The Cairngorms – A True Wilderness

Filed in Places Of Interest, Workshops on Jan.15, 2018

The Cairngorm national park in Scotland is a truly stunning, spectacular landscape with snow capped peaks and breathtaking scenery. Many areas of this pristine environment are untouched by the hand of man giving it that truly wild feel, and its home to some of the UK’s most specialist wildlife.

I’ve just returned from this amazing place after running my Scottish wildlife tour there with clients. Firstly though I spent several days on my own work and also checking out the places I would take clients during the trip. The following images are a few taken during this time.

Our base throughout the time there was the lovely stone built Grant Arms Hotel, nicknamed the “UK’s Wildlife Hotel” which offers modern comforts whilst retaining a traditional character. The staff, food and service there was second to none. There wasn’t really any set pattern throughout the week due to the weather, all we could hope for each day was the weather wasn’t against us.

After meeting and greeting my clients on the first day and introductions we headed out to a nearby Red Squirrel sight for the afternoon. The hotel where we stayed places food out for them during the winter months and this is the reason they visit this area. You still have to work out where and in which direction they will appear though. Making composition a little tricky but giving a real and natural feel to the images.

These enduring mammals are wonderful to photograph, more smaller and shier than their grey cousins. Sadly though in England their numbers are low due a disease passed onto them by the Grey Squirrels known as “Squirrel Pox”. Scotland is their main stronghold and its nice to see them doing well here.

Crested Tits and Treecreepers were a brilliant added bonus as we waited for the Red Squirrels to show. The Treecreepers blended into the tree trunks so well you had to look several times or wait until he moved to even see them.

The following day we were up early and after a hearty breakfast we headed out for our first day of the tour. Due to the best weather window of the week we decided to head to Ptarmigan site. These amazing birds in their natural environment are hard to see. A true specialists of this environment that carve out a life in one of the toughest habitats in the world.

Once we arrived we started our walk up to the side of the Cairngorm mountain looking for the Ptarmigan. An almost invisible bird during the winter months due to them turning almost pure white to blend in and protect themselves from predators.

The environment and weather was really testing with harsh winds that whipped up the snow but it was really worth it in the end. My clients got some wonderful encounters which I was extremely happy for them due to the efforts they put into the day. The following images were taken alongside my clients.

Once we’d finished we headed down and to the cafe there for a coffee and rest before heading back to the hotel for a warm, shower and our evening meal.

On Wednesday we headed to a mountain hare site and had some great encounters with them. I went through fieldcraft with all my clients and helped them with all aspects of moving and approaching these wonderful mammals along with camera settings. All to help cut down on any stress we may cause to these sensitive and beautiful creatures due to our presence.

It was snowing as we arrived so there was fresh snow on the ground. It wasn’t long before we found a mountain hare and the following images were taken alongside all my clients, all of which got some wonderful images.


On the Thursday we headed to one of the best sites for Crested Tits. These beautiful little birds only live in this part of the UK and so are very iconic to this area. With their punk style crests they use on top of their heads to communicate with each they are truly a wonderful little bird to witness.

The local RSPB run this site and place feeders out for these birds during the winter months to help them. They are attracted to this area because of the food but it was very hard to judge where they would come from , land and stay still long enough to take an image. All the backgrounds were natural at this location.

The RSPB have asked those that bring their own food to feed the birds to only bring natural food and nothing with sugar or salt in like peanut butter that some photographers are bringing and placing all over the perches. Food containing these ingredients will kill the birds.

On the Thursday evening at the hotel I did my talkLand Of The Snow Leopard -Tracking A Himalayan Legend.” Which showed those attending my recent expedition trekking in the Indian Himalayas in search of the Snow Leopard.  The talk and presentation went down really well and thank you to those that turned up.

It was an incredibly week of sightings and photography opportunities for all my clients as our time in the Cairngorms had come to an end. I’d like to thank the Grant Arms Hotel for their help and looking after me, the food, service and general helpfulness was brilliant. I’d like to thank John Poyner once more for all your help, he has been a guide in this area for 20 years and his help, guidance and general knowledge was brilliant.

Lastly thank you to all my clients for your efforts and time in often testing weather conditions, and the many laughs we had throughout the week. Some images from clients – Stephen and Ian can be seen by clicking their names and you will be taken to their images and also what they thought of the trip. One testimonial from the trip can be read below –

“Hi Craig,

Thank you for great week photographing the wonderful wildlife of the Cairngorms. Craig you are a great photographer and teacher with passion and an easy going personality really work. Your methods of tracking and fieldcraft allow photography by getting close to the animals in their natural environments. I took away a realisation that there is another way of photographing wildlife that doesn’t involve paying someone to use a hide with a dressed set up. The ethics you teach and live by are an inspiration. Most importantly I have a good selection of new skills and techniques with a great group of pictures.”

Ian Sherratt

I hope these images show you what a truly incredibly place the Cairgroms National Park is, along with some of the wildlife that lives there. Next year I’m running my Scottish Winter Wildlife trip again. Staying in the same hotel on full broad and visiting all the places we visited during our time there. If you’d like to join me then please see this link, many thanks.

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