Visiting Greyfrairs Bobby

On our last trip overseas, Theresa and I hiked the 197 miles of the famous Coast to Coast Trail across England, from the Irish Sea in the west, to the North Sea in the east. Our trip took us over the Western mountains and through the Lake District, home of the lake poet and mystic, William Woodsworth.

It also took us over the moors, dales, and fertile valleys of Yorkshire, home to my late veterinary colleague, Dr. James Harriot. Besides the stunning scenery that we were blessed with witnessing as we trekked across the former “Mother country,” I was able to observe and answer first-hand a question I’d always wondered about: Why were there so many different breeds of sheep that originated in such a small country as England?

As we crossed over one mountain pass after another, I discovered the reason. These mountains and inhospitable moors physically prevented animals from one valley from mingling with those from another. Each separated region had its own microclimate, its own particular vegetation, its own water sources, and even their own dilects. And each sheep breed, be they Cheviot, Swaledale, Herdwick, Suffolk, etc., developed adaptations to meet these different environmental conditions.

This physical separation of the various regions led not only to differences in sheep breeds. In talking with native English peoples at the various hotels and B&B’s we stayed at, it even affected their accents and vocabularies. As a man of science, it was a great lesson in genetics and adaption to changing local conditions.

But something else also took place as a result of this geographic separation between the various regions that was very close to my heart: with each new region we traversed, there would be an entirely new line of draft beers available on tap at our evening lodgings! And being the man of science that I am, I made it a point to try them all.

As Theresa and I were winding down our trip in Edinburgh, Scotland, we saw the statue and visited the grave of a famous little dog name Greyfriars Bobby. I’m told there is a movie about this little dog, but just in case some of you readers might not be familiar with the story, I’ll tell it the best I can. It’s quite touching.

Greyfriars Bobby was a small Skye terrier that belonged to an Edinburgh Police Constable named John Gray. Since he was a wee puppy, Bobby would walk the beat every day with his master as the constable’s personal guard dog. Legend says that they were absolutely inseparable. Sadly, Mr. Gray died in young middle-age of tuberculosis and was buried in a poorly-marked grave in the Greyfriar’s church cemetery. The story goes that for the next fourteen years the dead man’s faithful dog, now nicknamed “Greyfriars Bobby,” kept constant watch and guard over the grave until his own death in1872.

This faithful wee doggie (a little bit of Scottish lingo there) was such a beloved treasure to the people of Edinburgh, that they buried him just outside the hallowed ground of the cemetery as close to his beloved owner as possible. Next to the Edinburgh Castle, his statue is the most-visited tourist site in all of Scotland. Thanks again.

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