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.

The origin of Tuttie’s Nook

December 22nd, 2018

We have been entertaining Rosie, daughter Cait’s roly-poly bundle of fun – a rough-haired Jack Russell who terrorises Inka.

I took them up to the lochan at the foot of Glenesk.  Inka and I are regular visitors and the resident mallard pay little attention to us when we walk round.  But they are naturally inquisitive birds and the sight of Rosie popping in and out of the rushes at the water’s edge brought them swimming across to investigate.

In past times this curiosity was the cause of their downfall.  Duck decoys were built comprising a series of diminishing water-filled ditches covered in netting and known as pipes, which led into a final chamber.  The decoy was baited with grain to attract the duck.

Overlapping screens were erected along the outer curve of the pipe.  A terrier, known as a piper, was trained to slip in and out between the screens, attracting the ducks’ attention and encouraging them to follow it.  Once in the final chamber the ducks were slaughtered and sent to market, with the benefit that the meat was not spoiled by gun shot and commanded a better price.

Today a handful of the historic decoys still operate – no longer for commercial purposes but for trapping the birds for ringing and research.

Window on history

The origin of Tuttie’s Nook in Arbroath has been the subject of discussion recently in Craigie Column and to get something approaching a definitive answer I reached for my copy of Round and About The Round O with its Poets, published by Arbroath printers, Thomas Buncle, in 1883.  It must be a rare book now but when I bought it more than fifty years ago for 3s/6d (18p) it was in danger of being thrown out.

The Round O is the Catherine wheel window in the south transept of Arbroath Abbey whose red sandstone ruins dominate the centre of the town.  Steeped in history, perhaps the Abbey’s most momentous event was the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, arguably the most significant document in Scottish history, with its resounding message – “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom …”.

The reference to Tuttie’s Nook (not Neuk) reads – “It was at this nook, or corner, that in the olden times the town’s herd was in the practice of getting together the cattle of the community.  Before driving them to the common moor, at Muirlands, he blew or ‘touted’ on a horn; hence the peculiar name of the locality.”

The book is crammed with Arbroath stories and two wonderfully graphic poems – Robert Southey’s famous The Inchcape Bell, and The Piper of Dickmontlaw by Alexander Balfour – could be the inspiration for film scripts.

A Craigie correspondent asks whether Tuttie is pronounced as it is spelt, or as Tootie.  Based on the public house of the same name which I have visited purely in the interests of research you’ll understand, I’ve no doubt that it is pronounced as it is spelt.  And I’m sure too that the old town’s herd tooted his horn, however it may be spelt in The Round O.

Hot and cold

Since 2005 the Doyenne and I have been guests at an annual welcome party at The Burn House, near Edzell, for a group of South African students, winners of travel bursaries from the Sir Abe Bailey Trust.

The group are multi racial, multi ethnic,  from all backgrounds including Zulu royalty, truly Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation.  They are the young leaders of their country’s future, chosen on merit for their academic and leadership abilities.

Their visit to Scotland is the culmination of a packed three week trip to the UK.  Having visited the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, museums, London’s West End, Oxford and Cambridge, Shakespeare’s Stratford, our Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh Castle and more, they were ready for a few days R&R at The Burn to unwind.

A highlight of the visit is their introduction by Brechin Rotary Club members to  Scotland’s national sport of curling.  As the only ice most of them have seen has come from the fridge freezer compartment, walking, sliding and playing on ice is a new cultural experience to take home.

It’s become a tradition for the visitors to entertain us with music, singing their national anthem and other South African songs.  This year they also gave an exhibition of Zulu dancing but I reckon we Scots might match them with our triumphal sword dance, the ancient dance of victory.

The Doyenne and I curled for many years and we hope that one day one of the students will go home fired up with enthusiasm to introduce curling to the sub tropics – and it all will have started in Courier country.

What stands out apart from their enterprise and industry is their enthusiasm for life and their pride as South Africans, but also their interest in us Scots – and you can’t ask for a better compliment than that.

Written on Saturday, December 22nd, 2018 at 9:34 pm for Weekly.