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.

Seasons are all out of sync

December 26th, 2015

DSC03143I DON’T normally see it as the place of this column to comment on other dog owners’ treatment of their dogs. However, I disapproved of the cyclist I met on a country road, at the front of a group of cyclists and with a dog on a lead trotting hard to keep up with the forced pace.

No road in this country was designed to accommodate dogs on leads running alongside cyclists. The opportunities for injury to the dog in particular are endless. Even the steadiest dog can be spooked by unexpected incidents with unforeseen consequences for the dog, the cyclist and other road users.

The Highway Code states that cyclists should keep both hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear. If one hand is endeavouring to control a dog on its lead, leaving one hand only to control the bike, the cyclist’s attention is definitely not 100% on the prevailing road conditions.

I should have stopped and expressed my concerns there and then but by the time I’d finished laying off to the Doyenne about such ill-considered behaviour we had driven on another couple of miles.

Partridge pairs
The mild weather is causing confusion amongst the wildlife, playing havoc with their internal calendars into thinking that it’s 2016 already, and about February. I’ve had reports of partridge starting to pair off, and at the wee loch at the foot of Glenesk the mallard are pairing off too. I’m waiting now to hear who has the first snowdrops.

Last Saturday I was Santa Clause again for the annual Glenesk children’s Christmas party, organised by the Tarfside WRI, which has been held since beyond living memory in the Masonic Hall at Tarfside, near the head of the glen. The Hall is a wonderfully atmospheric building dating back to 1821, pitch pine panelled throughout and focal point for many of the glen’s social activities.

It’s a delight to be Santa for small people too young to think of questioning whether Santa is a real person. They just know the story that he is a kind and friendly individual – which I hope I am – who turns up once a year with a present for them. They thank Santa so nicely and when they’ve opened their presents they come and show them off to him.

Of course the older ones know full well that Santa is a rather overweight, bespectacled chap dressed up in a red costume. But they’re not so old and cynical that they don’t look forward to receiving a present!

Family gatherings
The Doyenne and I know how lucky we are to have all our family in Scotland – one near Peebles, one at Auchterarder and one near Inverness. Their own families are growing up with different interests and agendas and it’s difficult to gather the whole clan together.

For several years we’ve all met up at the Birnam Institute, just outside Dunkeld, for a family lunch and gathering to exchange Christmas presents. Social media is all very well, and they all use it, but it’s good for the cousins in particular to meet face to face and enjoy proper social interaction.

The Doyenne and I arrived early and took Inka a walk in the woods above the town. Atholl Estates have created a car park and there is a choice of walks of varying length. It’s good for us all, Inka especially, to find somewhere new to explore.

Weaver’s wand
Dunkeld, with its cathedral, reflects its importance as a centre of the early Celtic church. Near the entrance to the cathedral grounds you pass the Ell Shop, now in the ownership of the National Trust for Scotland.

The Scotch Ell, or elwand, was a particular Scottish weavers’ measurement of 37 inches – a yard plus one inch – used as a measurement of cloth. The iron Dunkeld Ell, one of only three known to survive, is fixed to the corner of the Ell Shop.

The Plaiden Ell is set in a slab to be found in the kirkyard of another cathedral, at Dornoch. And, nearer to home, the Fettercairn Ell is carved on the column of that village’s mercat cross.

The traditional explanation for the extra inch is that dishonest weavers, when measuring out cloth, marked each yard with their thumb and took the measurement on the inside of the thumb. Thus, a customer could be cheated out of one foot of cloth on an order of 12 yards. The extra inch guaranteed no short-changing.

The previous owner of the Ell Shop was a kiltmaker and I’m told that there are memories of him measuring out lengths of tartan against the ell. His customers got more for their pound.

Once upon a time we had the Pound Scots. It was a troubled denomination of currency which regularly devalued against the English £1. On the other hand, our guid Scots Mile at 1973 yards was longer than the English one, 1760 yards.

But then everything became boringly standardised and Imperialised in the nineteenth century.

And there’s Scots pines and Scotch pies and Scotch eggs… but I mustn’t stray from my original historical theme.

Written on Saturday, December 26th, 2015 at 12:05 pm for Weekly.