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.

Memories of Alfred Lord Tennyson

October 13th, 2007

“Nature red in tooth and claw” is one of those oft quoted lines of poetry which everyone knows, but no one knows where it comes from. I have to admit I went straight to the Dictionary of Quotations and it comes from Lord Tennyson's long epic poem,  In Memoriam'.

What brought on this lyrical turn was a call from Mrs Marjory Macdonald who lives near Arbirlot who told me she had watched a battle royal for territory between two robins in which the aggressor pecked and pecked at the other until it was dead. I know that robins are very assertive of territory but neither of us had heard of a fight to the death. I have always assumed that the loser in a fight for territory would break away leaving the victor king of his own midden.

It's useful knowing people who know more than yourself, so I spoke to Niall Benvie of Brechin, who is a fine naturalist. He told me that robins are the only one of our insectivorous birds which stay with us throughout winter. They need to know that they have a constant supply of insects to survive the cold months so they are very aggressive towards other robins that threaten their source of food. But he, too, was surprised to hear that a dispute between the birds should have ended quite so violently.

Marjory also asked if I could identify a liquorice smelling fern which she regularly smells as she walks her dog. I checked in Mary McMurtrie's splendid Scottish Wild Flowers book and it is most probably sweet cicely (or myrrh) which she describes as having fern-like leaves and being grown for its aniseed (or liquorice) flavour.

I was down at Montrose harbour earlier in the week and it's a busy place. I saw eider duck and cormorants and a solitary razorbill. A curlew – or whaup, to use the old Scottish name – flew up river towards the splendid new road bridge; and a heron flapped down on the opposite shore beside Nicoll's Knuckle which is now incorporated into the port's South Quay, but used to be the Ferryden pier which I fished from as a laddie.

Harbourmaster John West told me that red breasted mergansers are regular visitors; and he recently saw a kingfisher flying past berth 6 of the North Quay – which is most unusual for I didn't think they hunted in salt water.

Should we intervene in battles between wild animals or birds where one is in danger of being killed? I think not. Nature has its own standards of behaviour and man should only interfere to right the wrongs of man's previous interference.

As a postscript, in the same Tennyson poem I found the equally well known lines – “Tis better to have loved and lost/than never to have loved at all”.


The book of “Man with two dogs – a breath of fresh air from Scotland” is now in its second printing.

  Comment from a reader     “….. after reading your book I now stop and look at my surroundings in the way that I should – appreciating the views and the wildlife that is all around   It is so easy to get caught up in the school run, housework, work etc and not take stock of what is on your doorstep   So… thank you.”


  Available from direct from the publishers



Written on Saturday, October 13th, 2007 at 7:43 am for Weekly.