Category Archives: Scotland

Where to watch Red Deer rutting

Red deer – Britain’s largest land mammals – are at their most impressive during the autumn rut, when they advertise their power by prolonged roaring. There are many places to watch and listen to this natural spectacle, but perhaps the most accessible is Richmond Park in southwest London. Continue reading Where to watch Red Deer rutting

The Monarch of the Glen – the most famous animal portrait ever?

A red deer stag stands with its powerful neck raised, antlers filling the sky. In the background mists swirl over the Scottish Highlands. The Monarch of the Glen was painted in 1851 by Sir Edwin Landseer, a star in his own time.  Animals were his speciality, both in painting and sculpture – the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar square are his.  Emotive portraits of animals went down very well with the Victorian public, crossing the class divide.  Queen Victoria had Landseer paint her pets, while the middle classes bought prints of his work to hang at home. Continue reading The Monarch of the Glen – the most famous animal portrait ever?

Basking shark fishery on Soay

The naturalist Gavin Maxwell is best known for his work with otters, and as author of Ring of Bright Water, but he also tried to set up a basking shark fishery on the Island of Soay off the coast of Skye in the late 1940s, leading to a serious drop in the numbers of these animals in the surrounding seas, from which they are only beginning to recover. The unsuccessful venture is described in his book Harpoon at a Venture (1952). Different times. Continue reading Basking shark fishery on Soay

Award-winning hostel in Scottish Highlands

Remote, basic but comfortable, award-winning hostel accommodation in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands.  Inaccessible by car, Loch Ossian Hostel, a converted boat house, is 20 minutes walk from Corrour railway station on Rannoch Moor. Ecological from top to toe – with bat-friendly paint (for benefit of colony in attic) and powered by wind and sun. Ideal for walking and wildlife observation. More information here

Selchies – shape-shifting seals


The Selchie (or Selkie) is a seal that can shed its skin and take the form of a human on land.  These legendary creatures belong to the Hebrides and Shetland and Orkney isles, where seals have been hunted for their pelt, meat and oil.  The large soulful eyes of seals must have disturbed even hardened folk subsisting in these remote Scottish islands, and the tales of the selchies capture this ambivalence.  Feelings of loss and longing are all pervasive. Continue reading Selchies – shape-shifting seals

Lighthouse holiday in the Orkneys

In a stark remote landscape, you can stay next to the Cantick Head Lighthouse on the island of Hoy in two self-catering lighthouse keepers’ cottages (All Grade B listed buildings, designed by the Stevenson brothers).  They overlook the Cantick Sound where porpoises, seals and whales are regular visitors.  Cantick head Lighthouse Cottages

Mountain biking in Skye

This article reminds us here that thanks to Scotland’s open access laws you can mountain bike on the Isle of Skye just about whereever you feel like it. If you can put up with the wind, the terrain and the vastness of its scale. The Guardian

If you don’t fancy going it alone try Bespoke mountain bike tours of Skye by Highlands and Islands Adventures. Price for a long weekend is £300 per person.

Books about the Isle of Skye

Collins Rambler’s Guide – Isle of Skye

Produced in association with the Ramblers, this walking guide covers the beautiful Isle of Skye and combines detailed route descriptions with information on the local history and wildlife.

This famous corner of the Scottish Highlands and Islands is home to a spectacular variety of mountain landscapes and dramatic coastlines. There is also a wealth of fascinating places to explore: caves and sea stacks, headlands and arches, waterfalls and castles.

The introduction gives information about the topography, geology and history of the area, and describes the flora and fauna inhabiting it.

Isle of Skye: 40 Coast and Country Walks (Pocket Mountains)

An excellent little walking guide, especially for those – like me – wanting to explore as many parts of the Isle of Skye as possible in a visit. Arranged roughly by ‘peninsular’, there are walks ranging from 45 minutes to a few hours, even a day. We did at least one from each section and they were all straightforward and, of course, beautiful!

Incredible shrinking sheep

Global warming is leading to a reduction in size of a breed of wild sheep on Hirta, St Kilda. Scientists say milder winters are helping smaller Soay sheep to survive. This goes against classic evolutionary theory which predicts that wild sheep gradually get bigger, as the stronger, larger animals survive into adulthood and reproduce. The researchers found that the local environment had a stronger effect on the animals than the Continue reading Incredible shrinking sheep

Puffins helped by technology

Scientists are fitting puffins with hi-tech tracking tags to try and understand why the number of puffins on the Farne Islands, one of the most important colonies in Britain, has mysteriously dropped by some 30%. Puffin numbers are down from 55,674 in 2003 to 36,500. The Farne Islands are home to the largest puffin colony in England.