Cairngorms, Scotland


I am very fortunate to travel all around the world, being able to set foot on some of the most incredible places this planet has to offer. From exploring the vastness of Namibia’s deserts to waking up to the awe-inspiring sounds found in the rainforests of Borneo, the world we live in is a beautiful creation of art. One place that I always want to go back to, time and time again, is, of course, Scotland, especially during winter when the landscapes become frozen. The reason for my latest adventure up to Scotland was to spend time in the Cairngorms national park. An area of Scotland well known for its mountain hare population, and an area of Scotland I still had not visited until this trip. However, what I was about to experience throughout my time up in the Cairngorms, was not what I had in mind.

2 am on a winters night in Scotland, and as I lay wide awake inside the four walls of my tent, I can feel the grasp of winter more and more as every minute passes, why on earth have I decided to wild camp in the wilderness of the Cairngorms at almost – 11 degrees? The only thing I can think about right now is making some hot chocolate as I begin to unzip the front of my tent. Insomnia at its finest, I quickly find myself staring at the beautiful coloured flames coming from my stove. Wide-eyed as the steam hits my face, I take a look at the skies above, a different world completely. An arrangement of galaxies so far away with not a single cloud in sight, I gaze at the billions of stars flickering endlessly, dancing around the immensity that is our universe. The warm mug of hot chocolate is a welcoming relief as I open the pages of my wildlife planner to assess the week ahead. The next two days I have planned to hike around the Cairngorms before I make my way up into the mountains, in search of the beautiful mountain hare.

It is fair to say on that very cold evening I did not manage to get a single hour’s sleep, and it will also come as no surprise that I decided that the tent would stay packed away inside the boot of my car for the remainder of my time in Scotland. The next day’s plan of hiking was used as a rest day as I enjoyed the comfort of a log burning fire, and a much needed full night’s sleep in a beautifully decorated cottage. With the brief encounter of almost freezing to death now out of the way, it was now time to focus on the task in hand, getting to the top of the frozen mountain!

F I R S T  A S C E N T

Snowflakes begin to fall as I look out in front of me as if everything around me is moving in slow motion. Surrounded by the endless stretches of pine trees, each with a fresh dusting of snow, another reminder of the inspiration one can take from nature. I take out my binoculars just as a herd of feral goats begin to make their way over the old wooden bridge. I can just about see the pathway to the top as more and more snow starts to fall. Readjusting my snow grips, I find myself looking at the most beautiful patterns of ice you could ever come across. Alongside runs the river, carving its way through this magical looking valley, all dressed in white with a fine art finish. Quickly pulling the cords to my hood, I check the time, and then soon make my way across the valley.

It soon became apparent that the ascent was going to be more difficult than I had first imagined. The more I pushed on higher up the mountain, the deeper the snow became, visibility became less and less, and my energy was quickly fading. Windspeeds picked up, and with a constant flurry of snow and sleet, my face became more numb by the second. To my relief, I managed to reach midway and onto the plateau, which at this point I unstrapped the clips to my camera bag and fell to the floor feeling completely exhausted.

I sat on the plateau for almost thirty minutes until there was a clearing in the weather. Hands clasped around my flask, I took another sip of tea before getting to my feet and moving further along the ridge. With the wind speed at almost 40 mph and no sign of there being a long enough break in the weather, I knew it would be unwise to venture higher up onto the peak. I trudged along the faintest of paths with snow crunching beneath my feet, and at that very moment, I saw a mountain hare sheltering alongside the sloping ridge.

By the time I had taken to make sure I could get within close distance to the mountain hare the whiteout once again rolled in, and I soon found myself head-on into the storm. Every time I tried to open my eyes, or for every second I wiped away the snow from the lens, I was faced with the recurring problem of not being able to focus. With the slightest of feeling left in my whole body, fingers almost frozen, as well as my toes feeling frozen, I managed to capture the below image before I made the wise decision in making the descent back down the mountain.

mountain hare in snow blizzard

That first morning on top of those ridges was somewhat underwhelming from a photography point of view, with only being able to capture that one single image. However, having the opportunity to share the suffering of windchills of -15, constant blizzards, and to experience and feel what those amazing mammals have to endure throughout winter up in Scotland, was nothing short of extraordinary. Having initially planned to stay in the Cairngorms for only a few days, the weather for most of the week was looking worse day by day, so I decided to stay a little while longer in hope that the storm would pass a few days later.

