It’s 7am on a Wednesday morning, and with coffee in one hand, keys in the other and my cat slung over my shoulder, I head for the car.
My seven-month-old Bengal, Tala is no stranger to going on adventures with me, but this day was going to be a little different. Tala loves exploring the Scottish wilds, but I’d always been curious, could she enjoy exploring the great outdoors with someone else… another cat? Well on this day, I decided to find out.
As an active member of the online adventure cat community, I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing cats and their owners but living in Scotland, the adventure pool is a little smaller than some other places, and very few people take their cats outdoors with them. Someone I’d met online was Aaricia – who recently moved from Belgium to Glasgow. She had a cat called Munro, who often ventured out with her to escape the confines of her inner city flat. It turns out that Aaricia’s curiosity was like mine – would our cats enjoy exploring with company? We decided to meet up and find out.
Where Would We Go?
The saying “curiosity got the cat” very much came into play, because ultimately our main objective was to see if cat meet ups could work. We set a day and pondered over what place would best suit our cats. It was important to consider our cat’s personalities and preferences when it came to exploring. Meeting another cat was potentially going to be stressful enough, so we thought of environments that would be safe to introduce two kitties.
Our minds ran wild, there are so many spectacular, rural locations in Scotland but, after careful consideration we settled on Dollar Glen. Dollar Glen is a gorgeous, leafy valley with tumbling waterfalls and crystal rivers that meander and wind their way down to Dollar Village at the bottom. About midway up the trail, are the Ruins of Castle Campbell… is this sounding idyllic? Well, it is!
As both of us had been to the Glen before, we knew exactly what to expect from the location and it would be a place that was familiar and safe for our cats – that was important. The only variables were the weather – as it always is in Scotland – and the cats. No biggie.
How Would We Get There?
Navigating this part of the journey probably posed the most problems – but we’ll get to that!
As a driver, I was more than happy to jump in the car and drive to meet Aaricia. Unlike myself, Aaricia and Munro usually travel by public transport, which I found amazing! I’d seen pictures of Munro on trains and buses, and this was something I eagerly wanted to learn more about, as Tala had only ever travelled by car. Aaricia has done an incredible job training Munro to be comfortable travelling in this way. Munro has her safe space in her bag, and she is content, despite the distance. If I’d had Tala in her bag for that long, in a public space, I’d be forever apologising to those trying to enjoy their commute, over the yowling sounds of a very vocal, Bengal.
To give you a bit of perspective, I drove to Stirling, which is around 1 hour and 50 mins from where I live in Fife. I thought my start was early, 7am but little did I know that Aaricia had to leave at 6am just to get to Stirling! Dollar Glen was then a further 30-minute drive from the train station. Although I had to have two coffees that morning, the drive was great. Tala was so settled in the car – she is used to it now thanks to our many adventures during her kittenhood. We were excited to embark on this little journey.
What To Pack?
Admittedly, I’m a very minimalist packer! I only ever take what I use most frequently when we’re out. So on this occasion, our grab bag consisted of Tala’s harness; two leashes - one retractable and one fixed short leash; her jacket; a quick-dry towel; a popup water bowl and bottle of water; a toy with a bell on and of course some treats! All of this is very hap-hazardly thrown into her cat backpack. I could pretend that I am a lot more put together and organised when I travel with T, but that would be a lie.
This was something I spoke to Aaricia about, and it was nice to share this commonality. On our short trips, we both found it more useful just to have the things we really needed. Online resources on what to take can be really overwhelming and it is a great tool to utilise for those further-a-field trips, but on this occasion, a concise toolkit was just easier for us.
A Cat-Match Made in Heaven? Well…
With a belly full of coffee and excitement, around 9am I pulled up in front of a grey and somewhat gloomy Stirling train station where Aaricia and Munro were waiting patiently. I was so optimistic that this was going to be the BEST DAY EVER, but we got off to bumpy start. We said hello and introduced ourselves, both chatting away excitedly and as we did so, I made sure Tala was ok in the car and Aaricia got in the front seat with a calm Munro, curled up in the bottom of her cat backpack. That’s when the growling started and the hissing. Tala was not happy. Throughout the journey, Tala would try to lunge from her bag to assert some territorial dominance.
So let’s unpack this situation a little more. First of all, Tala being a Bengal is very vocal, but her body language usually conflicts her vocalisations so, she can sound angry, but her body language is very calm – no arched back, no large pupils, no hair standing on end. Tala has no other pets at home and predominantly spends her time with myself and my boyfriend. Not one for sharing her space, she was visibly upset in this case. I’d never seen or heard her act like that before. Initially I was really embarrassed because here was Munro acting like a Grade A student and Tala was being a bully! And she didn’t settle.
