Glorious in every season, there’s something particularly spectacular about winter in the Highlands, Snow-dusted hills, icy rivers, crisp air and invigorating walks - with a warming drink at the end. The season is also a prime time to spot wildlife. Fewer people, slanting light and an abundance of species make wildlife spotting in winter a delight. Here are our top tips on where and how to explore.
Research Nature Reserves
The sheer number of places to watch wildlife in Scotland can be dizzying. So picking one of the country’s 43 National Nature Reserves is a good start. And while there are scores of them, you can whittle them down by focusing on the kinds of areas you enjoy. Mountains or coastal? Lowland or Highland? Or perhaps an area that combines the two. Such as the Ardnamurchan peninsula - a spectacular, 50 square mile lozenge of unspoilt land in the Western Highlands with both mountain and coastal landscapes.
Choose Your Location
From the broader area, your research then might lead you to somewhere like Ariundle Oakwood Nature Reserve, a swathe of ancient oakwood on the fringes of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. It’s a moss-smothered segment of twisted trees that’s alive with birdsong and wildlife. Winter sightings here include majestic red deer, shy badgers, soaring golden eagles and - if you’re very lucky - an elusive wildcat.
Image by NatureScot
Pick Your Hotel
Then it’s a case of picking a base. Luxurious country house hotel Kilcamb Lodge is just 2 miles away from the oakwoods of the Ariundle nature reserve – a 2-5 mile walking route to the reserve sets off from the hotel itself. Kilcamb is set on the shores of the sea loch of Loch Sunart in 22 acres of private meadow, mountains and woods.
This means guests regularly see otters, pine martins, stags and golden eagles from our grounds. The Garbh Eilean wildlife hide - an otter spotting spot - is just a 20 minute walk away. The coast offers the chance to see seals, while seabird and marine wildlife watching boat trips run by Staffa Tours from Ardnamurchan, resume from mid-March.
Keep Your Distance
Spotting wildlife can get pretty exciting – that first sight of seals on the shore gives us a real buzz. But we have to be careful our excitement doesn’t disturb the creatures we’ve come to see. And being mindful of that actually increases our chances of spotting them.
The BBC’s Countryfile lists ways to avoid disturbing seals, including never getting between seals and their pups or a seal and the sea. While Nature Scotland’s Marine Wildlife Watching Code advises us to keep our distance and watch for creatures’ reactions - if they seem disturbed move quietly away.
It asks us to leave the environment as we found it, and features simple tips that make a big difference – using binoculars not only means you’re not tempted to get too close, it also dramatically improves the details you see, and the enjoyment you get.
Get Immersed In Your Surroundings
There’s also something very special about spending a day watching wildlife then getting further immersed in the area with an overnight stay. From dawn to dusk, you get to experience how the place - and the wildlife - changes during the day.
You have the time to savour those quiet, still moments without rushing back to your accommodation - because you’re already there. You really get to drink the beauty in. Which is why Kilcamb Lodge is such a magical base for experiencing Scotland’s winter wildlife. Dramatic scenery and captivating creatures. Fine food and drink, luxurious rooms and a warm welcome. At Kilcamb Lodge you really can have it all.