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.

Wildlife worried by eclipse

January 26th, 2019

I’ve been lucky to have lived most of my life in the country, away from the noise and light pollution of built-up areas.  I often make the point in my talks that the night time walks with Inka can be every bit as interesting as the day time ones  We live on the edge of a village now but I’m just a step from the countryside proper.

Last Sunday evening Inka and I set out on his last walk to shed that final tear for Nelson.  Usually we walk in a cocoon limited by the torch beam but on Sunday distant stars shimmered from an infinite oblivion.  A full moon cast long shadows through the branches of bare beech trees, stark against the cloudless, velvet sky and was reflected in the burn winding through the grass paddock beside the track – and I could turn off the torch

The conditions seemed ideal for watching the well advertised total eclipse of the moon.  Conditions aren’t always so good and too often cloud rolling across the skies has obscured exciting night time heavenly activity.  Spectacular Northern Lights can be reported all up the north-east but our wee corner of the firmament has been cast into gloom.

There was a memorable evening, almost to the day, in 2007 when I climbed the White Caterthun, the Iron Age hilltop fort north of Brechin, where I’d been told I’d get a clear view of McNaught’s Comet appearing in the south-west sky, trailing a spectacular tail of burning gas and dust.  As I reached the summit banks of dark cloud drifted in.  I waited in vain for them to clear and eventually could stand the cold no longer and stumbled down the shadowy track back to the car.

Silent night

On Sunday I set the alarm for 4.30am by which time the eclipse was more than half complete.  The moon was somewhere over Mount Battock, Scotland’s most easterly Corbett (a mountain over 2500 feet, compared with a Munro over 3000 feet) rising between Glenesk and the Forest of Birse.

 

For nearly an hour I stood on the back doorstep watching the rare celestial event known as a super wolf blood moon when the moon passed through the earth’s shadow.  The night air was absolutely still and I was enveloped by the white sound of nothing, as if the world round about me was in suspended animation.  You can’t recreate the silent beauty of moments of such absolute peace.

As the moon disappeared completely the wildlife became strangely unsettled.  Small packs of geese called reassuringly to each other.  A solitary tawny owl, over by Fasque Lake, hooting mournfully got no response.  A dog running loose in a cottage garden barked hysterically – howling at a moon that wasn’t there.  And Inka never twitched a muscle.

Then it was time to go back to bed, and I was thankful that the Doyenne had thoughtfully turned on my half of the electric blanket for I was perished with cold.

The future’s young

My earliest memories of Glenesk go back to when I was aged about three, and I have known and loved the glen all my life.  It was very encouraging to watch BBC’s Countryfile programme last weekend which visited Invermark Estate at the head of the glen, and refreshing to hear such a positive message on good moorland management and the species and biodiversity benefits it brings.

Young TV presenter Hannah Cockcroft spent a day with young gamekeeper and stalker Callum Low who gave a balanced account of his job as a member of a team of moorland managers.  Callum is an excellent communicator and his dedication, responsibility and passion for the countryside and the animals in his care, were manifest.

Callum represents the up and coming custodians of our countryside and wildlife which will always be best served by young men and women like him committed to our environment’s future.

High stepping haggis

Still up the glen, dancing was on the menu when the Doyenne and I were lucky enough to get tickets for the Tarfside WRI annual Burns Supper, which counts amongst the notable events of the social year in Glenesk.

Tarfside Masonic Hall was bursting at the seams with anticipatory salivation.  The expectant company sat down to a traditional meal of home-made haggis made by the ladies of the Rural with venison hearts and livers provided by the estate stalkers, and chappit neeps and tatties from the glen farmers.

All the haggises are made to the same traditional glen recipe but each one tastes different – which just shows how individuality rules in glen kitchens.

Everyone got a spoonfu’ of four or five of the blessed creations followed by the equally traditional clootie dumpling pudding.  One of the cooks ‘innocently’ asked me which haggis I had liked best.  Imagine falling for that one – so I ‘innocently’ declared them all winners.

The evening ended, as so many evenings up the glen do, with a dance which was still going strong when the Doyenne and I slipped out to drive home.

Written on Saturday, January 26th, 2019 at 10:40 pm for Weekly.