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.

Food and food for thought

April 14th, 2018

BEING SOLD at Taylors Auctions, Montrose, last Saturday was an unusual item of Scottish domestic history.  It was a pine bacon settle and it was only the second one I’ve come across.  I could get no information about them from Marion Lochhead’s The Scottish Household in the 18th Century, nor from F. Marion McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen, which suggests they are pretty rare.

The example here had been shelved as the owner clearly had no use for its original purpose.  Hams of bacon were hung in a cupboard, or press, built onto the back of the bench.  The original hooks to hang the hams were still in place and the settle would have stood in the kitchen near the warmth of the old-fashioned solid fuel stove, and the meat gently cured over a period of months.  I hope the new owner appreciates his purchase and the history that comes with it.

Family weekend
We see too little of our daughter Cait and her family despite living only an hour and a half from each other, so we looked forward to spending last weekend with them.  The drive down was under overcast skies but we woke on Sunday to a bright, sunny morning.

Their cottage sits on the lower flanks of Craig Rossie, looking across the long, broad valley of Strathearn – described as “opulence of lowland beauty” – to Crieff and the Breadalbane Hills.

It was a treat to have a lie-in knowing that, if necessary, son-in-law Gibson would look after Inka and their own holy terror, Rosie, the smallest and most volatile Jack Russell I have ever encountered.  She treats Inka as if he were lower than the dust beneath her paws and he, the big sap, allows her to dominate him when he should give her a nip on her well-upholstered rear end.

Grandson James arrived in time for lunch after an evening of partying – some things don’t change.  Time for a walk with the dogs and to enjoy the long views up and down the strath.   We left after tea and it was good to be able to arrive home still in daylight.

War drums
This time last year I reported a blue tit repeatedly attacking its reflection in the kitchen windows – presumably seeing off perceived intruders from its territory during nesting time.  It’s happening again this year.  We don’t know if it’s the same bird fighting its shadow – blue tits live two or three years on average – but the poor bird is driving itself demented on a futile endeavour.

It’s at this time of year that we realise how many woodpeckers there are locally.  It’s hard to be accurate but I’ve heard six or seven drumming in the mornings when I’m out with Inka.  Most seem to have paired up but one lonely bird is still persistently drumming on a tree at the edge of the village, hoping to attract a mate.  It seems a hopeless quest unless there’s a lonely female out there waiting for Mr Right to tap into her inner self.

A haunting glen
It was as well I took the chance of the fine weather on Monday to drive with Inka into Glenesk, for Tuesday turned out cold and wet.  The Retreat Museum is open now for the season and I dropped into the cafe for a sustaining bowl of chunky tattie and leek soup – home-made, just as you’d expect up the glen – and a sandwich combo.

Afterwards I drove through Tarfside, parked behind St Drostan’s Lodge and set off with Inka up the Whisky Trail.  If you’re thinking of doing the walk with a dog, take a lead.  Ground nesting birds will soon be sitting on eggs, sheep are heavily pregnant and shouldn’t be disturbed by uncontrolled dogs, and soon there will be lambs too.

I sat for a while with my thoughts and my dog for company.  Red grouse were kek, kekking all round me.  The moorland birds are back in the glen after overwintering at the coast.  Oyster catchers flew purposefully overhead, heading for only they knew where, uttering their clear, piping calls.  The bubbling trill of whaups (curlews), gliding on extended wings in their display flight, announced their breeding season is beginning.  And, for me, probably the most evocative experiences of spring are the peesies’ (peewits’) tumbling, rolling, twisting courtship displays and their haunting p’weet, p’weet song.

I must have done something good in a previous life to have been granted the privilege of living in such magical surroundings.

In a hollow, hidden from view, is a pond where frogs come every year to mate.  By this time I’d have expected to see lots of amorous male frogs clasping female frogs in their mating embrace known as amplexus, which can last several days as the female produces as many as two thousand eggs which the male fertilises as she lays them.

Perhaps mating is late due to the recent hard weather or maybe their numbers have plummeted, but I saw only one small patch of frog spawn in the water.

Written on Saturday, April 14th, 2018 at 10:15 am for Weekly.