Inspired by my new Tours with Paws canine services, here's a brief rundown of some of Edinburgh's more unusual, and interesting, animal-related sites and attractions...
The legendary dog who remained faithful even after his master's death - returning to his grave every evening for 14 years - is commemorated with both a public statue at the head of Candlemaker Row, across from the National Museum of Scotland, and a decorative grave stone, marking his final resting place in the churchyard of Greyfriars Kirk, where his master is also buried. You can also view Bobby's collar and water bowl in the Museum of Edinburgh, on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile...
Continuing with the dead dog theme, inside Edinburgh Castle you can view the Dog's Cemetery where mascots of regiments stationed at the Castle have been buried. Also on display in the National War Museum (free entry with your Castle entrance ticket) is another military mascot, awarded full military honours for bravery in action, before his death and subsequent preservation and stuffing by a sympathetic taxidermist....
Dolly the Sheep
The world's first genetically cloned animal was created at the Rosslyn Institute outside of Edinburgh. Her name was Dolly, cloned from the mammary glands of a sheep that had died some time previously. Today Dolly herself can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland, stuffed for posterity, as well as your viewing pleasure.
Pandas Pandas Pandas!
On loan to Scotland from China, Edinburgh Zoo is home to two giant pandas - Tian Tian and Yan Guang have been known to sleep up to 16 hours a day, unlike the zoo's other attractions, such as their chimpanzees or their penguins. Book your panda-tastic viewing slot with your entry ticket.
Recovered from the bed of the river Almond at Cramond in 1997, the Cramond Lioness is a Roman-era sculpture that originally stood in the nearby Roman fort. Today the lioness is on display in the National Museum of Scotland, which also boasts a truly eye-popping gallery of exhibits from the natural world, preserved and presented in an engaging and informative display - don't miss the t-rex skeleton, swimming hippo and giraffe cheekily poking its blue tongue out!
For more beastial highlights - including elephants on the Castle Esplanade, the last cow on the Cowgate and rare sightings of Scotland's national animal (the unicorn!) - book an Up-Close and Personal Tour of the city, with my canine co-guide, French bulldog Monty, available on request!
To be in Edinburgh on this day, 17th February, 1598 would have been memorable for two reasons. Firstly, King James VI was present at the High Kirk of St Giles, on Edinburgh's High Street, hearing about plans for the division of the city into quarters, each section being allotted its own church .
St Giles would have been packed to the rafters that morning, not primarily for the presence of the king, but for another, astronomical reason...
The event is recounted in Fragments of Scottish History, a historical record (of sorts) dating from 1798. In it, "ane grate darknes" is described - the darkness being caused by the transit of the Moon between the Earth and the Sun. Today we know these as eclipses, relatively common (or at least relatively understood) events that can still arouse great interest. At the end of the sixteenth century, however, the common 'man in the street' would not have had such astronomical knowledge - a translation from the archaic Scots text suggests that the people of Edinburgh that day considered that they were facing the end of the world, their 'Doomsday'....
It is a scene that wouldn't be out of place in a Hollywood disaster movie, imagining the merchants and traders of the Royal Mile hurrying people out of their premises, and closing up their doors in panic. Perhaps they gathered their belongings (or at least their valuables!) and "ran to the kirke to pray, as [g]if it had bene the last day".
We have no record or way of knowing what sense the king made of this planetary occurrence - as a man who is famed for his robust treatment of those suspected of witchcraft, it is likely he may have shared the fears of his subjects, and perhaps would have joined them in prayer to ward off the dark omen of nighttime coming during the day!
The eclipse lasted a little under an hour, and shortly after ten o'clock the sun was shining again. As you wander past St Giles today, perhaps crossing Parliament Square with your camera in hand, take a moment to imagine what the people streaming back out of the kirk might have been feeling as they returned to their shops and businesses.
The next partial solar eclipse visible in Edinburgh will occur on the 20th March 2015.
Don't worry, this is not your four-minute warning of the end of days - just a brief reflection on one of Edinburgh's most characterful street names...
You'll find World's End on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile, and as well as the above pictured close leading off the Canongate, you'll also find the World's End pub on the corner of the Royal Mile and St Mary's Street.
So how did Edinburgh come to have such an apocalyptically-named thoroughfare, you might ask?!
It dates back to a time when the entire city burgh was contained within the stretch of road between the Castle and the junction at which the World's End pub stands today. For a long time, this stretch was Edinburgh in its entirety - in the 1750s, before the city expanded to the New Town areas to the north of the city centre, this half-mile long city had a population of around 50,000 people. It was this density of occupation had led to the city becoming so dirty and run-down.
From the 15th century onwards, the city had been formally contained within a series of defensive walls, with a number of gates in these walls to allow access to (egress from) the city. The main gate used by visitors to the city was the Netherbow Port, which stood on the site of the World's End junction - it was a heavily fortified entranceway, with a gate that could be closed over the road, bordered on either side with stout towers.
Although the Netherbow Port was dismantled in the 1760s, the outline of the old gateway can still be seen, marked out with brass plaques in the cobbled roadway of the Royal Mile. (Be wary of traffic if you're going to step into the road to examine them!) Further, the original bell which was housed in the Netherbow Port, which was rung every evening to warn people that the gates were soon to be closed for the night, still survives at the top of a grey concrete tower adjoining the Netherbow Arts Centre, which stands on the north side of the Canongate nearby.
Access into the city through the Netherbow Port required payment of a fee or a toll, and this applied whoever you were, even if you were a resident of Edinburgh - for many of the city's impoverished occupants this fee was simply too much for them to afford, and consequently they were literally trapped within the city walls. This junction, with its enormous gate, was as far as they could travel from their homes on the Royal Mile. It was, figuratively, the edge of their world - for the city's residents, this was the World's End.
It is somewhat astonishing to think that for such a long time, Edinburgh's residents may have known little of the world beyond the city walls - even modern districts of the city, such as Leith or even Holyrood, would have been foreign places that they could only rarely, if ever, afford to visit. Today you can easily walk to Holyrood (and take a 22 bus to Leith if you wish to!).
So, take advantage of the modern luxury of being able to enter and leave the city at will, and tell your friends that you whilst you were in Edinburgh, you enjoyed a drink at the World's End.
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...