A wee wildlife tour

Karla Baker takes us on an inspirational seven-site Scottish trip, taking in some of the country’s most magical wildlife

Bass Rock near Yellowcraig site – photo by member Eric Ness

It’s so easy to fall in love with Scotland. It’ll draw you in with promises of towering mountains and shimmering lochs, only to leave you wanting more. My partner Stephen and I rediscover this whenever we venture up there, finding something new each time. Its plentiful rugged and natural areas are among our favourite places to visit, offering awe-inspiring views and, if you’re lucky, glimpses of some of the wonderful wildlife that calls Scotland home. We had our fingers crossed that we’d be able to tick some more examples off our list on our most recent trip.

We began our tour just north of the Scotland-England border, at the family-run Lidalia Affiliated Site (AS), located in the quiet village of Newcastleton. Although we were managing our expectations about how much wildlife we would see on this trip, we took it as a good omen when we pitched up by one of the site’s two duck ponds.

Flowing along the eastern edge of Newcastleton, and within walking distance of the site, is Liddel Water – a river that forms a glistening country border. The signposted riverside walk offers a gentle stroll along a paved path, and provides plenty of opportunities to relax, picnic or fish.

Young love

Karla at Gretna Green

A stay in the Scottish Borders wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Gretna Green. Historically famous for runaway weddings, the village still has romance at its heart, and these days is a five-star attraction with its Courtship Maze, shops, cafes and more. The immersive Gretna Green Experience transported us back in time, teaching us how the area saw an influx of young couples fleeing north of the border in the 18th century, when English marriage laws tightened. Three centuries later, couples can still exchange vows here, but it takes a little more preparation!

Taking the winding roads north, you’ll find Springlee Certificated Location (CL) surrounded by rolling countryside but close enough to the towns of Melrose and Kelso.

A 20-minute drive from the CL is the Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre. Parking up, we took a short walk along the smooth path to the weir on the River Ettrick, and were elated to see a shoal of shiny salmon leaping up the fish ladder. Battling strong currents as well as gravity, one by one these determined creatures throw themselves upstream on a journey that is nothing short of remarkable.

Continuing our own (less remarkable, but perhaps more relaxed) journey, we headed farther north, to Yellowcraig. Surrounded by golf courses, this Club campsite has mostly grass pitches, giving it a relaxed feel. One of the site’s biggest appeals is its close proximity to the golden sands of Yellowcraig Beach. As soon as we heard that the walk there was less than half a mile long and suitable for wheelchair users, we set off in the golden glow of the early evening sunshine, in search of sea views. After passing through a short section of woodland, the trees gave way to long, wavy beach grass, with the pathway continuing down to the sand. Perching myself on the decked lookout platform, I inhaled the fresh sea breeze and a sense of calm washed over me.

Feeling supersonic

The Scottish Seabird Centre

The following day we made our way to the National Museum of Flight. Housed in the original wartime buildings of RAF East Fortune, it showcases a host of historic aircraft as well as more recent models.

This large attraction is spread out across various hangars, with disabled parking spaces conveniently located outside each one, allowing less mobile people to drive between them. Club members enjoy a 50% discount on the price of entry – you can find out more at camc.com/greatsavingsguide.

After a bite to eat in the Aviator Café, we headed for the main attraction – The Concorde Experience. Have you ever seen the underbelly of a Concorde? I’m no aviation expert, but I can tell you that my first glimpse of it gave me goosebumps. Entering the hangar, Stephen and I looked up in awe, unable to mutter a single word other than ‘Wow!’ Around the edges of the building were exhibits packed full of interesting artefacts and information, while the iconic aircraft was the centrepiece, standing tall and commanding the attention of everyone around her. Its days of flying at twice the speed of sound came to an end in 2003, but having been laid to rest at East Fortune, it’s still enjoyed by many people – and I feel fortunate to have been one of them. 

From the 26m wingspan of Concorde to the still-impressive 2m wingspan of a northern gannet, the following day we continued our search for wildlife. Just a 10-minute drive from Yellowcraig is the coastal town of North Berwick, which looks out to Bass Rock – home to 150,000 northern gannets (the world’s largest colony). Home to a conservation and education charity, the Scottish Seabird Centre was the ideal place to find out more.

Inside, we were warmly greeted by the team, whose enthusiasm for the environment quickly shone through. Did you know that a staggering 52% of Europe’s seabirds migrate to Scotland during the breeding season, thanks to its rich and diverse coastline? In the Discovery Experience we found out even more about marine life and the environment,  the interactive exhibits providing a fun and educational day out for all ages.

Capital gains

Figgate Park

Continuing our journey along the coast, we found ourselves at the popular Edinburgh Club Campsite, conveniently located on the outskirts of the city. We’re not usually city people and prefer calm countryside to the rat-race, but Scotland’s capital is different. Instead of skyscrapers, there are quaint cobbled streets lined with medieval stone buildings, and the castle looms over the city, keeping a watchful eye. 

