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.

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This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Pre-nuptials Scottish style

October 17th, 2015

DSC02991HORN HOOTING, lights flashing and a lot of unseemly hilarity announced something special. A pickup was driving through the village and in the trailer behind were a couple whose predicament I recognised at once. It was a blackening, a particularly north-east pre-marital ritual I hadn’t seen for a while.

It put me mind of the foot washings and blackenings which were a traditional part of Scottish pre-wedding celebrations, with the bride- and groom-to-be the victims of their pals’ ideas of fun. They were customs to signify the couple’s farewell to their single state, and set them on the road to married bliss.

Foot washing was not so much a celebration as ceremonial. The night before her wedding the bride’s feet were washed by an older, married woman, often a relative, and symbolised good luck. Could its origins lie in the Bible story of Mary washing Christ’s feet with her tears?

It was a familiar sight to see a lassie, face blackened, wearing her best ‘auld claes’ and trailing ribbons, being led through the streets arm in arm with a friend on each side, and sometimes a tail of friends following on behind. Often someone rang a hand bell to draw attention to the bride-to-be, and they sang and laughed their way to deliver her for her last night at the family home.

A small peep
Drink-fuelled daftness usually meant the groom had a harder time. I saw one unfortunate groom stripped to his boxer shorts, clarted with engine grease, being driven round the town tied to the back of a pickup truck. It would have been bad enough in the height of summer, but it was the middle of winter and perishing cold. His sense of humour must have been down to a small peep by the time his mates released him from his ordeal.

A wedding custom which seems to have become a victim of inflation is the poorie oot. The last one I can recall was outside the Auld Kirk in Montrose.

Youngsters gathered outside the church door waiting for the groom and bride to emerge as a married couple. As the wedding car drew away taking the newlyweds to their reception, the groom threw handfuls of small change out of the window and a mad scramble ensued as the youngsters fought for a bit of free cash.

After the wedding ceremony came the wedding breakfast, an expression you hardly hear nowadays. Traditionally, the bride and groom’s last meal before they married was the evening before the ceremony. Their first meal as man and wife was at their reception when they broke their fast and could tuck into the wedding cake.

The groom carrying the bride over the threshold is still a fashionable tradition. Some say it was to protect the bride from mischievous spirits which haunted door thresholds. Others, that it is bad luck for the bride to enter her new home left foot first. Being carried over the threshold avoids her falling into this trap.

Kirkin’ the Bairn
More of a superstition than a tradition and one which I think has now passed into the realms of memory, was Kirkin’ the Bairn. It was considered improper for a new mother to take her baby visiting friends and relations until the bairn had been kirked – blessed by the minister in church.

I heard of it only once shortly after I came home to join my father’s solicitors’ practise in the mid-1960s. A mother-in-law had refused to let her daughter-in-law and new grandchild into her house until the bairn had been kirked, for fear of the ill luck it might bring.

It used to be the thing for the bride to go to her wedding with a sixpence in her left shoe, to bring good fortune and prosperity to the union. Where would you lay your hands on a sixpence these days? You might have to make do with a 5p coin which would mean losing a pennyworth of good luck.

Which brings me on to the Penny Wedding. Rural poverty in the 18th and 19th centuries meant that young couples wanting to marry rarely had enough money to pay for a grand affair. The penny wedding developed and guests would either contribute a penny towards the cost of the festivities or contribute food and drink.

In a handfasting marriage a couple, holding hands, declared before witnesses that they were married. If, a year and a day later no child had been born they were free to separate, otherwise the marriage remained in force.

Bidie in
We told an English girl who had moved in with a good friend that she was a bidie in. She gave it a moment’s thought. “I like that”, she said. “I like being a bidie in.”

Which just shows what an inclusive lot we Scots are. Able to accommodate all nuptial preferences.

Which brings me back to the blackening I told you about at the beginning. It was really unkind. They kitted the groom out in a Rangers football strip – and he’s a lifelong Aberdeen fan. It doesn’t get much more heartless than that!

Written on Saturday, October 17th, 2015 at 2:48 pm for Weekly.