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NEW! Walking and Wildlife

A rare opportunity to see the Scottish Highlands and its wildlife from a different perspective, as we explore some of the best walking routes

2025 Dates
  • 09 Aug - 16 Aug 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

A new adventure for the general naturalist that enjoys seeing a wide range of habitats, fabulous flora and fauna, and picturesque Highland scenery whilst on foot. Whilst most Heatherlea holidays are fairly mobile, visiting numerous sites during a day’s wildlife watching, this week-long trip aims to visit a different geographical area each day incorporating a lengthy walk. taking in the wealth of natural history that can be seen at walking pace. As well as enjoying the exercise, we still look at the birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and flowers which make a Highland summer special. Taking in a wealth of natural history at walking pace, a different daily backdrop of rocky mountains, ancient pine woodlands, sparkling rivers, or the powerful North Sea ensure we won’t grow bored of our surroundings!

The daily walks will be between four and ten miles, many of them on former droving routes, old railway lines, or on marked footpaths, but there may be an element of wild walking across remote heather moorland or over the Cairngorm plateau to provide a different experience in a different landscape. Most walks will be on level or undulating terrain, with some steeper trails on the mountain days, but rest assured – this is a group activity so nobody will be left behind, and there won’t be any rock climbing involved!

Bird sightings will vary with the locations, but along with the summer visitors, we hope to see crossbills and Crested Tit in the woods, Osprey and both eagles overhead, Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Dotterel on the high tops, and as we visit under-explored sections of the Highlands, who knows what else!? For mammal enthusiasts, we hope to see Mountain and Brown Hare, Roe and Red Deer, Red Squirrel, Bottle-nosed Dolphin or other cetaceans at the coast and perhaps an Otter or Pine Marten as we walk through the wilds. As we wander over the heather moorland, keep an eye open for Common Lizard scuttling ahead of us too.

We will be running a moth trap on several nights, and with night-time catches through mid-summer often totalling a hundred or more, we hope to see some large and colourful hawkmoths and tiger-moths. We take in any flora as we walk, from the tall trees to localised, delicate orchids. Butterflies may include Scotch Argus, Dark Green Fritillary and Large Heath, and there will still be several species of dragon and damselfly on the wing to look out for as we go.

KEY MOMENTS at our Friday round-up – which will be yours?

  • Key Highland birds perhaps including eagles, divers, Slavonian Grebe, Osprey, Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill.
  • Fast, bright orange Dark Green Fritillaries, a late, azure blue Northern Damselfly, a huge Golden-ringed Dragonfly, or moth-trapping each night if weather allows in a variety of local habitats.
  • Red Squirrel, Red Deer and Mountain Hare, with nocturnal mammals a possibility too.
  • The tranquillity and variety of landscapes to immerse yourself as we explore the Scottish Highlands on foot.

Day 1: Saturday - Arrival
Arrival, welcome and dinner. Don't forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore!

Day 2: Sunday – Walking the Speyside Way, Nethy Bridge to Cromdale
After our first moth-trap session we start walking from the hotel, where we take a relatively flat walk along a former railway line which loosely follows the banks of the River Spey. The changes of habitat bring a good variety of local wildlife, and amongst the regular farmland birds in the adjacent agricultural fields, we hope to see Dipper and Grey Wagtail (and maybe even an elusive Kingfisher) on the river, Osprey and Red Kite wheeling in the sky, and Red Squirrel and Roe Deer in the forested sections. At our frequent stops we will be looking at everything we can find, which might also include stunning flowers such as Field Gentian, Bog Asphodel and all three local varieties of heather. Butterflies could include Scotch Argus, Dark Green Fritillary and perhaps a late Northern Brown Argus, with several dragonfly species perhaps including Common and Southern Hawker, Black and (Highland) Common Darter also on the wing. A great introduction to the massive diversity of Highland wildlife!

DISTANCE - 6 to 8 miles.
TERRAIN – Good quality grassy tracks and paths, occasionally muddy and damp in places.
GRADIENT - Generally easy walking and mostly flat.

