Travel: Aberdeenshire is a wildlife spotter’s paradise

THERE is more to Aberdeenshire than the granite that built its city and the oil that helps fuel its modern economy. Leave Aberdeen behind and swathes of countryside and coast reveal themselves, with a flurry of wildlife viewing opportunities opening up.

The rugged north coast is famous for cute wee fishing villages like Portsoy and Pennan, the latter which, of course, starred so memorably in the Eighties film Local Hero. Forget twee in 21st- century Aberdeenshire, though, as this coastline is now home to the bustling Buchaneer, a 12-seater speedboat run by North 58° Sea Adventures. This powerful vessel is the ideal way to see the local wildlife and it offers a real thrill ride too.

There is a rich bounty of wildlife around this stretch of the Moray Firth. The speedboat rides can take in the Troup Head RSPB reserve, which is alive with all manner of birdlife. Other options include heading west in search of whales and dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins are the largest dolphin species in the world and the cetaceans in these waters are part of the most northerly pod of dolphins on the planet.

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On Aberdeenshire’s east coast, the Loch of Strathbeg is a bird reserve for all seasons, with spring and autumn boasting the bonus of mass migrations. The highlight is when thousands of pink-footed geese drop by on their way north and south. Last year, numbers in autumn peaked at around a whopping 60,000.

The set-up at Strathbeg is very welcoming and you won’t feel out of place if you are not a confirmed ornithologist already. The RSPB has cleaned up the wetlands and extended them by returning farmland to a more natural bird-friendly state. The visitor centre provides all you need to know and they have binoculars on hand too for checking out the action close up. There are also guided walks and talks.

An ideal base for wildlife-spotting trips is the Glen Lui Hotel. It lies in woodland in the Royal Deeside village of Ballater with views towards Lochnagar, said to be Prince Charles’ favourite Munro. You can drive to wildlife attractions, but also just set off on foot or bike to discover the Cairngorms National Park, which the hotel lies within. Here, golden eagles soar high above, deer often outnumber people and red squirrels often outnumber grey squirrels.

After a hard day tracking wildlife, you can relax in the restaurant with a menu brimming with local produce, before reclining in the whisky bar with a well-deserved wee dram.

• For more details, visit www.north58.co.uk, www.rspb.org.uk, www.glen-lui-hotel.co.uk