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.

Fish and Founding Fathers

May 5th, 2018

MAY MORNING, first morning of May month, is traditionally the morning that young girls rise at dawn and dash outdoors to bathe their faces in the early morning dew in expectation that it will bestow on them a flawless complexion.

I saw no reason to rise at such an ungodly hour.  After a lifetime of shaving  there’s nothing now that can improve my senescent pelt. When the Doyenne and I were students at Edinburgh University, after a Charities Ball and as dawn broke, we walked up Arthur’s Seat on May Morning so that she might bathe her face in the dew at the summit.  The romance of the moment and the efficacy of hilltop dew was more than enough to ensure she has never had to resort to such radical enhancement since.

So, as usual now, she and I remain tucked up in bed until it is time for me to rise and make the early cup of tea which I bring her first thing every morning.

As a countryside writer I’m lucky to have a wide choice of walks close at hand, but I’ve been introduced to a new one which is an extension of the walk round House of Dun grounds.

I parked off-road beside the old Dun Smiddy, on the road from Dun House to the top of Stracathro Brae, and followed a well defined track into the woods hoping to photograph goldcrests.  In the event I saw no sign of them which probably meant they are busy nesting and perhaps even sitting on eggs. So, another time.

Plenty of readers will have seen butterflies already in their gardens but I saw my first of the season – a solitary small white, jouking in amongst yellow whins.  I heard the bumble bees before I saw three on the same patch of whins.  I’ve not seen a single honey bee in the garden and the signs don’t seem encouraging for our pollinating insects.

Spring colour

Tuesday morning broke sunny and promising and Inka and I drove up to the Glenesk Retreat in time for lunch and a bowl of their sustaining home-made soup.

It may be May but there are still patches of snow on the north facing slopes.

The daffodils are past their best but patches of yellow primroses brighten up the roadsides.  The gorse is putting on a tremendous show.  There’s an old Scots proverb – Ye canna kiss the lassies when the gorse is nae in flooer.  Prospects look good for young men – old men too, in fairness – inclined to share a kiss with their lasses.

White blackthorn blossom appears on the branch before the leaves form.  After pollination the flowers develop into the small, purpley fruits known as sloes, the basis of delicious sloe gin.

The weather was turning sour so we drove back down to a favourite walk through the policy woods of The Burn at the foot of the glen.  We spent six very happy years there in The Courtyard House and Inka is very much at home again whenever we return there.

As the seasons progress I know what to look out for on our walks, and where.

We passed bright blue periwinkle growing amongst a patch of ground ivy.  But I’ve no great love for the pink flowering currant which smells suspiciously like cat’s pee.

Family tradition

There’s always something new to write about wherever we walk.  A wee carpet of blue Speedwell reminded me of the Whitson family story of John Whitson, a Bristol Merchant Venturer, or entrepreneur.  He was one-time owner of a ship named Mayflower which, in 1620 along with the Speedwell, was chartered by a group of English settlers who sought religious freedom in the new colony of Plymouth in what became Massachusetts, USA.

Mayflower needed a new set of sails to complete the long voyage which the new owners would not provide, so the Pilgrim Fathers sought John Whitson’s help.  He agreed to supply the sails on condition the adventurers took Cheviot wool with them to trade for native goods which would be sent back to England and provide him with a profit.

Are there enough grains of credibility about it to think the story might be true?  There are if you’re writing it and your name is Whitson!

The walk took us down to the riverside walk along the bank of the River North Esk.  At a bend of the river I often stop to watch the water as it clatters down the short way to The Loups where the rocky channel narrows and tumbles over the falls which the salmon must leap or ‘loup’ on their journey upstream to the river’s headwaters to spawn.

I wonder how many readers are aware of the fish pass which is carved out of the rock just above The Loups.  When the river is in spate and the force of the water is too great for the salmon to swim against they use the pass as a shortcut.  You need to get right down to the water’s edge to find it.

Written on Saturday, May 5th, 2018 at 2:24 pm for Weekly.