We recently spent two Days in the Wild, on a Scottish wildlife tour in Morvern, Mull and Ardnamurchan. Our wildlife guide was Peter Guthrie. Peter offers bespoke, small group Scottish wildlife tours. He works with fellow local wildlife enthusiasts Peter Dale (by land) and Fraser Cameron (by sea), seeking out Scottish wildlife favourites such as the otter, golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, dolphin, puffin and more.
Peter and wife Shaley, own and run the Lochaline Hotel in Morvern. The small, eco-friendly beachside hotel is an absolute gem.
We’d be staying at Lochaline Hotel during our ‘Days in the Wild’ Scottish wildlife tours. We first stayed at the hotel in March, and spent three nights stargazing with Peter, and learning astrophotography tips. Peter’s a photography whizz too, and teaches for Nikon School UK. We had three nights of clear skies during that Morvern trip, and saw the Milky Way, comets and constellations galore. And those weren’t the best bits.
This was …
Anyway – I digress, back to Scottish wildlife tours.
Day One – Scottish Wildlife Tour, Morvern and Ardnamurchan
We met up with Peter in Morvern on day one of our tour. He arrived bearing flasks of hot coffee, which were most welcome, given it was raining heavily and was forecast to last all day. Visibility was poor too, so there was a chance the first day of our bespoke Scottish wildlife tour would be a washout.
In the weeks leading up to our stay in Morvern, Peter had gathered information on the wildlife we’d like to see, so he could create an itinerary for us. The golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, otter and cetaceans were high on our list.
Learning how to spot otters in Scotland
Our first tour location was a beautiful stretch of Morvern coastline. We parked facing the sea, wound the car windows down and studied the coastline. Peter asked what we knew about otters. Nothing, was my initial thought. Then, I remembered that although otters fished in the sea, they were freshwater creatures. Which meant, after being in salt water they need to bathe in freshwater, to keep their coat water-resistant.
Peter told us otters spent their days eating and sleeping. I have a daughter at home, who must be part otter. They fish every couple of hours, then sleep off their meal. We learnt that their holt (house) would be built beside a source of freshwater, and somewhere between their holt and hunting spot, they’d have an outdoor latrine.
We also learned the best way to get close to an otter, without disturbing it. It would involve moving quietly and quickly whenever the otter ducked under water. Then standing like a statue when it emerged. We’d repeat this process, until we found a big rock to hide behind – the otter would then think we were part of the landscape.
Unfortunately, blending into the shoreline would have to wait. With slack tide approaching, there wasn’t an otter to be seen. We left the lovely coastal spot and headed inland in search of winged beasties instead.
Learning how to spot golden eagles in Scotland
The winged beastie in question was the golden eagle. Morvern, Ardnamurchan and Mull are amongst the best places in Scotland to spot the golden eagle.
Peter told us they didn’t like rain, so our chances of spotting one was low. He pointed out a distant mountain where a pair of golden eagles were nesting. We gazed at the rugged terrain and the next thing we knew, a huge bird was flying towards us. It soared past and landed in a tree, not too far away.
Armed with binoculars we took a look. It was a golden eagle.
We decided to take a closer look and crossed a field towards it. Peter stopped en route to point out an animal track in the field. It looked like a tyre track to me, but seeing as it was in the middle of a field in the wilds of Morvern, I suspect Peter’s guess of fox or badger trail was more accurate than mine.
We reached a dry stane dyke with a burn behind it, and just beyond the burn our golden eagle was sheltering from the rain in a tree. I snapped a couple of blurry shots of it – struggling to keep my hand steady and my lens dry.
Buoyed by our success, we crossed into neighbouring Ardnamurchan for lunch.
In search of feathered friends by Castle Tioram
Three tasty cheese and haggis paninis from Cafe Tioram later, and we were ready to look for more wildlife. In particular, the golden eagle, osprey and kingfisher.
