In the Wild
There is something magical about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat. Unlike a zoo or safari park, a chance encounter with one of Scotland’s native inhabitants is an elusive and rewarding pleasure. There are dozens of species you have a chance of spotting in the wild, from the common to the almost extinct, here are a few of our favourites and some tips to maximise your chances of capturing that perfect wildlife photo.
The recent controversy over the discovery of a beaver family living happily on the Beauly River has caused a spike of interest in these magnificent creatures. Originally hunted to extinction in the 16th century this native species has been the subject of a very successful reintroduction trial. The Beauly beavers are currently a bit like refugees and for now sit outwith this programme, currently unsure of their status, however visitors to the Scottish Beaver Trail in Argyll have an excellent chance of spotting some of their more settled relatives. The set up here is purposely child friendly and educational and even if you do not manage to see one then the walk around the loch is a great way to spend a few hours. Achaglachgach Stables is located just south from here on the shores of West Loch Tarbert and is great for outdoorsy children, with a pebble beach across the field, a beach wood for building dens and access to woodland garden walks on the nearby estate.
An even more elusive and prised sighting would be that of the Scottish wildcat, often known as the tiger of the Highlands. With only a few hundred surviving in the wild around the Cairngorms you will have to be patient and a little bit lucky if you want to see one. These secretive hunters look very much like supersized and grumpy tabby cats but with much bushier tails and tufts on their ears. Don’t be taken in by their cute appearance however, they can be vicious and independent creatures, hardly surprising as surviving a cairngorms winter outside, mainly on a diet of rabbits is likely to make you more than a little hardy. Thyme Cottage is located right in the heart of the park and has woodland paths going straight from the door. Red squirrels, pine martins, foxes, deer and badgers can all be seen in the immediate surrounding area. Dogs are also welcome if you are more of a canine than a feline person.
A group of puffins is called a circus, and when you get up close to a colony then you will see why it is such an appropriate term. Fortunately it is not necessary to venture to the remotest parts of the Highlands to see these delightful creatures in the wild. One of the most convenient locations is from the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick where boat trips go regularly to the islands of Craigleith, Fidra and the Isle of May National Nature Reserve. The centre itself is family oriented with extensive activities for children and makes a brilliant way for some of the younger ones to spend the day while other family members enjoy a sneaky game of golf on one of the areas many courses. Denfind House is a luxurious retreat just a few miles away, perfect for golfers as well as families wanting to be close to the beach.
Situated between Kyleakin on Skye and Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland, Eilean Bàn is an island that was originally home to lighthouse keepers and their families and later, more famously, the author and naturalist Gavin Maxwell. Guided visits to the island which offer an excellent chance to spot the otters that Maxwell wrote so eloquently about can be booked from the Bright Water Visitor Centre in Kyleakin. Nature trails (suitable for wheelchair users) wind around the island leading to different points of interest, including the award winning wildlife hide (a great place to take photos), a viewing platform and a sensory garden. For fans of the Ring of Bright Water books this is a bit like a pilgrimage but even for those unaware of Maxwell’s writings then it makes a fantastic day out. The Mill House at Nostie is a recently refurbished traditional west coast house located just a few miles down the coast. A great location for basing yourself while you explore off the beaten track but still accessible to Skye’s many attractions.