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Ayrshire, Arran & Clyde Valley - Wildlife, Birdwatching Holidays

South and west of Glasgow, there are some excellent wildlife havens and viewing facilities within landscapes that range from urban and industrial to rural and agricultural. Explore old woods along the river valleys of the Clyde and Ayr to see bluebells, badgers, squirrels and warblers. Watch wetland birds inland in Ayrshire, then go to the coast for falcons and flowers. Out to sea, you can ogle gannets at a large colony, or go ashore to enjoy varied upland and lowland scenes in Arran.


Whooper swans and kingfishers

You wouldn’t usually think of having a chance to see an otter, kingfisher, wintering whooper swans and lots of migrant waders at the edge of a major town. But that’s what you can get at Baron’s Haugh, a mile south of the centre of Motherwell and close to the M74. Use paths to see the mix of marsh, parkland, woodland and open water, with the option of half-an-hour’s walk downstream to reach the Strathclyde Country Park. Four hides give great views of the water.

Clyde Valley woodlands

For a whoosh of floral colour in spring, cool green shade under ash, wych elm and oak trees in summer or a look at fungi in autumn, try a walk in one of the Clyde Valley Woodlands. Public footpaths go through three nature reserve woods beside Lanark and Carluke. The longest ambles are through Cleghorn Glen (access from Mousebank Road or at Mill House) and Cartland Craigs (access from Cartland Bridge) just north-west of Lanark. Primroses, wood warbler and bracket fungi are there in season.

Falcons near the falls 

New Lanark’s world heritage status comes from its role in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. But there are much older marvels at the Falls of Clyde, where the River Clyde squeezes through a gorge beside the village. Best entry is at the riverside visitor centre in an old dye works. Walk paths from here through broadleaved and mixed woodland (bluebells and wood anemones) and view three of the waterfalls for which the site is named – Dundaff Linn, Cora Linn (the largest) and Bonnington Linn. Sadly, the full force of the Falls is displayed only a few times a year, since much of the water is diverted to a hydro-power plant at other times. Expect dipper, heron and grey wagtail. Go on an organised evening badger watch or use a hide to see peregrine falcons.

Gorge woodlands 

Follow in the footsteps of Robert Burns’ and stroll through the trees along the Ayr Gorge Woodlands near Failford. Park off the A758 opposite the Failford Inn (a well-placed hostelry) and follow a signed path towards the river from the west end of the village. Dipper, grey heron, grey wagtail and goosander use the river; jay, buzzard, warblers and red squirrel the oaks and other trees. Be alert for roe deer.

Great crested grebes 

For wildfowl and wading bird viewing opportunities at any season, Lochwinnoch, 18 miles from Glasgow on either side of the A760 Largs-Paisley road, is excellent. Use the visitor centre’s observation tower for an overview of Aird Meadow and surrounding farmland. Then go on short, wheelchair-friendly trails to use hides overlooking marsh and open water areas. Watch great crested grebes with young and hear lapwing and snipe in summer (a good time for meadowsweet and yellow iris here). In autumn and winter, see whooper swans and other wildfowl.

Warblers, swans and sea cliffs 

As befits Scotland’s very first country park (now in its fourth decade) there are lots of trails to help you walk through woods and along the coast at Culzean Castle and Country Park, 4 miles west of Maybole, off the A77. There’s an admission charge for non-members of National Trust for Scotland (mid-Mar to Oct), but lots of facilities and a wide range of wildlife. Listen for blackcap, garden warbler and other warblers in the woods, view nestcams showing a swift nestbox and the action of ravens, fulmars and (sometimes) peregrine falcons along the Castle Cliffs. The aptly named Swan Pond is big on mute swan activity.

Flowers on the fell 

For an amazing variety of scenes, from beaches and lush woodland to granite crags, Arran is hard to beat. Main ferry is from Ardrossan to Brodick, year-round, with a summer ferry between Claonaig in Kintyre and Lochranza. If you take the popular hill walk up Goatfell to the island’s 874m high point, keep an eye out for arctic-alpine plants such as yellow mountain saxifrage and mountain sorrel.

Squirrel woods 

Utterly different to the uplands and glens of the north end of Arran is Brodick Castle Country Park, beside the island’s principal town and ferry port. Use three main way-marked trails to see waterfalls and look for red squirrels in the castle’s planted woods. Common seals haul out along the park’s coast, and it’s always worth scanning the Clyde waters offshore in hopes of seeing the twin fins of a basking shark breaking the surface.

Hard rock gannets

It’s a long way out (more than 12 miles west of Girvan), but a trip around Ailsa Craig gives one of the few chances in Britain of seeing a big gannet colony at close range. Some 35,000 pairs breed on this distinctive granite lump, once quarried to make curling stones. You’ll also see large numbers of gulls, but may miss the few puffins now making a modest comeback here thanks to the removal of all the rats.

Water rail and warblers 

Pools formed when old mine tunnels slumped and former spoil-heaps of coal waste might not seem an obvious mix for a wildlife haven. But at Knockshinnock Lagoons near New Cumnock, you can see and hear the present-day bonuses of this old industrial activity. Spring and summer are best times to visit, when butterflies are on the wing, redshank, lapwing, snipe and curlew nest in the meadows and teal and other ducks breed in the lagoons. This a good place for sedge and grasshopper warblers and excellent for water rail (whose grunts and squeals could surprise you).  See the listing for Nature Reserves in Ayshire, Arran & Clyde Valley

Whooper Swan, RSPB Images