Where can you meet a unicorn, leopards, an elephant and the Sphinx on an easy 45-minute walk?
If Inverness city centre isn’t your first guess, then local historian Norman Newton, author Pauline Mackay and illustrator Marjory Tait can teach you a thing or two about the hidden animals in the Highlands’ capital.
The three lovers of local culture recently joined together to create the Wild About Inverness City Center Outdoor Trail, which uses the city’s architectural fauna to guide walkers through 400 years of history.
Ms Mackay said that she wanted to offer families a fun and easy outdoor activity that they could do together, whenever time allowed.
So she recruited Mr Newton and tasked him with uncovering the history of Inverness’s hidden animals, which Ms Tait brought to life through her illustrations.
Wild About Inverness
Ms Mackay’s bookshop and publishing house, Ablekids Press, serves as the launching pad for the tour.
She said that she wanted to create an activity that was easy for families during the pandemic months, when the outdoors felt like all we had.
“I wanted the trail to be something that families could do together. It’s something that families can do after school, over the summer, whenever they have time.”
At the foot of the stair, at the current TSB Bank on Inglis Street, travellers come across the first of over a dozen stops on the tour. A coat of arms is engraved above the bank entrance, which calls back to an even earlier financial institution, Mr Newton said.
Aberdeen Town and County Bank, which opened an Inverness Branch in 1877, placed its crest above the door. The animals on the crest showcased Aberdeen’s ties to a king’s ransom and a pair of leopards.
“The leopard on the left is a symbol of Aberdeen, while the stag on the right represents the countryside. According to legend, two leopards were gifted to Aberdeen by King James I to thank them for their financial support while he was being held captive in England.”
The ballad of the boy soldier
Another secret hides in plain site, beneath the Sphinx who sits at the feet of the Cameron Highlanders monument in Station Square.
The memorial lists the names of soldiers who died in Egypt and the Sudan during the 1880s and 1890s. The dead are listed by name and rank, but one entry stands apart: “Boy William Rolls.”
Mr Newton said that young William was with the Cameron Highlanders because his father, also William, served in the 79th regiment. Although listed with the men who died at the battle of Ginnis in 1885, young William actually died of typhoid a year later.
Where to find Wild About Inverness
There are dozens of other stops along the walking trail, each with an animal or fantastic beast to show the way. But to find the rest, the creators want families to get outdoors and see for themselves.
Ms Mackay, Mr Newton and Ms Tait worked together to publish the Wild About Inverness sticker and activity book. The book, along with a free map that serves as your own personal tour guide, gives the full experience of the tour.
Kids can colour in their favourite animals and place Ms Tait’s illustrated stickers in the correct locations as they make their way through the city centre.
The book is available for sale at Ablekids Press on Market Brae Steps, online, or at the Inverness Waterstones, inside Eastgate Shopping Centre.
Read more from the Schools and Family Team