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.

In a new place

August 4th, 2012

THE ISLE of May has been on my to do list of destinations for more years than I care to think and last Saturday I got the opportunity to sail out to it and spend a morning watching birds.

It was overcast and the sea was lumpy as we left Pittenweem (one of the string of Fife fishing villages King James VI of Scotland described as ‘a fringe of gold’) on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) which sits on the water like a seagull. Powered by 500HP I expected a bumpy ride but, in the experienced hands of Stewart Taylor of Calypso Marine, we scampered across the tops of the waves at 30 knots with just an occasional broadside of spray, which added to the fun as we were all ‘weel happed up’ in protective clothing against the elements.

The island guards the approaches to the Firth of Forth and has always been a hazard to shipping sailing into Edinburgh’s historic port of Leith and the havens and harbours of East Lothian and Fife’s East Neuk. In 1816 the May Lighthouse was completed by Robert Stevenson, the first of the famous family of lighthouse engineers.

Now the island is an important National Nature Reserve
(visit – in the care of Scottish National Heritage and I was accompanying Donald Cameron, from Ferryden, on his regular trip to carry out maintenance on the lighthouse which would previously have been carried out by the lighthouse keepers before all lighthouses were automated. The May looks more like a castle than a lighthouse for, unusually, it is not painted white like every other lighthouse I know, but is just dressed stone.

Isle of May is believed to be derived from the Norse, meaning Island of Gulls, and in the breeding season a quarter of a million seabirds nest on its cliff ledges and shingles – guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, puffins, kittiwakes, shags, terns, black-backed gulls – the cacophony of their cries must be deafening.

The season is effectively over now and most of the birds have headed out to sea, so it was a lot quieter last weekend. There must be still some late hatching chicks as I saw several kittiwakes and puffins with sand eels in their beaks heading for their nests. I didn’t expect to see a kestrel but in fact there’s a resident pair.

Like so many Scottish islands the May attracted monks who sought the sanctuary of island seclusion to pursue their contemplative life. It was a place of pilgrimage and the monastery founded by King David 1 of Scotland in the 12th century was plundered by Vikings. Its remoteness attracted smugglers and of course it has its fair share of tales of fugitives, maidens in distress and shipwrecks.

The island’s history, geology and wildlife are all interwoven. Rabbits were introduced by the monks and are the only grazing pressure on the vegetation which would otherwise explode in a blanket of weeds.

But sea campion is prolific and sea pinks, or thrift, pepper the cliff tops. There’s an abundance of prickly sow thistles, which are a weed, and patchworks of ox-eye daisies and forget-me-not.

At one time there was a small fishing community and of course there were the lighthouse keepers and their families but now the only residents, between March and October, are the SNH reserve managers. I enjoyed chatting with Dave Pickett who was in the middle of a fortnight shift as warden and he gave me an interesting dog story.

At the start of WW1 two motor torpedo boats were stationed at the May as a defence against U-Boats. Clearly one of them had a much-loved mascot because there is a handsomely carved boat-shaped, wooden grave marker with the legend “WUFFY OF HM.TB28 DROWNED 25.X.14”.

I’ve not been able to discover what breed of dog he was – although with a name like Wuffy you could be excused for thinking there might have been a certain waywardness in some of his ancestry – nor the details of his drowning. I’m wondering if there is a senior Fifer out there who knows the story and can share it with me.

Much of my time outdoors is spent with two dogs for company, walking in familiar places. Last Saturday was a complete change – a day of new faces and new places.

Written on Saturday, August 4th, 2012 at 5:06 am for Weekly.