Ten of the best places to see wildlife in Scotland | Travel

OOn my first trip to Scotland, I camped near a beach in Mull and woke up to find an otter watching me from the rocks. In the 25 years since, I’ve seen minke whales from a CalMac ferry, mountain deer and puffins inches from my perch on a cliff in the Firth of Forth. Scotland is a wildlife watcher’s dream: from the Highlands and islands to the waters of the Moray Firth, we round up the best places to catch the country’s big ten.

Nothing says autumn in the Highlands like the roar of a stag in a misty valley. On the Ardnamurchan peninsula west of Fort William you can go — unarmed — while on a photo-stalking hike with wildlife manager Niall Rowantree. You’ll need to be in good shape, as you’ll be jumping and crawling like a commando for up to four hours, but every drop of sweat is worth it once you’re crouched in the heather 50 meters from the tallest land mammal from Britain (£350 per pair; wildhighlandtours.co.uk).
Best time to come End of September to November.
Make it a weekend Rowantree’s eight-bedroom dorm sits in a clearing above Loch Sunart. Double rooms from £70 (theardnamurchanbunkhouse.co.uk)

Spot gannets nesting on Bass Rock

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2. Admire the Northern Gannets in East Lothian

Rising out of the North Sea like a guano-splattered Oz, Bass Rock is home to the largest colony of northern gannets on the planet. It’s only a few miles from North Berwick, so even an hour-long boat trip from the Scottish Seabird Center (seabird.org) is enough for eye-to-eye encounters with the 150,000 individuals nesting on the 350ft cliffs (£26 adult, £10 child); on special photography trips, gannets dive right next to the boat after herring bait (£95, over 16s only).
Best time to come April to June for puffins, gannets until September.
Make it a weekend Reopened last year after a megabuck renovation, Marine North Berwick stands just off the 16th green at West Links, looking towards Bass Rock. B&B doubles from £189 (marineandlawn.com)

Snorkel with basking sharks in the Inner Hebrides

Snorkel with basking sharks in the Inner Hebrides

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3. Lounge with sharks in the Inner Hebrides

You can dive with five-tonne, 23-foot-long basking sharks (don’t worry, they’re gentle giants) in the Inner Hebrides in the summer, but the only operator running three- and four-day trips is fully booked for 2022 (week -long journeys still available; baskingsharkscotland.co.uk). Can’t wait for next summer? Set sail from Seil Island with marine biologist David Ainsley. His travels in the spectacular Corryvreckan Gulf – site of one of the largest whirlpools on the planet – occasionally encounter basking sharks. White-tailed eagles, seals and porpoises are regularly sighted throughout the year; minke whales and puffins are often seen in summer (adult £69, child £56; sealife-adventures.com).
Best time to come June to August, before the sharks leave for the Azores.
Make it a weekend Le Sheiling is a pretty two-bedroom B&B located just across the 18th-century Clachan Bridge at the entrance to Ile de Seil. B&B doubles from £200 for a minimum stay of two nights (seilislandbnb.com)

Puffins on the Isle of May

Puffins on the Isle of May

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4. Spot puffins in the Firth of Forth

Anchored five miles off Fife’s East Neuk, the Isle of May is less than a mile long and 300 meters wide, but in summer is home to a riot of 200,000 seabirds, including 40,000 pairs of puffins and their young. Stay seated on the cliffs and the adults will land almost within reach, beaks full of sand eels for their chicks. Boat trips from Anstruther spend around three hours on the island, plenty of time for puffin watching, as well as admiring the remains of 6th and 12th century monasteries and Scotland’s oldest lighthouse (adult £45, child £35; isleofmayboattrips.co.uk).
Best time to come The adults feed the chicks by mid-August.
Make it a weekend The Waterfront offers simple, stylish rooms overlooking Anstruther Harbour, as well as cracking seafood. B&B doubles from £80 (anstruther-waterfront.co.uk)

Tobermory, Mull

Tobermory, Mull

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5. Admire minke whales in Mull

The waters off Mull are an all-you-can-eat minke buffet of plankton and herring, sand lance and whiting. Measuring up to around 30 feet in length, Hebridean Minkes can be curious around boats, and will sometimes “spy”, lifting their heads above water to see better. Lucky visitors may even see them escaping from the surface. Several whale-watching tours depart from Oban and Mull, including this four-hour tour from Tobermory, which offers regular sightings of minke whales, dolphins, seals and eagles (adult £60, child £30; sealifemull.fr).
Best time to come April to October.
Make it a weekend Linndhu House is an elegant Victorian dowry five minutes’ drive from Tobermory. B&B doubles from £310 for a minimum stay of two nights (linndhuhouse.com)

