Scotland’s Dunnottar Castle

May 11, 2014 by

 

On the north east coast of Scotland, high atop a rocky headland on the North Sea, lie the ruins of a medieval fortress called Dùn Fhoithear. Known as Dunnottar in English, this famous castle is one of the most photographed in Scotland, and with good reason. The views of the castle from land and sea are simply stunning, calling up memories of ancient Picts, medieval Scottish knights and Jacobites, all of whom are connected to the site. Dunnottar was once controlled by the Keiths, who held the peerage title Earl Marischal until the lands and castle were seized by the Crown from the 10th Earl for his role in the Jacobite Rising of 1715. The castle essentially fell into disrepair until it was bought by the Cowdray family in 1925; the family still owns the castle, but it is open to the public.

 

 

The castle played a prominent role in the history of Scotland, and William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II all visited Dunnottar at some point during its storied history.

 

 

In November, 1651, Cromwell’s forces laid siege to the castle, seeking the Honours of Scotland (the regalia of crown, sword and sceptre) used during the coronation of Charles II at Scone castle earlier in 1651. The Dunnottar defenders held out for six months against a vastly superior force, until the Honours were safely smuggled out of the castle and secreted beneath the floor of a local church. The Honours, which are the oldest set of crown jewels in the British isles, are now on display at Edinburgh Castle.

 

 

Visitors to Dunnottar can walk from the nearby town of Stonehaven (about two miles) or drive to the small car park near the castle. You must then follow a footpath to the base of the castle headland, and climb a long, steep set of stone stairs to reach the castle grounds.

 

For more information about Dunnottar, its hours of operation and directions, click on the castle website HERE.

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Saving the Scottish Wildcat

Dec 2, 2013 by

The Scottish Wildcat, a beautiful and secretive predator, is the rarest animal in Scotland. Long a symbol of the wild, fierce Highlands and its people, the Scottish wildcat is now on the very edge of total extinction.

Much has been said about the decline of the so-called Irish “Celtic Tiger”, a reference to Ireland’s booming economy of the 2000’s that imploded a few years ago.  There is another Celtic Tiger, however, that is very real and in even greater danger of extinction.   Loss of habitat and crossbreeding with feral domestic cats have combined to make the Scottish wildcat in danger of disappearing from the Scottish landscape forever.

 

The Scottish Wildcat, Felis silvestris grampia, also called the Highland Tiger, is the only native feline and the most endangered animal in the British Isles.  This cat may look similar to a domestic feline, but it is in fact a wild (not feral) animal native to the Scottish Highlands.  The Scottish Wildcat is more rare than the giant panda or the Bengal tiger; experts say only 35 pure-bred cats still exist in the wilds of Scotland.

 

Wildcats colonized Britain after the end of the Ice Age, over 9000 years ago, when there was still a land bridge to the Continent. They then followed the spread of suitable habitat and prey so that by the time Britain became an island, they could be found over its length and breadth.  Because of their millennia of isolation, Scottish wildcats  are considered by some to have become a separate subspecies, Felis sylvestris grampia.

 

 

Scottish wildcats  are larger and stronger than domestic cats, with longer leg bones, larger skull capacity and thicker, denser fur.  Click HERE to see a chart detailing distinctive marks of the Scottish wildcat versus the common tabby cat.  Scottish wildcats are thought to have keener eyesight than domestic cats, and have distinctive bushy, ringed tails with blunt black tips.  Originally a forest species, Scottish wildcats have had to adjust to deforestation and human habitation over the centuries.  The cats are now found almost exclusively in very remote, sparsely populated areas in the Highlands of Scotland.

 

 

Cats have always figured in Celtic mythology, and the wildcat in particular was a favorite symbolic animal.  The Scottish wildcat is considered an icon of Scotland’s wildness,  a symbol of the fierce, untamed and unconquerable spirit of Highland warriors.  Not surprisingly then,  the Scottish wildcat has been used in clan heraldry since the 13th century.  The Picts venerated wildcats, having probably named Caithness (Land of the Cats) after them. According to the foundation myth of the Catti tribe, their ancestors were attacked by wildcats upon landing in Scotland.   Their ferocity impressed the Catti so much that they adopted the Scottish wildcat as their symbol.

A thousand years later, the progenitors of Clan Sutherland, equally impressed, incorporated the Scottish wildcat onto  their family crest.  The Chief of Clan Sutherland bears the title Morair Chat (Great Man of the Cats).   The Clan Chattan Association (also known as the Clan of Cats) is made up of 12 different clans, the majority of which display the Scottish wildcat on their badges, including Clan MacKintosh and Clan Macpherson.   The MacPherson motto, “Touch Not the Cat Bot A Glove”,  is a not-so-subtle warning to other clans that they should think twice (at least)  before interfering with Clan Macpherson business.

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Gate at Clan Macpherson Memorial Cairn, with Clan Motto: “Touch Not The Cat But A Glove“. Photo by Dee MacPherson

Once, the Scottish wildcat roamed the Highlands of Scotland in such large numbers, many people considered them little more than vermin which preyed on valuable  farm livestock.   Loss of habitat, being hunted for their fur, fatal diseases spread by domestic cats and interbreeding with domestic cats have all taken a devastating toll on the survival of this rare breed of feline.  In a effort to save the Scottish wildcat, consevationists and scientists have established an ongoing  project at Cairngorms National Park and  a captive breeding program Public outreach and education efforts by groups such as the Scottish Wildcat Association  and  Highland Tiger.com have also helped heighten awareness about the plight of the Scottish wildcat.

Recently, a Scottish wildcat sanctuary was established on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, a remote area of the north western Highlands.  Conservationists chose the site because of Ardnamurchan’s remote location, sparse human population and the very low numbers of feral and un-neutered domestic cats.

For more information on this beautiful and HIGHLY ENDANGERED Scottish wildcat and how you can help save it, click  HERE or HERE.

 

What a tragic event it would be to forever lose this majestic wild animal so admired by our Scottish ancestors.  Let’s hope that the scientists and the public can work together to bring the Highland Tiger back from the brink of extinction.

The Scottish Wildcat Warrior says  “Aye, mon then!”

Click HERE and HERE for some rare footage of a Highland Tiger in the wild.

 

Scottish wildcat

Scottish Wildcat: Rare and Endangered

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