They say unicorns aren’t real. However, what if I told you that the unicorn is very much real and thriving in Scotland? After all, all we have to do is believe in something for it to become real. The unicorn is our national animal, representing so much more to Scotland than initially meets the eye. Actually, the origins of the mythological animal in our land dates back centuries, to a time when its existence was not even up for debate.
Why is the unicorn Scotland’s national animal?
According to National Trust for Scotland, the unicorn is a long-standing symbol of power, innocence and purity in Celtic mythology, symbolizing the characteristics of the Scottish nation.
Legend has it the twisted white horn of the creature can purify poisonous water and heal the sick and the wounded. Unicorns are also immensely proud and independent as well as difficult to tame and conquer, much like the Scottish nation. So, the representation of what the unicorn stands for is the real reason why the ancestors of Scotland chose the mythological being as a national animal. It gave them hope, motivation to keep going amidst the wars and, therefore, never forget who they really are.
What is more, most unicorns are presented with chains on them. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because of the English putting chains on Scotland in the 18th century by becoming the United Kingdom of Great Britain. It is, in fact, a statement of regal power of Scottish monarchs, when it was believed that only kings could tame the unicorn.
What is the real story behind the unicorn when it comes to Scotland?
When it comes to the unicorn being the national animal of Scotland, it all began with heraldry. Yes, heraldry. For those who (understandably) aren’t well-versed in the term, it’s an “age-old practice of designing and displaying coats of arms or crests to distinguish between groups of people, armies or institutions.”, as explained by National Trust for Scotland.
While exact year is cited differently from different sources, the mid-1500s have seen the unicorn on the royal coat of arms of Scotland. Other sources claim the unicorn was first introduced in the 12th and 13th centuries, but we’ll go off what physical proof we actually have.
King James II is said to have fully adopted the unicorn as our national symbol, and his successors James III, James IV and James V have all followed suit. King James V also introduced the mythological animal on coins, royal seals and coats of arms. The official coats of arms were represented by not one, but two unicorns to ensure extra power and strength.
Where can I see the unicorn in Scotland?
Since it’s such a huge part of Scotland’s past, the inspiring meaning left by the unicorn’s legacy is worth being remembered and discovered in person. Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh is a great example, with a majestic unicorn greeting guests as soon as they arrive at the gated entrance.
The Mercat Cross all around Scotland will all have a unicorn at the top, and Edinburgh is no exception: you can find it on The Royal Mile near St Gile’s Cathedral. Glasgow University’s famous staircase also has the mysterious being sitting atop of it. Plus, whenever you’re in Glasgow, Culross, Prestonpans, Dunfermline or Falkland, make sure to look up.
Stirling Castle is another place for unicorn spotting with its famous Stirling Tapestries, and Dundee’s HMS Unicorn is also an easy giveaway with the name of Scotland’s oldest existing warship.
When is National Unicorn Day?
That’s correct, we have a National Unicorn Day! It is very soon, and it’s on April 9. Celebrate it by going unicorn hunting to all the beforementioned historical spots.