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.

Harping on

December 31st, 2011

THE STOOL of Repentance glowers balefully from the corner of the room. My protestations that it would have been ungracious to refuse the offers of seconds of our daughter-in-law’s delicious Christmas dinner – with just a splash of wine to help it down – fell on deaf ears. I fear that, even now, the Doyenne still doesn’t understand me.

We’re home after five happy days down in the Borders with son James and his family. Grandparental responsibilities are so much less demanding than parental ones and we enjoyed our time with the grandchildren. They’re different people every time we see them. Because they’re not constantly under our feet we’re conscious of how quickly they change in temperament and looks.

They live in a fold of the Moorfoot Hills, tucked away from the rest of the world. On Boxing Day the Doyenne and I had a lunch date with a cousin and her family who live at Harperrig, on the other side of the Pentland Hills beside the reservoir, on a stretch of the A70 known as the Lang Whang.

There’s often a story behind these names. The house is built on a rig or ridge and is dominated by East Cairn Hill which, you’ll have guessed, is topped by a cairn – a Druid cairn in this case. Music was a part of the Druidical rituals and a harper (harpist) was granted land to build his rude turf dwelling where the rather more commodious present day house stands – hence, the harper’s rig.

‘Whang’, the old Scotch word for a narrow strip of leather rather like a tawse, or the belt, may revive painful memories for readers of a certain age. The A70 ends at Ayr but the high Lang Whang plunges through desolate, wild moorland where there’s few habitations between Balerno and Carnwath.

You’re headed for Border reiver country, the no man’s land of the West March where they sported names like Jock Half-lugs Elliot, Nebless Clem Croser and Fingerless Will Nixon. Bynames earned from injuries received in the bloody feuding of these lawless times, but they helped identify them from the other free-booting desperadoes who shared the same surname.

The place names are no less sinister – Hell’s Cleugh, Blackhaggs, Foulplay Knowe typify the state of near-perpetual hostility in which they lived. The old harper and his turf biggin’ were tame by comparison.

With Hogmanay chappin’ at the door I thought I could share a story from the Doyenne about a Scotsman, who after a lifetime’s acquaintance with his forefathers’ “well-mannered perfect water”, and appreciative of its beneficial qualities, had mellowed into old age.
It was his habit, when offered a glass of the cratur, to ask for a knicker – just enough to cover the bottom, you’ll understand. It set me wondering whether a pair of knickers might not have doubled his pleasure!

Written on Saturday, December 31st, 2011 at 10:34 pm for Weekly.