TAILS OF A TRAVELLING CAT
Greetings, humans! Today we had a fantastic guided tour of the city provided by Sue. Our first stop was the floral clock, a giant, working clock made entirely of flowers (as the name would suggest). Next up was Edinburgh Castle, history time, where stands were being set up for the military tattoo, which is held in the Castle’s car park every year – it’s more glamorous than it sounds. Huge towers of red and blue plastic seats loomed above us as we walked through to the ticket office and into the outer part of the castle, where we then queued for a while to get tickets. No matter, it provided a good opportunity for pictures of the castle and the view. The castle was built very high up on what almost looks like a rocky cliff face, located in what is now Edinburgh Old Town.
The castle was built in the 12th Century on the top of a spectacular extinct volcano called Castle Rock, the right place to build the castle then! The volcano has been extinct for over 340 million years, so nothing to fear, one hopes.
The Castle was continuously under siege, first by the English, then by the Scots to reclaim their castle, and so the battle went on until the castle eventually became a prison for military prisoners in the 1700s. Now it is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions. Thanks to Edinburghcastle.co.uk and the Edinburgh Castle pamphlet for providing information I could base my history lesson on.
Once we had our tickets, we could enter the second line of defence (a portcullis and a ticket scanner) up onto the battlements. There were lots of cannons here, all pointing out at the city far below. I am a fan of cannons, usually I like sitting on them, however, one particular cannon was so big I could sit inside it. This was Mons Meg, a particular beauty aimed directly at Debenham’s (not my choice). The cannon balls were bigger than me, which was rather disconcerting. After this we visited St Margaret’s chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh, built in 1130. Despite its age, it was still in pristine condition although it was very small. However, as it was only designed for one person, I suppose it was actually quite large.
Shopping done we then continued along the Royal Mile which runs from the castle through the middle of the Old Town. We cut through some narrow steps and returned to the New Town. Interestingly, the Mound which is between the Old and New Towns was built on top of Edinburgh’s rubbish, which had for decades been tossed into the city’s loch. I was rather alarmed at the mention of the loch, but it was drained three hundred years ago (ish) and now forms Prince’s Park. Even more interestingly, the trains leaving Edinburgh Waverley Station pass through the Mound and under Prince's Park via tunnel, this was the way we passed yesterday on route to Perth, and will pass through again when we leave on Tuesday.
Lunch was found! Holy Cow was a fantastic vegan restaurant located in a basement flat, once we were inside though, it was easy to forget we were half underground. Especially when the food arrived. Both humans ordered burgers which were gargantuan and came with a shovelful of potato wedges. One burger was the Thai carrot, incorporating peanuts, chutney and red cabbage, the other was a falafel burger, topped with carrot and tomato, both garnished with garlic mayo.
The burgers were so big the humans had no room for cake, but the options looked good, raspberry red velvet, assorted cheesecakes, chocolate and peanut butter. I bet they were good.
Feeling very full, we left Holy Cow and headed through New Town, marvelling at the beautiful (but very expensive) Georgian terraces which, built since 1715 seemed to make up the majority of this section of the city. Yes, the New Town was built in the 1700s.
On the way back, we passed Bute House, the Scottish equivalent of 10 Downing Street, but without all the gates and security guards. Does this say something about the different cultural and political climates, perhaps? I’m a cat, it’s not my place to say.
We crossed back over the famous George Street, at its end with Charlotte Square. The street was meant to have been bookended with churches, however although the Charlotte Square end church did get built, the other book was missing, instead a rich person’s villa was built. Hmm, not sure what happened there. We made it back to Prince’s Street to catch the bus. This street is also nicely contained with the Balmoral and Caledonian Hotels at either end. Both were huge and grand, I’m sure a night in either would have been equally as pricey.
We made it back to the house and sat down to relax for the evening.
Until next time,
PS. Let me leave you with a selection of Edinburgh photos, enjoy!
Day 2 - Edinburgh Zoo
Greetings, humans! It has stopped Raining! I can venture outside! Our trip today was to Edinburgh Zoo. Now, I am aware that among humans, zoos can be a rather controversial topic. I’m not going to go into an ethical debate over whether we should have zoos or not, but I do think Edinburgh Zoo have some good examples of striking the balance between welfare, conservation and economics. Everything seems to come down to money with you humans.
Sue is a volunteer at the Zoo meaning we enjoyed a very informative personal tour, the quality of which rivals my history lessons (you can compare when I give my talk on Edinburgh Castle in a few days’ time.
The first animals we saw were a flock of pink pelicans which I would have enjoyed chasing, but I restrained myself, I think I would have fitted inside their beaks!
Our next stop involved more birds, the huge flightless rheas of the ratite family. There were three 8 week old chicks being raised by the male of the pair, as is the custom with this species. In general with birds, both parents participate in the rearing of their offspring compared to mammals were it is usually the female, or reptiles where their young are often left to fend entirely for themselves from the moment they are born. That seems somewhat harsh, but who am I to judge a different taxa? The chicks were learning predator avoidance/ confusion behaviour which seemed to involve a lot of zig-zag running. Well, I was confused.
