Sadly endangered throughout the UK as vast tracts of land become the domain of their dominant, non-native grey cousins, red squirrels are relatively easy to spot in Scotland, which is home to three quarters of the British population. The bushy tail and tufted ears combine to make the red squirrel one of the country's most endearing mammals.
For the best chance of encountering red squirrels, visitors should head to Galloway, Perthshire or the Cairngorms National Park. These creatures have adapted well to commercial forestry plantations as well as their native Scots pine and oak woods, so keep an eye out anywhere. For those resident in Scotland, red squirrels are known to be partial to birdfeed during winter months!
Red squirrels are around throughout the year, but can be easier to spot in winter when trees are thinner and they seem a little tamer, prioritising the finding of food. The animals are also somewhat more playful in January and February, when courtship takes place.
When to see this species : Spring, Autumn
2 Days in Red Squirrel Country
Arrive in Kirkcudbright, a delightful village huddled around a natural harbour at the mouth of the River Dee. The community has provided inspiration for generations of artists, with its quaint stone houses and pastel-like hues. Among the key attractions here are MacLellan's Castle, a 16th century tower house maintained by Historic Scotland, and the Tolbooth Art Centre, home to a fine collection of works by The Glasgow Boys and other artists influenced by Kirkcudbright and its surroundings. From the village, head west to the wonderful Cream o' Galloway visitor centre at Rainton. Much more than ice cream factory, the attraction has taken green tourism in the south-west to a whole new level. There are ranger-led activities around the centre's nature trails (where red squirrels may be spotted) and an amazing variety of flora and butterflies, encouraged by organic farming practices. Don't forget to try out some of the product though! Head north-west from here via Newton Stewart towards the fabulously scenic Glen Trool, which deserves a full afternoon of exploration. From the car park beside Bruce's Stone (a tribute to the king's victories over England), there are numerous trails through woodland, loch shore and uplands, each offering a multitude of wildlife watching opportunities. It is often said that this area looks and feels more Highland than much of the Highlands and you'll probably agree. On the way back to Kirkcudbright, you may wish to stop off for a drink or snack at the historic Murray Arms Hotel in pretty Gatehouse of Fleet. It was here that Robert Burns wrote the nationalist anthem "Scots Wha Hae".
The following day, head north towards Castle Douglas, celebrated as Scotland's Food Town and home to numerous shops offering delicious delicacies. A mile west of the town is the major attraction of the area, Threave Castle. This foreboding tower, situated on an island the River Dee, was built in the late 14th century by the wonderfully named Archibald the Grim, Lord of Galloway. It is now under the care of Historic Scotland. Nearby Threave Garden is a popular National Trust for Scotland property covering 64 acres. Visitors come here not only for the vast array of plants but to enjoy its wildfowl refuge, home to breeding waders and wintering wildfowl. There is an estate trail leading from the countryside centre. Driving north from Castle Douglas, visitors join the Red Kite Trail, which takes in some fabulous Southern Upland scenery and some of the country's finest opportunities to view these recently re-introduced birds of prey. A particular highlight is the feeding station at Bellymack Hill Farm, where it's not uncommon to see the birds in double figures. From New Galloway, travel back down to the A75 and then continue south towards Dalbeattie. The forest neighbouring the town is a stronghold of the elusive red squirrel, resident throughout this part of the world. Follow the "Red Squirrel Trail" and learn more about these beautiful creatures through a series of interpretative posts. The coast road west takes you along the "Scottish Riviera", complete with picturesque villages and gorgeous coastal scenery.
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