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Winter walks and wildlife

A couple and a dog walk along a snow-covered, tree-lined path. It is snowing.
As temperatures dip, there’s no drop in interest levels at many of our countryside places. Here are some suggestions of great walks with wildlife-spotting highlights for you this winter.

1. Killiecrankie

The Pass of Killiecrankie in winter. The trees and riverbanks are covered in snow. The water is still, reflecting the trees, rocks and wintry clear sky.

The Pass of Killiecrankie is a magnificent wooded gorge with the River Garry flowing through it. During winter, the reduction in foliage brings a greater sense of space and scale, so you’ll see more of the landscape and the wonderful wildlife that lives in it.

Listen out for the dipper, a bird which starts its courtship in the winter with a song that sounds like the babbling water in which it feeds. Blankets of snow will always reveal how alive the outside world remains: the tracks of pine martens, red squirrels, foxes, badgers and different birds all tell stories of foraging, hunting and escape.

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2. Threave Garden & Estate

A group of six whooper swans, found at Threave Estate. In the middle of the photo, a swan raises its neck and calls. The swan to the far right stretches its wings.

There are plenty of trails and woodland walks to enjoy across this hugely diverse 648-hectare site in Dumfries & Galloway. The estate encompasses farmland, forestry, wetland and a 2-mile stretch of the River Dee, ensuring year-round wildlife interest. Much of the action can be viewed from five easily accessed hides overlooking the Dee.

A magical combination of light, sound and texture makes winter a particularly evocative time to visit Threave. Whether it’s the distant honking of whooper swans, the whistling call of a pintail duck, the barking of a fox at dusk, or just a fine mist hovering over the marshes, there’s an element of power to such places at this time of year.

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3. Mar Lodge Estate National Nature Reserve

Mar Lodge Estate in winter. Snow covers the wide glen, with bare black trees standing in stark contrast. A river snakes its way through the centre of the image.

Hill walking on Mar Lodge Estate is unsurpassed. Here, you’ll find no fewer than 15 Munros, including the second highest mountain in the UK – Ben Macdui (1,309m). You can also enjoy a number of low-level walks with views of the rushing falls, several mountain bothies as well as opportunities for wild camping.

The estate is rich in wildlife all year round. On the high ridges and slopes, mountain hares and ptarmigan brave the elements, both turning white to escape the attention of eagles and other predators. Lower down, foxes hunt voles and other small mammals, while snow buntings gather in busy flocks.

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4. House of Dun & Montrose Basin Nature Reserve

A flock of geese, which can be seen at House of Dun. 30 geese fly from left to right against a clear blue sky.

The House of Dun & Montrose Basin Nature Reserve is an internationally important site for waders and wildfowl. Every winter, this vast tidal basin is home to thousands of pink-footed geese, escaping the harsh winters of Iceland and eastern Greenland. They are joined by elegant whooper swans, plus thousands of wigeon, knot, redshank, shelduck and many other species.

The House of Dun estate offers a perfect vantage point from which to enjoy this most dramatic of estuaries, as well as various woodland walks.

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5. The Hermitage

The Hermitage in winter. A waterfall surges over snow-covered rocks, with snow-laden trees hanging over the riverbanks.

Follow in the footsteps of past notable visitors including William Wordsworth, Queen Victoria, Felix Mendelssohn and J M W Turner as you wander through this magnificent landscape. Walk amongst giants – the Douglas firs here are among the tallest trees in Britain.

Winter at the Hermitage, where spray from the surging River Braan leaves a sheen of ice crystals on rocks and trees, shows signs of otters at play. Snow chutes, created by their sliding bellies, indicate their presence in winter, as do signs of their feeding – half-eaten salmon and trout can be spotted on rocks by the water’s edge.

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6. Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve

Ben Lawers in winter. The snow-covered mountain stands in the centre of the image, tinged pink from the sun. Snow-covered hills and moorland are in the foreground.

A choice of high-level walks take in one or more of the incredible summits at Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, but there are also less energetic ways to enjoy the mountain landscape. Waymarked trails on the lower slopes offer superb views of the summits and over Loch Tay, with the chance to see some of the plentiful wildlife in our regenerating habitats.

Winter views at Ben Lawers are likely to include sightings of deer – animals that stand out clearly against a snowy landscape and are often found much lower down in sheltered coires. Listen out for ravens, which make plenty of noise during their acrobatic displays.

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7. Glencoe National Nature Reserve

Glencoe in winter. Buachaille Etive Beag, covered in snow, dominates the image with snow-covered moorland and frozen lochans to the foreground. The sky is a deep blue.

Pop into Glencoe Visitor Centre to get some help to select the perfect route for you in Scotland’s most famous glen. You’ll also find all the latest daily weather and hill conditions info. A seasonal highlight is the walk along the edge of Loch Achtriochtan for some of the best views of our winter birdlife. Whooper swans join us from Iceland for the winter whilst dippers are still present searching for food under the icy water. Look out too for goldeneye ducks.

As the weather gets colder and the tops of the hills are covered by snow, red deer move lower in search of food. They can often be seen browsing the lower slopes of the Glencoe hills. With their keen senses they’ll spot you before you spot them!

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