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.

Traditional seasons now under threat

August 11th, 2018

I was somewhat dismayed to read in Monday’s issue of this newspaper that the “sensational summer” could last until October and that the Met Office are forecasting that the next three months will be hotter than average.  It’s contrary to everything my life’s experience tells me should happen.

As summer declines gracefully into autumn the days should shorten, temperatures drop and it’s time to put a woolly jumper on.  That’s how it has always been – it’s the natural progression of the seasons and I don’t think I am ready for change.  But perhaps its a generational thing.

After the hotter than normal conditions of the past two months, Monday felt much more like a proper August day.  The sun shone out of a cornflower-blue sky, it was bright with no haze – a day for the long view. The skyline of the Angus hills was silhouetted against an armada of swelling cumulus clouds – the fair weather clouds – sailing grandly across the heavens on a westerly wind that blew away the stuffy humidity of previous days – and the land smiled.

It was just the day to take Inka a favourite walk up the bank of the River North Esk from Inveriscandye Farm steading.  The summer vegetation is starting to die back and the riverbank is looking weary.  Cow parsley is fast growing, tall and invasive and is rife along the riverbank.  It’s froth of white lacy flowers which appear in June are known as Queen Anne’s Lace, but the flowers have died and the desiccated flower heads are filled with seeds which will scatter and germinate.

The tall plants have crowded out the less robust wild flowers but thistle-like knapweed was attracting bumble bees.  The purple heads on the thistles proper have morphed into countless thistledown seeds which will be carried away by the wind on their long silky hairs.  I nearly missed the couple of canes of yellow wild raspberries.  They’re not especially common as a cultivated fruit and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve found them in the wild.

Berry delicious

Rosehips – the wild roses’ seed pods – are ripening and turning pink.  They are a source of vitamin C and can be made into syrups and jellies, and wines which was my father’s use for them after he had sent me out to pick basket-loads of them.  An elderberry tree was hanging with clusters of the ripe purplish-black berries – another ingredient for father’s home wine making.

Hedgerow cordials he called them, which was dangerously misleading as some of them – his peach wine in particular – had a kick like a demented mule.

There was still some heat in the sun and it was the Doyenne’s idea to take one of her favourite drives before supper.  Driving out of Edzell on the Menmuir road we passed six monstrous vehicles parked in a field.  They were pea viners – technically, peas grow on vines – and they had just finished harvesting the field and were preparing to move on to the next.

Pea viners are larger even than combine harvesters and they work in a team of six to harvest each field in the shortest time as there is a maximum of two hours to deliver the crop from field to processing factory, otherwise the peas begin to lose quality.  I am told that a new viner costs more than £250,000 so sitting in that field was around £1million of equipment.  .

The sole purpose of the viners is to pick a peapod off the vine and pod the peas out of it.  You’d have thought it was within man’s ingenuity to invent a smaller machine than these huge steel horniegollochs to carry out two such basic functions.

Long view

After these few moments of introspection we drove on, turning right at the finger post to the White and Brown Caterthuns.  On a clear evening it’s worth while stopping just before you reach the summit of the hill to look back over Strathmore laid out from near Stonehaven to nearly Coupar Angus.

And take a few moments once you’ve crested the hill to take in the view – the foot of Glen Lethnot is ahead of you, full of Whitson family memories.  It was a great favourite when our family were youngsters and there were lots of picnics and paddling in the deep pools of the Westwater.

The colours were golds and greens and the purple of the heather – spilt claret as a forgotten writer described it, but what an apt description.  I was beginning to think of supper and we turned homewards over the attractive humpbacked bridge over the burn.

We had to stop for five young grouse which ran in front of the car. “They’ve got white feet” said the Doyenne in some surprise.  I could scarcely believe it – she’s lived in grouse country for more than half a century and only just cottoned on that grouse legs and feet are covered in pale feathers right down to their toes.

Written on Saturday, August 11th, 2018 at 9:23 am for Weekly.