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.

Good books to curl up with

December 1st, 2019

I’ve just finished an utterly absorbing book – The Seabird’s Cry, The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers, by Adam Nicolson.  The ocean voyagers are “creatures of the high latitudes and distant oceans” and include albatross and gannets, kittiwakes, shearwaters, fulmars and gulls – “pelagic wanderers and wind-buffeted migrants”.

All are totally at home on land, at sea and have a mastery of the air. Nicolson gives us an insight into the way their bodies work, their astonishing abilities to navigate for tens of thousands of miles across featureless seas, their ability to smell their way towards fish and home and the strategies and tactics needed to survive and thrive in the most demanding environment on earth.

He looks closely at the great auk, the now extinct cousin of the razorbill.  Perhaps the most chilling observation in the book is his memorial to the vanished bird – “The world of the great auk was now the non-future”.  Non-future could be a horrid prediction of the fate of the other birds in the book, seven of which are in severe decline.

With black and white photos, and illustrated by Kate Boxer, the book should appeal to readers who care about the natural world and are concerned at the way we gamble on its future.

The Seabird’s Cry got me thinking about other books that have left their mark on me.

The evergreen Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame crosses the generations.  Written as a bedtime story for his young son it recounts the adventures and misadventures of Mole, Ratty, Badger, Toad and their friends.

Grahame achieves great realism in his descriptions of the animals, bringing them to life with imagination and gentle humour.  Although they speak and behave like humans they retain their animal characteristics, displaying the author’s affinity with the countryside and its wildlife.

David Stephen was a self-taught naturalist/conservationist, writer and photographer with an immense understanding of the natural world and a special empathy with animals.  I admired the integrity of his writing and enjoyed his wildlife column with authentic descriptions of the Scottish landscape which appeared in The Scotsman newspaper.

I regularly turn to a collection of his articles, Scottish Wild Life, with excellent pictures, not just because they are a good read but because I learn things too.  His delightful story about a farmer’s small daughter who thought carrion crows were so named because they were for ever ‘carryin’ things awa’, never fails to make me smile.

Writing under the pen name of B.B., Denys Watkins-Pitchford was a lifetime countryman and one-time art master at Rugby School – so he understood boys.

Brendon Chase probably wouldn’t be published nowadays which might be the best reason for reading it.  To avoid going back to school three brothers run away to live in the forest where they shoot and trap rabbits, birds, a deer, a pig, to survive.  They go feral – fishing, taking birds’ eggs to eat and making clothes from rabbit skins.

Written for an earlier generation these things may offend today’s sensitivities, but the book conveys B.B.’s love and intimate knowledge of the countryside and the wildlife he writes about.

For Christmas 1950 my father bought me Cache Lake Country, Life in the Canadian North Woods by John J Rowlands, a charming and instructive book about woodcraft and the ways of the wilderness and the animals and the birds, which probably planted my early seeds of enquiry into the natural world.

In the 1930s Rowlands set out by canoe into the wilds of Canada to survey timber prospects for his company.  After paddling alone for several days he came upon the lake of his boyhood dreams which he named Cache Lake, because there was stored the best that the north had to offer – timber for a cabin, fish, game and berries to live on and the peace and contentment he felt he could not live without.

Packed with folklore and philosophy, every page breathes wisdom gathered at first hand about the woods and the demands they place on a man for inventiveness and self-reliance.

Copiously illustrated with line drawings in the margins Rowlands tells you how to make moccasins, a wind gauge, a smoke house, compass from a greased needle and a small puddle, a fishing rod from a fencing foil (why a fencing foil in the Canadian back woods?), canoes and dozens of other ingenious and useful implements and gadgets.  It’s no longer in print but hunt for it online.

Just room to mention Sea Change, The Summer Voyage from East to West Scotland of the Anassa by Mairi Hedderwick, of the Katie Morag stories.  A six week Swallows and Amazons-style sea voyage through the Caledonian Canal and up the west coast undertaken by the author and her unnamed “Captain”, an old family friend, before she leaves her home on the Island of Coll in the Hebrides, inspiration for Katie Morag’s Isle of Struay, to retire to the mainland.

Beautifully illustrated by the author, unputdownable, a real page turner.

Written on Sunday, December 1st, 2019 at 9:05 pm for Weekly.