top of page

#13 Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Updated: Apr 3, 2020

In the last couple of months we’ve made a couple of trips north to Scotland. It’s very easy to get hung up on exotic and distant travel, but the UK also offers some interesting photographic locations and species as well. Having predominately focused on puffins in the UK previously, I wanted to broaden the spectrum a little, along with getting to know Scotland a little more. With us having December off work, some years it's nice not to have to board another plane, so we decided to keep it close this year.

Although relatively on our doorstep compared to the rest of the year with our international travel, it still takes 8 hours door to door to get to the Cairngorms National Park, which would be the main point of call for our trips over the winter months. Interestingly enough the Scottish border is exactly half way time wise, which is a little demoralising on the long drive home, when 4 hours in you are only just getting back into England! Our first trip was for mountain hares in November. Like with many subjects, when approaching them for the first time, it’s usually best to get someone in the know to help you out. Which is why we enlisted the help of Andy Howard (@hare_whisperer) to introduce us to them.

Having finished work on Thursday we started driving north that evening, stopping just below Glasgow for some much needed sleep. That gave us a few hours rest before having to finish the remainder of the drive early that morning to meet Andy at our rendezvous point. All I can say is that I’m glad we went with Andy, a fantastic guide who is extremely knowledgable about the hares. As we edged ever closer the weather started to get darker and darker, before the heavens opened with snow! The first snow of the winter season, I couldn’t believe our luck. I wanted to photograph the hares in the snow, but wasn’t expecting to on this trip, this was more of a test trip for the coming winter months.

After meeting Andy, he drove us to his spot with the hares. He is one of the people responsible for bringing the species to the forefront of UK wildlife photography and is very passionate about them. He knows most of the individual hares we would see over the course of the day, which is helpful. By nature mountain hares are extremely skittish animals, so trying to get close enough to one to photograph not only requires a fair amount of patience but good field craft and knowledge of the individuals as well. All of which you get to learn under the guidance of Andy. The clue is in the name, mountain hare, it no easy mission to get rewarding photos of these animals, surprisingly enough they live on the mountain.

Hauling your photography equipment up to the top can be a right slug but it’s worth it. As you hike up, a darting flash of white and brown catches your eye every now and then. It’s the scattering of the hares that you didn’t even realise were around moving away from you. Finally we reach the territory of a known hare to Andy that is usually good from a photographic point of view to him. It didn’t take long to find him. After a slow approach we were finally in range to start getting photos of said hare called ‘DB’ which is short for Dirty Bastard. I'll leave it to your imagination as to why he got that name! We spent the rest of the daylight hours in the presence of ‘DB‘. Photographing hares is very much a game of patience as they rarely do much than just sit there, occasionally lifting their head. Once the light had really started to disappear behind the surrounding mountain tops we started our decent back down with our first photos of mountain hares.

The day after we went to Neil McIntyre’s squirrel hide for the morning to photograph the red squirrel. Still with a dusting of snow on the ground we managed to get a few nice shots with the contrasting red squirrel on it, something I was really hoping to get. Not quite enough snow for me however, this will be a challenge for a later date! Sending the day entirely in a hide makes it completely different than the one previous, Hide photograph is very different to most other forms of wildlife photography, and requires a different form of patience. For someone like me, sitting in a small hide can become incredibly frustrating, especially when the subject is alluding you. Thankfully we had 4 squirrels with us the entire time we were there. Extremely quick and small, they are particularly hard to photograph; somewhat similar to a puffin in flight!

December saw us head back up north again, a quick cultural stop in Edinburgh on the way up followed by some more days on the mountains to photograph the hares, before meeting up with Andy again. This time we met up with him at his squirrel hide, which has a few interesting shots, with the reflection pool and the flying shots as well. Another good experience. Andy has become more of a friend than a guide to us now, and we’re looking forward to get to spend more time with him in the coming years. For anyone thinking about photographing wildlife in Scotland, he is your man for most. I can not recommend him enough. I'm also looking forward to spending more time in Scotland in the future, more winters with the hares and I want to photograph the costal otter as well at some point.


December 2019


bottom of page