The next few days passed, equally the same as that very first ascent, blizzard after blizzard, whiteout after whiteout, frustration beginning to creep in. I felt deflated and uninspired, so the only option was to take my self away from chasing the storm, and to go and take a couple of days off from any photography.

Four days later, and with a new sense of inspiration found from taking the time out to relax, catch up on some editing, and to do a little more planning for the year ahead, I was ready to make my way up the mountain once again.

By this point, the storms had passed, and I knew there was potential to capture some stunning images of the mountain hares, given I could find more hares of course. The treks to the plateau were now much more inviting, a fresh breeze, and a stillness even at altitude. The sun spilled light all across the valley, glistening pieces of ice bathed in the afternoon sun, and I felt more at ease with my surroundings. This leads me to one of my joint favourite images from my time in Scotland.


Nikon D810 & 400mm f2.8G VR

Almost ten days had passed since I made the 400-mile drive north. The photographs that I had been craving for were still eluding me, but today, all of that was about to change.

Stood high up on the mountain and with views of up to 50 miles, this was exactly the late afternoon I had envisaged when I was back in Derbyshire putting my plans together. Sat along the ridgeline, I place both feet over the edge, dislodging pieces of snow that I watch trickle down the mountain. The sun wasn’t due to set for another two hours but the reflection of light bouncing off the snow was incredibly stunning. Sat there all alone made me think back to last year’s hiking trip to Switzerland, peaceful amongst nature, appreciating life as it should be.

I stumble up on to my feet as I attach the lens hood to my lens. Trudging through the deep snow yet again, this time a complete contrast in emotions as I gradually make my way higher and higher. The tiniest bit of wind begins to blow trails of snow over the edge, a very faint reminder of how my first climb started, but this wasn’t to be another day for bracing any kind of storm, today was perfect.

Twenty minutes pass me by and I am still yet to find any sign of the elusive hare. I scan and scan, desperately searching for the only opportunity I need. All but one of the pieces to the puzzle are already in place, I just have to find the final piece. Ten more minutes quickly go by and as I lift the binoculars up to my eyes one more time, settled and looking very comfortable, the mountain hare.

The hard work is just about to begin as I slowly make my way closer and closer, making sure I am still in plain sight. I sink further and further into the snow, attempting to keep my lens from sinking into the deep crevices I repeatedly find myself in with every shuffle forward. I check once more, still looking settled but also aware of my approach, but not at all alarmed as I finally get within distance of creating some dreamy images.

I appreciated the hare’s patience in me as I got settled myself, being as cautious as possible, forty-five minutes passed us by when my eyes lit up with even more excitement. It was lovely to see the hare in its element, posing away, cleaning, and just enjoying the setting sun just as much as I was. The below image is one that I am very proud of, and a stark reminder of how truly beautiful, wildlife on earth really is.

Mountain hare looking relaxed in the Cairngorms

With the sun now setting below the horizon, and after spending an hour with my friend of the mountain, making the hike back down was a joyous moment, but also a sad one. I kept going over and over in my head what a beautiful moment that really was as I constantly take a glance over my shoulder towards the hare. With a huge smile on my face, all of the pain and frustration from the previous week were wiped away in an instant.

The Cairngorms is truly extraordinary, and there is no surprise why Scotland, in general, is always top of any wildlife photographers list here in the UK. I will leave you with some more images below that I took whilst up in Scotland this February.

Why not go and check out some more of my British wildlife collection over in my portfolio section.

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The mountain Hare British wildlife
Mountain hare burrows in deep snow in the cairngorms
Mountain hare on the snow covered hills in scotland
Mountain hare cleaning on the hills in scotland
Mountain hare cleaning in the winter hills in scotland
Two mountain hares sit on frozen hills in scotland feeling frozen