When we decided we had time to squeeze in a weekend away somewhere this spring, we thought it would be nice to see some red squirrels. I asked a friend from Flickr, Peter Trimming, for a suggestion as he has photographed red squirrels just about everywhere they can still be found in the UK. He very kindly recommended Forest How Guest House, in the Lake District, where owner John has spent the last three years helping the squirrel population surrounding the house, and feeding them on a daily basis. This sounded like a great idea, as we’d get a nice break in the Lake District, with some red squirrels thrown in as an added bonus. My kind of holiday :-)
We saw our first red squirrels during breakfast on our first morning there. They have a great setup, with feeders outside the window which are visited by a wide variety of woodland & garden birds, as well as the local red squirrels…
After breakfast, John kindly took the time to show me a couple of alternative feeding stations, he’s setup around the grounds of the house, which were ideal for photography.
Firstly, a collection of large hollow tree trunks and logs, which provided some really good close-up opportunities…
Further around the grounds, closer to the trees, there were a couple of logs positioned for feeding stations too, and one – surrounded by daffodils – really caught my attention…
I’ve never seen a photo of a squirrel surrounded by flowers before, so I was very keen to get some. I don’t think I managed as a good a shot as I wanted, but I rarely do. This is still pleasant enough though.
Personally, I prefer the photos of the squirrels when they’re not eating. If you’re quick, it’s possible to get some nice photos of them on the way to and from the feeding stations…
We spent three nights at Forest How, and I spent a couple of hours each morning photographing the squirrels. By mid-morning, they’d had their breakfast, I’d had mine, and we would venture further afield to see more the of the Eskdale valley, and surrounding Lake District.
I would thoroughly recommend Forest How to anyone who wants to see or photograph red squirrels, and would also enjoy combining it with a visit to the Lake District. John has made a real effort to help the local red squirrel population, and his hard work is now bearing fruit. They have around a dozen visiting individuals, of which I probably saw five or six. John is able to recognise a few of them and some even have names – though they can be difficult to keep track of, as their coats change seasonally.
There are some nice walks from the Guest House, and elsewhere in the valley, and John even gave us a couple of printed maps for paths along a nearby river (apparently there are dippers there, but we didn’t have time to visit), and to some waterfalls (which we did see, and are well worth the short walk. Note to self: Take ND filters next time!).
There are scores of small birds feeding outside the breakfast room each morning, which are an attraction in their own right. John has also put up barn owl and tawny owl nest boxes, having seen them around the grounds on occasion, as well as visiting buzzards, pheasants, and roe deer. We awoke one morning to see a roe deer buck from our bedroom window :-)
Whilst I don’t think I got anything spectacular on my first visit, I really enjoyed the opportunity to see and photograph the red squirrels at Forest How, and I’m looking forward to going back for another try next time. I’m sure that as time goes on and word gets out, this currently hidden gem will become a popular spot for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.
Some advice from my experience there…
Get up a little earlier, and photograph the squirrels before breakfast if you can.
Move slowly when you’re around the squirrels. Help keep them at ease, with no sudden movements.
The squirrels are wild, so there are no guarantees. But I’d be surprised if you didn’t get to see a at least a couple each morning.
Try for those action shots as they make their way to and from the feeding stations.
Take the opportunity to stop photographing now and again – and just enjoy the experience of being around them.
For those shooting with a dSLR, you’ll want a lens in the region of 200-300mm for the portraits. All mine were taken with a 300mm prime lens, but I might try taking the 70-200mm next time around. Some squirrels are quite skittish, and won’t allow you too close. But others are more tolerant, and I missed one golden opportunity for a shot when one approached too close for my lens to focus!
When to go: Every season has it’s attractions. In spring, you have flowering daffodils around the grounds. In summer, you might get to see the new squirrels kittens. Autumn is always a busy time for squirrels, and may provide the peak activity. And winter can offer the chance to photograph them in snow, as John has done here.
Visit nearby Wastwater, for possibly the most iconic view of the Lake District.
Try the cakes at Woodlands Tea Room. In my opinion, good cake is an essential component of a weekend away.