More birds – I like this trip – we went to see the penguins next. As a cat, I was rather put off by their giant pond, but we watched with interest the Gentoo penguins raising their young. As penguin chicks are born without waterproof feathers, metal umbrellas had been put over the nests to keep them dry. There were also three leucistic penguins. This doesn’t mean they are albino, just paler than normal as they have a much lower content of melanin and other pigments in their bodies.
These flightless critters were interesting to watch as they had a habit of stealing stones from each others' nest to add to their own. Strangely enough, no one ever seemed to get into a fight over this, they took the theft of their property quite well actually.
Ah, a mammal! The one-horned rhino (that's the species name, no terrible accident has befallen him) who liked to play with tractor tyres and carry them on his nose. Well, each to their own I suppose.
We also met tapirs (which are huge and related to horses), otters, Gelada baboons and a skunk, which was not smelly as I have been led to believe these animals are by popular culture.
We tried to find my favourite cousins the elusive Scottish wildcat, but they decided to hide like true cats. A very nice enclosure though, very leafy and many places for a feline to hide and climb. We spoke to one of the carnivore keepers about wildcats and learnt that they aren’t interested in cardboard boxes. What? They don’t see a box and immediately attempt to wedge themselves inside it? They’re missing some fun there. We talked about pelage scoring – see the handy identification guide provided by Scottish Wildcat Action – and that hybrids are only used in the breeding programme if their pelage score is above 80% wildcat. Sadly, it seems there are no pure wildcats in Scotland anymore. My cousins are endangered, the poor wee things.
I think my Scottish is coming along nicely.
An interesting note to the pelage score is that the female wildcat at the zoo (there is also a male called Talisker named after the whisky) has a tapered end to her tail, however wildcats are usually considered to have a blunt end, despite this, her pelage score is still high.
We also visited two other cats, the Sumatran tigers (very stripy, I approve) and the Asiatic lions, slightly smaller than their African cousins. We also learnt Sumatran tigers can jump vertically up to 13 feet, good thing the walls are high!
We then came upon an escaped wildcat. Not really, it was stuffed, that bizarre and creepy Victorian pastime. No wonder the poor blighters are so rare. This stuffed cat was a donation to the zoo and formed part of an education display which included big cat skulls and a leopard pelt, seized by customs officials at Heathrow, the person smuggling it arrested and the skin donated to the zoo. This was a sad sight to see, one of my poor cousins, killed for their skin, the bullet wounds still visible in the neck, the claws still on the paws. This beautiful cat and the stuffed wildcat, both victims of the type of humans I will never understand.
Zebra! I’ve been distracted… I like these creatures, they’re stripy like me and their field had a beautiful view of Edinburgh.
One of the last stops was the chimpanzees, a troop of 19. About half of the group had come from a lab testing facility a few years ago, but joined the original group well. There was also a three year old chimp, the group’s only offspring. The similarities to a young human child were striking, so I am told, children are not my area of expertise.
We also visited the squirrel monkeys and capuchins who participate in voluntary behaviour tests to determine their preferences and cognitive abilities including their ability to recognise an individual, track the location of a moving hidden object and select their preferred food. The monkeys were always free to leave the trials if they wanted, but the way I see it, why wouldn’t they participate when there was food on offer?
We tried the wildcats again, but to no avail. But then, loads of them! In the gift shop, a whole shelf of wildcat toys, maybe these are my closest cousins after all, not the flesh and blood wildcats.
Day 1 - Edinburgh
Greetings, humans! I have arrived in Edinburgh! Charlie and I flew from Stansted, an airport that has rather confused me as for some reason it costs £3.50 to drop someone off – is this some means to encourage people to use the free bus service? I quite like buses but I believe many people do not. Something to do with them always being late or smelly or cold…
Anyway, we arrived in the airport and headed straight to security. No hold luggage to drop off today and already checked in online, this is a revelation in air travel. I like this plan, jolly good I think. Security was an interesting experience, Charlie got beeped going through the metal detector and had to go through those full body scanner things. The bag I was in also got pulled off the conveyor belt. Oh no, were we in trouble for trying to smuggle a cat onto a plane? No, it was the liquids – shower gel, toothpaste and that squirty stuff that stops hay fever. These were all put into some kind of strange scanning device and then handed back. Odd.
We then walked through duty free, which seemed to sell only alcohol and perfume, to the point where the smell started to make me feel rather nauseous, one does have a sensitive nose. Finally we arrived in the food area – much better – and after some waiting, we set off for the gate.
The gate was so far away we were sent there by train, it was in a completely separate building. We were delayed boarding for no apparent reason, crammed into some small area between the showing of the boarding passes and being released onto the runway. Finally the doors opened and we were allowed to board the plane.
More waiting and then we were off, flying high in the sky. We spent a lot of time flying on top of some white fluffy material which I feel would make an excellent cat bed and then, oh horrors! My dreaded enemy water started falling from the sky!
