By Ashley Davies
We’re crouching beside a riverbank tree at dusk, trying to be as still and silent as we can. All around us there is evidence of beaver activity, such as trees that have been felled by the toothy fellows to create their dams. As day turns to night, a kestrel lands on a branch right beside us, gives us a casual glance, then goes back to his business.
Being this unobtrusive brings even more rewards. We hear gnawing, then a shaking and splashing from the thick rhododendron bushes, then see the telltale rings spreading out across the water. Then suddenly they’re there – a couple of beavers. In the wild. In Scotland.
While Canadian beavers have been reintroduced into other parts of Scotland in recent years, these two are part of a small group of European beavers brought over by the owner of the Banff estate, which is where we’ve travelled to for this experience. While beavers do get a bit of bad press in some parts of the world, these ones actually help prevent flooding, as their dams function like mini-lochs.
Our guide on the sunset beaver watch is Simon Calvin, part of the husband-and-wife team behind Ecocamp Glenshee, which is a 15-minute drive north-east of Pitlochry. Located on one of those beautiful Perthshire hills, it’s an ecologically sound place to spend some time on your own, or with friends and family, and with some charming animals (they have dozens of adorable chickens, a clutch of sweet and enthusiastic dogs and four llamas, more of which later).
There are several accommodation options available, including small wooden eco pods, which come with basic bedding and electricity; a “monster” yurt, which sleeps around ten people and has an oven in it; a Western-style Frontier bell tent; a romantic bell tent; and a couple of converted shepherd’s huts. All, apart from the pods, come with unlimited firewood and have stoves inside, and firepits outside. We stay in the smaller of the two shepherd’s huts, which has comfortable bunk beds and plenty of candles for twinkly lighting. Wherever possible, the accommodation and contents are fashioned from sustainable or recycled materials, and there are even solar panels on the land. People are also welcome to bring their own tents – and dogs.
Near the farmhouse, where the Calvin family live, is a cosy bothy where you can cook, wash up and eat, and it is here that breakfast is served if you opt for it. Fiona is a fantastic baker, and tucking into her hearty morning treats is a great way to set you up for the day.
The main part of the ablution block is mixed and there’s also a shower and loo just for women. Both are as basic as you’d expect for a place with a sustainable ethos.
One of the highlights of the trip is a two-hour llama safari with the beguilingly long-lashed Jet, Atticus, Brad and Bonita. Before leading them into a trailer to drive to a beautiful nearby wood, we give them some nibbles and get to know them a bit. These sweet-natured creatures won’t do anything they don’t want to, and their body language certainly makes their feelings clear. It’s wonderful observing at close quarters how each of them fits within their herd.
The camp is surrounded by the Cateran Trail, and there are plenty of other walks nearby, including forest tracks, Glen Taitneach, and Munros in the Cairngorm National Park. The Ski Centre at Glenshee is 20 minutes away, and the accommodation is cosy enough for winter. Then again, sometimes you just have to surrender to the pleasure of sitting outside by the fire and watching the stars.
Ecocamp Glenshee, Blacklunans, Perthshire PH10 7LA, 01250 882284, ecocampglenshee.co.uk; romantic shepherd’s hut from £70 a night; Sunset Beaver Watch is £15pp; a llama trek costs £32 per adult or £65 for a family of four.
This article first appeared in The Scotsman on 25 October, 2014