This morning, we headed out to ride the Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway up to the summit of Cairngorm Mountain. We got there early, so there wasn’t a crowd for the funicular, and we headed up.
It was a lovely view up top, and apparently 5 degrees Celsius, which should be rather warm. However, the on-site thermometer failed to account for the cutting wind which tore through our warm clothes.
Out on the viewing platform, Steve and I would run out to take a few photos before hurrying back to huddle in the relative warm of the wind break created by the building to review the photos. Once we’d warmed up a bit, we’d scurried back out to the platform to snap a few more quick photos.
Finally satisfied with the photographs, we went back inside to the restaurant and treated ourselves to mugs of hot chocolate while we continued to enjoy the view from the café sofas.
The views going back down the mountain were even better than those coming up. We also noticed how full the up direction car was and were quite relieved we’d managed to beat the crowds.
The tickets for the railway were a tad pricey for the amount of things to do at the summit, but it was still worth going up, at least once, for the spectacular views of the surrounding area. And, to be fair, we could have spent time going on a naturalist-led walk if that had been our priority for the day.
Driving down the mountain, we made for the Highland Wildlife Park. In some ways, it’s simply the area zoo, but they have quite good enclosures, that seem relatively spacious and with natural habitats – no concrete pools or platforms here.
They also have pretty large prairie spaces for their large prey mammals. Yes, they are fenced in, but they have several acres to roam, and visitors simply drive right through these enclosures.
It was interesting to see some of the local fauna up close and personal; for example, I had no idea there was such a thing as a European bison.
We also saw a beautiful Great Grey Owl dosing in its enclosure.
But the reason we even went to this attraction was to see their Scottish wildcats. And see them we did! We were rather afraid we were going to encounter a species as shy and difficult to see as the platypus had been in Australia, but we were exceedingly lucky. While the park usually has two pairs of wildcats, both pairs had kittens this year, and neither litter was old enough to have been placed elsewhere yet.
We didn’t see anything when we first entered the wildcat area. I began to admire the way they had connected enclosures with a cat overpass highway when I spotted the first feline almost directly overhead. How had we forgotten the first rule?!?! Look up!
I quietly said “uh, Steve”, and directed his camera to the snoozing cat.
Turning around to get my bearings, I noticed the mum cat and her kittens in a den area directly behind us. Again, I said “uh, Steve”, and he turned his camera to them.
They were a bit too sheltered for easy photographing, though, and I noticed the wildcat area was rather larger than where we were, so I decided to see what was on the other side of the cage we were looking at.
There I found heaven. The 3 older kittens, about 5-months-old, were running around, chasing each other and playing with sticks and leaves. Afraid they would get spooked if I yelled to Steve or ran to fetch him, I took loads of photos before quietly making my way back to alert Steve.
Their mum arrived into this area of the enclosure and got a bit cranky with their antics, but they just continued on.
We were treated to this scene for well over 40 minutes before the keeper arrived for her presentation and the feeding. After telling us a bit about the individual cats (the 5-month-old kittens’ father, Hamish, was away on a stud holiday), her presentation focused primarily on the dangers the species faces, the main one being domestic and feral cats. There are not only the usual problems with competition for prey and the spread of feline diseases, but also the most pressing problem of interbreeding. Domestic and feral cats breed with the Scottish wildcat, diluting their genes. At some point, they will cease to be Scottish wildcats at all, and simply be hybrids. None of the cats at the Highland Wildlife Park are genetically 100% pure wildcat, but the rule is that over 75% genetically wildcat is good enough and they can be used for breeding programs.
We enjoyed watching this set get fed, then continued the photo shoot for a bit.
Steve even did an “I love you” slow blink at the momma of the three older kittens, which he swears made her relax a bit from her high perch.
As we were about to leave, we noticed the keeper was starting the feeding in the first enclosure, with the younger set of kittens. This one wasn’t an announced public feed because they don’t want to do anything to unduly stress the young family yet, but we were there, so we were able to see the previously denned up mum and her three 10-week-old kittens out and about finding their snacks, and the kittens learning to climb and pounce. They were absolutely adorable, no doubt about it.
Here’s their watchful mum.
Realizing that this park is basically a local zoo and mainly a weekend excursion for families, I suppose it makes some sense that their gift shop is focused on the more exotic creatures like the snow leopards and Amur tigers, but we were quite disappointed by the entire lack of Scottish wildcat-themed merchandise.
We do, however, have our memories, and rather voluminous albums of digital photos to remember the day by.
Leaving the park, we decided to start our drive up to Inverness rather than try to fit in another excursion; we got to the B&B on the early side, planning to have an early night in preparation for the coming days. This plan was quickly thrown out the window upon our arrival when the innkeeper asked if we were heading to the tattoo at Fort George. Our blank faces held the answer, and he informed us this was the last night of the Highland Military Tattoo. There was a shuttle to get there, and food and beverage could be had before the show. Once we confirmed tickets were still available, we quickly dropped our bags and headed back out the door.
While I’m certain it was nowhere near as extravagant as the Edinburgh Tattoo, and honestly the massed bands weren’t as ear-shattering as we’ve experienced at the Highland Games in Pleasanton, it was great to be at such a local event, and the setting was hard to beat.
There was music, dancing, reenactments of battles from the Napoleonic Wars and World War I, and, of course, something no Scottish festival can be without, feats of strength.
The fireworks over the fort at the end were a particularly nice touch.
We sat next to a very nice older couple who seemed quite concerned at the end about whether or not we had enjoyed it, offering me their program as a keepsake. One thing’s for sure, everywhere we’ve gone so far, the Scottish people have been nothing but gracious and welcoming.
A great day, all in all.