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Fort William & Lochaber - Wildlife & Birdwatching Holidays

Lush oakwoods that are temperate rainforests; sheltered sea lochs with otters and herons by the shore; mountains where arctic-alpine plants grow in snowbeds; whales and dolphins in the sea lanes between many glorious islands: that’s part of the wildlife scene in places easily reached from Fort William.

 

Glen Nevis

Ben Nevis, beside Fort William, tends to grab popular attention as the highest mountain in Britain and Ireland. But it’s worth aiming lower, to appreciate the scene and the wildlife in Glen Nevis, to the south-west of the Big Ben. Go to the visitor centre (Ionad Nibheis: facilities) then take a gentle hike beside the River Nevis from the edge of town. Or if you’re game for a round-trip of several hours, go on to the upper glen. Here, the fine An Steall waterfall cascades into the river gorge beside old Scots pines, birch, rowan and holly trees. 

Ancient oakwoods

The native western oakwoods around Loch Sunart are some of the finest in the Highlands. One of the most accessible is at Ariundle, 2 miles north of Strontian, off the minor road to Polloch. Begin from the Airigh Fhionndail car park beyond a convenient tea room to enjoy many shades of green. Look for redstarts and chequered skipper butterflies in summer. This old wood was once used to supply charcoal for the Bonawe Furnace.

Pine martens and redstarts

On the way to mainland Scotland’s westernmost point at Ardnamurchan, you can enjoy the views over Loch Sunart for much of the route. But you might want to stop and take time to visit two different places beside the B8007. Use a path (no car park) immediately to the west of Glenborrodale village to walk a loop through an oakwood reserve and back to the road. Listen for wood warbler, redstart and spotted flycatcher. Or join a guided walk advertised through the Ardnamurchan Natural History Centre at nearby Glenmore (open Easter to October), then learn more about local wildlife such as pine martens (and have refreshments) in the centre itself.

Isle of Eigg

In summer, watch for minke whales, common dolphins and porpoises surfacing on the sea crossing to Eigg. Before that, you could see common seals in the inshore waters of the Sound of Arisaig or guillemots and other seabirds feeding off Sleat in Skye. Ashore, visit Eigg’s excellent café and shop, then watch for grey heron and wading birds at the edge of nearby Kildonan Bay. In summer, the one road that runs up much of this community-owned island can be lined with orchids, with butterfly orchids in the croft meadows at Cleadale. Famous sands at Laig Bay (a good otter spot) ‘sing’ through the squeaks of their grains.

Isle of Rum

Rum has an amazing cluster of mountains in its southern half, said by some to have given J.R.R. Tolkien inspiration for the peaks of Mordor. Make short walks through coastal woodland from the pier area and hamlet, or take the cross-island track from Kinloch to see red deer and the Rum breed of pony. A highlight not to be missed is a night hike to hear Manx shearwaters coming in to their burrows high in the mountains.

Isle of Muck

Muck is a little gem of an island, with fertile farmland and attractive bays. Try some cake at the tea shop in Port Mor (after seeing the hens that laid eggs for it) then walk to Gallanach Bay, listening for snipe, redshank and other waders. Stay overnight, or longer, to give time for walks to see puffins and other seabirds on the western cliffs.

Isle of Canna

Canna is the westernmost of the Small Isles, but the longer boat journey can be a bonus if you see a school of common dolphins or a swirl of gulls over a fish shoal where a minke whale is feeding. Ashore, Canna has a good variety of breeding seabirds, including shags, cormorants, guillemots, razorbills, puffins and kittiwakes on the western cliffs (a mile or two from the pier). It’s also a great place to keep an eye on the sky for the massive silhouette of a sea eagle.

 

Guillemots, RSPB images