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.

Ploughing matches

November 6th, 2004

MY TRAVELS sometimes take me far from home and I usually find something interesting to write about. This week I had travelled scarcely two miles and I saw a tractor in a field ploughing the stubble. There's nothing odd about that, but it was an old 1963 Fordson Super Major tractor pulling an even older two-furrow plough.

I stopped the car and watched what in fact was practise ploughing in readiness for the ploughing matches that will soon be taking place across the countryside. It's not like going into a field and ploughing it from start to finish. Competitors plough two small squares on which they are judged.

It seems to me to be a very gentle pastime – I don't think either the competitors or the spectators get too out of hand. I've never heard of the police being called to keep the crowds in order, and after a small restorative dram the most that might get flung in the air is somebody else's cap!

I'm sure that like any practical accomplishment there is as much skill goes into competitive ploughing as into any other activity. As you would expect, it has its own vocabulary and phraseology. I'm not sure I understand it all but I'll do my best to explain.

You start with the  feerin', which is the drawing of the first furrow by each competitor to open up the piece of ground allocated to him. Eight  tops' or furrows are ploughed on the first square, and the ploughman then  skells out', or moves to the next higher numbered square on his left, and repeats the process.

Judging is based on how even, level and straight each furrow is ploughed. The  ins' and  outs' are also judged to see how uniform the start and finish of each furrow is. And of course the overall impression of the finished job is taken into account.

I expect the setting of the plough blade, to ensure it cuts surely and cleanly into the earth, must be fairly critical. And ploughing at a deliberate, steady speed doubtless contributes to an even finish.

I've only ever attended one ploughing match, at Ratho just west of Edinburgh, when I was about fourteen and at boarding school. I remember very little about it now, except that there were as many horse drawn as tractor drawn ploughs, and it bucketed with rain all afternoon.

I had joined the Young Farmers' Club because most of its activities were outside visits, which meant at least an afternoon away from school. Another major benefit was that mothers of young farmers, whose farms we would visit, understood entirely the need to feed growing lads as much as they could stuff into themselves.

I recall still, with great pleasure, dining room tables bow-legged with mountains of food which disappeared with miraculous speed and healthy appreciation.