We drove to Castle Tioram – an imposing medieval fortress that sits on a small, rocky outcrop in Loch Moidart. The one time Clanranald stronghold is one of Scotland’s most picturesque castles.
We didn’t see any of the birds we were looking for, but it was nice wandering by the lochside.
An otterly incredible encounter in Ardnamurchan
Leaving Castle Tioram, we drove a short distance to try our luck with otters instead.
We found a parking spot, facing a river, and using our car as a mobile hide/rain shelter, we wound the windows down and turned our attention to the river. We didn’t have to wait long before, not one otter, not two, not three, but four otters appeared.
They were a mother with two cubs, who would be leaving mum soon, to go off and fend for themselves. Plus a dog otter, who was trying to woo mum.
She was having none of it though, despite his best efforts. We watched them fishing and frolicking on the river bank, right in front of the car. At one stage, they were only a few metres away. It was incredible – and we didn’t have to leave the car, or pretend to be rocks.
A close encounter with the monarchs of the Glen in Morvern
Back in Morvern, there was another Scottish wildlife favourite we wanted to see before we got settled back at Lochaline Hotel.
We found him, close to where we’d started our tour. The monarch of the glen – grazing on a hillside. We pulled over, wound the car windows down and watched. He watched us too and decided we weren’t an immediate threat. A little further along the road, we spotted several more stags.
Pizza, coffee and a sea view
Despite the rain, day one of our ‘Days in the Wild’ Scottish wildlife tour with Peter had been awesome.
Back at Lochaline Hotel, we tucked into delicious homemade pizzas, followed by Tobermory whisky & marmalade ice cream.
We ended the night upstairs in our lovely room, drinking coffee and enjoying the sea view.
Day Two – Scottish Wildlife Tour, Mull and Morvern
The next morning Shaley made us porridge, bacon butties and warm homemade cookies for breakfast, then we took the car on the Lochaline ferry over to Fishnish on the Isle of Mull. The ferry slipway is located just around the corner from the Lochaline Hotel, which makes it a great base for exploring the beautiful Hebridean island.
Our aim on Mull was to spot another otter (or two) and hopefully Mull’s famous winged beasties – the golden eagle and white-tailed eagle.
Cruising for otters at 5-10mph
After arriving on Mull, we headed east towards a sea loch, which is a known otter hotspot. A quiet, single track-track road skirts the shore of the loch. Peter told Mr G to drive at 5-10 mph. Mr G is a stickler for driving to the speed limit, or as near to it as Scotland’s windy, single-track roads allow. He can’t abide people who drive at 30 mph in a 60 mph zone, and god forbid, he sees anyone poking a camera out of their car window. Now, he was that guy (only slower) and Peter and I would get lots of mileage (albeit very slow mileage) out of ribbing him about it.
It didn’t take us long to spot an otter. It was fishing close to the shore. Mr G remained in the car with the boy, so as not to disturb it. Peter and I got out and played a game of tiptoe towards the shore when the otter dives underwater. By the time we’d waded through bog to reach the rocky shoreline to disguise ourselves as rocks, the otter had vanished.
Reunited with Mr G and the boy, Peter showed us an otter’s loo – aka latrine. The boy gave it a sniff, then we set off (slooooooooooowly) in search of more wildlife.
I caught a fleeting glimpse of a kingfisher dive bombing into the water, next to where a river flowed into the loch. Then some gorgeous lapwings (one of my favourite birds), followed by oystercatchers and several more otters. This time the otters were fishing in the middle of the loch and were too far away to get a good look at.
Lunch with feathered friends at The Old Post Office, Lochbuie
After spending the morning crawling round the loch in search of otters, we drove to Lochbuie for lunch at The Old Post Office. We spotted roe and sika deer on the outskirts of Lochbuie, but Mr G whizzed past them, pretending he couldn’t hear Peter and I pointing them out. It was his revenge after having to drive at 10 mph all morning.