A bottlenose dolphin in the Moray Firth

A bottlenose dolphin in the Moray Firth

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6. Coo on dolphins at Moray Firth

The best place to see the biggest bottlenose dolphins on the planet? Not Baja California or Maui but the Moray Firth – and you don’t need a boat to see them. Measuring up to 13ft long, the Moray Firth’s 200 resident dolphins are a common sight from Chanonry Point, attracted by the salmon that swim through the gully an hour after low tide (check tides.willyweather.co.uk). Further down the Firth, a pod of eight killer whales (the UK’s only residents) were regularly spotted off Fraserburgh last month.
Best time to come Resident all year round, but more active in summer.
Make it a weekend You can spot dolphins from the sea-view rooms at Tigh Na Mara guesthouse, where the tide times are shown on a board. Double rooms from £90 (tighnamararosemarkie.co.uk)

About 300 osprey pairs breed in the UK each spring

About 300 osprey pairs breed in the UK each spring

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7. Ogle osprey in Perthshire

Hunted to extinction in Britain in 1916, ospreys are now a common but exhilarating sight in Scotland, with nearly 300 pairs returning from West Africa to the UK each spring to breed. One of the best places to see them is the Loch of the Lowes, two miles from Dunkeld, where pairs have nested almost continuously since ospreys recolonized Scotland in 1954. The visitor center has an HD webcam streaming from the nest across the loch, home to three chicks born just a few weeks ago. Come at dusk or dawn for red squirrels, fallow deer and beavers (adult £4.50, child free; scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk).
Best time to come The adults are busy fishing until the chicks fledge in August.
Make it a weekend The Taybank in Dunkeld is a fabulous five bedroom boutique hotel with great food and a bustling beer garden on the banks of the Tay. B&B doubles from £170 (thetaybank.co.uk)

Watch the beavers at Knapdale

Watch the beavers at Knapdale

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8. Beautiful beavers in Argyll & Bute

Knapdale Forest is a magical expanse of lochs and larches, ponds and pine trees an hour’s drive south of Oban. Here, 11 Norwegian beavers were released in 2009 – the first in Britain for over 400 years. Today those 11 have grown to over 1,000, found up to 100 miles away in Dundee. Knapdale is still the best place for them, though, especially on the three-mile loop around Loch Coilie-Bhar, where you’ll see dams and chiseled trees, and maybe even Bjornar and Millie, two of the early settlers ( free ; argyllbeavercentre.co.uk).
Best time to come Dawn and dusk, from April to September.
Make it a weekend Twilight Vigils are a cold affair, so book yourself somewhere special, like Kilmartin Castle, a beautifully renovated 16th-century heap in a valley teeming with Neolithic remains. B&B doubles from £220 (kilmartincastle.com)

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Find a pine marten in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park above Aberfoyle

Find a pine marten in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park above Aberfoyle

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9. See pine martens parading in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

There are nearly 4,000 adult pine martens in Scotland, but they are quite elusive and difficult to spot in the wild without help. And by help, we mean peanuts. In Queen Elizabeth Forest Park above Aberfoyle, the peanut feeders at the wildlife hideout near the visitor center are for red squirrels and birds, but also regularly attract pine marten, especially if you’re here around 7am (before the nearby Go Ape gets Go). Even if you can’t see them, the hide sits at the start of a network of beautiful forest trails and is only a short walk from the spectacular Little Fawn waterfall.
Best time to come In spring and summer, when the adults have extra mouths to feed.
Make it a weekend Four miles from Aberfoyle, high in the Menteith Hills, Nether Glenny Farm is a magical place with red squirrels, black grouse and cozy cottages sleeping two to four people. A night’s B&B for two from £90 (netherglenny.com)

Golden eagles can be seen above the Cairngorms

Golden eagles can be seen above the Cairngorms

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10. Blazing Eagles in the Cairngorms

Britain’s second largest eagle ranges wide across the Cairngorms, making an e-bike tour one of your best bets for spotting one – even a half-day tour covers up to 20 miles east of the Cairngorms. Led by naturalists Dan and Rachael Brown, the e-bike safaris regularly encounter eagles and goshawks, black grouse and ptarmigan, as well as red and roe deer and the Scottish crossbill, the only endemic bird in Great Britain (half-day trips for two from £185 pp including equipment; discovery-wild.com).
Best time to come April to July for eagles, January to June for crossbills.
Make it a weekend The Fife Arms is worth a visit for its incredible art, including works by Freud and Picasso. B&B doubles from £210 (thefifearms.com)

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