A Snowy Week In The Cairngorms

Loch Morlich, CairngormsEver vagabonding, we found ourselves camping in the Cairngorms last week, seven days of snow, mountains and wildlife. Fortunately it coincided with some friends of ours who also made the trip up from Yorkshire because snow had been forecast, they are wildlife photographers and wanted some specific snowy shots. This meant that we could camp together and make the most of their better facilities, they have a big, well heated motor home where as our little van has no real heating to speak of {we slept in sleeping bags with a duvet and a thick fleece blanket over the top, as it was so cold!} We ate and spent our evenings in their motor home, it was wonderful to be able to properly thaw out.

We spent an afternoon photographing snow buntings from the Cairngorm Mountain car park, well the wildlife photographers did, I just enjoyed the scenery and the activity around the ski area. I’d never seen a snow bunting before, despite many visits to this very spot, yet here there were many, flitting in a twittering flock around the car park, a flurry of snow buntings. Tony and Carol‘s van made a wonderful, cosy hide!

It snowed almost every day, the weather was blowing in from the Arctic for a couple of days. I had to buy some decent merino wool thermal leggings, they kept my legs nice and toasty under the trousers Carol had lent me, apparently this wasn’t the weather for jeans! We took a couple of trips into Aviemore for supplies; food and water, and a celebratory Indian meal at the end of the week, what a feast.

Japanese Macaques at the Highland Wildlife Park

Japanese Macaques at the Highland Wildlife Park

To hone our wildlife photography skills, we visited the Highland Wildlife Park, near Kingussie to get pictures of the animals and birds in snow.

It was a great day out, and very quite due to the weather, we almost had the park to ourselves!

The park specialises in Scottish wildlife and endangered animals which live in similar or colder environments around the world.  

It consists of a drive through reserve where you can see grazing animals such as Bison, Vicuna, Elk and Przewalski’s Wild Horses along with an area of enclosures that you can walk around on foot.

Here you can see Polar Bears, the two young males they have are fantastic and very playful.

They were overjoyed with the snow! There is also a male and female Amur Tiger, stunning creatures but sadly very rare.

A pack of European Grey Wolves live in a wonderful enclosure in a wood, seeing them slink between the pine trees is quite magical, they were eradicated in the British isles around 400 years ago. In our overcrowded Island there wasn’t room for people and wolves to happily co-exist.

male Capercaillie at the Highland Wildlife Park

male Capercaillie at the Highland Wildlife Park

In another, dark, wooded area are enclosures with Scottish species such as the Pine Marten and the feisty Capercaillie, a large black game bird. The star of this area is the male Scottish wildcat, he is 100% wildcat and a beautiful creature, quite unlike the domestic cat which has diluted much of the population. I never realised quite how genetically separate the two species are, they are a fascinating and perilously rare. There is also, kept in a different enclosure, a female wildcat with kittens and young cats, absolutely gorgeous. The Scottish wildcat is stockier than a domestic cat, with dense fur and thick black rings on their long bushy tails. The males are more distinct than the females. These kitties wouldn’t curl up on your lap!

We were all smitten by the Lynx, which used to roam the Scottish highlands 1500 years ago, there is call for these medium-sized cats to be reintroduced to control the deer population. Another cutie was the asian Red Panda, they never fail to leave me spellbound.

camel

Rare Bactrian Camels, from the Gobi Desert, roam the drive-through reserve.

The park is a great day out, the enclosures and reserve use the natural landscape to its best advantage meaning nice environments for the animals, no nasty concrete pits and the keepers are really friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgable.

The drive-round reserve was closed for our visit due to the snow and ice but the were able still to go around it on a Land Rover tour so we didn’t miss out.

Another day was spent walking in the Rothiemurchus Estate, the pine forests looked magical dusted in snow. The small lochs were partially frozen over, the whole place was wonderfully atmospheric. Tony flushed out a pair of red deer as he walked ahead but they disappeared from sight into the trees. We found many animal tracks in the snow. It was one of those days where we had beautiful sunlight one minute then heavy snow and poor visibility then next.

Our final full day was spent walking up from the Cairngorm Mountain car park along a trail to a corrie {Coire} in search of Ptarmigan in their winter plumage. The weather wasn’t great, I turned back after a while and left the guys to their photography. Instead I took the funicular railway up to the Ptarmigan restaurant near the top of Cairngorm Mountain. The restaurant boasts magnificent views which were lost in the white. Visibility was so low you could barely see the skiers and snowboarders on the pistes alongside it.

Cairngorm

Cairngorm

As well as a restaurant there is also a bar, shop, viewing terrace and exhibition. The restaurant was so busy, it was lunchtime, I had a hard time finding somewhere to sit among the brightly clothed skiers. I opted for a warming hot chocolate over a meal and had soup in the van when I returned to the car park. The mountain exhibition was interesting, geography, wildlife and mountaineering over the years. I bought a buff to keep my ears warm, as a souvenir in the shop. I’ve walked up the mountain before in glorious weather but never been inside the building. The food looked hearty and warming, masses of macaroni cheese {a Scottish favourite} for us veggies as well as jacket potatoes, soups and filled rolls.

We only had one night on a campsite, so good to have a proper hot shower and to plug in our radiator to the mains. I love the bathrooms at Rothiemurchus campsite, and it’s location is perfect among the trees next to a bubbling burn {stream}. I managed to squeeze in a bake while we were there, a tasty Blueberry, coconut and white chocolate muffin, to take with us to the wildlife park the next day, but that’s another post!

Aviemore is just a few hours from Dundee, yet the Cairngorms feel like a world away with it’s majestic mountains, serene lochs and green forests. That’s why we just can’t seem to keep away!

6 Responses

  1. offmotorway says:

    Gorgeous photos and it sounds like a wonderful trip. I did once sleep in a campervan in the snow, in New Zealand, an experience I haven’t forgotten!

  2. Dave says:

    What a wonderful snowy week! Makes me wish I was there, even though I’m more of a sand and sea person instead of snow. I love the photos of the polar bear snacking on fish, and the fox is gorgeous! Is that camel photo an animated gif?

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