Edinburgh is oozing with history and culture, so we couldn’t wait to get stuck in. The Royal Yacht Britannia was first on our agenda, having been docked in the historic port of Leith since its decommissioning in 1997. Just seeing the ship from the outside is awe-inspiring, but stepping aboard is another matter! As we wandered around the elegant rooms, it was easy to imagine the Royal Family holidaying on it, and having important meetings with some of the world’s most influential people. The audio guide offered fascinating insights, which only enhanced the experience of being inside a floating royal residence. (See camc.com/greatsavingsguide for a 10% ticket discount for Club members.)

Away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, we discovered an oasis of wildlife at Figgate Park. This little nature reserve is home to an array of tree species, and is a paradise for coots, moorhens and herons, with Heron Island sitting in the centre. Passing under a tunnel of weeping willows, we found a boardwalk which allowed for a peaceful stroll out onto the pond. It was hard to believe that we were still in the capital, the hum of traffic having been replaced with birdsong.

Tiers of joy

Drummond Castle Gardens by Grahame Gage

Crossing the River Forth, the hills rose around us and the landscape turned greener as we arrived at our next stop – The Woods Affiliated Site. This tiered site sits on a hillside, with each pitch boasting spectacular views of the Ochil Hills. We were lucky enough to be greeted by one of the most colourful sunsets we’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

Once the sky had turned from peachy pinks to a star-studded velvet backdrop, we headed to Falkirk to see the famous Kelpies sculpture. Horses aren’t the first creatures to spring to mind in relation to Scottish wildlife, but this pair of 100ft-tall statues honours the horses that played such a key role in the country’s industrial past. Previously we’ve visited during the day, but it’s a completely different experience when illuminated after dark!

The next day we headed to the picturesque Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. As the weather looked a little iffy, we began with a driving tour along the Three Lochs Forest Drive – a scenic track that passes, you guessed it, three lochs! The route is only seven miles long, but the drive took us over an hour as we wanted to soak it all up. Whether you walk, cycle or drive, it’s a great way to immerse yourself in nature, regardless of the weather or your ability level.

By the afternoon it was brightening up, so we popped to The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre for a woodland walk along its marked accessible route. Surrounded by gigantic pine trees, we followed the sound of a waterfall. It soon came into view and we were reminded once again how much we love Scotland. Time it right, and you may be lucky enough to observe red squirrels further along the path; rangers leave treats out for them at a dedicated hide, but our luck was out.

Our final destination was Culloden Moor Club Campsite to the north near Inverness, but if you fancy more time exploring ‘the Trossachs’, a good stopping point on the way is Lochlane CL, situated outside of Crieff. A working farm offering hardstandings, it has great views of the surrounding countryside, and there are numerous attractions just a short drive away. These include The Glenturret distillery (with newly-refurbished cafe), Auchingarrich Wildlife Park and Drummond Castle Gardens. Golfers wishing to test their mettle on one of the world’s most prestigious courses could even visit Gleneagles.

Those who wait…

Chanonry Point

The wildlife-spotting opportunities continued as we visited Argaty Red Kites birdwatching lookout and The Scottish Deer Centre, and passed plenty of fields of highland cows. But it was time to head onwards for Culloden Moor. Nestled on a hillside with views over the Nairn Valley, this Club campsite is close to Inverness, the Black Isle and within reach of Glen Affric, where we explored the enchanting woodland around Plodda Falls.

Although it’s not the most wheelchair-friendly venue, we successfully made it to the viewpoint suspended over the apex of a 46m cascading waterfall. It’s quite an experience to be eye-to-eye with the tops of Douglas firs, the mist encasing the treetops only making it more atmospheric. Just when I thought the experience couldn’t be any more memorable, and right when I least expected it, an orange blur flashed across the path in front of me. The elusive red squirrel!

Still buzzing from my sighting, the next day we engaged our sea legs and headed to Inverness harbour for a boat trip with Dolphin Spirit. The Mischief Wildlife Experience offers high-speed thrills and the opportunity to spot dolphins seals and more, but we opted for the more accessible Spirit Cruise into the Moray Firth.

A birdwatcher’s dream, a gentle journey allows you to really absorb the scenery while looking out for curlews, ospreys, seals and otters.

Back on dry land, our road trip was coming to an end, but there was time for just one more stop – a visit to Chanonry Point.

This peninsula extends out into the Moray Firth, and is known as one of the best places in the world to see dolphins from the shoreline. Regardless, it’s a beautiful place to pass time and, sitting on the beach under calm skies, we remained hopeful of catching a glimpse. Soon, there was a commotion from the small crowd that had gathered. Was it a dolphin? No. We looked out eagerly, only to see a couple of seals bobbing along. Then, all of a sudden, the unmistakable shape of a fin arched up from the water, closely followed by a tail. 

It was the best possible end to what had been a fantastic trip. Mother Nature may play by her own rules, but show a bit of patience and she might just let you win. And even if she doesn’t, you’ll have fun trying!

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Family of three outside their caravan on a sunny day

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