Monday, December 31, 2012

The New Flatmate

A couple of weeks ago, on 15 Dec to be exact, I adopted a new flatmate from the Edinburgh Cat Protection League. When they took him in, he had seen their vet, Batchelor, Davidson and Watson to be chipped, neutered and get his vaccinations. They also determined that he was about a year old.

In talking to my local pet supply store owner, Capital Pets just up the street, I have learned that Edinburgh and Glasgow (and probably many other cities as well) do not have the animal control problems that we have in the US. There are no feral cats or dogs roaming about the city and because of this, all the shelters are no-kill shelters. The animals that they are re-homing are usually either lost or the owners had to get rid of them for some reason. This means that there are rarely kittens available, which was just as well since I don't have the time to devote to a kitten.

Dugal has been a delightful addition to my life, and I think that I have brightened his up as well. When I first brought him home, he was very timid and ran to hide behind the couch whenever he heard a noise, whether it was out on the street or in one of the flats surrounding mine. Now, he doesn't hide at all.

I have, of course, been spoiling him by getting toys whenever I can. His favorites are a ping pong ball (which he chases around the bathtub) and his bowtie (a couple of squares of fabric tied with ribbons). The latter used to be on a string, but he removed it and now he likes to play fetch with it, so I throw it and he brings it back to me and I throw it again, wash, rinse, repeat.

Today he had an appointment for his 2nd round of vaccinations, so I put him into his carrier and walked the half mile to the bus stop where we caught the bus to the veterinarian's. We arrived early and gave his information to the vet. I took him to the same vet that had seen him previously and although I was worried about the distance, it turned out to be an easier trip than I had expected.

The one hitch in the trip is when the doctor scanned him to confirm the identi-chip which had been implanted on his last trip. For some reason, it would not register. After trying two different scanners and scanning his entire body, he decided that the chip must have stopped working and implanted a new chip. This one he scanned and it registered, so hopefully there will be no further problem with it. After that, Dugal was given his booster shots and we were sent on our way.

After this visit, Dugal will not need to see the vet for another year. Right now, he is at my feet in celebratory meditation, or perhaps he is simply asleep.

"Please, no flash photography!"

"So where's the X-Box?"

Spying on the feathered neighbors

"Handsome, no?"

"-To Victory!"

Atop my desk

Nipped out on the new cat tree

"It's full of stars..."

Catching some Z's

"Look, I'm a Bobble-Head!" 

The Most Interesting Cat in the World

Caught that virtual mouse!

Hiding from a noise, behind the couch

Playing with his "bowtie" prior to removing it from the string.
Catching more Z's

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sightseeing - Arthur's Seat

Last week I decided to spend a couple of hours hill walking in Edinburgh. Since I had not been up Arthur's Seat before (last time I went up Salisbury Crags, right next to the Seat) I decided it was time. The weather was overcast, but no rain in the forecast, so I set out around noon for Holyrood Park. Robert Louis Stevenson, in Edinburgh Picturesque Notes, while standing atop Calton hill describes the area thusly:
Behind and overhead, lie the Queen's [Holyrood] Park, from Muschat's Cairn to Dumbiedykes, St. Margaret's Loch, and the long wall of Salisbury Crags: and thence, by knoll and rocky bulwark and precipitous slope, the eye rises to the top of Arthur's Seat, a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.
This time, rather than take the rude stairs up to Salisbury Crags, I continued to the area where I had previously descended. Heading up here, I was able to cut across to St Anthony's Chapel, a ruined stone building dating from at least the 15th century. Its origins are obscure but it is believed to have been associated with nearby the Abbey of Holyrood.

St Anthony's Chapel

From there, I climbed a steep path up to the top of Arthur's seat. Or at least I thought I was taking a path--It started out looking very path-like, with gravel and everything but the farther along I got, the more convinced I was that it was simply an animal trail. It grew steeper and narrower and more overgrown with thorny gorse bushes with every step closer to the top. But I am nothing if not stubborn and I made it to the top without incident.

This is where I was headed
Gorse Bushes on the climb up Arthur's Seat.
I bet these really smart when they dry out!
Rocks, lichen and gorse looking down Arthur's Seat
A Crow that seems to make his home up here

Where I stood onArthur's Seat provided great views of Edinburgh, both to the north and to the east, an area of Edinburgh I don't usually see. After a respite, I started down again. I came down onto the Queen's Drive and headed back to the west along Duke's Walk. Soon I reached St. Margaret's Loch which sits below St. Anthony's Chapel. The Loch is home to a flock of varied waterbirds, innumerable ducks, geese and swans,  and is a very peaceful and scenic place to idle away some time.

St Margaret's Loch is fed by a little stream which seems to originate at nearby St. Margaret's Well. The well dates from Mediaeval times and was moved to its present location, stone by stone, in 1859 to allow for rail expansion. It is currently barred off so you cannot actually fetch water from it.

