Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is encouraging people to celebrate International Mountain Day with a visit to one of Scotland’s stunning nature reserves.
Some of our finest mountains lie within these special areas, and while the high tops may be restricted to experienced mountaineers at this time of year, many reserves have accessible walks for all to get up close to and appreciate the grandeur of the snowy peaks in winter.
Here are five highlights from our National Nature Reserves(NNRs) to mark the day.
Beinn Eighe’s rugged peaks, ridges and scree-covered slopes make it among the finest of Scotland’s mountain massifs. It is also home to the UK’s first National Nature Reserve, covering a vast area of 48 square kilometres stretching from loch-side to mountain top. Winter is a wonderful time to visit the reserve to see the ancient Scots pinewood set against the background of spectacular snow-capped mountains. There are plenty of walks for all levels to enjoy at the reserve, with waymarked trails leading through the woodlands from the visitor centre just outside Kinlochewe or the Coille na Glas-Leitir car park on the shores of Loch Maree.
The magnificent natural amphitheatre of Corrie Fee sits on the shoulder of the Cairngorms plateau at the head of Glen Clova in Angus in eastern Scotland. Close to the Munro peaks of Dreish and Mayar, it is one of the best glacial corries in the British Isles, famed for its rare plants and stunning mountain views. In winter visitors can get a glimpse of the arctic and alpine environments as snow gathers and the waterfall freezes in dramatic icicles. Several trails start at the ranger base, including the Coire Fee Trail which leads up to the edge of Glen Doll forest for a spectacular view at the entrance to the corrie.
Creag Meagaidh offers the complete mountain experience. From the Munro summits of the wild mountain plateau to woodland that’s slowly returning to life, it feels like the Highlands compressed into one reserve and is one of Scotland’s best areas for walking and climbing. There are three waymarked trails on the lower ground where visitors can explore the rich tapestry of regenerating woodland habitats and enjoy dramatic mountain views. Winter is a good time to spot black grouse among the birch trees, golden eagles circling overhead and red deer returning to the woods at lower levels.
Experience the wild side of the Cairngorms with a magical winter walk at Invereshie and Inshriach. Trails weave upwards through the peaceful ancient pinewood towards the high mountain plateau and the summits of Sgòr Gaoith and Carn Bàn Mòr beyond. Just a half hour walk on a well-surfaced path along the Allt Ruadh (the red burn) gives visitors a taste of the change from glen to open hill and superb views west over Glen Feshie to the Monadhliath hills beyond. Keep an eye out for the iconic red squirrel and, in snowy conditions, the tracks of pine marten and deer.
The mountains of Coigach and Assynt are among the most dramatic in Scotland, and Knockan Crag NNR offers breathtaking views over favourites including Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mor. The location in the North West Highlands Geopark holds the key to an amazing story of colliding continents and scientific intrigue. The landscape reveals some of the world’s oldest rocks as well as evidence of the huge upheavals, collisions and pressures that have shaped Scotland. Wander the sculpture and poetry trails and take in the wonderful mountain views, with accessible options for all abilities.
Tips for safe winter walking:
- Even at lower levels mountain conditions can change very rapidly – check the forecast and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather including sleet or snow between autumn and late spring. The Mountain Weather Information Service is a great resource for planning your walk.
- Rough ground can sometimes be slippery or icy. Wear sturdy footwear such as walking boots or shoes with a good tread, warm and waterproof clothing, a hat and gloves and take plenty of food and a hot drink.
- If you’re planning to explore beyond the marked trails, it’s recommended to have a map and compass, and experience of mountain walking.
- Know your limits – if you encounter snow and ice and are not comfortable or don’t have the right equipment turn back.