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.

Voices trailing through the air

April 21st, 2018

TOO COMMON a sight at this time of year are the crumpled corpses of cock pheasants lying at the roadsides.

They are at their most resplendent just now – rich copper plumage with hedgerow browns shot through with iridescent green and purple, shading off towards the rump.  Metallic-green head plumage, distinctive white collar, scarlet cheek wattles and erect feathered ear tufts giving them an alert appearance

And as if that isn’t enough – russet tail feathers, as long again as the body, trailing grandly behind, glittering eyes, a supercilious attitude and you can understand why they are one of nature’s exquisites.

Not content with one mate, you’ll see them guarding harems of six or seven hens – more if they can keep the competition at bay.  They have sharp spurs at the back of their legs and are quick to use them to see off rivals.

Strutting around in their mating finery, fizzing with testosterone, they are the authors of their own demise, forgetting about the realities of life.  Their broken bodies lie at the roadsides, victims of their own conceit and the speeding motor cars they forgot to pay attention to.  In death the vibrancy of their plumage fades almost immediately.

Fundamentals

I was in conversation with a farmer who – along with every other farmer I imagine – was increasingly frustrated by the wet weather which has held up sowing.  He reckoned he was four weeks behind in getting in a crop and it was so bad he was thinking that he would have to work 24-hours a day for a week to catch up.

Nature has a way of catching up too but if the growing season loses as much as a month the all-important yield is reduced, with a loss of profitability – which is not good for farmers.  In a spirit of rural cooperation I offered him a bit of practical farming advice which might have escaped his attention.

In the eighteenth century when farmers wanted to know if the ground was warm enough to start the spring ploughing they dropped their breeks and tested the temperature of the earth with their bare doup, or buttocks. In the face of science and supposed progress the practise seems to have gone out of fashion but – as with other things – the old ways are sometimes the best.

A reader contacted me with a query.  While driving up Glenesk he had noticed stones placed, apparently at random, on top of fencing posts – did I know the reason?

I enquired but no one could provide a satisfactory answer although the glen roadman had noticed the same thing.  It seems it might be something walkers in the glen have started to do, perhaps to mark distances walked.

Men of the road

The reintroduction of the job of glen roadman some years ago was an imaginative approach on the part of Angus Council to regeneration in the glen.  It restored a local service to the glen, delivered locally.

Forty years ago, and more, county councils employed roadmen whose job was to keep ditches and gullies open to drain off surface water.  Glenesk had three roadmen, or lengthsmen, each responsible for a section of the glen road.

The present roadman is responsible for the whole glen and also for picking up litter (which in a better world wouldn’t be dropped in the first place), cutting grass in the churchyards and at the war memorial.  The glen benefits from his regular attention.

Forty years ago, and more, the Doyenne and I were bringing up our family in the old manse at rural Logie Pert, between Montrose and Marykirk.

Jocky Elrick was our local roadman and lived in a council cottage several hundred yards down the road from us.  We saw him most days, pushing his bike which served as his barrow – no question then of a council vehicle – with his ditching tools tied onto it with old fashioned binder twine.

He was a short man, bent from a lifetime of working over a spade.  Sometimes the only way you’d know he was there was the plume of pipe smoke drifting into the air from the deep drain he was working in.

Jocky lived with his son and on warm summer evenings the two of them sometimes sat outside their cottage playing their squeeze boxes.  A dip back into yesteryear – it’s what this column thrives on.

Farewell

I was woken at half past five by the sound of geese passing over the house.  I’ve heard little of them in recent days and I got up and went into the garden.  They were travelling high and north – probably at the start of the long flight, following immemorial flight lines, to their summer nesting grounds in Greenland and Iceland.

To quote Violet Jacob, who was so emotionally attuned to the landscape and wildlife of her native north-east, ‘their cryin’ voices trailed ahint them on the air.’  I shall miss them, as I always do, but I’ll be looking out for them again about the end of the third week of September.

Written on Saturday, April 21st, 2018 at 7:46 am for Weekly.