Cairngorms A Year in the Wild


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Cairngorms

A portrait of the harsh beauty and surprising wildlife of Scotland's Cairngorms National Park, home to some of the UK's rarest and most spectacular animals.


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This is the largest and most remote wilderness in Britain.

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A land of arctic extremes in the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

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Its granite crags and pine forests are a last refuge

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for some of Britain's most rare and spectacular animals.

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People are drawn here because of its challenging nature.

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For some it's a way of life,

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for others it's about finding adventure

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and inspiration in its raw beauty.

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Through their love of this landscape, they reveal

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the inner secrets of the Cairngorms, Britain's wildest national park.

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At the heart of the Cairngorms National Park

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is a massive granite plateau 18 miles long and 12 miles wide.

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In many ways it's like the Arctic -

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remote, bitterly cold and treacherous.

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People die up here.

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Only the most skilled mountaineers brave it in the winter.

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John Lyall has pioneered

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many challenging winter climbs in the Cairngorms.

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With 20 years' experience behind him, he can now share

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these remote and remarkable places with other people.

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The Cairngorms have got a vastness,

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a sort of beauty to tap into that other areas don't have.

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I think you need to really explore them, really get to know them

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to appreciate the hidden beauties of the place.

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As a youngster,

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I thought climbing was mad. I didn't think there was any sense

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in climbing up a hard way if there was an easy way.

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But now I take people on adventures,

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trying to fulfil dreams for people, really,

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which is fantastic.

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In winter, daylight hours are limited

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so to access far-distant places, John overnights on the mountain.

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There's only hard snow, really.

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As soon as the light begins to fade from the slopes,

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he needs to make a snow hole.

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It's a bit firmer here.

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John must judge which bit of the snow bank

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is least likely to collapse.

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Digging through the most recent snowfall is the easy bit.

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As you dig further and further in, you just get through

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all the ages of the snow, really, all the months going back,

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all the way back to November.

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If there are two of you, you normally dig two tunnels in

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and then you dig towards one another.

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Mr Preston, I presume.

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He knows all the tricks to create a shelter that's dry

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and maybe 20 degrees higher than the temperature outside.

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I think over years, mountaineers have improved them

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and learned, as we all do, by our mistakes, like getting dripped on.

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Thanks to this snow cave, John will get a decent night's rest,

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and be able to make the most of the next day's climbing.

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I think it's great, one candle lights up the whole place

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and it makes a really cosy place out of the wind.

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Lots of people underestimate the winds in the Cairngorms

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and think they can go and camp

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and their tents get ripped to shreds by the winds,

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finishing up in the North Sea.

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-Cheers.

-Slainte.

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The Cairngorms can be just as testing as the Arctic

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and no two days are the same up here.

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It's the severity of the Cairngorms

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that artist Elizabeth Pirie loves so much.

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In her studio, during the depths of winter,

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she tries to capture the essence of granite and snow.

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Portraying winter is something special

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and something incredibly difficult.

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It's that thing of there's so many colours in snow

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but you've got to really, really look for them,

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and they all become these kind of muted darker colours

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but at the same time light hits off snow or light hits off ice or frost

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and everything just lights up and it's weird because you think,

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you know, it's a darker season, there's less light in the day,

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but maybe that just makes you appreciate what light there is more.

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It's one of those things that's still, kind of, going on.

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You just have to go, "Right, this time we are going to master snow,

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"we are going to do at least one picture that captures the coldness

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"but yet the just amazing beauty of the snow."

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It's something that is almost impossible to portray

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and I kind of like that.

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I like the fact that it's really hard to draw things like that.

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Over the year, Elizabeth will explore the Cairngorms

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and use paint to distil her feelings

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about the landscape's untamable beauty.

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The Cairngorms is huge

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and the Cairngorms are, to a point, completely indescribable

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because it's so changeable and it's a place where nature is saying,

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"Look, I'm here, this is my patch."

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John wakes to a very different day.

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But the weather won't deter him from venturing deeper into the mountains.

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He's not the only one to have hunkered down here overnight.

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Wild animals certainly live in snow holes.

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Ptarmigan that live up here, in bad storms they'll sit out a storm

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by letting the snow drift over them. Or dig a little bit in to soft snow,

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a lovely little cosy place to stay and they'll sit out, you know,

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several days of bad weather inside a little snow cave

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where they don't lose any body heat

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because they're insulated by the snow.

