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All things hiking Explaining Scotland Skills tips Wildlife and nature

Scottish Mountain Wildlife with our expert: Andy Bateman

scottish wildlife - fungi

The false morel – do not eat!

Scottish Wildlife – a fungal lowlight: The False Morel

For me, the arrival of the false Morel is the first notable event in the fungal calendar. This is one fungi which can easily be overlooked. It might seem odd to include the fungi kingdom in a scottish wildlife feature but the fungi in the woodlands are a vital part of the ecosystem. Here in the Cairngorms they can’t be ignored.

At a glance the False Morel might appear as some nasty dog mess at the side of the hiking trail. However, with further investigation they are an interesting mushroom. Usually appearing sometime in April they often occur in pine woods, on sandy soil. Much of the Cairngorms National park is covered in woodland on sandy soil so they can be quite a common sight. Unlike other edible Morels with their honeycomb structure, the False Morel has a highly convoluted cap. This can vary from yellow brown to dark reddish brown with its stalk being an off white colour.

Scottish Wildlife – deadly fungi effects

The False Morel has been described as the “puffer fish” of the fungal world and one most definitely to avoid, that is, unless you’re very brave. This is why. Gyromitrin, a chemical in the fungi, reacts with the stomach acid to form mono methyl-hydrazine, other wise known as rocket fuel! The symptoms of poisoning follow the same protracted path as those of ingesting the Death Cap, the most toxic of all fungi. The first stage is a 6 to 12 hour latent period. This is followed by up to 6 days of unpleasant “gastrointestinal disturbances” which can also be accompanied by seizures.

Next comes an apparent period of recovery but by this time liver damage has occurred. In serious cases this is followed by delirium, coma and possibly death. There are large variations in the way individuals react to the toxin which seem to be down to genetic makeup. Despite this, it is still regarded as a delicacy. In some European countries, especially Bulgaria, it is still collected in quantity. Repeated parboiling in fresh water is the tradition way of dealing with the toxins but this doesn’t completely do the job. Should you be preparing any quantity of them, beware of the vapours. Your kitchen could fill up with rocket fuel vapour! Not surprisingly an increased number of countries are banning its sale.

So as not to be confused, we’ve added below an example of an edible morel mushroom.

scottish wildlife - fungi

An edible morel mushroom – highly prized in the foraging community

Scottish wildlife – fungi: further information

Fortunately the false morel fruits outside the main shrooming period in the Highlands. Most foragers come from July onwards. They search the woods of chanterelle and cep mushrooms. Bounty beyond belief can be found in the woods. You must always be aware of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and pay close attention to the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code

For an introduction to safe and responsible foraging contact us for details of our Fruits of the Forest weekends (September and October).

Walking, whisky and wildlife


Scotland is rich with history and the stories and legends passed down through the generations by campfire storytelling is a huge part of Scottish folklore. The Cairngorms, is abundant with it’s own tales and we take a look at our favourite stories and legends from the Cairngorms.

Stories and Legends from the Cairngorms

winter sunset Cairngorms

Glorious sunset colours across the snow of the Cairngorms

The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui

Ben Macdhui standing as the tallest mountain in Scotland has long been home to popular folklore stories. And one of the most famous, tells of The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui. A legendary being that has haunted the Cairngorms for centuries. The collection of stories from hikers tells of a supernatural presence often felt at the peak of Ben Macdhui. The most famous story dates back to 1891 and was told by accomplished mountaineer, the late Professor Norman Collie.

Following this account, experiences of The Big Grey Man describe the feeling of being watched, the crunch of snow as steps fall three times as long as the average man and the allusion of a tall grey figure in the winter mist. Each story while slightly different, has one thing in common. All accounts describe an overwhelming feeling of fear and the urge to flee the mountain. While eerie, we can take comfort that no real evidence of The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui exist. Scot Mountain Holidays offer guided tours on Ben Macdhui where you can learn more about the history and legends of the Cairngorms.

The Monster of Loch Garten

Boat of Garden home of Fraoch Lodge is also home to the legend of The Monster of Loch Garten. A large carnivorous water monster. Described as a mixture between a large bull and a stallion, with a jet black mane, big head and gleaming eyes. Furthermore, the monster only ever appeared at night and preyed on small children and lambs.

The story goes, that a local once tried to capture the beast. Hitching a rope around an enormous boulder he bated a gaff with a lamb and at dusk, tossed it into the centre of the loch. As the story goes, roaring, lightening and snarls were heard by the infuriated monster throughout the night. But, in the light of the day, the boulder was gone and only a deep rut heading into the loch remained of the boulder. It is said, the monster was never seen or heard off again.

Loch Garten

Looking to the hills beyond Loch Garten

The Old Man of Garten

Another legend that comes from the Boat of Garten region tells the tale of The Old Man or Spectre of Garten with a feeling of dread. Over one hundred years ago many people allegedly came forward testifying to the existence of this supernatural being. The legend describes a spirit roaming the countryside surrounding Loch Garten and Loch Mallachy giving warnings of impending death. Never seen but heard, stories describe being awaken for no apparent reason to the overwhelming sense of apprehension. This is quickly followed by the dreaded high-pitched scream of the spectre warning them of an approaching death.

