If you type “National animal of Scotland” into Google, you will blink in disbelief. “Is this one of the internet’s tricks?” you will wonder. The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn. I knew this before I commenced this journey. One day a group was eating in the cafeteria at Shorter and somehow the conversation turned either to national animals or unicorns. Either way, it was mentioned that Scotland’s national animal is a mythical creature. I wondered how true a claim this really was, so when I got back to my room, I performed the Google search. I saw that it was indeed unicorn, but I did not research too much further. The wonder passed as more pressing matters filled my mind.
The subject of the unicorns arose again today, while I was in Scotland. For the third time in a five days, we visited a castle. Holyrood enchanted us in this most recent episode of castle touring. This beautiful castle is the official residence of the queen when she visits (and she visits during the summer once every year). It was originally an abbey built in 1128 by David I. James IV converted the stunning monastery into a palace. Through the next few centuries, it was destroyed and rebuilt time after time. Each rebuilding added something a little bit more glorious. I saw it today much like it was in 1679.
The stone walls still stood in their grandeur. The towers presented a symmetrical delight. The history of the place is just as glorious as the architecture. The stories of these walls weave together like the tapestries that adorned them, just as intricate and impressive. James III and Margaret of Denmark were married here, as were many others. There was blood shed here. Mary, Queen of Scots, while heavily pregnant, had her skirts clung to by her secretary David Rizzo as her husband dragged him away and stabbed him 56 times. I stepped on the floor that is still discolored from his blood. The stories of the place are vivid.
And throughout the stories, there is the royal shield of Scotland. On the thrones and on the stone, the image is proudly displayed. And on it, there is a unicorn. (Fun fact: In Scotland, the lion and the unicorn are in opposite positions than they are on England’s shield—the warden of the castle told me this). The thought that the national animal of Scotland was the unicorn tickled the back of my mind. And so I asked my professor who asked the warden. And she said they don’t really know why the unicorn is a national icon. Charles I chose it as a symbol for himself. Many royals of the time would proudly display their symbol and the world would know that they were present. And so Charles chose a unicorn. They assume he chose it because of the strong and mythical qualities the unicorn represents. It stuck. And the unicorn is indeed the national animal of Scotland.
This is a fitting national animal for the country. The stone walls surrounding every stone street are strong. The history of the place is almost mythical in its stunning drama. There is a beauty about the land that is unparalleled. The rolling green hills that grace the jagged cliffs, the sea shining bright in the distance, the flowers that define colors, the clouds that whisper stories of their own—this is a lovely land. It is sometimes difficult to believe this even exists. Is it real? Or is it as imaginary as the unicorn?