An the first Sunday aifter that / Is Pess richt.

Loosely translated, it reads – The first Tuesday after the new moon following Candlemas (2nd February) is the eve preceding the first day of the Fast of Lent (Shrove Tuesday).  Accordingly, when the aforesaid new moon has waned, the first Sunday after the next full moon is Easter.  So there you have it.

Escaping the weather
Several afternoons there’s been sleety rain driven by a lazy wind – one that goes through you because it’s too idle to go round – which blew up about the North Pole, gathered strength as it raced across gun-metal grey Arctic seas until it hit our northern shore, scampered over the Cairngorms and in a final burst of devilment fell upon the unsuspecting folk of The Mearns.

So Inka and I have been walking in the shelter of the Forestry Commission woods at Capo Quarry and Capo Long Barrow, a long, raised Neolithic burial mound dating from about 3000BC, give or take a century.  Three roe deer does stepped daintily from the cover of the trees onto the woodland track.  Stopping, they gazed at us, heads erect, ready to respond to the least sign of danger, their flickering radar ears receiving and decoding all the messages from round about.  Deciding we were no sort of threat they glided into the trees on the other side of the track, their distinctive white scuts the last I saw of them.

By the time we walked the thirty yards to where they had gone in they had disappeared.  They are so at one with their surroundings you would almost think they could hide behind a blade of grass.  Luckily Inka isn’t a chaser of wildlife and he gazed at them quite disinterestedly.  Mind you, I’ve known some classic chasers – never one of mine, you’ll understand – which would have pursued the deer across three parishes, barking and yelping every step of the way.

High flying buzzards
Unusually, buzzards are bird of the week.  I was on the quiet road which hugs the shoulder of the hills between Edzell and Kirriemuir.  Long views down broad Strathmore carry the eye to the Sidlaw Hills protecting Dundee.  Rounding a corner I almost ran down a buzzard which was feeding on a road-kill rabbit.

I drew alongside and it gazed at me with glittering eyes and a haughty look of ill-concealed contempt which implied it would be best if I carried on my way.  It lost patience at my intrusion and, after a final disdainful glare, took flight, trailing the rabbit carcase from its talons.

Scarcely a mile further on I was treated to a pair of buzzards’ aerial courtship display soaring, tumbling, diving, twisting and turning round each other.  At one point I thought they must crash into the ground but, masters of their element, they flared out their wings, stalled and climbed high into the sky again.

Written on Saturday, April 7th, 2018 at 8:55 pm for Weekly.