On this six night, three-centre holiday we explore the extreme north of the island of Great Britain, visiting key birding destinations including Handa Island, Dunnet Head and The Flow Country. This holiday will be of special interest to those who enjoy dramatic open scenery, wild and remote places and densely packed breeding seabird locations, with skuas, divers, Black Guillemot, Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Kittiwake and Shag in considerable number. We also include some little visited inland locations on a relaxed and rewarding tour of the far north. A lovely and relaxing holiday in mainland Britain's northernmost and remotest counties.
DAY 1: Saturday 24th June - Nethy Bridge to Caithness
The tour begins at Nethy Bridge, and we depart from Mountview Hotel before 8am. Our route north takes in beautiful country as we take a scenic and wildlife-rich route through coastal, farmland and moorland habitats. Our first few stops stop will be to look for moorland birds, including Hen Harrier. Dropping down to the coast, we shall take in Loch Fleet NNR where we should find a good assemblage of waders and wildfowl, with Common Seals and fishing Osprey also likely. Heading north we visit several quaint fishing villages and harbours, keeping an eye out for breeding waders, Rock Pipits, “real” Rock Dove and seabirds. We then head inland, stopping to enjoy the Neolithic burial chambers known as the Camster Cairns (to be enjoyed at their best requires a torch and a short crawl through the entrance!). Once on the Flows, we start our search for breeding waders. En route to Thurso we take in several freshwater lochs where we should add several species of duck to our already large list. We arrive in Thurso late afternoon, and settle into our comfortable hotel, which will be our base for the next three nights. Overnight in Thurso.
DAY 2: Sunday 25th June - Dunnet Head, Duncansby Head and St John’s Loch
For those who know little of this part of the country, today will be a real eye-opener. Visiting bustling wetlands and spectacular sea-cliffs that are full of birds with far reaching views taking in at least 50 miles of scenery, today is truly special. Starting at St John’s Pool, we pop in to a new hide, with good views of nesting and migratory terns, waders and wildfowl. The newly recognised “rarity hotspot of Caithness” always offers something different, and repeats of the 2011 Grey Phalarope, Greater Yellowlegs or Bonaparte’s Gull here would be appreciated! Moving up to Dunnet Head (Mainland Britain’s most northerly point), we will take in our first of three large seabird colonies of the trip. Here we get our first looks at the imposing Great Skua, and hope to get our first Twite. Stopping briefly in John O’Groats we head up to the real attraction here, Duncansby Head. We will find a stunning view, a bustling seabird colony and a superb cetacean watching spot (including Orca in recent years). If time allows we finish the day at the Loch of Mey to add to our wader and passerine list. Overnight in Thurso.
DAY 3: Monday 26th June - The North Coast and Broubster Leans
Most people’s image of Caithness is dominated by the vast peatlands of the Flow Country, whilst in fact most of it is actually fertile and even arable. We shall visit more of this rich agricultural land today, excellent wetland sites that will contain numerous breeding species including Snipe, Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew. Rarities also occasionally breed in these remote places, and we may be very lucky to catch up with a Wood Sandpiper or Spotted Crake.
Once we have taken in RSPB’s Broubster Leans, we shall head back up to the coast to visit stunning villages and beaches such as Fresgoe and Portskerra. A walk up to Strathy Point, which projects far out from the north coast should give us another chance of cetaceans, and for the botanists, may include the extremely rare Scottish Primrose (although the main flowering periods are mid May and mid July). Overnight in Thurso.
DAY 4: Tuesday 27th June - The Flow Country
Today we head west and then south out onto the Flows. Today will be a driving tour of the Flows, hoping to connect with most of the breeding species including Dunlin, Golden Plover, Hen Harrier and with luck, Short-eared Owl and Greenshank. We make frequent stops and take a short walk at the RSPB Forsinard Reserve, the only trail on this, impenetrable vast wetland. Roadside lochs en route often hold Red and Black-throated Divers, whilst the woodlands are good for Common Crossbill, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin. Depending on our success in the morning, we will either continue to explore the Flows for the afternoon, or will explore woodlands at Borgie and in Strathnaver. Either way, we end up further along the north coast where we will spend the night. Depending on the tide and weather, we may look for Otters and waders on the Kyle of Tongue. Overnight in Tongue.
DAY 5: Wednesday 28th June - North West Sutherland
Today we cover the relatively short distance along the north coast at a very slow pace. We start by going around the Kyle of Tongue, a spectacular setting offering excellent birding. We also take a detour down the side of Loch Hope looking for ducks and divers, and with luck our first Golden Eagles of the trip. Deciduous woodlands here often hold Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher, and finding Cuckoo should not be difficult. Heading back to the coast, we scan out over Loch Eriboll, where with luck we shall see all three species of Diver in breeding plumage. Moving on to Durness, we listen out for Corncrake in the specially managed crops before heading down to the stunning beach and dunes of Balnakeil Bay where we will take lunch. The afternoon will be spent exploring back roads on our journey down towards Inchnadamph. A popular spot we may visit is the stunning, flower-rich spot of Oldshoremore, with its magnificent beach and dunes. Our day ends at Inchnadamph, where we will stay for the next two nights.
DAY 6: Thursday 29th June - Handa Island
Always a summer favourite, Handa is essentially a mini-Shetland with over 100,000 seabirds, including Great and Arctic Skua at close quarters. We take the short ferry crossing and arrive on the stunning sandy beach, before taking our circular 3 mile walk of this stunning Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve. Birds on Handa are approachable, and we can hope for close-up Red Grouse, Wheatear, Rock Dove, Rock Pipit and Twite views. Being one of Europe’s largest Razorbill and Guillemot colonies, we will spend plenty of time examining the fascinating ecology of these remarkable birds, the majority of which will have young chicks. With 114m cliffs facing out into the plankton rich Minch, cetaceans are also quite common and we hope for calm seas to maximize chances. Handa is also a good rarity outpost, and we will check the cover, beaches and bays for any scarce vagrants. We return to Inchnadamph for our last night on the West.
DAY 7: Friday 30 June - Assynt and the Northwest Highlands
Today we slowly work our way back to Nethy Bridge, taking in all the remote corners of the Northwest Highlands as we go. Our main focus is on Assynt, a rugged and spectacular landscape, and a GeoPark in its own right in recognition of the fabulous geology here. This is an area where birders seldom visit, yet it holds all of the iconic breeding species of the region amid stunning scenery; who could ask for more? We will look at the weather and our sightings throughout the week and plan an exciting day, with visits to places such as Clachtoll, Achmelvich, Stoer Point, Lochinver, Inverkirkaig and Knockan Crag checking the numerous sea lochs, freshwater lochs and wetlands for breeding and migratory birds, and keep an eye skyward for Merlin, Golden and White-tailed Eagles. We will also check out numerous beaches and botanical spots too, with a range of orchids possible. The iconic hills stand out all around us, with such names as Canisp, Quinag and Cul Mor. After checking the river and harbour at Ullapool we head back east. The holiday ends on our arrival back at Nethybridge, around 6pm.
This holiday can be combined with:
The ‘Outer Limits’ in Summer, Highland Wildlife.
SCOTTISH ISLAND ADVENTURES
Outer Hebrides and the Shiants, North-west Highlands.
Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine, rain and strong winds are all possible, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Biting insects are possible, a good repellent is recommended though we probably won't need it! Please bring waterproof walking boots or shoes, waterproof clothing and a small rucksack. Hat and gloves are essential for any boat trip or exposed headland.
What's included in your holiday price
• Six nights comfortable en-suite hotel accommodation. We choose hotels from our personally inspected shortlist, where birders are welcome and the hospitality is special. Guests are never expected to share. Full details with your joining pack.
• Full Scottish breakfast and dinner from Saturday evening til Friday morning, packed lunch daily.
• All transfers by comfortable minibus. Drop off on the departure morning to transport links in Aviemore is included.
• Drivers can leave vehicles safely parked at The Mountview Hotel.
• Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
• All ferry costs.
What's not included in your holiday price
• Extra night in Nethybridge area at beginning and end of holiday. This can be arranged for you if requested at time of holiday booking.
• Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.
• Transfers from transport links in Aviemore on arrival.
WHY CHOOSE HEATHERLEA FOR YOUR SCOTTISH ISLAND ADVENTURE?
Heatherlea is THE company for top quality birding holidays in Scotland, chosen by more and more birders each year. Relax and enjoy first-rate birding with Scotland’s best guiding team, as we do all the planning! Our fully inclusive guided holidays concentrate on the real experience, and we take time to ensure that each of our guests enjoys everything we do. Above all, we make it our business to show key wildlife to you.
These popular holidays are carefully designed to explore the beautiful and wildlife-rich Scottish islands and far west coast. Many itineraries are unique, designed to give you the best of island wildlife at the best time of year. All are run at a leisurely pace, though we might move a little faster when rare migrants and vagrants are in our sights!
* We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for 27 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
* Heatherlea Scottish Island Adventures have a maximum ratio of 7 clients per guide, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
* Heatherlea are Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’ This is the highest available grading, classified as ‘exceptional’ by visitScotland.
* Single guests are never expected or invited to share.
* Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance packed lunch and tips to hotels.
* Heatherlea hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
* Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland. We are also registered to pay VAT, which is included in your holiday price as quoted on this page.
* Once your holiday is confirmed in writing by us, we promise not to surcharge the price for any reason.
Enjoy an excellent birding and wildlife holiday with Heatherlea.
Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’