Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to join a week long guided programme if I want to stay?
We have short breaks available throughout the year, and most of our Island Adventures are 4-6 days long. You can also stay on a B&B or fullboard on a daily basis and ask the advice of the guides. However, the best value for money and best chances for seeing the wildlife are found on the full week holidays.
I am new to birdwatching, will I fit in?
Yes! Our guides are all knowledgeable birders, but at Heatherlea we do not use jargon or too much technical speak. We are keen that all of our guests get the most out of their holiday both in terms of enjoyment and learning, and we encourage guests to ask lots of questions and to never be too shy to ask!
Is it all birds? I like looking at all wildlife!
Most of our trips are focused on birding, but all of our guides are experienced naturalists and happy to identify flowers, fungi and insects. We always show you the mammals that we encounter. Many of our trips from early June until early September will be excellent for flowers and insects. Our guides frequently run a moth trap too, so make sure you ask the guide on your arrival if you are keen! There is a specific week at the start of July called "Highland Wildlife" that has a very broad remit to look at all wildlife that is particular to the area.
If you wish to see rare mammals such as Pine Martens or Otters then seek out the specific trips over to their stronghold on the West Coast such as the Top 20 and Top 30 holidays.
I have never been on a group holiday, is it right for me?
Groups are usually made up of a mixture of couples and singles who meet for the first time on joining us at Heatherlea. Our holidays are social, fun and relaxed. Guests are of various ages and from all walks of life but we all share a love of the outdoors and its incredible wildlife.
I am a keen birder, and do not need a guide to identify commoner birds, I want to go and seek exciting rarities! Is Heatherlea for me?
Absolutely! For the keenest birders we offer the exciting "For Birders" range of holidays, featuring spring and especially autumn trips to Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides. These holidays will feature rarity finding. Your guide will be on hand to help with the identification of all birds, but there is a little less time for watching and more time for finding. These holidays move at a slightly faster pace and if a rare bird is found nearby we may drop everything and go straight there! Here at the Mountview the New Year Birdlist Booster, Highland Winter Birding, Scottish Specials featuring the Burma Bank and Outer Limits Adventure are all good for rare birds.
I am on my own, isn’t it all couples?
Around 50% of our guests join as singles, with the rest coming as friends, family or partners. For holidays based or predominantly based at our own Mountview Hotel, there is NO SINGLE SUPPLEMENT.
Which holiday is best for seeing: Crested Tits, Otters, Capercaillie etc
Please see our Key Species page. Here you will find a list of the iconic Scottish birds and mammals, with links to the best holidays to see them. Crested Tit, Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Crossbills and Eagles are all resident and can be seen on all of the holidays run from the Mountview Hotel.
How much walking is there on your holidays?
Not much! In general, Heatherlea holidays have short walks going at a slow and relaxed pace on good paths. The guide will always advise on the level of walking for the day ahead, and no walks are compulsory. Some guests bring walking poles, and we advise on walking boots and shoes for all activities, this gives us the best flexibility and allows us to react to the wildlife and if necessary wander from the tracks.
For seeing Ptarmigan on the hill, there is often a return walk of 3-5 miles with a climb of around 800 -1000ft of altitude on good paths. In the summer months our walks up to see Dotterel require a 5-6 mile walk with a climb and descent of around 1200ft. This is a full day activity which guests can opt out of. Many guests choose to take the funicular railway at their own expense while they wait for the walkers to return. From the top station it is possible to see all of the mountain bird and mammal species, though a scope is useful and you are not allowed to leave the confines of the building and its terrace.
Weather – isn’t it cold, wet and windy in Scotland?!
Did you know that many of the sunniest and driest places in the UK are in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland? While Scotland has a changeable climate, our itineraries are flexible and tweaked daily according to the weather forecast and that allows us to dodge the worst of the weather.
I have heard lots of horror stories about midges, what’s the truth?
Midges peak from mid June to mid September on the West Coast, but our experienced guides (most of whom live locally) will keep you away from the worst areas at the worst times! They are rarely a nuisance over here on the east, though those who are sensitive should consider repellent between mid June and early September.
Do you cater for special diets?
Absolutely! Each week we cater for vegans, vegetarians and coeliacs amongst others. Just let us know if you have any special requests or specific allergies or dislikes.
How fixed are your itineraries? Can I opt out of a day?
For days that start and end at the same accommodation, it is absolutely fine to opt out or take an easier sightseeing day. Many of our excursions for Black Grouse, Otters and Pine Martens are morning or evening 1-2 hour options to and from our accommodation so if you wish to opt out that is not a problem.
I like to take photographs, can I get closer to the wildlife?
Our aim is to show you wildlife acting naturally in its habitat, and so we are extremely careful not to disturb our targets and our motto is to leave things as we find them. For that reason, it is at the judgement of the experienced guide in charge as to whether the group or individuals are allowed to get closer to the target for observation or photography. Over the course of the week, we find all photographers have a great range of incidental pictures to mark their trip. The best of our photos will go into the trip report that is shared amongst the group after the holiday.
Do you advise that I get travel insurance?
We always recommend that people obtain travel insurance to cover all eventualities. This is especially true of those taking ferries and smaller planes to Shetland, Orkney and the Outer and Inner Hebrides which are more liable to cancellation or disruption.
I do not have a car, how do I get to Heatherlea?
It's easy! We offer a free collection at Aviemore train station (where the buses and coaches also arrive) on Saturdays at 16:30pm and 19:30pm, so all you have to do is get the train to and from Aviemore, which is on the main line north. You can transfer to Aviemore from Inverness Airport, again by train. We offer a courtesy drop off on the Saturday morning of departure too, though with the spacing between the train times we can only offer two drop offs, which may mean you have to be taken into Aviemore earlier in order that we can get everyone to their respective trains.
I’ve never been to Scotland before, where do you recommend that I start?
All of our holidays are suitable for those who have never been to Scotland before. If you are unsure where to start, and would like to see all of the speciality birds, come and stay with us at our hotel on a spring programme.
Should I bring my telescope?
Each guide will have a telescope available for your use. If you have your own telescope we recommend you bring it so that you can maximise your own personal viewing. Your guides will of course help you line up your own scopes with the target wildlife.