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The ptarmigan is an arctic bird

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that in Britain only lives on the highest of Scottish peaks.

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WIND HOWLS

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In the Cairngorms, temperatures can fall to minus 27 degrees.

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But it's the wind-chill that makes the peaks so hostile.

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170 mile an hour winds, the highest ever in the UK,

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were recorded here on the summit of Cairn Gorm.

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We have to deal with a lot of bad days here,

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quite hard to get to places.

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It's too windy, it's too cold, it's too snowy.

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It's more of a challenge and I think the rewards are all the greater.

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John is no stranger to the world's toughest climbs.

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He's climbed the Alps, Andes and Himalayas.

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But it's the unpredictable weather in the Cairngorms

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that makes the rock faces here the most extreme he's ever faced.

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Today, John's attempting the sheer crag known as Hell's Lum.

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The climb is a mix of rock and ice,

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perilous because the conditions of the ice are ever-changing.

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The snow will be blowing down on to you, the face you're climbing on.

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You can't see where your ice axes and crampons are

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because there is so much snow moving around you.

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But you can still climb in those conditions.

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Oh, winter climbing in the Cairngorms,

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yeah, is the best climbing there is.

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I think it's very special.

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The Cairngorms offer a very rare experience.

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John is pitting himself against

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some of the Earth's oldest walls of granite.

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The Cairngorms' granite core

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was formed by volcanic activity 400 million years ago.

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Way older than the Alps or the Himalayas.

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Its great glens and rounded peaks have been scoured

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and worn down by time and by ice.

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Around the edges of the plateau is an age-old forest

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that is Scottish to its core.

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Scots pines colonised these valleys after the last ice age

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and are our only native pine tree.

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They can survive the harshest winters

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because their sap contains a natural anti-freeze.

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The resolute quality of these forests

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keeps drawing nature writer Jim Crumley back.

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A great deal of the attraction for me of this landscape

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is the fact it is a kind of a hard-edged northern place.

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I think of the Cairngorms as basically being

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two...hard elements -

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granite...

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and pine.

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And as far as I'm concerned, the pine is every bit as fundamental

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to the place as the mountain is.

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But within this tough landscape, Jim knows pockets of forest

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where he can find deep calm.

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I mean, I can think of no other circumstance

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that I would rather be in

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than in a Cairngorms' pine wood, absolutely in conditions like this.

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When you get a day like this

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when there's snow on the ground and there's no wind,

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there's an almost, um...

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tangible depth to the quiet.

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And you don't get that in very many places.

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And I've had a couple of experiences of absolutely profound

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unbroken silence.

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And I think of those as the sacred moments in my own life.

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And in terms of my day job as a nature writer,

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these are the moments that really let you see

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under the skin of the landscape, and you start to begin

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to prize free one or two of the secrets of the place.

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CHIRRUPING

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One of the great set pieces of the Cairngorms' pine woods

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is the crested tit.

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They're such wonderful little things when you see them close up,

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and they really are pinewood specialists

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and they don't seem to work anywhere else.

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From the neck down, it's a fairly drab little bird

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and from the neck up, it's this fabulous...

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There's a crest that looks like

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a crossword puzzle that's been designed by Picasso.

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But it is a real, you know...

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It's a thing of the northern pine woods.

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BIRDSONG

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By March, snow is no longer settling

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and it's not just crested tits becoming busy amongst the pines.

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It can take a month longer for spring to arrive higher up.

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When the snow eventually melts, it unveils the heather moorland

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that covers large expanses of the Cairngorms.

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An excellent hunting ground for the golden eagle,

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one of the Cairngorms' last large predators.

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Once there would also have been wolves, lynx and bears.

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Over time, people have worked the landscape to their own advantage.

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Since the mid-19th century, these moorlands have been managed

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around the life of one native bird. The red grouse.

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ROLLING CLUCKING CALL

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Male grouse are particularly territorial in spring.

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The shoots of heather are their main source of food

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so protecting their patch can lead to squabbles.

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Over the last 150 years, the area of heather has hugely expanded

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as grouse shooting has become a more important part

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of the Highlands' rural economy.

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Gamekeeper Graeme Macdonald is part of a long tradition of people

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who see the moorlands as their place of work.

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I know it's stupid but I've never worked a day in my life.

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You know, this is just a way of life, it's what you do.

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Graeme works for an estate on the western side of the Cairngorms.

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It's his job to look after the grouse.

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It's just the most wonderful way of life.

