5 of the best Scottish wildlife experiences around The Coig
The Coig’s five routes create one unforgettable adventure – and if you love wildlife watching then The Coig will provide you with some of the best wildlife experiences and encounters Scotland has to offer. A journey through the unique variety of landscapes and habitats found here makes for an extraordinary experience.
You’ll be in your element, whether you’re exploring the wild and romantic landscape of Clyde Muirshiel, where the regional park offers an abundance of wildlife, or the bustling diverse oasis of Ardeer Quarry Local Nature Reserve.
Across the water on the Isle of Arran you might just spot all of Scotland’s ‘Big Five’ (the red deer, golden eagle, otter, red squirrel and common seal) in one day – and we haven’t even mentioned the teeming waters of the Firth of Clyde yet!
Here’s just a few of our favourite wildlife encounters around The Coig – which will you come face to face with first?
Set sail for sealife sightings
The Firth of Clyde is home to some incredible marine life, and there’s no better place for a sealife encounter than out on the water. Head to Largs to join Sea Clyde for an adventure aboard their nine-seater boat, Tunnag, exploring the sheltered waters in spectacular surroundings.
A tour around the Cumbraes reveals the dramatic castle ruins of Little Cumbrae and stunning views over to Arran and Bute. Approaching Millport, on Great Cumbrae, you’ll discover the colonies of grey and common seals – watch for their dark heads in the water, as they in turn watch you, and spot others hauled out on the rocky shoreline. Back out to sea again, keep an eye out for Kylie, the resident common dolphin. If you’re lucky, you might see him playing with the local pods of porpoises. Or, perhaps you’ll spot a whole pod of dolphins, frisking and leaping in the waves – both bottlenose and common dolphins are known to frequent the area.
If you set sail between May and September, you might just spot a rare basking shark – the second biggest fish on the planet. Seeing these mighty sea creatures gliding through the water, huge mouths agape to feed on plankton, is an epic wildlife adventure in itself.
Discover the wild monarchs of Lochranza
The Isle of Arran is home to a wealth of wildlife, including all of Scotland’s ‘Big Five’. The most majestic of these is the red deer, and with more than 2,000 deer on the island, you’ve a great chance of spotting them – particularly in the wilder landscape of northwest Arran. The male stags are larger than the female hinds, and from August to March they are easily distinguishable by their impressive antlers, which can measure up to an incredible one metre in width.
The charming village of Lochranza might just be the most spectacular spot on the island to see these magnificent beasts. Here the stone houses hug the shoreline, watched over by the striking medieval ruins of Lochranza Castle. Standing proud on the mudflats and surrounded by water on three sides, the castle protected Arran from raiders from the Kintyre peninsula. An autumnal evening’s stroll by the water, hearing the bellows from rutting stags echo around the surrounding mountains, is an unforgettable experience. And who knows, you might just spot Arran’s legendary white stag…
Join seabirds in sanctuary on Ailsa Craig
The tiny island of Ailsa Craig is an unmissable sight from the shores of The Shire, and features in local legends – from tales of bootleggers’ dens to fables of sea monsters and dragons. The island now a sanctuary for seabirds rather than smugglers and is home to the UK’s third-largest seabird colony, including the largest gannet colony in Europe.
A day’s boat trip out from Girvan is the only way to truly experience Ailsa Craig. As you draw near, the volcanic island rises steeply from the waves, cliffs towering more than a thousand feet above the sea. There’s movement everywhere; every rocky ledge, ridge and outcrop is occupied, teeming with nesting seabirds clamouring and calling. The air is alive as birds take to the wing, swooping high above the white-capped waves before diving spectacularly, head-first, into the swell to catch fish deep under the water.
Ailsa Craig is also home to a number of other birds, including a significant colony of Atlantic puffins as well as guillemots, black guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shags, fulmars, shelduck, wheatear and herring gulls and black-backed gulls – around 70,000 birds in total. The cacophony of calls rings in your ears as you round the cliffs, in an unforgettable experience.
Take to the ship’s deck for your CalMac crossings
With three of The Còig’s five routes exploring islands in the Firth of Clyde, you could well find yourself aboard a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry during your adventures. CalMac believe they operate in one of the ‘most attractive eco-tourism destinations in the world’ – and with the abundance of wildlife and diversity of habitats here, we definitely agree.
During your ferry crossings be sure to keep an eye out for pods of harbour porpoise, common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins, as well as grey and common seals. You might just be lucky enough to spot a minke whale or northern bottlenose whale too. If you’re heading to Arran, watch for basking sharks in Brodick Bay and along the shores near Corrie.
The ship’s deck is also a great vantage point for spotting seabirds; in fact, on the 50-minute crossing between Ardrossan and Brodick it’s often possible to spot over 30 different species! Look out for gannets, shags, cormorants and kittiwakes, as well as guillemots, puffins and the Manx shearwater.
Seek out red squirrels on their island haven
Another of Scotland’s ‘Big Five’, the red squirrel has a stronghold on The Coig, on the Isle of Arran. This endangered wee furry beastie, distinctive with its russet fur, twitching tail and tufted ears, was once common across Scotland, but the population was decimated following the introduction of the North American grey squirrel.
Arran’s Red Squirrel Project began in 2013, with the island becoming an area of focused conservation. For a good chance of spotting these captivating creatures, head to Brodick Castle and Country Park. Take a woodland wander along the miles of waymarked trails, through dramatic gorges and past tumbling waterfalls, and try not to let the stunning views over Brodick Bay distract you from squirrel-spotting! A popular route is Dan’s Walk through Merkland Wood, following wildflower carpets and between lofty oaks.
As you explore, listen out for red squirrel chatter, high in the trees, and look out for nibbled pine cones and nuts, discarded and dropped from above. Make your way to the red squirrel hide to watch squirrels feeding and playing – you can’t fail to feel uplifted, watching them chase, twist and twirl up tree trunks before leaping from one treetop to another, tails streaming behind them.
Looking for more adventures around The Coig?
The Coig’s five routes offer unforgettable experiences around the Clyde Coast and Islands – take a look and plan your next adventure along The Shire, The Shiel, The Arran, The Bute or The Cumbrae!