Discover the wilder side of Scotland

The Year of Natural Scotland is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the country's great outdoors from woodland walks to marvellous marine life, says Sebastian Lander

What's the attraction?

Finally, it seems we've shaken off the malaise of winter. The blossom is coming out, the temperature is rising. And there's perhaps nowhere better to watch as nature clothes herself in robes of new growth than in Scotland, home to some of the most wild and remote landscapes in Britain. A countrywide celebration – Year of Natural Scotland 2013 (visitscotland.com/natural) – pays homage by placing a spotlight on wildlife and the country's diverse landscapes, from wildcats to whales, tousled coast to Caledonian pinewood. It's a clarion call to delight in nature's playground. Websites that offer guidance on how to do so include: snh.gov.uk, wild-scotland.org.uk, wildlife.visitscotland.com and scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk.

Join the pack

Scotland's topography is tailor-made for thrill-seekers. Wilderness Scotland's (01479 420 020; wildernessscotland.com) new "Big 5" group tour ranges across this northerly nation's rugged midriff. Whether it's spotting red deer in the Cairngorms or sea-kayaking with seals on the west coast, you'll have someone to share the elation with. Seven days cost £1,195 per person including six nights' B&B and all meals. The next available trip departs 8 June.

Or explore on two legs with Walking and Wildlife Adventures (01445 771006; walkand wild.com), observing ospreys, sea eagles and migrating whales. Seven days' half-board, starting in Gairloch, cost £680 per person based on two sharing. Departures on 4 May and 22 June.

On your doorstep

Scotland is buzzing with accommodation options where you need not stray far to see nature. Enjoy a farm stay on the Isle of Coll, the Inner Hebrides, where lambing and calving are in full flow. The family-run Grishipol Farm (01879 230247; grishipol.co.uk) offers a variety of bespoke holidays, including meeting new arrivals in the blackface sheep herd. From £225 per night for a family of four, full board.

Or admire Mother Nature in comfort at Cavens Country House Hotel (01387 880 234; cavens.com), Dumfries & Galloway, on an all-inclusive Wildlife Weekend. Guides will lead tours of the surrounding habitat, organise a dawn chorus walk and search for bats in the evening. Prices start at £550 per double room.

Untamed melody

If you prefer your wildlife bite-sized, dip into a festival. Dumfries and Galloway's annual Wild Spring Festival (wildseasons.co.uk) runs until 31 May with more than 100 activities, including watching red kites at feeding time and having the dawn chorus explained. Many are free.

The nine-day Orkney Nature Festival (orkneycommunities.co.uk) makes its debut on 11 May with excursions to uninhabited islands, puffin encounters and snorkelling safaris. You may even spy an orca. Prices vary, but some activities are free.

The Scottish Bird Fair (scottishbirdfair.org.uk) will be taking over the 17th-century Hopetoun House near Edinburgh from 11-12 May with talks, walks and workshops; £20.

Pitch up

Cosy up to nature with only canvas between you and the great outdoors. Scotland's access laws, mean that wild camping is allowed on most unenclosed land. However, there are guidelines (outdooraccess-scotland.com); the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (mcofs.org.uk) also has a good guide. WOW Scotland (07919 157067; wowscotlandtours.com) can organise bespoke camping trips. As a guide, the cost is £240 for two people per day, including transport, equipment and food.

If you're not quite that hardy, Harvest Moon Holidays (07785 394026; harvestmoonholidays.com) offers luxury tents on the East Lothian dunes. Each sleeps up to eight. A Friday to Monday weekend break costs from £525.

Leg it

Nothing says spring quite like a stroll through a forest floor thick with bluebells, best seen in late April and early May. A searchable database of Scotland's bluebell woods can be found at visitwoods.org.uk. One of its top picks is Glen Finglas, a Woodland Trust property between Ben Ledi and Loch Venachar in the Trossachs, with a popular 15-mile circular walk (woodlandtrust.org.uk).

Or enjoy a guided walk to the Dubh Loch beaver site in Argyll's Knapdale Forest to see how the creatures are faring since being reintroduced back into Scotland in 2009 (they were hunted to extinction in the 16th century). There are regular dates in May and June, booking essential (01546 603346; scottishbeavers.org.uk).

Water world

There are plenty of ways to see Scotland's marine life. Day trips are offered by Sea Life Surveys (01688 302916; sealifesurveys.com), Sealife Adventures (01631 571010; sealife-adventures.com) and Hebridean Whale Cruises (01445 712 458; hebridean-whale-cruises.co.uk) .

Or watch the wildlife world go by on the Heritage and Wildlife of South Argyll cruise with The Majestic Line (01369 707 951; the majesticline.co.uk). Six nights from 18 May cost £1,830pp, which includes meals and excursions.

Alternatively, check in to one of Natural Retreats' (0843 636 4625; naturalretreats.co.uk) self-catering properties at John o'Groats – a gateway to seals, dolphins and whales. Four nights cost from £570 for up to six guests.

Scotch taste

The Year of Natural Scotland celebration also highlights the country's rich gastronomy. From oyster bars with killer views and seafood shacks to hotels, join the Seafood Trail (theseafoodtrail.com), a self-guided tour of 11 west-coast gourmet highlights, from Kintyre to Argyll, many of which have accommodation.

To enjoy Scottish fare as nature intended, join a foraging trip. Wild food enthusiast Robin Harford and chef Paul Wedgwood will guide guests around the Bennachie hills of Aberdeenshire on 4 May, imparting their knowledge of the edible plant world before heading back to Gadie's Restaurant (01464 851489; gadiesrestaurant.com) and a three-course wild food lunch. Costs £85 per person.

Insider information

"Skye is becoming a really good place to look for dolphins and whales – sperm whales have been spotted in Raasay Sound. If you don't want to do a boat tour, just drive slowly up from Portree to Dun Tulm and take in the seascapes." Jon Haber, owner of Walkabout Scotland (0845 686 1344; walkaboutscotland.com)

What they say

"Beloved hill, the admiration of my youth! Thy noble image shall ever fill my mind! "

James Boswell on Edinburgh's Arthur's Seat

"When I was a boy... I loved to wander in the fields to hear the birds sing"

John Muir, Scots-born 'father' of America's National Parks

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn