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Scotland’s Big 5 Wildlife Spotting

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By James Armour, The Selkie

Scotland boasts some seriously epic wildlife. With the vast majority of the population based in the central belt between Edinburgh and Glasgow, there is plenty of space for animals to thrive. 

I am delighted to be partnering with the Isle of Raasay Distillery on my ‘Selkie’ challenge to become the first person to run, swim and cycle the length of the Outer Hebrides in aid of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust – setting off 3.45am 30th July. The ‘Selkie’ were mythological Celtic and Norse seal-folk that could shed their seal skin to come on to land in human form, much like what I am planning!

My Top 5 WILDLIFE SPOTTING

Throughout my training, I have had the pleasure of visiting some of Scotland’s most beautiful wild swimming locations and experiencing some of Scotland’s incredible wildlife up close. Read on for some of my highlights. 

 

James Armour Swims to Raasay

1. Otters | Biast-Dubh

Otters can be seen all over Scotland, and especially the west coast, with its many miles of coastline and low waterways for otters to hunt and thrive. 

These semi-aquatic animals live in holts (shelters/burrows) where they can hide from threats and predators. They are incredible hunters, and can swim at 12km/hr as well as hold their breath for 4 minutes!

Although it can be hard to catch otters in action, it’s easy to see where they have been as they like to leave spraints (droppings) to mark out their territories and help find mates. Ollie from Dunollie is a well-known solitary otter you can sometimes catch snacking on octopus down at the Dunollie Castle water’s edge outside Oban. Otters are also a very common sight around Raasay, on the shoreline and in people’s gardens. Cubs are often spotted swimming with their mothers along the shoreline of Suisnish in Raasay.

Raasay otters in Seaweed Suisnish
Otter & Cubs on shoreline of Raasay
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2. Minke Whales | Mucan-mara

Minke Whales are very common around the Hebrides over the summer months. These pointy-shaped cetaceans mostly migrate south over the winter and return when feeding is good from July to September.

They are a key cornerstone of the ocean ecosystem alongside other whale species as they bring up nutrients to the surface when they come up to breath after feeding, and excrete nitrogen rich faeces. The Hebridean Whale Trail has some fantastic spots to sight whales from land all up the west coast without the need to venture out into the open seas!

Minke Whale Surfacing
Photo Credit: Wayne Hoggard via Flickr

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3. Sea Eagles | Iolair-mhara

The world’s second largest eagle, and UK’s largest: sea eagles are a magnificent beast to watch thermal soaring in Scotland. After being reintroduced to Scotland in 1975, these birds of prey have managed a stellar revitalisation, and spread from their initial home on Rum up and down the coast to iconic locations such as Mull, Skye, the Western Isles and more. Sea eagles can often be spotted in the north of Raasay, or nesting in the woodland around the distillery. You may even spot one high up in the air during a distillery tour!  

Sea Eagle in Flight
Photo Credit: Mathijs van Lisdonk Photography via Flickr
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4. Basking Sharks 

The Basking shark is the second largest shark in the world and is an annual visitor off Scotland’s coasts. These great beasts can be seen in particular hotspots off the islands of Coll and Tiree, where upwelling from the deep Atlantic brings nutrient rich waters to feed plankton growth – the shark’s favourite and only meal of choice!

Basking sharks are also a frequent visitor to the deep waters around the Isle of Raasay. These gentle giants can be identified by their large dorsal fin and tail appearing out the water. 

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5. Red Deer | Fiadh

The name “Raasay” is derived from the Gaelic “Ratharsair”, which comes from the old Norse for Isle of the Roe, or Red Deer, the UK’s largest land mammals. Fun fact: have you spotted the embossed ‘RATHARSAIR’ and ‘ISLE OF RAASAY’ on the bottom of our whisky bottle yet (pictured below)?

There is a large population of wild deer on Raasay, concentrated in the north but often found roaming all over the island’s hills. Each autumn, the male red deers, or stags as they are known, can be heard roaring during the rutting season when they clash over the female hinds using their large branching antlers. They truly are a thing of majestic beauty.

 

Red Deer running on Raasay Hills

A’ Bhò Bhàn – Our Fair Cow

While not technically wildlife, visitors to the Isle of Raasay should keep an eye out for our local fair cow living across from the distillery under the spectacular views of Glamaig. A hardy breed, Highland Cattle would have traditionally been the livestock here.

We source all our water for production from a well known as ‘Tobar na Bà Bàine – the Well of the Fair Cow’. Our water flows across volcanic rock and filters through Jurassic sandstone, adding minerals that are crucial to creating flavour in our whisky and gin. 

We also take a very circular approach to waste, and feed our fair cow the spent barley (also known as draff) from our whisky production!

A' Bho Bhàn - our pale cow

Distillery Opening Times

We are open Monday to Saturday all year round until the evening of Friday 17th December 2021.

Distillery Tours

Monday to Saturday: 11:00-17:00 (last tour of the day starts at 5pm).

Shop & Bar

Monday – Friday: 10:00 – 9:00 pm / Saturday: 10:00 – 10:00 PM

The Isle of Raasay, an island rooted in centuries of illicit distilling, provides the ingredients for the perfect dram. Our lightly peated Isle of Raasay Single Malt is an expression of this magical place.

Our zesty, smooth and refreshing Isle of Raasay Gin combines an exciting selection of ten Raasay and traditional botanicals, including Raasay juniper, sweet orange peel, rhubarb root and our triple distilled spirit.

Enjoy a warm island welcome at our award-winning visitor centre and whisky hotel, Borodale House. Discover our tour options and book today, or better still, wake up in the distillery for an unforgettable experience!

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