Red squirrels are as rare as they are enchanting. Spring’s not far off and it’s the perfect time to spot them at their most active in their natural habitat. If you’re nuts about red squirrels, why not book a stay where you’ll be in with a chance of seeing them? We bring you some of our favourite places to find real-life Squirrel Nutkins.
Pentraeth Forest, Anglesey
By the late 1990s there were fewer than 40 adult squirrels left on Anglesey. The population has now grown to 700 thanks to conservation efforts across the area. Pentraeth Forest’s one of the best places to spot them as this was their last stronghold on the island. You might be able to glimpse a red tail vanishing up a tall tree or hear the clatter of claws along a branch.
Peer out of the forest over the vast sands of Red Wharf Bay and then join the Anglesey Coastal Path. Fancy cycling, walking or horse-riding along some if its 125 stunning miles? You can tour the dramatic South Stack Lighthouse, visit the evocative ruins of Penmon Priory or or hike up imposing Holyhead Mountain on your way.
Mount Stewart, County Down
Red squirrels have taken up residence in the park of Mount Stewart stately home near Newtownards in County Down, so why not drop by? You’re most likely to spot them behind the house and to the north of the lake in the early morning or late afternoon. Follow their trail from the gorgeous formal gardens, drifting past the lake and Rhododendron hill. The gardens have a charming Italianate feel and shelter one of the oldest vines in the UK.
While you’re in Newtownards, scale the 122 steps up nearby Scrabo Tower for views that, on a clear day, extend to Scotland, the Isle of Man and even the Lake District. Back on the ground, how about meeting adorable alpacas and petting cuddly lambs at the neighbouring Ark Open Farm? Then find out more about the First World War in Ireland with a trip down the road to the Somme Heritage Centre: their mock-up trench brings the past vividly to life.
Brownsea Island, Dorset
Sail away to this tranquil island in Poole Harbour – it’s a haven for wildlife and with a bit of luck, you’ll see sika deer and wading birds. There are over 250 squirrels on the island as they have no grey rivals to compete with here. Watch out for partially-nibbled pine cones in the wooded areas as a clue that they’re not far off.
When you’ve landed back on the mainland, try crabbing on Poole’s vibrant quayside or explore the town’s fascinating past by following the Cockle Trail. Visit the studio of the legendary Poole Pottery where you can see the artisans at work and produce your own masterpiece. And it wouldn’t be a proper trip to Poole without getting out on the water of Europe’s largest natural harbour.
Craik Forest, Scottish Borders
Get away from it all in Craik Forest as you saunter along the gorgeous Aithouse Burn and feel the power of Wolfcleuch Waterfall. You can also visit the forest’s excellent viewing hide and shelter while you wait to see red squirrels in their natural habitat. Will you catch them gathering and burying their supply of nuts?
Visit the 16-century Drumlanrig Tower in nearby Hawick and discover its important role in defending the region. There’s also a 120-year old working weaving mill in the town where you can learn how tweeds are made. Alternatively, relax in the pretty walled garden of neighbouring Wilton Lodge Park.