Soon, sadly, the fluffy stuff disappeared, but at least it meant we could observe the fields and roads far below. Not long later we had landed (only an hour’s flight). On disembarking from the plane, we discovered there was more water falling from the sky, Charlie says it’s called rain and apparently this is quite normal in Scotland. I don’t like it.
We had to get off the plane and walk through the rain, luckily I was in a bag, although not a waterproof one, I might add.
A very long time (probably three minutes) later, we were in Edinburgh airport where no water was falling from the sky, which fortunately only seems to happen outdoors, but then after meeting Charlie’s aunt, Sue, we were back out in the Rain. I have decided to grant it capital letter status to emphasise the horror of it. We made it to the safety of the car and began the journey to Sue and Stuart’s house. Edinburgh seems like a nice place, pity about the Rain.
We spent the day indoors, wisely hiding from the wet stuff which was still pouring down, and met Boris the cat, he’s very friendly and then the humans went out for dinner. As it was still Raining very hard, I sensibly elected not to join them.
The three humans drove to Henderson’s Vegan in Thistle Street. There are several Henderson’s in Edinburgh and whilst they are all vegetarian, this was the only one that was fully vegan.
I was informed that, for no identifiable reason, the traffic getting to dinner was very, very bad. However, the amount of time spent stationary afforded Charlie plenty of opportunity to take pictures. There were some wonderful old buildings, some parks and lots of cars.
They finally arrived at dinner (still Raining) and ordered starters. These were a carrot and cashew cream bruschetta for Sue and a sharing platter of sourdough, oat cakes, olive salad, hummus, bean pâté and something that seemed like a mix of antipasti and bean pâté between Charlie and Stuart. All was excellent.
The main event was vegan haggis all round, a Scottish delicacy made of soya (if you’re vegan, various, unnamed innards encased in a sheep stomach if you're not) and onions among other vegetable type things. This was served with kale, cashew cream cheese sauce and a pickled vegetable of undetermined species. Turns out it was turnip. Again, everyone was well pleased with the food.
Despite being very full, the humans elected for pudding, one vanilla ice cream with fruit and two blueberry cheesecakes with a shortcake style base, served with three blueberries and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.
Absolutely stuffed, the humans waddled out onto the street, where it had stopped Raining… oh no, my mistake, still Raining.
There is a lot of Rain here, it is quite terrifying. I will venture out into this city if it ever stops Raining. The view from my window, I have been told is amazing, you can see all across the city and Castle to the Forth bridge and the river (perhaps not being able to see it is a good thing), however the Rain has rather restricted the view to the backs of the houses behind this one.
Tomorrow the plan is to visit Edinburgh Zoo and hopefully talk to some keepers. I want to meet my feline cousins, particularly the wildcats whose fearsome natures I feel I have much in common with.
Off to Scotland
Greetings, humans! Ah, it’s good to be back, ready for another trip, once more getting my Charlie to type up my witty ramblings. If you're new to Tails of a Travelling Cat (where have you been? You've missed so much) you can find out more about me (I am truly wonderful) on the About Me (and My Humans) Page, and also in the Before We Begin post at the start of the Europe Edition. I'll wait for you to catch up if you need to, but be quick, I don't have all day.
Right, now if you're up to speed, or have been a good human and were already conversant on who I am through having read the Europe Edition when it was published, let me introduce this second trip.
We’re off to Scotland, Edinburgh to be precise, another capital city. This time it is just myself and Charlie embarking on this trip, however we are staying with Charlie’s aunt, Sue, and uncle, Stuart, so I suppose they will probably feature in this Edition.
I’m looking forward very much to this trip, it will be highly cat based and involve an aeroplane and some trains. I am a fan of this long distance travelling lark, although I would be a rather poor Travelling Cat if I wasn't now, wouldn’t I?
We will be based in Edinburgh, where we will visit Edinburgh Zoo and hopefully see their wildcats – my less stripy, and less pink, cousins.
On this trip we will also visit the Highland Wildlife Park (it’s over two hours away, my longest journey by car, although compared to some of those European trains, not a problem, one hopes). Here, we will see many wondrous cats – I have been promised Pallas’ cats, lynxes, Amur tigers, snow leopards – and some other animals. If we’re lucky, we might even get to meet some important, high-up people involved in conservation of the beautiful, majestic, prowling, Critically Endangered Scottish wildcat. How few remain? We’ll find out in the next few days.
Anyway, it will not all be cat based (unfortunately), there’s also a trip planned over the mighty Forth Bridge to Perth, or perhaps Dundee, maybe here we will meet up with one of Charlie’s uni friends, maybe we won’t, oh, the suspense.
We will also probably visit Edinburgh Castle like all good tourists and I’m sure some other historical delights. Those good people who have read the Europe Edition, will fondly remember my well informed and mostly accurate history lessons.
Well, that seems to sum up what’s going on as I know so far. I’m all packed and ready to go. And I get to try a new airport, Stansted, this time, exciting stuff.
Until then, folks,