Hunting urban cats: experimental tourism in York, England

None really knows why statues of cats have been placed on buildings in York for two centuries. Some say they were there to frighten away rats and mice which can carry plague and illness. They were also thought to ward off wandering evil spirits.

A few individual and small organisations have inventoried the cats, raising awareness about this unusual local curiosity, and allowing visitors to add this little discovery to their exploration of the pretty city of York.

My favourite way of discovering a new place is generally to roam its streets randomly, following my instinct.

My second favourite way is conceptual, experimental; tackling a challenge, doing an exercise. Walking around with an idea in mind.

Yes I am someone who likes scavenger hunts, Monopoly pub crawls, purposeful long walks, themed tours, and inevitably getting lost.

Sunday was a lovely winter day in York: crisp and cold air, with the occasional shy but comforting sunshine.

I enjoyed walking in the streets of York, loosely using a combination of sources of information regarding the location of the cats, and taking pictures of these lovely feline little statues.

What I found particularly interesting is that finding the cats required to look up to the facades of the buildings, which gave me a totally different impression of the city than the previous day walking in the same busy streets.

As if it somehow re-trained the eye to look beyond just today’s shouting signs of shops and restaurants, to better grasp a more timeless feel about York.

Can you spot the cat?

Information sources used to find out about the cats: have created a “York Cats Trail” as a fun family activity. They give out leaflets with a map and instructions for free at their store York Glass in the Shambles. The map is a useful startpoint, however the instructions are purposefully a little vague, as their trailed is designed as a “hunting” activity. contains much more detailed information about the cats’ locations, although some of it is outdated (I mean, the cats haven’t moved, but the shops around have)


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