Unicorns are so common in Scotland that people don’t notice them. They try to get our attention by standing on two feet, with shaggy manes and even sticking their tongues out. They are so everyday that it has taken me three decades to notice they are everywhere. Then an American journalist mentioned, in passing, the fact that unicorns are the national beast of Scotland and I immediately began my search.
I soon discovered they may be magical and mythical but unicorns are not trivial. You can find them in buildings across the country in councils and court rooms, schools and even bakers (by royal consent). There are literally millions of the beasts being magically invisible on the front of passports up and down the United Kingdom.
If independence does happen the unicorn is in danger of going extinct. Already the Scottish office has replaced the coat of arms (a lion and unicorn) with a simple, modern saltire. In this letter-headed mass extinction they have reduced the unicorn population by tens of thousands. And even have the cheek to prescribe the Pantone colour for saltire blue! Heraldry is dead!
Unicorns were ubiquitous and conspicuous in past centuries, appearing on royal insignia, shields and anywhere power was exerted. Two were resident on the royal branding until the Union of Crowns in 1603 when James IV of Scotland also became James I of England. He expanded the Unicorn's population over the border as an equal partner to the English Lion on the new coats of arms. He also commissioned a world famous Bible which hosts nine cameo appearances from the unicorn. This was a heyday for the Scottish unicorn.
In the country they sat atop the Mercat crosses at the very centre of civic life as well as being the symbol of royalty. From kings to paupers the unicorn's gaze was ever upon you.
I remembered that in Dundee there is a ship called the Unicorn. The war-frigate is moored beside some new build houses in the waterfront dock overlooked likes the beast itself. The figurehead is perhaps Scotland’s largest unicorn- a six-foot high beast gleaming in the sunlight of Scotland's sunniest city.
I called the ship and spoke to Bob. He soon told me I was too late and I had missed the picture. The unicorn had been removed and renovated and he said it would have made great pictures two years ago! I was about to hang up when Bob told me about his unicorn on wheels. A unicorn on wheels! I gasped. Then he made another passing remark about the workshop. The workshop? I gasped. Yes, the workshop where Peter makes the unicorns. Peter, I quickly reasoned, must be some reclusive magician-like carpenter from Narnia. I hung up and called the Peter who was from Blairgowrie as it happened, not Narnia.
What follows is the actual transcript of that phonecall.
“Hi Peter, this might sound odd but I am looking for unicorns”
“My life is unicorns!”
I had found my unicorns. Watch The National Beastie.