Hoolet has gone into overdrive. Lawnmowers, strimmers, wood chippers, leaf blowers, electric saws and all the other mechanical aids for garden care are out in force. A few days ago I watched as a tractor manoeuvred through the gate to a field. It then sat, idling, while the farmer programmed his dashboard. The control panels on these machines are almost as complicated as a Boeing 737, and for a moment it looked as if it was indeed about to fly. On either side of the cockpit extendable wings slowly unfurled, like a grasshopper doing the splits. As it set off, I half-expected to see it gather speed and use the newly-sown field as a runway. More mundanely, liquid simply began to drizzle from the wings. It might have been fertiliser, but after two months with scarcely any rain, it could equally usefully have been water.

I longed to coax it through the back gate, towards our dusty Sahara, where I have been digging and sifting soil, like someone who has lost a contact lens. As I shovel, I am kept company by the old male pheasant that flits between our garden and those on either side, leaving gleaming feathers in the shrubbery, and shrieking like a klaxon, lest any of us ignore him. He has a limp, which might be the result of a run-in with the fox that snatched his partner. Certainly, he seems to enjoy company, as he struts among bluebells and tulips, before ducking under the chicken wire into the field, to view the newly arrived and still timid flock of sheep.

The tools I’m using would have been familiar to the first settlers: a spade, fork, hand fork and trowel. There’s nothing mechanical in our shed. This is not for idealistic reasons but because, as absolute beginners, we are more neanderthal than digital. Only when we have some idea of what we’re doing will it be safe to let high-powered tools loose around the place.

Thanks to lockdown, parts of the back garden have been gone over more minutely than the dig at Pompeii. Every quarter of an hour I tip out another bucket of stones on to the cairn behind the woodshed. What began as a pimple is now half way to Ben Nevis. Some of the stones can be classified as boulders, which is where Alan comes in.

I never thought of myself as having anything in common with Robert Burns, but discovering the ratio of stone to soil on your patch makes you realise what he and his brother had to contend with on Mossgiel farm, which was famously rocky and unyielding. As I’ve worked over the earth, square foot at a time, the ground level has been gradually dropping, so that soon we’ll have a sunken garden.

Digging is good for letting the mind roam, but it leaves little energy for anything else. While you can see how Burns might compose poetry during his rural drudgery, it is obvious why Seamus Heaney did not follow his family on to the farm. Among his most famous poems, and one of my favourites, is Digging, where he recalls watching his late father in the potato drills – “By God, the old man could handle a spade”. The loss he still felt is palpable. Yet while he chose not to till the earth, like his brothers, he would instead use his pen as a spade, digging up ideas and his country’s past.

One of our neighbours spent years clearing their garden of rocks and detritus, more of which would surface whenever it rained. Among the tell-tale trophies they unearthed was a child’s school slate. I remember the weekend when I was a young girl when my father, digging, came upon a curved brick, and then another, eventually revealing a neat circle above the village spring, that had been filled in long ago. “Well, well, well,” he said. I still hope for such a find, but perhaps we’ve not been delving deep enough. All that has come to light so far has been fragments of china and pottery.

The other evening, though, something interesting did turn up. I thought it was just a small animal bone but, after tossing it aside, retrieved it for a second look. Brushing off the earth, I found a hollowed-out flattish tube, with a pinhole opening at one end, stamped with neat letters. It was the stem of a clay pipe, the sort Silas Marner would have clamped between his teeth. Later, I found out it was from the Victorian pipe-making firm of William Christie, which operated in the Calton in Glasgow, from 1857. A few years ago, the remains of the factory were excavated, including the kiln in which this pipe was very likely fired. Given that Christie’s produced around 54,000 pipes a week, many of us probably have one under our feet.

I’ve always been fascinated by the things produced by metal detectorists or those with inquisitive dogs. Last week, I told Alan about the discovery of a 2,000-year-old Parthian warrior in Iran, whose teeth were in such good condition that a dentist who examined the skeleton said they were like implants. Alan was unimpressed, saying the real story was that they’d been able to get hold of a dentist who, these days, are as rare as hens’ teeth.

The clipping, mowing and shearing in Hoolet seems set to continue. While we all grow thatch, no weed or wild grass is allowed to rear its head. Only the village green has been letting the side down, turning into a meadow where the tip of squirrels’ tails give away their position. Last weekend, a socially distanced posse resembling the Magnificent Seven set to work; after a couple of hours of mowing, strimming, grass-gathering and edging, the green now looks fit for a game of bowls.

Usually this is the council’s job, a man with a sit-on mower and face mask whirling around the trees as if doing a cycling proficiency test. This year, however, an email sent to the council, asking when we could expect a mower, was met with a swift and polite reply. There would be no grass-cutting for a while, an official explained, because the men who normally do it are too busy digging graves.