Beavers in Scotland: The return of the native

A musky perfume, a pile of twigs – the evidence all adds up. European beavers have returned to mid-Argyll after four centuries of absence. Kenny Taylor takes a magical mystery tour of their new home.

Beavers in Scotland article spread
Turning away from the water’s edge, I follow a path rising through an oak wood and cresting the hill at the core of the reserve before dropping back through the trees. A glint of water winks through the woodland; a bird overhead could as likely be a gull as a buzzard.
Trees are covered in mosses and lichens, and polypody ferns sprout from branches – a legacy of the mild climate and the west-coast rains.
For a blast of mid-Argyll’s full-on briny aspect, I join Lindsay Johnston, skipper of the Sea Leopard II, one breezy afternoon and head out from Loch Craignish with a small group of passengers. Our goal is a close encounter with one of the world’s largest whirlpools, which churns between the islands of Jura and Scarba.
Corryvreckan is its name. The title comes from Gaelic; it may refer to the speckling of the water, but as we approach an ominous-looking patch of sea, Lindsay regales us with an alternative story.
He tells us how a Viking called Breacan drowned after trying to moor his boat in the maelstrom for three nights – an ultimately fatal bid to win the hand of a Scottish princess.
Wild whirlpool
We edge to the fringe of the roiling water, impressive both for the size of its tumultuous swirls and for the unpredictability of its behaviour. As we turn to cruise on calmer water along craggy shores where wild goats and red deer graze, three golden eagles soar above the nearest ridge.
Water, both fresh and salty, has been a strong feature of this visit. I know I’ll come back to savour the heart of the oak woods in summer, when the bouncing cascades of wood-warbler song and soft notes of redstarts will sound across the tree-filled valleys. I’ll want to return often to see how the beavers are faring.
Before I leave, I climb Dunadd, a small hill that rises above the huge bog of Moine Mhor National Nature Reserve. This is where Gaelic-speaking settlers from northern Ireland – the Scotti, whose name was later used to describe the unified country of Scotland – had their power base and coronation site from around 1,500 years ago. It’s a small place, but significant.
And judging by my experiences in mid-Argyll, that’s something it shares with Knapdale still.
Getting there and around
  • By train and bus the closest railway station is at Oban, from where West Coast Motors runs buses to and through mid-Argyll. Call 01586 552319.
  • Anderson (IF) Coaches runs a 425 service between Lochgilphead and Tayvallich (near Taynish NNR), via Barnluasgan (beaver information centre) and, sometimes, Crinan (beside a good oak wood reserve, peaceful canal and overlooking the River Add). Its 426 service ends at Achnamara. Call 01546 870354.
  • Hire a car in Oban or Lochgilphead (the largest town in mid-Argyll). The quiet byways, forest tracks and canal towpaths are good for cyclists, and there are specialist cross-country bike tracks in Knapdale Forest. Crinan Cycles in Lochgilphead offers short- and multi-day bike hire. Call 01546 603511.

Organised trips


  • Kenny’s visit was arranged by VisitScotland, which also has tourist information centres in Oban and Lochgilphead.
  • His boat trip was run by Craignish Cruises. Call 0845 397 9824 (evenings only); 
  • Mid-Argyll has a wide range of places to stay that can be found on the VisitScotland website. Kenny stayed at the Crinan Hotel. Call 01546 830261.
  • Another option is The Stables in Achnamara. Call 01546 850276.


To find out the latest news from the Scottish Beaver Trial, click here
For more information about Moine Mhor and Taynish NNRs, click here.
For information about the Barnluasgan Trail through Knapdale, click here.
The Dalriada Project focuses on wildlife (including black grouse) and cultural projects in the mid-Argyll area.
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