We figured that this was the first (and hopefully last) mistake we had made. Cats are used to being solitary and don’t like sharing their territories, but this was something we never even thought would be an issue. Two cats in their own bags – one in the front and one in the back! Simple. Oh, how wrong we were.
In The Glen
There was a huge sigh of relief when the 30-minute car journey concluded at the bottom of Dollar Glen. We got out of the car eagerly, hoping that the drama would subside when we were all outside and in neutral territory. And we were right, we all skipped off merrily in harmony and bliss into the magical Glen together... well, not quite. Both kitties were still a little on edge, but this is when we very clearly got to see the differences in each cat’s personality.
Munro and Tala were completely different. Munro had a much more relaxed approach to adventuring and was happily nestled in the bottom or her cat bag. She liked it this way. Every now and again she would come out, sniff the breeze and potter around before going back into her bag. Tala pretty much pulled me off my feet, she was so eager to get going and explore, and this is how she always is. There’s no right or wrong – identifying your cat’s personality helps you adapt your adventure style to make them more comfortable, and that’s what Aaricia and I did.
Tala and I marched ahead enthusiastically, whilst Aaricia and Munro explored the Glen at a much more leisurely pace. The distance was something that made the walk much more enjoyable for us all because the cats had their own space. It allowed Tala to explore without confrontation, and Munro could go in and out of her bag for a daunder and a sniff whenever she felt like it. Aaricia described it beautifully:
“Munro and Tala didn't become the best of friends. Mainly due to them having different personalities (Munro is quite shy and quiet, while Tala was very curious and outspoken) but we made it work by giving each cat some time apart. And I think both cats had a lot of fun exploring the trail.”
Related post: 'Cat Walking, Your Questions Answered!'
Calling it Quits… well, almost
Dollar Glen has a variety of different routes to follow and uncover, but after an hour or so walking, our hike concluded. I feel as though Aaricia and I, along with the cats had figured out our rhythm and by the time we headed back to the car, we’d discussed the possibility of adding another stop to our trip. Now, writing this I realise that sounds a little crazy, but we were in the area, so why not?
Not far from Dollar Glen stands a famous Scottish sculpture known as ‘The Kelpies’ – two towering, majestic metal horse heads in the city of Falkirk. Neither of us had been before, and we had to get back into the car anyway, to possibly endure more of Tala’s tantrums, so I set the satnav for Falkirk and off we went.
Upon arriving at The Kelpies, the atmosphere was a stark contrast. No tranquil trails or magical woodland, just masses of cars and people. As we parked and exited the car, we were greeted by a small crowd of fascinated people, who wanted to meet Tala as she stood eagerly on her leash, ready to go. There are two types of Tala when she is confronted by people. There’s sociable Tala who saunters over seductively and lavishes in all the attention. Or there is anti-social Tala who heads in the opposite direction, with no desire to entertain or engage all. That day, it was the latter! Munro, she sat in her bag quietly, probably wondering who all these people were and why there was such a fuss.
Our stop at The Kelpies was brisk, just enough time for another coffee and photographs before in true Scottish fashion, the rain started, and we decided to call it a day.
Would I do it again?
I’m sure this experience, as it also did for Aaricia, taught us a lot about our cats and it aided us in understanding them better. The joy of going outdoors with your kitty, is to share quality time together, strengthen your bond and have fun. So, would I do it again? Yes. But would I do somethings differently? Absolutely. And the first thing I would probably change, would be my levels of expectation. I think it’s easy for you to dream for the perfect scenario and when things don’t go to plan, they can seem like failings, but upon reflection although it didn’t go the way I’d thought, this outing was a success. We had a great time… and no one died!
The meet up wasn’t all about our cats – as much as we adore them – it was also about connecting with someone who shares and understands, how unique travelling or exploring with a cat, really is.
“When most people we meet are surprised and full of questions at seeing Munro out and about, it was so nice to meet Jada and share our experiences of catexploring.”
If you are thinking about a cat meet up, go for it. My advice would be to consider all the little factors that will play their part in your cat’s experience that day – highlight the differences this trip will have compared to your usual solitary adventures. Those differences could be the points of friction and something you’ll have to work on navigating. But most important of all, just have fun! Think about the easiest way to get to your adventure spot, maybe avoid sharing transport and stay close to home. It doesn’t even have to be a hike; it can be a picnic in the park or a Lochside chat (lakeside if you are anywhere else in the world).
It might not be perfect, but that’s the beauty of it. You’ll have a wonderful time sharing this experience with someone with a common interest, and next time you can try things a little different, in the hope that one day, you’ll crack the perfect recipe… or at least have a good funny story to tell your friends!