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.

Black sheep in every family

October 13th, 2018

Recently I’ve driven past several fields of an unfamiliar white flowering plant.   Enquiries reveal that it is fodder radish, and it is sown as a game crop and a soil conditioner.

Autumn flowering means it is a welcome late source of pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects. It’s a tallish plant, providing cover for partridge and pheasants and when the flowers die back its seeds attract game birds and the countryside song birds.

Its third advantage is that it is a green manure, meaning it is its own fertiliser and the whole plant is ploughed in to condition the soil.  It works in much the same way as purple phacelia which is now quite commonplace in the north-east.

Meantime, while in flower it adds colour to a landscape that is increasingly looking brown as the potato harvest is lifted and golden stubbles are ploughed in and winter crops of oil seed rape and wheat and barley are sown.

Lost heritage

Last Saturday the Doyenne and I drove to Colinsburgh in Fife where I gave a talk and reading of Scottish vernacular poetry, our forgotten Scots poetry written in our mither tongue.  It’s a lost legacy which doesn’t deserve to have fallen into obscurity.  I suspect most people’s experience of it is hearing Rabbie Burns declaimed at Burns Suppers, after which they totter home and forget about it for a year.

It was the poetry of the lawyer, the doctor, the schoolteacher, the ploughman – Robert Burns, the ploughman poet – the weaver, the minister, the fisherman;  amateur and recreational poets – intelligent and educated men and women who could tell a story and had the words to express themselves through their verse.

The event was in the Colinsburgh Galloway Library, purpose built as a library and a vernacular building itself, which was threatened with closure by the local authority until a group of enthusiasts formed a charity to save it for the community.

Fife is a part of Scotland we should know better being just an hour’s drive from home.  It has a softer, rolling countryside than the Angus glens we are more familiar with.

A beggar’s mantle fringed with gold was James VI’s description of this part of his kingdom.  The fringe he referred to was the Fife coastline with its string of fishing villages and trading ports – still, today, jewel-like reminders of their prosperous past and monuments to generations of fisher folk and mariners.

We like Fife – it has a great feeling of light and space.  The highest peaks are the three peaks of the Lomond Hills, beside Loch Leven, at a height of 1700 feet, and Largo Law, just along the coast from neighbouring Elie, is a mere 950 feet.  With few high hills to cast shadows or create visual barriers, the sky and sea have a great impact and influence on the character of the hinterland.  The yellow sandstone cottages and farm steadings with red pantile roofs are architectural features that leave no doubt that you are in Fife.

Fifers tell you they live in the Kingdom of Fife and there’s historical validity for this because it was once an independent Pictish kingdom.  They haven’t lost that sense of identity as can be seen in things like the name of their local radio station – Kingdom FM.

They say you need a lang spune to sup wi’ a Fifer, meaning you need to be wary in your dealings with them.  We had no need of lang spunes – we were made most welcome and urged to return, which we will do.

Should you pass through Colinsburgh on a Tuesday or a Saturday take time to visit the Library which is very much as it was when it opened in 1903.  It is remarkably intact with Arts and Crafts influence evident in the quality of the joinery work and in the fireplaces and the brass door furniture.

Young shepherd

As we were halfway there we carried on after my talk to son James and his family in the Borders for a flying, one night visit.  Our granddaughter Tilda has become a shepherd – admittedly with a flock of only two, but every shepherd must start somewhere.

With no farming background whatever, for the past three springs she has helped with the lambing on a neighbour’s farm, working all hours during the Easter school holiday.  Bonnie and Betty are her two black Hebridean ewes which she intends to show and in due course to breed from.  The Doyenne and I aren’t the first grandparents to be surprised by the diversity of their grandchildren’s interests – and we applaud Tilda’s originality and dedication to her choice.

As we admired the flock a black cat crossed our path.  It was Basil, sleek and black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat, who regards Inka with undisguised contempt and lower than the dust beneath his paws.  He may have been good luck for us but he wasn’t for the ill-fated field mouse whose tail was hanging out of his mouth.

Written on Saturday, October 13th, 2018 at 3:04 pm for Weekly.