Lochbuie is a lovely, little settlement, located round a sweeping bay. There’s a castle, stone circle, a cool mausoleum and The Old Post Office, where you can get a good cup of coffee, lovely home baking and light lunches made with quality local ingredients. We ordered a combination of dishes between us (all good) and dined all fresco by the sea, where we were joined by lots of little birds.
Now for the big birds
Our next wildlife targets were all winged ones – the hen harrier, golden eagle and white-tailed eagle. En route to look for them, I spotted a large bird, soaring above a mountain. We found a parking place and gazed skywards, Peter with his trusty binoculars. It was a golden eagle – result.
Once it disappeared, we took a scenic drive towards one of my favourite litle houses on Mull. It’s a good spot for hen harrier sightings, but none appeared for us. Probably too much to hope for, right after spotting a golden eagle.
Beware of binoculars – a cautionary tale!
We continued driving into the heart of Mull, then stopped at a spot in the vicinity of a white-tailed eagle nest. Peter told us the nesting birds had two fledglings. If we were lucky, we’d see one of the parents returning with food for them.
We alternated our gaze between tree top, mountain and horizon. Then, Peter located one of the white-tailed eagles sitting in a tree. I used binoculars to get a better look at it. Peter said it would fly off, once the other parent was in sight.
A word of warning if you ever find yourself looking at a perching white-tailed eagle through binoculars. When it does take off suddenly, it looks REALLY close and will give you the fright of your life. “Arghhhh, It’s moving” I shouted, when I saw what looked like it heading straight at me.
It was now time for us to return to the Mainland for the part of the tour we were most excited about.
Back to Lochaline we go
Back in Lochaline, we popped into the hotel to change into waterproofs. Now, we were ready to take to the sea in a RIB. Peter’s seafaring partner Fraser would be joining us for the ‘by sea’ part of our Scottish wildlife tour. Fraser sails the RIB, while Peter looks out for wildlife and provides commentary on the tours.
We left the hotel, clad in bobble hats, Gore-Tex and military ponchos. As soon as we set foot outside, we spotted a porpoise, fishing in front of the hotel.
A Days in the Wild morvern Sea Tour
A two minute drive from the hotel, Fraser was waiting for us with the RIB at Lochaline Marina.
We hopped aboard, and once Peter had taken us through some safety information, we whizzed off. It was the first time either of us had been on a RIB. It was exhilarating.
We passed the ruins of Old Ardtornish Castle, which we’d hiked to on a dreich afternoon, several years previously. Shortly after passing the castle, the heavens opened. Despite being at sea on a wee boat, in the pouring rain, it was really good fun. We were completely immersed, and at one with the elements.
We stayed close to the shore, checking the land and sea. After a while, I noticed a “big bird” sitting in a tree. I tapped Peter on the shoulder to ask what it was. It was a white-tailed eagle – bingo. Fraser cut the engine. It remained in the tree for a few seconds, then flew off – a huge, barn door of a bird. You have no real concept of how big white-tailed eagles are, until you get close to one. We watched as it soared along the rugged coastline. We followed it a short distance. It stopped again, before taking flight and disappearing over a hill. Wow – what an experience.
Back to lochaline Hotel we go
Back at Lochaline Hotel, we had Tobermory chicken and haggis pies for dinner, followed by Tobermory cherry and chocolate cheesecake ice cream – delicious.
We ended a second amazing day in Morvern, in our sea view room, enjoying coffee and a bonnie view.
Days in the Wild – Scottish Wildlife Tours
If you’re looking for a Scottish wildlife tour, with an extremely knowledgeable guide, who’s friendly and easy company, I can highly recommend booking a tour with Peter. The two days we spent with him flew by. Having done his research upfront, he knew exactly what we wanted to see, and he more than delivered. We’ll definitely return for another tour with him in the future.
Peter originally approached me with a view to hiring me to create and share content about his tours on my social media feeds. I offered to waive my fee in return for a two night stay at Lochaline Hotel, as Peter had been so kind taking us stargazing and aurora chasing earlier in the year.
As always, all opinions are entirely my own.
Until next time …