There are many more legends and stories from the Cairngorms region that hold a place in folklore history. The stories, sure to delight children and adult alike tare an amazing addition to your Scotland holiday.

What does ‘off the beaten track mean to you’? Depending on how adventurous you are, the phrase can mean different things to different people. It can be scary to choose the path less travelled by, but the benefits from getting off the beaten track in Scotland are exhilarating.

Skye Munros - Scotland

Topping out on the Innaccessable Pinnacle in glorious sunshine weather, Skye May 2016

But, this certainly doesn’t mean you need to skip all the top sites like Loch Ness. For some, getting out of cities is rural enough and therefore Loch Ness is a great choice. But for those feeling adventurous and wanting to get a little more remote, we can help you there.

So, how to find a place where few people go?

Wanting to find a little peace and quiet is the most natural thing in the world whether you’re most at home surrounded by nature, a city dweller or somewhere in between. And arguably, there is no better place than the Highlands of Scotland. Known for its epic beauty, contrasting scenery and out of this world views, you’ll soon find yourself where the air and water are fresher and the most prominent noises keeping you company is nature at its finest.

The Cairngorm National Park is the ideal base for you to experience and explore the remoteness the Highlands can offer. Depending how far off the beaten track you want to get you’ll find an array of options suited for all fitness levels and ages. Offering options to be guided, or self exploration if you prefer, Scot Mountain Holidays has it all.

Mountain peaks

We understand that only you know what getting off the beaten track means. But, Scot Mountain Holiday trips, by definition are all off the beaten track. It’s unlikely you’ll see crowds of people during any typical day with us. Choosing one of our trips is a great way to decide if the more unusual spots and a more active vacation is the way forward for you.

Whether you’re after hiking, mountain biking, walking or countryside relaxation, you’ll find it here.   We can help organise a tailor-made trip for you, friends and family. Or, you can join one of our scheduled trips where you’ll meet like-minded people and gain friends for life. The choice is yours.

Choosing a hiking guide for your hiking tour in Scotland

What is it you want from your hiking trip to Scotland?

No doubt if you’re travelling from further afield – Canada, the US, Australia- then you want to see a bit of Scotland; experience the culture; try the iconic foods and meet some genuine Scottish folk. How can you do this within your limited time and budget?

Researching a trip takes time, energy and to make the trip extra special, a wee bit of local knowledge. If you’re lucky you can pick this up from your friends and relatives who may already have visited the area you want to go to. If not, you’re left with the wide morass of the internet and the opinions of strangers. You can cut through the confusion and distraction though by booking an initial introductory trip with a local expert.

Choosing a hiking guide

Guided hiking holidays in the Highlands of Scotland

What to look for when choosing a guide?

A good indication that your guide has the technical navigation skills and training to lead groups is to make sure that he/she has one of the following qualifications:

These are the national governing body certificates which cover the technical skills a group leader needs in the mountain environment. In Scotland, for mountain/hill walking, it is best to check that your guide has a winter mountain leader award as there can be snow on the ground in May/June or on Ben Nevis, most of the year. We have taken clients out in the Cairngorms in July and August and still found patches of snow in shady, north facing areas.

How to choose a hiking guide

Summer snow patches in the Cairngorms National Park

Is your guide local? How good is their local knowledge?

Check carefully to make sure your hiking guide is or has been resident in the local area for some time. If so they are more likely to have intimate knowledge of the best spots to take their clients/guests. It would also be an idea to see if your guide has interests which coincide with your own:

On wildlife:

If you are a keen wildlife enthusiast, make sure your hiking guide has a good grounding in the local wildlife. For example, here in the Cairngorms the species to keep an eye out for, along with the iconic red deer, are:

Capercaillie, red grouse, black grouse, ptarmigan, crested tits, Scottish crossbills, red squirrels and golden eagles among many others.

Cairngorms wildlife

Some of the high mountain wildlife frequently seen in the Cairngorms

On Geology:

If you have an interest in geology, it’s also worth investigating the depth of your hiking guide’s knowledge. You might find that some hiking guides, especially the younger guides, have only very superficial knowledge of the geology of the area, particularly if they are not resident all year round.

On local history:

If you are interested in local history, it is especially important to make sure your hiking guide has been resident in the area for some time. He or she should also have an interest in the history which has formed his environment. This really is the only thing which is going to improve their knowledge of local history.

Highlander habitat

Live like the Jacobite Highlanders

On local cuisine:

If you’re interested in local cuisine, it’s again a good idea to book a hiking guide who is local to the area as they will probably have the most up-to-date information about the local cafes and restaurants. You never know one popular local eating venue might have changed hands or lost their chef since they were last listed in a guidebook or reviewed online. Online reviews are usually only snapshots of one person’s experience at that moment, your guide (if local to the area) will probably have accumulated a more rounded impression of the various local establishments.

On foraging:

If you are particularly lucky, you might find a hiking guide who has an interest in wild foraging who can introduce you to the spectacular harvest Scotland’s nature has to offer.

Amazing meals at Fraoch Lodge

Amazing meals at Fraoch Lodge

Wild foraging

Wild foraging in the Caledonian pine forest of Scotland

To check out the profile of our own main guide and company director, Andy Bateman, view his profile.



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