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It's a fascinating job and it's a job I adore doing.

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Rain or shine, Graeme spends early spring checking up on the grouse

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and working out how he can manage the heather moorland

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to improve their chances of survival.

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Grouse, it's a wild bird. It's not like a pheasant,

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it's a bird that is wild, but it's got to be managed.

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You've got to make sure that that environment is there for the bird.

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Before the nesting season,

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Graeme needs to encourage new growth of heather.

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And he does this through regular burning.

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Heather will grow up to three, four foot high.

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Just grow into huge bushes and there'd be nothing,

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eventually nothing would grow underneath it,

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so you don't get ground nesting birds under the heather then.

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The heather has been managed in this traditional way for centuries

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shaping a vast moorland landscape.

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Graeme takes great care to control the flames.

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Burning too much would leave the grouse without cover.

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Using an all-terrain vehicle and high-pressure water spray,

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he can contain the fire within strips.

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Some of them look like Dante's Inferno,

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when you see just walls of flame.

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It's not every year we can burn because of the weather.

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You've just got to watch the wind

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and make sure the fire goes in the direction you want.

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But some days the wind changes and it can get very exciting.

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The aim is to have taller areas of heather for cover and nesting,

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and burned areas with fresh heather shoots for the birds to eat.

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It is important to burn because you want to keep your heather healthy.

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You want to make sure there's a lot of good food for your grouse.

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That's the only reason they'll stay is cos there's good feeding for them.

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But all this effort won't necessarily ensure

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this year's chicks survive the months ahead.

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By mid-April, spring is well under way in the glens.

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Mountaineer John Lyall can take things a little more gently.

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Today, he's hiking up to the Wells of Dee,

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one of his favourite places on the plateau.

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One of the good things walking along these paths on a steep-sided glen

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is that you're able to look right across the top of the pine trees

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at the foliage where some of the pine specialists feed,

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like the crossbills and crested tits,

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and it's a great place to watch them.

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CHIRRING AND PIPING BIRDSONG

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The crossbill has evolved an asymmetrical bill

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that can prize out seeds even when pine cones are still shut.

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From a distance, the Cairngorms can appear almost featureless.

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It's only when you hike up onto its great plateau

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that you discover its true character.

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Here is one of the most spectacular views in Britain,

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looking over a vast, glaciated valley - the Lairig Ghru.

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This is very special, great views right through to Lochnagar

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over on Balmoral Estate there in the distance.

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Beyond the Lairig Ghru,

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lots of memories of things I've done here which is good,

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but it sort of sums up the Cairngorms.

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It's one of the hidden corners of the Cairngorms.

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When you see the Cairngorm Massif from the Spey valley,

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you just see a big, rounded mass of hills

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and you don't see these hidden corries and deep glens

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that are so impressive. You have to get up here

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and get into the middle of them to find them -

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and I think that's what makes them really special.

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The Lairig Ghru slices right through the Cairngorms Massif,

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exposing its heart of red granite.

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It's this red rock that gave rise to the Cairngorms' ancient Gaelic name,

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Am Monadh Ruadh - the red hills.

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And cradled in the valley far below

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is one of the best known salmon rivers in the world.

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The River Dee.

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Its source is higher still.

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One of the most magical places in the Cairngorms.

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Up here, winter can return on any day of the year.

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I think the unpredictability adds something to the whole experience

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but I think anything that is predictable can become boring.

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Near the summit of Braeriach, Britain's third highest mountain

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are a few tiny springs, the Wells of Dee.

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So it's amazing, I've got the River Dee

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welling up out of the rocks in front of me

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and it just starts as this tiny little bit of water

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trickling out of a lump of granite.

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It's fantastic, really unusual that such a major river should rise

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so high in the hills and comes just out of the depths of the mountain.

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From deep in the granite, water bubbles up under pressure,

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purified on its way, to emerge at 1,200 metres,

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the highest source of any river in Britain.

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The water coming out of the rocks is warmer than you'd expect.

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I wouldn't have a hot bath in it but it's good to drink.

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It's lovely water. Don't suppose it could be much purer

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coming straight out of the rock the way it does.

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And it's always running.

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From this almost mystical birthplace, the river cascades

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off the Cairngorm plateau, down the Lairig Ghru, and into Royal Deeside.

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The spring snowmelt keeps the water crystal clear

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and high enough for salmon to run the river.

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An angler's paradise.

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There's a saying that fishing in the Dee

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is like fishing in champagne.

