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.

Swankie’s doos and the hoopoe

April 23rd, 2005

SEVERAL WEEKS ago I mentioned  Swankie's doos' which is Arbroath vernacular for seagulls, and that the origin of the term seems to have been lost. So I was most interested to get a letter from Alastair Cownie with a possible explanation.

In the 1920s the fish buying business of Swankie and Smith operated at the  Fit o' the Toon'. As Alastair explains, “Betsy Swankie was the boss lady in the partnership and nothing happened in the fish trade without her say so”. She sounds to have been a pretty colourful character – the Doyenne of the Arbroath fish trade, you might say!

In those days, when the catch was being landed at the quay a bell ringer went round the harbour streets to warn buyers that the fish sales would shortly be starting. Her influence in the fish market and on fish prices was such that the fishermen would ask the auctioneer to wait until Betsy arrived before he started selling.

Because Betsy was such a force within the fish trade it was reckoned that the seagulls must surely belong to her too – hence the expression. She must have prospered, for she could afford a car with a driver, which would have been fairly unusual for a woman then.

Strong women have always emerged from time to time, perhaps no more so than in the east coast Scottish fishing communities. There are stories about the widow who owned the Esk Hotel in Ferryden around the turn of the last century. As well as selling them liquor, she loaned money to the fishermen, and became wealthy enough to own a carriage and pair, and be driven round the village and into Montrose.

I hardly believed it when I got a phone call to say that a hoopoe was feeding in a field near Edzell. As far as I knew they are southern France and Mediterranean birds which are summer migrants to the warm south of England. But investigation bears out that occasionally they get blown off course, and there are previous records of sightings in our colder northern parts.

I was five times down to the field hoping to catch a sight of it, but all I saw was a pair of teal, which are attractive little duck, so that was compensation. I also alerted a red legged partridge which was standing guard about twenty yards down a ditch-side. There's likely a hen bird sitting on eggs nearby and the cock was drawing my attention, and potential danger, away from the nest.

Another unusual story to come my way this week is of a nest with six mallard eggs in it, and also a couple of pheasant eggs. I suspect the pheasant to have been the likely  cuckoo in the nest', but it's all academic now, because a fox has found it and consumed the eggs.