Friday, 27 January 2017

National Chocolate Cake Day by Julie Riddell

The café at Highland Safaris is loved by visitors who enjoy the warm, welcoming environment after their time out in the fresh Highland air. Whether they are after a hearty breakfast, a filling lunch or just an expertly made coffee our café is a hit, the world over.

One of the big draws of our café has to be the cakes and while I don’t have a lot of time to bake I do like to indulge now and again with a slice of the Cake of the Day and a coffee. When I do get the opportunity I have a go-to recipe which is nice and easy but delicious and perfect for family parties or get togethers. So, on National Chocolate Cake Day here is the Riddell Family Chocolate Cake Recipe.

Serves 8
Preparation 10 mins
Cooking 50 mins


The Cake:
175g (6oz) margarine or softened butter
175g (6oz) caster sugar
3 large eggs
150g (5oz) self-raising flour, sifted
50g (1¾oz) of cocoa, sifted
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

The Icing:
100g (3½oz) of dark chocolate
100g (3½oz) of chopped butter

Heat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4). Lightly grease an 18cm (7in) round cake tin with a little extra butter or margarine and cut a piece of greaseproof paper or non-stick baking parchment to fit the base of the tin.

Put all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or a hand-held mixer for 1 minute, or until just combined. It's important not to beat the batter too much - just long enough to make it smooth.

Pour or spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 45-50 minutes. The cake is cooked when it looks well risen and golden; the top should spring back when lightly touched with a fingertip. Another test is to insert a skewer into the centre of the cake - it should come out clean.

Let the cake sit in the tin for 5 minutes, then gently run a knife around the edge and turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the icing, place the dark chocolate and chopped butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a saucepan of very hot water until melted. Cool for 15 minutes, then spread over the top of the cooled cake.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Squirrel Appreciation Day - top tips to spot red squirrels in Scotland

Squirrel Appreciation Day - top tips to spot red squirrels in Scotland
By Donald Riddell, Director, Highland Safaris

January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day, and with Scotland being one of the best places to find these much-loved woodland creatures, it’s the perfect time to share our tips on how and where to spot red squirrels.

Where can I find red squirrels?
Shy and solitary, the red squirrel (Britain’s only native squirrel), has been on UK shores since the end of the last Ice Age, having made its way over from mainland Europe approximately 10,000 years ago. Today, 75 per cent of the UK’s remaining red squirrel population is found in Scotland. Red squirrels prefer to live in coniferous trees, particularly Scots pine, and can be found in the forests of the Highlands and Dumfries & Galloway. Its preferred food is nuts from both conifer and deciduous trees, both of which we have in abundance on the land around Highland Safaris, so we regularly see them here – as well as the cones they have been nibbling on.

How can I spot a red squirrel?
Stay nice and quiet, and listen carefully! Reds are shy animals and the sound of their claws on the bark as they climb trees can often be heard before they are seen. Squirrels will often freeze when disturbed, relying on their camouflage to hide against the bough of a tree.
Easy to identify once you do see one of these rare creatures, the red squirrel has a large bushy tail – which is used for balance when leaping from tree to tree – distinctive tufts on its ears, and sharp, curved claws to help it race up and down tree trunks.

How big are red squirrels?
Smaller than the eastern grey, the red squirrel has a typical head-and-body length of 19-23 cm and a tail length of 15-20 cm; males and females are the same size.

When is the best time of year to see red squirrels?
You can see them all year round; this might come as a surprise, but red squirrels don’t hibernate, although – like many of us – they do become less active throughout winter. Their coats, which vary in colour with the time of year and location, are at their thickest and most colourful in January.
During mating season, which in Scotland can start as early as December and continue until July, you can see males chase females through the trees at amazing speeds – only the fittest males will catch them.
Red squirrels can have one or two litters a year – with an average of three to four ‘kittens’, which are born without any fur. They give birth in a nest called a drey, which is so well constructed from leaves, twigs and moss as to be almost waterproof.

If you spot a red squirrel, let us know using the hashtag

#SquirrelAppreciationDay. You can also report a sighting here: For further information, check out VisitScotland’s Wildlife Series eBook at:

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

National Save The Eagles Day - top tips to spot eagles in Scotland

By Ross Dempster, General Manager and Kilted Ranger, Highland Safaris

With today being National Save the Eagles Day, we thought it would be the perfect time to share how to go about spotting one of Scotland’s most iconic birds.

Beautiful, powerful and graceful, the Eagle – in particular the Golden Eagle – tops many a wildlife watchers’ wishlist. And getting out into the wilds of Scotland offers the best chance of seeing one in all its glory.

Since 2003, there has been a 15% rise in the number of Golden Eagle pairs in Scotland, with that figure now sitting around 500. Spotting one takes time and patience though, so we’ve put together our top tips on how to go about it.

Keep your eyes peeled and with a bit of luck, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most majestic sights the great Scottish outdoors has to offer.

What to look for
The white tail Sea Eagle is the biggest bird of prey in the UK – they were once hunted out of existence, but were successfully reintroduced in the 1970s. Big and bold, they basically look like flying railway sleepers in the sky!

Golden Eagles are easy to confuse with the more common Buzzard. However, the Golden Eagle is bigger, will soar higher than a buzzard and holds its wings in a shallow V shape.

What are the differences between sea eagles and golden eagles?
The main difference is the size and wing shape; the sea eagle is bigger and the tips of its wings are “fingered” and can look quite square from a distance.

Where is the best place to eagle spot?
There is a greater chance of seeing sea eagles in the Inner Hebrides, but you can also spot them in Angus and Fife. Golden Eagles can be seen around Highland Safaris’ land, but we are a bit too far inland for the sea eagle (although they have been spotted in Perth). Top spots also include the west coast and islands, from Mull and Lochaber, and Skye to Lewis.

Where do eagles like to hang out?
Golden Eagles actually prefer open moorlands and hilltops, but the more remote the area, the more likely there are to be eagles - islands and remote glens are a good place to start. Golden Eagles are monogamous and may remain with their mate for life. They also tend to nest in the same place for generations (they like rocky outcrops and crags).

When is the best time of year to see eagles?
All year round. Look out for the looping, soaring and gliding flight arcs on the air currents. Eagles have traditional territories, which may also be used by offspring in years to come.

Have you been lucky enough to spot a golden eagle? Let us know if so using the hashtag #EagleEyed