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Cos the Dee, when it's running at low level, is so clear

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and it's one of the few rivers that actually runs this clear.

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Archie Hay is no ordinary angler.

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He's a ghillie - a fishing guide on one of the most picturesque

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six-mile stretches of the Dee, known as the Crathie.

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Well, it's my job, I don't regard myself as having a job.

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I'm lucky, I have a hobby.

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And it just, you know...

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That's just the way I feel about it.

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I think it's in your blood. I suppose we have an affinity

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for the river in a way, just, it's part of my life.

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Archie's stretch of river, or beat, runs along the edge

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of the Royal Balmoral Estate, on the southern side of the Cairngorms.

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Right now, Archie's waiting for the spring salmon to arrive

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on their long journey from the sea to their spawning grounds

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in the heart of the mountains.

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From his riverside bothy, he can keep an eye out for the salmon.

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When they arrive, they will bring anglers from all over the world,

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so Archie's hard at work, hand-tying his own special flies.

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They are partly based on tradition, partly on long experience

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and are designed with the Dee's clear water in mind.

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Well, they actually say a bit of blue

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for the Dee. A Blue Charm used to do very well. The Hairy Mary...

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Um, they're all sort of flies with blue in them

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and for years these were flies that people used, in fact, they still use.

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Whether it's the clear water or what, the blue, I don't know.

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My personal favourite now is the Crathie

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and that's, you know, it's named after the beat.

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Crathie is actually out, since I've been taught to tie it and its secret,

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it's done very, very well here.

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I'd say I'd probably catch 70% of my fish on the Crathie.

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Fishermen will do anything for a fish, if you know what I mean,

0:27:180:27:22

as in, if they think wearing leaky waders would help them catch a fish,

0:27:220:27:26

they would wear leaky waders and it's as simple as that.

0:27:260:27:29

It's in April Archie sees his first spring salmon.

0:27:310:27:35

When you see the fish in the river it's...

0:27:430:27:46

your heart actually gives a little bit of a flutter, you know.

0:27:460:27:50

They are very silver, very plump.

0:27:500:27:52

They're often referred to as a bar of silver.

0:27:540:27:57

Absolutely pristine, beautiful fish.

0:27:570:28:01

We're here to catch fish and whether it's your first fish,

0:28:040:28:08

or your hundredth fish, or thousandth fish,

0:28:080:28:10

you still get the same reaction when you hook one.

0:28:100:28:13

Basically, I suppose, it means the spring has definitely arrived

0:28:150:28:19

and the fish are here.

0:28:190:28:21

But even with Archie's guile and experience,

0:28:270:28:29

the salmon will not be easy to catch.

0:28:290:28:32

The ancient forest of the Great Wood of Caledon

0:28:440:28:48

lies on the northern edge of the Cairngorms.

0:28:480:28:51

CUCKOO CALLS

0:28:510:28:54

Even though only 1% of the original pine forest remains,

0:28:560:29:00

writer Jim Crumley can still feel humbled in its presence.

0:29:000:29:04

Pine woods are...

0:29:100:29:11

I mean, to my way of thinking, are completely different

0:29:110:29:15

from any other kind of wood.

0:29:150:29:17

Especially big pine woods like you get around the Cairngorms

0:29:170:29:21

where you really do get the chance to go for a long walk in trees.

0:29:210:29:25

And there is a sense at the beginning,

0:29:300:29:33

as you enter the pine wood,

0:29:330:29:35

that it says to me...

0:29:350:29:37

.."Walk more slowly, walk softer.

0:29:390:29:43

"Look at where you are, take notice."

0:29:440:29:47

I do like to write when I'm out.

0:29:520:29:55

It's something that I learned from reading a woman

0:29:550:29:59

called Margaret Evans, an English nature writer.

0:29:590:30:03

And she said that "There is no substitute

0:30:040:30:07

"even in divine imagination for the touch of the moment,

0:30:070:30:10

"the touch of the daylight on the dream."

0:30:100:30:13

Just while I've been sitting here,

0:30:130:30:15

I've been picking out little points of light

0:30:150:30:17

which are droplets of moisture.

0:30:170:30:19

I mean, these fell onto the bushes as snow about an hour ago

0:30:190:30:23

and those trapped snowflakes have just become points of light.

0:30:230:30:28

Sheltered in the woods from the fickle weather,

0:30:280:30:32

Jim can easily lose sense of time.

