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
Wednesday 24 April 2013
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
"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
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