Day 3: Monday – The Moray Coast
In a complete contrast as we head to the coast and walk along the beach, taking in birds on and over the sea, which may include post-breeding ducks, divers and seabirds including Shag, Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake and several species of auk and tern. As we walk the coastal path, waders gather at a few places along the shore, already returning from their Arctic breeding grounds. We may well also see fishing Osprey today plus farmland birds such as Grey Partridge, Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting when deviating slightly inland. To ensure we fully appreciate the wealth of wildlife along the coast, we make several stops after the walk to enjoy other sites. Cetaceans offshore could include Bottle-nosed Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise with chances of Minke Whale and Basking Shark too. Good numbers of Common and Grey Seal may be present on the exposed rocks, and a localised population of Grayling butterflies may be found in the right habitats.

DISTANCE - 3 to 5 miles.
TERRAIN - Riverside, beach and shingle.
GRADIENT - Flat beach walking, with some sand dune ascent to enjoy views of duck concentrations on the water.

Day 4: Tuesday – The Dava Way, North from Grantown on Spey
Today we head along another disused railway line into the low, purple, heather-clad grouse moors. We should see plenty of butterflies and day-flying moths with Large Heath and Northern Eggar among the possibilities. Likely birds include Red Grouse, Short-eared Owl and Merlin on the moors and Crested Tit in the stands of Scott’s Pine. Scottish Crossbill are also found in the Highland forests, and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of this species trio can pose a real identification challenge! Mountain Hare and Red Deer are always possible in these environments, and keep your eyes open for Osprey overhead as they commute between their woodland nest sites and their fishing lochs. In the afternoon, we may explore other nearby sites to look for raptors, or perhaps take a final coffee beside a large loch often home to a Black-throated Diver family.

DISTANCE - 4 to 6 miles.
TERRAIN - Grassy tracks, muddy and damp in places.
GRADIENT - Generally easy walking and mostly flat.

Day 5: Wednesday - Cairngorm Plateau
Today we take a slow drive to the Cairngorm mountains, stopping at freshwater lochs to look for Red-throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe on the way. We then head into the hills to look for some of the specialist montane species only found at this altitude. Birds should include Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting, Wheatear and Ring Ouzel with chances of a late Dotterel (if they have had a good breeding season and are still around!) Insects are in short supply on the plateau but can include rare Black Mountain Moth, while alpine plants and flowers could include a late Frog Orchid, Dwarf Cornel, Scottish Asphodel, Alpine Saw-wort, Starry Saxifrage, Roseroot, Trailing Azalea, Moss Campion and Least Willow.

Tonight, we employ the bat detectors to search for Brown Long-eared, Daubenton’s and two species of Pipistrelle Bat. We may see other mammals as we go too, if lucky glimpsing a Badger or even a Pine Marten!

DISTANCE - 6 to 8 miles.
TERRAIN - On maintained footpaths with two streams to cross. No scrambling, but strenuous walking.
GRADIENT - Strenuous walking with periods of sustained ascent.

Day 6: Thursday – The Monadhliath hills and moors, General Wade’s road between Lynwilg & Dalnahaitnach
After a day on the high peaks of the Cairngorms, also known as the Monadhruadh – the red mountains, we head to the opposite side of Strathspey to explore the Monadhliath – the grey mountains. After spending a while in a quiet, lichen-clad birch woodland, hoping to get views of any late Redstart, Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher and perhaps Black Darter, Emerald Damselfly and other dragons at a small pond, we make the short, but sharp climb along a well-made path to higher ground. Our surroundings soon open up, and we spend the rest of the day on top of the mid-altitude hills, surrounded by craggy grouse moors, with raptors our main focus. Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Osprey, Goshawk, Peregrine, Merlin plus Golden and White-tailed Eagle are all possible as we traverse the open landscape, with chances of Black and Red Grouse too. Embracing the views in all directions, we look out for moorland plants such as Heath Spotted Orchid before heading down into a wooded valley and back to civilisation.

