By Gabbi Armstrong
Communications Project Manager for the North Coast 500
Published: 29th May 2018

Wildlife and Farmlife

Image by Jack and Jones

The North Coast 500 is the perfect family destination – with miles of unspoiled beaches, a wide variety of activities and countless new experiences to be had, the North Highlands is the ideal place to create family memories that will be cherished for years to come. We’ll introduce you to a few of our favourite family-friendly activities to enjoy along the North Coast 500.

The North Highlands abound with wildlife. In this section, we provide more information about how you can get a little closer to Scotland’s native animals on your North Coast 500 trip – from Highland cows to dolphins and orcas, you’ll be amazed at the variety of species found in the north of Scotland.

Wildlife Wonders

See how many species of marine life and wildlife you can spot on the NC500 with a boat trip! View the other side of the North Coast 500 with an exhilarating boat trip or monitor and survey marine life with one of the longest running wildlife operators in Europe. Alternatively, explore the waters of the Moray Firth at the start or end of your journey – here you may see our resident pod of 200 bottle nose dolphins. Find out more here.

Image EcoVentures, Cromarty

A fairytale castle

Feel like a princess or prince for the day with a visit to the fairy tale castle that is Dunrobin Castle. From June to September, catch one of their daily birds of prey falconry demonstrations on the castle’s front lawn. Golden eagles and peregrine falcons are both found in the wild in the Scottish Highlands, and both birds take key roles in these dazzling demonstrations.

Image: Dunrobin Castle, Golspie

More Falconry!

If you, or younger members of your family, would like to get a little closer to these incredible birds, Shieldaig Lodge offers the opportunity to fly or handle birds of prey in a range of memorable settings. Half day experiences can be arranged to personally suit each family – so if you’ve ever wanted to try out archery or learn more about hawks, buzzards, owls and falcons, there’s no better place to begin. Booking is essential.

Photo: Shieldaig Lodge Hotel, near Gairloch

Try your hand at milking a cow!

If you’ve never milked a cow before, the Animal Centre, based in the East Woods of the Castle of Mey (the Queen Mother’s former home), offers the perfect introduction in the form of Daisy, the wooden cow – used by both adults and children alike. Younger visitors can help to bottle feed the lambs and learn more about our furry friends via hands-on, supervised sessions with the centre’s rabbits and some of the other smaller animals. All of this makes for an educational, enjoyable visit.

Photo: Castle Of Mey, Mey

Our hairy Heilan coos!

Join the first farm tour of its kind in the north of Scotland with Farm Buggy Tours at Kirkton Farm in Melvich, Caithness! Enjoy some fun off road in a four-wheel-drive buggy – see sheep and Highland cows up close, and maybe some deer and other wildlife!

Image: Farm Buggy Tours, Caithness

Catching tadpoles

With extensive grounds waiting to be explored, Attadale Gardens is the perfect place from which to enjoy glorious views across to the Isle of Skye. Within this wide network of water gardens, taking in bridges and waterfalls, as well as woodland trails walled by rhododendrons and exotic plants, don’t miss the hidden sculptures which are dotted throughout the grounds. For a fun day out with children, why not try catching tadpoles or spotting frogs in the pond? Buy your tickets to Attadale Gardens here.

Image: Attadale Gardens, Strathcarron

Live among the deer

Live among the deer at Ben Damph Estate – from a log cabin and hot tub to a lovingly restored Highland bothy – stay a night or a week and explore from a base!

Image: Ben Damph Estate, near Torridon

Wild and wonderful family fun with RSPB North Scotland

As you travel the iconic and spectacular NC500 route, take some time to venture slightly off route and explore some of Scotland’s wilder areas. RSPB has several reserves along the route of the NC500 that are teaming with wildlife and fun for all the family.

Pocket-friendly fun with nature

Connecting with nature and spending time outdoors is refreshing for the mind, fun and educational – win, win, win. We have so many wonderful species and landscapes in Scotland, and it is fascinating to discover what these are no matter your age. Pack a picnic and make a day of it with your friends and family by travelling to one of RSPB’s reserves – see how many different species you come across. At their reserves, you’ll find trails, seating areas, viewpoints, hides bursting with information, car parks and well maintained paths to suit everyone, from tiny tots to intrepid explorers. Get ready for an action-packed but pocket-friendly day with nature.