0:30:320:30:35

Under a tree like this, he had his first encounter

0:30:350:30:38

with one of the rarest and shyest creatures of the pine forest.

0:30:380:30:43

BURBLING, RASPING CALL

0:30:430:30:45

I was lying just on the ground

0:30:450:30:47

and I probably hadn't been in a deep sleep, but I'd been dozing

0:30:470:30:52

and there was this capercaillie making this preposterous noise.

0:30:520:30:56

DEEP, THROATY "CLUCKING" AND "POPPING"

0:30:590:31:03

And it just started to busily parade up and down

0:31:050:31:10

and these strange, kind of, popping cork noises started

0:31:100:31:16

and it was extraordinary

0:31:160:31:18

to encounter for the first time such a situation.

0:31:180:31:21

Capercaillie or capers are only found in pine forests,

0:31:250:31:29

where they feed on the pine needles and shoots.

0:31:290:31:32

It's in April when the males head to a special place in the forest

0:31:340:31:38

known as a lek, a Norse word for "dance".

0:31:380:31:42

I kind of followed it as best I could crawling on my stomach

0:31:470:31:52

and got to the edge of this little clearing

0:31:520:31:55

and there were three or four others there.

0:31:550:31:57

It was kind of into this big, black fan thing.

0:31:570:32:00

It's like a black sunrise.

0:32:000:32:01

It was one of the most extraordinary things in nature.

0:32:010:32:04

The object of the exercise obviously is to attract the females.

0:32:120:32:15

And that whole joy of discovery thing, is what absolutely for me

0:32:170:32:22

underpins everything that I do in the natural world.

0:32:220:32:27

It was a rare moment indeed.

0:32:300:32:32

There is so little native forest,

0:32:320:32:35

there are fewer than 2,000 capercaillie left.

0:32:350:32:38

The Great Wood of Caledon

0:32:480:32:50

once covered as much as three million acres,

0:32:500:32:54

but over millennia, the felling of trees,

0:32:540:32:57

farming and grazing, have changed the landscape completely.

0:32:570:33:01

BURBLING CALL

0:33:010:33:02

Now it's the capercaillie's smaller cousin, the red grouse,

0:33:020:33:06

which is benefiting from the way the uplands are managed.

0:33:060:33:09

It's May, and Graeme's burning has created a good patchwork

0:33:110:33:16

of different aged heather for cover and food.

0:33:160:33:18

The grouse have been nesting,

0:33:210:33:23

and he's hoping there will be lots of baby chicks.

0:33:230:33:25

CHEEPING Two chicks.

0:33:280:33:30

They're quite easy to catch cos they're so small.

0:33:330:33:36

It doesn't do the bird any harm, you know, they don't seem to mind it.

0:33:360:33:40

It's just a quick check,

0:33:400:33:41

it only takes a few seconds to have a look at them.

0:33:410:33:44

That's only a couple of days old...

0:33:460:33:48

if that.

0:33:480:33:50

Not even that, a day old. He's quite a healthy bird

0:33:500:33:54

so he should make it all right

0:33:540:33:57

as long as the weather's good to him.

0:33:570:33:59

He's pretty well free of ticks.

0:33:590:34:01

Parasitic ticks are a problem,

0:34:030:34:06

as they can make a nestling weak and vulnerable.

0:34:060:34:08

Graeme's going out three or four times a week

0:34:100:34:13

to give the baby grouse a health check.

0:34:130:34:17

And with every passing survey, he realises there's a problem.

0:34:170:34:21

There he goes.

0:34:210:34:23

Many of the grouse chicks have succumbed to hypothermia

0:34:230:34:26

in this wet, cold spring.

0:34:260:34:28

It's been a really bad month, May,

0:34:300:34:32

we've had snow on the hills during the nesting

0:34:320:34:35

and a lot of hard frosts and torrential rain

0:34:350:34:38

and it's just been horrendous.

0:34:380:34:41

We've just lost probably about half the population of chicks this year.

0:34:410:34:45

Usually about eight or ten in a covey.

0:34:500:34:53

This one's down to three

0:34:530:34:56

so the rest have obviously perished with the cold.

0:34:560:34:59

Over the summer, Graeme will continue

0:35:020:35:04

to carry out regular bird counts.

0:35:040:35:07

But if the chicks continue to die in large numbers,

0:35:070:35:10

he may need to cancel the August grouse shoot.

0:35:100:35:13

It's a serious concern

0:35:150:35:17

as many livelihoods are tied into the shooting season.