St. Margaret's Well
The interior of the well. Perhaps it's better not to drink the water...
After that, I made my way down to Prince's Street and did some Christmas Shopping and visited the German Christmas Market before returning home. Thus endeth another day sightseeing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Edinburgh Castle & the Walter Scott Monument

A couple of weeks ago was St. Andrew's Day-- Friday, November 30 to be precise. St. Andrew is a bit of a big thing around here, being the patron saint of Scotland and all that entails. So, to celebrate, Edinburgh throws a party and even the National Historic Sites get in on the act. On Friday, entry was free to Edinburgh Castle just for showing up, and for Saturday and Sunday, one was able to obtain free tickets online. They are normally £14.50 and higher I believe in the summer, so I ordered a ticket for Sunday December 2 and printed it out, showing up right around half noon.

Since Edinburgh Castle is not just an historic site but also an active, though mainly ceremonial, military garrison. There is something for just about every interest here: it's a castle; the Honours of Scotland (crown jewels) are here; there's a war memorial; dungeons; Queen Mary's birthing chamber and bedroom; a great hall with weapons and armour; military museums; Mons Meg, a giant medieval siege cannon; St. Margaret's Chapel, dating back to 1130; and amazing views of Edinburgh and beyond. There are also cafes, tea shops and souvenir shops, of course.

The site of Edinburgh Castle has been inhabited since neolithic times. The oldest building on the site dates to the reign of David I in the early 1100s. In 1314, during the Scottish wars for independence, the castle was captured by Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, and in accordance with the policy of King Robert the Bruce he destroyed the castle's defences to prevent re-occupation by the English. The little chapel was left standing, though and on his death bed in 1329, Bruce spoke of the story of Queen Margaret and issued orders for the chapel's repair. The castle has been besieged, partially destroyed and rebuilt several times since then and you can see evidence of this in the varieties of ornamentation and stonework.

This ‘stronghold of Eidyn’ was first recorded before 600AD. By the Middle Ages, it had become a mighty fortification and the favoured residence of Scotland’s kings and queens.

Many great moments of Scottish history have taken place here. In 1140 the castle became the first recorded meeting place of the Scottish Parliament. In 1566, it was the birthplace of the son of Mary Queen of Scots, who grew up to be King [James] of both Scotland and England. And in 1745, it saw its final siege when the garrison held out against Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobites.

--From the Edinburgh Castle Quick Guide by Historic Scotland

I enjoyed my visit to Edinburgh Castle and recommend it to anyone who comes to Edinburgh. There are free guided tours as well as audio guides. Plan on spending a long day there if you are interested in history, militaria, knights or architecture. Also, try to come on a clear day for some of the most stunning views of the city available.

After the Castle, I wandered through the Christmas Fair setup along Princes' Street Park. The place was packed and along with stalls selling mulled wine, cider, whisky, cheeses and other foodstuffs, were several carnival rides including a ferris wheel. Not feeling up to being spun around, twirled or otherwise gravitationally messed with, after a cup of mulled wine I decided to climb the Scott Monument.

The Scott Monument is a Victorian Gothic tower built in the 1840's to honour Sir Walter Scott, one of Scotland's best-loved novelists, after his death. It was designed by George Meikle Kemp and stands 200 feet above the city. It has three levels of viewing platforms and the tallest is reached by climbing an ever-narrowing spiral staircase of 287 steps.

It is neither wheelchair accessible nor recommended for those with bad hearts, feet, knees, lungs or the morbidly obese. The last few feet of the stairway and the doorway to the top viewing platform are, in my estimation, less than 18 inches wide.

It is another spot for some fantastic views of the city, and also for an excellent, unimpeded view of the castle itself. It is a great spot to be with a camera around sunset.

Below are the photos I took that day:

Panorama view of Edinburgh from the Castle Battlements

A piper beneath the statue of 19th century philosopher, David Hume,
who apparently liked to dispense wisdom on stone tablets
while wrapped in a bed-sheet.
Approaching the castle from the parade ground

Inside the Great Hall

In the cases are the Keys to the Castle and the
paperwork declaring the Governor of the Castle.

Inside the Royal Residences, a suite of restored Tudor rooms,
including Queen Mary's bedroom and her birthing chamber where
James I was born.

An odd little stairway to a small door.

On either side of the entrance to the Scottish National War Memorial
are a Unicorn...
...and a Lion

Looking through the gun ports of the Half Moon Battery onto the city

The Scottish Royal Arms atop the Gatehouse.

Princes Street Park Christmas Festival as seen from the National Gallery
You can see the Scott Monument to the right of center behind the Ferris Wheel
The Christmas Festival and Ice Rink from the top of the Scott Monument

The Castle as seen from the lower viewing area of the Scott Monument

Looking North from the Scott Monumnet

Looking West from the Scott Monument

The Castle from the top of the Scott Monument

Sunset behind the Castle from the top of the Scott Monument