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Towser and Barley
Scottish distillery cats
I enquired how this very exact figure of mice caught had been arrived at surely no one had been keeping count for 24 years? It seems the adjudicators for the record claim went to Crieff to observe the cat's prowess for a period of some days, and the total was extrapolated by a statistical technique from their observations. Even if the number might not be totally accurate, it's a pretty impressive performance and works out at an average of some three mice every day!
By the way, the story goes that Towser's amazing mousing prowess was the result of a 'tiny wee dram' being added to her milk each night; but Glenturret says, 'We don't have any scientific proof to back this up, and we certainly wouldn't advise it to anyone whose cat is underperforming in terms of rodent control!'
Following Towser's death a new cat was appointed, called Amber. Unfortunately she didn't seem to have her predecessor's skills, and as far as is known she never caught a single mouse! But she remained as the resident feline until she too died of old age in late 2004. It was felt that spring would be a better time to take on a new cat, and so the quest began in March/April 2005 and was reported in the national press. Scottish branches of Cats Protection, the UK's largest cat charity, were invited to help with the search.
The requirement was for a cat that would be outgoing enough to welcome visitors from all over the world (some 120,000 annually) and enjoy being the centre of attention and certainly not camera-shy. Mousing ability would be considered an advantage, but distilleries these days are much more mouse-free than in earlier times, so it was not regarded as essential. A cat psychologist was even consulted, as it was felt it wouldn't be easy to find the right animal . . . but eventually nine finalists were chosen, from Perth, Forfar, Dundee and Cardyke (Glasgow) CP rescue centres. They were all cats that for one reason or another had fallen on hard times, and each was described as a 'real character'.
Staff at the distillery were looking forward to having a new resident after several catless months, but following the 'interviews' they found it very difficult to make a choice from among so many worthy candidates! In the end they found it impossible to choose between Dylan, a ginger tomcat from Forfar, and Brooke, a black-and-white female from Cardyke so it was decided to take them both on. Glenturret therefore now has two worthy successors to the famous Towser. And, following the extensive refurbishment and opening of the 'Famous Grouse Experience' in June 2002, they now have their own cat-flap so that they can come and go as they please to and from their base in the still house which is always pleasantly warm.
And there was a happy ending for the seven other cats not selected by Glenturret all found good new homes, either with distillery staff or as a result of the publicity that took place at the time of the search.
In 2010 Brooke was still the distillery cat, and we have a new picture of her (left). At the moment we don't have any further information about Dylan.
May 2012: Sadly we have to report that both of the cats taken on at Glenturret in 2005 have died; Brooke in 2011 and Dylan sometime before that. We understand that a new cat is to be taken on during May and we'll post details when we know more.
Warm thanks go to Carol McLaren of the Glenturret Distillery for kindly providing the photographs and much of the information on which this account is based, and to Natasha Monroe for providing the more recent photo of Brooke. You can find out more about the whisky at the Famous Grouse site.
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Barley was a cat of character who was the resident mouser at the Highland Park Scotch whisky distillery in Kirkwall, capital of the windswept Orkney Islands to the north of Scotland. 'Was' because unfortunately, at the age of 15, Barley died as a result of a road traffic accident, the distillery announced in March 2006. Furthermore, bosses decided that he would not be replaced, thus ending a tradition of some 200 years (Highland Park was founded in 1798). The reason I was given is that this is one of only four distilleries in the whole of Scotland to retain traditional floor maltings, and apparently this has health-and-safety implications as far as the keeping of cats is concerned. It does not mean that cats are banned from all Scottish distilleries.
Over the years Barley had become well loved by staff, tourists and locals alike, and each Christmas was said to have received a 'sackful of presents and cards'. Many tales are told of his exploits; one concerns the manager's dog. Although friendly to people, the cat disliked dogs, and on one occasion terrorised this poor animal so thoroughly that it became too frightened to move and had to be physically carried to safety! However, Barley was a great companion to the night-shift workers, while in the daytime his favoured sleeping spot was actually on top of the cash till in the Highland Park shop. Visitors would often think he was a toy till they touched him!
So the long tradition of Highland Park cats has come to an end; but staff are making arrangements to commission a local artist to create a memorial statue that will stand in the entrance courtyard. The plan is that it will feature not just Barley, but also his two immediate predecessors, Malt and Peat, and will serve as a tribute to all the mousers that have formed part of the distillery's heritage.
Visit the informative Highland Park website. Very many thanks to Louise Nicoll of Highland Park for supplying the photos and information about Barley.
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Simon of HMS Amethyst.
He remains the only cat ever to have been awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry under enemy fire,
in what became known as the 'Yangtse Incident' (1949).
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