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.

Each to their ain

February 9th, 2013

GOOD WINE and the Man with Two Dogs travel well – and far.

I received a letter from Nepal. My correspondent had been given a copy of the second Man with Two Dogs books, Tales from the Scottish Countryside. I hope it’s not immodest to think he’d enjoyed reading it so much he wanted to tell me. I certainly enjoyed reading his entertaining letter.

From the stories he told the similarities in our lives are distinguished by their contrasts. From his windows he looks on 200 miles of Himalayas. When the weather is clear he wakes to the sight of five peaks of over 25,000 feet and ten of over 20,000 feet. By comparison the Grampians are just foothills, but the Himalayas would look out of place in Scotland – so it’s each to their ain.

A lifelong dog owner (brownie points there) and clearly a formidable walker in his day, nowadays he restricts himself to between ten and twelve miles most mornings because, you see, he’s 87 years old – or young, more likely.

I’ve learned that there are cuckoos in Nepal, and he counted one calling – or cucking, as he put it – 147 times without a break, and asked if it was a record. I thought not. The Doyenne and I were fishing on Loch Lee and a cuckoo drove us near demented by repeatedly calling throughout the whole day.

An extraordinary story he told was of seeing a long snake, with lumps along its body as though it had just swallowed a number of small animals, swimming across a fast flowing river. As it got to the other side each lump grew legs and he realised that, in reality, it was a flock of monkeys crossing the river by hanging onto the tail of the one in front. This was a very rare sight.

He’s been attacked by a screech owl, had his dogs eaten by leopards, been urinated on by a vulture and defecated on by a monkey. Life for the Man with Two Dogs is tame by comparison – but rather more fragrant!

I expect he’s the furthest flung reader of Man with Two Dogs but there can be no doubt he’s the most elevated.

He closed his letter “Yours, Under the Protection and Senescence”. I had to ask, to the protection of which of his gods was he entrusting me.

My mention a fortnight ago of Hospital Shields Farm brought a response from retired Mearns farmer Gordon Robertson who queried whether the name reflected a connection with the Knights Templar. He also referred me to a property on the Fettercairn/Northwaterbridge road called Surgeon’s Hall also reputed locally to have Knights Templar connections.

The powerful and wealthy religious and military order of Knights Templar, founded in the twelfth century to protect pilgrims on their pilgrimages, owned extensive landholdings at places such as Torphichen near Linlithgow, Roslin Chapel and Temple in Midlothian and Blairs College in Aberdeen. A word with local historian Jim Brown cast doubt on the idea that Surgeon’s Hall was ever significant enough to have been a Templar centre.

I spoke also with farmer Ken Nichol of Hospital Shields who told me he always understood that his farm was a hospital or refuge, in the care of the Benedictine monks of Arbroath Abbey, for travellers crossing from the Howe of the Mearns to the coast.

In the Borders, just off the A68 on the B6368, Soutra Aisle is all that remains of the greatest mediaeval hospice, known originally as the House of the Holy Trinity. Run by Augustinian monks, its remoteness may indicate that it was a plague or leper hospital rather than simply a place of refuge.

Equally remote, the Spittal of Glenshee lies on the route of an old drovers’ road from Speyside to the cattle trysts at Crieff and Falkirk. Two annual fairs were held at the Spittal suggesting it was the site of an inn or place of hospitality rather than an endowment for the care of the poor or sick.

Names can tell you a lot about the history of places. I don’t doubt that Surgeon’s Hall has some past medical association but I can find nothing to connect it with the Knights Templar. Maybe there’s a reader who knows more?

Written on Saturday, February 9th, 2013 at 2:05 pm for Weekly.