DISTANCE - 8 to 10 miles.
TERRAIN - Forest, open moorland and hillside. Most walking on rough tracks with a foot bridge to cross.
GRADIENT – Some steep sections it then flattens out at the top, with level-going in the forest by the river side.

Day 7: Friday - Abernethy Forest, Glenmore to Nethy Bridge via Ryvoan
We finish our week of walking and wildlife with the ultimate walk, meandering through the heart of the Caledonian Forest. Passing a number of famous Highland landmarks, historical bothies, picturesque lochans and vast areas of wet heath, in the afternoon we arrive back to the Mountview Hotel on foot to enjoy an end-of-week dram and a relaxing evening reminiscing about the adventures of the week! Wildlife through the day is likely to include crossbills and Crested Tit in the forests, Dipper and Common Sandpiper by the river and perhaps Peregrine, White-tailed Eagle, Goshawk and Hen Harrier over open ground. Mammals may include Mountain and Brown Hare, Roe and Red Deer and Red Squirrel. Flowers will hopefully include some localised woodland orchids (weather permitting!), with chances of several butterflies and moths too and even some interesting fungi such as Bleeding Tooth on this lovely final walk.

DISTANCE - Between 7 to 9 miles.
TERRAIN – Stoney, forest paths and a stream to cross.
GRADIENT - Easy ascents on paths.

Day 8: Saturday - Departure
Breakfast and departure. Don't forget our courtesy drop off service to Aviemore!

This holiday can be combined with:

NEW! Highlands and the Small Isles

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price

  • Seven nights comfortable accommodation at The Mountview Hotel, VisitScotland rated 3 Star. All rooms are en-suite, with TV and hospitality tray. There is no single supplement, and guests are never expected to share. Single guests may be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.
  • Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.
  • Six full days wildlife watching.
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
  • All transport by comfortable minibus.
  • A checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.
  • Courtesy bus service to and from transport in Aviemore.

What's not included in your holiday price

  • Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.

More holiday information

Accommodation at Mountview Hotel can be seen here. All accommodation is en-suite unless otherwise advised before your booking is confirmed.
Food There is a choice of evening meal, and vegetarian, vegan and other diets are welcome. Breakfast may be chosen from a full Scottish menu. You don't need flasks for hot drinks or wellies.
Walking as detailed above, though please note this is a guide only, and we will be happy to discuss walking in more detail if required.
Weather Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine and rain are equally likely, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing.
Biting insects may be encountered in the evenings or around standing water, though not as a serious problem.
Group size maximum 7 clients per guide.
Optics Telescopes will be useful, and you should bring binoculars. We have a limited number of top quality Swarovski binoculars, which you may borrow at no charge (subject to availability). A camera would be useful too!

Other birdwatching holidays in Highlands

Why choose Heatherlea for your Scottish birding holiday?

Heatherlea is THE place for top quality birding holidays in Scotland, chosen by more and more birders each year. Stay in our own three star Small Hotel, and enjoy first-rate birding with Scotland’s best guiding team. Relax and enjoy yourself, as we do all the planning! Above all, we make it our business to show key wildlife to you. Our fully inclusive guided holidays concentrate on the real experience, and we take time to ensure that each of our guests enjoys everything we do.

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Our ‘Mainland Scotland’ holidays based at Mountview Hotel have a maximum ratio of 7 clients per guide, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • We are a small company, run BY birders FOR birders. Come and see!
  • Heatherlea are Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’ This is the highest available grading, classified as ‘exceptional’ by visitScotland.
  • There is no single supplement. Single guests are never expected or invited to share.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance loan of Swarovski binoculars, packed lunch and tips to hotels.
  • We offer a courtesy transfer between our Hotel and Aviemore rail/bus links on Saturdays.
  • Heatherlea hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland. We are also registered to pay VAT, which is included in your holiday price as quoted on this page.
  • Once your holiday is confirmed in writing by us, we promise not to surcharge the price for any reason.

Enjoy an excellent birding and wildlife holiday with Heatherlea.
Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’

Visit Scotland - 5 star wildlife experience

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Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248