This time last year Dude and I took a trip out to Glen Esk for a day of walking and photography. The air was crisp, the sky was a blanket of grey, the ferns were turning many shades of gold and brown and it was dry. Late September in Scotland, that’s a good day. Marching out along the glen toward the Queen’s Well and back again, not seeing anyone else all day. Fast forward twelve months and I was super excited to be invited out on a Glenesk Wildlife tour. A chance to have an off road, guided tour and learn more about the glens and hopefully spot some wildlife.
Just shy of a ninety minute (fairly scenic) drive from Perth, through Dundee to the pretty village of Edzell. After this it gets much quieter along the only road in and out of the glen and it is a treat in itself. Within the first minute of turning into the glen road from Edzell I had my first wildlife encounter of the day. A red squirrel bounding across the road in front of me.
Right at the bottom south east corner of the Cairngorm National Park are 55,000 acres owned and managed by Dalhousie Estates. A diverse landscape with heather moorland, livestock grazing and home to Scotland’s most easterly Munro, Mount Keen.
The Angus Glens are made up of Glen Esk, Isla, Clova, Prosen and Lethnot. They all have their own story to tell and have waterfalls, corries and even a castle. Plenty to explore.
Glenesk Wildlife tour
The meeting point for the start of the tour is the Glenesk Retreat and Folk Museum, about eleven miles from Edzell. As I was early I was invited in to look around the museum before then being introduced to our tour guide, Jackie.
Our vehicle for the day was a Toyota Hilux 4×4, a more than capable and comfortable ride for the day. Plenty of room for up to four passengers and all their belongings – cameras, extra layers, bags etc.
As soon as we set off Jackie started telling us about the area and her plans for the day only to be upstaged by a pair of black grouse in the middle of the road. They were quite happy to be admired by us from the vehicle.
Winding our way slowly up to the first crest we had plenty more good views of grouse, rabbits, small birds and the views were spectacular. Entering into Corbett height territory (Scottish mountains between 2,500 – 3,000 ft) it became even more apparent that this place is really special. During our first ascent we happened upon one of Jackie’s fellow tour guides Andy. He is also the local gamekeeper and stalker, this was a perfect opportunity to stop for coffee and see what (if any) wildlife we could see. Within minutes Andy had our eyes trained on a small herd of red deer on the other side of the glen, a golden eagle and a mountain hare. Amazing. I have really good eyesight but for those who would normally struggle spotting wildlife out on the hills having the extra expertise and knowledge of a tour guide is invaluable. During coffee we also talked about the management of the grouse moors, red deer and I took the opportunity to admire some of the mosses and lichens found on the rocks too.
Moving on and back down the way we came, the light continually changing the landscape, picking out the patchwork of heather or run rigs in the glen.
Headed out toward Loch Lee in the hope of seeing signs of otters, with Jackie pointing out some of their favourite rocks. Nothing to see on this occasion but now we know what to look out for ourselves next time we are walking by water.
Lunch time! We were super lucky with the weather and able to enjoy our picnic lunch (supplied by the Retreat), containing lots of locally sourced food and drink. Eager to continue learning about the area, we fired questions at Jackie about the red deer rut, antlers, trees and the Maule Monument upon Hill of Rowan (you can’t miss it as you come down the glen road). And after eating we inspected an adder skin that has been shed in one of the glens, just another creature that has made this place it’s home.
Second half of the day was spent at a lower level but no less impressive. Still spotting black grouse, hare, a peregrine and a kestrel along the way.
As we came down the hillside Jackie excitedly told us of Arsallary. A township established toward the end of the 18th century and may have played a part in the illicit whisky trade. All that remains now are the foot print of buildings along with an air of mystery of days gone by.
Headed back to the Retreat, out on the road for us and one last wildlife encounter for the day; a red squirrel on a wall. So cute!
The wildlife tours start and finish at the Glen Esk Retreat and Folk Museum and this is a perfect opportunity to get a first glimpse at local history, it is packed full with artifacts and recreated scenes of crofting cottages.
Throughout the day we learnt about the crofting community, superstitions, drovers roads, whisky trails and visited an old township that is now long forgotten.
Over the years pockets of the trees have been felled but there are now plans for the future on the estate and native trees (broad leaf – silverbirch etc) are to be planted in an area close to Invermark castle. Giving it a new lease of life and returning it to how it would have been many years ago.
Apparently, one of the farms in the glen kept a peat fire burning 24 hours a day for two hundred and fifty years because they though it would bring them good luck! Incredible.
Take a wildlife tour
Admittedly, the weather played a big part in our enjoyment for the Glenesk Wildlife tour, however, I’m not one to be put off by the wind and rain either. The wildlife will still be going about it’s business on the hillside even if the weather is poor so you still have an equally good chance of seeing something even on the dreichest of days. There are plenty of opportunities to get out of the 4×4, take photos, admire the view and look for wildlife too.
Weather aside, the knowledge, enthusiasm, passion and love for the area that both Jackie and Andy have is incredible. I came away from my day on tour with a new spark to learn more about the habits of red deer, land management and illicit whisky trails.
If you have ever fancied experiencing the red deer rut first hand, Glenesk Wildlife can help you do that with their evening tours during October. It’s a magical time of year and a big moment in nature’s calendar.
Highly recommended for families, couples, photographers, anyone who loves wildlife, anyone who would like to learn more about the area. Just anyone and everyone. Options for full or half day tours are available. All I have to do is drop enough hints between now and Christmas for the Dude to buy some gift vouchers so I can go out again!