Nature Trails, image by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

Wildlife hunting at RSPB Loch Ruthven

Take your family on a wildlife hunt at this remote and tranquil loch which is surrounded by birch woodland. Journey along the pathway and work together, using your knowledge of tracks and signs, to identify nearby wildlife. Don’t forget to visit the hide and boatshed to find out more about what you might see.

Image by Martin Poyner (rspb-images.com)

Seabird spotting at RSPB Dunnet Head

Bird Watching by Rosemary Despres (rspb-images.com)

Not many people know it, but there is a puffin colony in Caithness!

During the spring and summer, the cliffs at RSPB Dunnet Head are a hive of activity. Puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes and guillemots are all busy building nests, courting and caring for their young. Wander the well-made, wheelchair accessible, path down to the view point where a solid wall separates you from the cliff edge –a great place to do some birdwatching with children. Make sure to check out the information boards along the way and take a pair of binoculars! You could pack a picnic and watch the seabirds come and go as you munch your lunch. You can also follow the path up behind the lighthouse towards the summit point, where you will have fantastic views over to Orkney on a clear day.

Take the train to RSPB Forsinard Flows

The train journey north from Inverness twists and winds through stunning Highland scenery. With mountains, lochs, rivers and coastal views, there is no way you will get bored on this journey. Better still, it stops directly outside their RSPB Forsinard Flows visitor centre! Once you arrive, you can explore the Dubh Lochain Trail – it is the best way for families to experience our this reserve and to learn more about what makes blanket bogs special. Follow the boardwalk up to the Flows Lookout and then venture off onto the flagstone discovery trail that snakes through the pool systems and see what wildlife you can find. Their recently refurbished visitor centre has interactive displays and games as well as three different videos to help introduce adults and children to this internationally important habitat. There are afternoon and evening trains that return back to Inverness once you are ready.

Forsinard Flows RSPB (rspb-images.com)

Birdwatching at RSPB Udale Bay and RSPB Nigg Bay

Pack a picnic along with your binoculars, find somewhere comfy to perch and enjoy watching wading birds, ducks and geese. The best time of year to do this, at both RSPB Udale Bay and RSPB Nigg Bay, is in the winter when thousands of birds start to arrive. Wrap up warm and bring a flask of hot tea to enjoy while watching the spectacle. If the weather isn’t great, you can still enjoy some bird watching from our hides. Use your eagle eyes and see what you can spot.

Bird Watching, image by Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)

Bug safari at RSPB Fairy Glen

RSPB Fairy Glen and its magical broadleaf woodland mixed with waterfalls and glittering streams is a place where your imagination can run wild. If you are a creative at heart, why not take your sketch book. If you are looking to relax, you could take your favourite book and hide away in the company of nature for the afternoon. There will be all sorts of bugs and beasties hiding within this glen, making it a fantastic place to take your family on a Bug Safari. Search under logs and rocks, reach up to the leaves and search the trees, explore the grass and waterfalls to see what hides within – if you look closely, you’ll find bugs everywhere. Why not take a net and do some pond dipping (be careful not to disturb any wildlife though).

Exploring, image by Leila Balin (rspb-images.com)

Witness red kites feeding at Tollie Red Kites reserve

A spectacle not to be missed on your North Coast 500 journey. Take a break from your journey to stretch your legs and enjoy fresh air while you witness graceful red kites soar above you before diving down to feed. Volunteers feed the birds at this reserve, an ongoing partnership between RSPB Scotland and the Brahan Estate, every day from a specially-converted farmstead building. Feeding time is 2.30 pm in summer (BST) and 1.30 pm in winter (GMT).

Red Kite, image by Ben Hall (spb-images.com)

Want more inspiration on your NC500 travels? Why not become a member and receive access to all our itineraries? From camping, cycling and adventure, to luxury, whisky, history and our 7 day highlights schedule, there’s something for everyone. When you become a member of the North Coast 500, you’ll also receive discounts for offers around the route.

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