0:35:170:35:21

The shoot's my responsibility, so it's not good for anybody.

0:35:220:35:27

I'm very disheartened here. It's not looking good at all just now.

0:35:270:35:30

We really need the weather to cheer up.

0:35:300:35:33

Over the next few weeks,

0:35:350:35:38

the weather is as changeable as ever.

0:35:380:35:41

But eventually, summer does arrive.

0:35:440:35:47

The flowering of the heather

0:35:500:35:51

brings colour and a softness to the rugged landscape.

0:35:510:35:55

With nearly 20 hours of daylight, it's a perfect time to be outdoors.

0:35:570:36:03

Elizabeth Pirie grew up in the Cairngorms.

0:36:050:36:08

Her father, Eric, is an outdoor guide,

0:36:080:36:11

and Elizabeth has inherited his passion for wild places.

0:36:110:36:16

Today they're climbing their favourite crag, Kingussie,

0:36:210:36:24

to the west of the Park.

0:36:240:36:26

Unlike the granite plateau of the Cairngorm Massif,

0:36:260:36:30

this rock is a mica schist.

0:36:300:36:34

The minerals within it were subjected to great heat and pressure

0:36:340:36:38

and lie in layered planes.

0:36:380:36:40

The Cairngorms' weather has prised open these layers,

0:36:400:36:44

creating perfect handholds.

0:36:440:36:47

Elizabeth's love for textures and colours of rock faces like this

0:36:480:36:53

changed the direction of her art.

0:36:530:36:56

Art never seemed like a realistic thing to actually do.

0:37:000:37:03

I think I went through a time when it was, "Art? OK, I'll draw pots,

0:37:030:37:07

"I'll draw wine glasses, I'll draw flowers, that's fine."

0:37:070:37:10

It did take a while to actually realise, "No, look,

0:37:100:37:12

"you love the Cairngorms, so draw that, draw what you love."

0:37:120:37:16

For me, drawing a rock

0:37:230:37:25

and really, really looking at it is as beneficial as life drawing is.

0:37:250:37:31

It teaches you to look just as much, really,

0:37:330:37:35

cos there are just so many details

0:37:350:37:38

and you think, "Can you describe a rock?

0:37:380:37:42

"Oh, well, it's a lump of stone, really." But they're so unique.

0:37:420:37:48

Especially on a wall like this, it's so featured.

0:37:490:37:52

It's amazing how many lines there are going through it.

0:37:520:37:55

The challenges of climbing rock and painting it seem to run in parallel.

0:38:010:38:07

When you're climbing, you're thinking, "Right, OK,

0:38:070:38:10

"I'm going to try that move."

0:38:100:38:12

Each line is like a move, so you do a line of a drawing

0:38:150:38:20

and you have to think, "Is that going to work?" If it does, great!

0:38:200:38:24

And if it doesn't work, you have to reverse it. Oh, dear!

0:38:240:38:29

Your art goes up in steps, so you go along for a little bit

0:38:330:38:35

and you'll get to this point where it's just not working,

0:38:350:38:38

nothing's working, and suddenly you'll take a big step

0:38:380:38:40

and stuff will work again.

0:38:400:38:42

Happy day. That was much better.

0:38:550:38:59

Elizabeth gets a kick out of climbing a difficult rock face.

0:39:000:39:04

For others, it's the Cairngorm's rivers

0:39:070:39:10

that provide endless fascination.

0:39:100:39:12

The River Dee

0:39:150:39:17

flows through some of the most stunning scenery in the Highlands.

0:39:170:39:20

It travels at a stately pace

0:39:220:39:25

and is often shallow enough to wade in,

0:39:250:39:28

making it such a desirable place to fish.

0:39:280:39:31

-We'll pop down here, OK?

-Right.

0:39:330:39:35

It's in early August, when one of Archie's longest-standing clients

0:39:350:39:38

joins him for fishing on the Dee.

0:39:380:39:41

When I do step down, I never know

0:39:410:39:44

if my knees are going to stop going down once I've started.

0:39:440:39:48

At 91, she is the oldest person he helps in his role as ghillie.

0:39:480:39:53

-I think I'll stop you about here.

-Mm-hm.

-OK?

0:39:530:39:57

She is known affectionately to him as Mrs C,

0:39:590:40:02

and she has been fishing this pristine part of the river

0:40:020:40:05

for 51 years.

0:40:050:40:07

The first two weeks in August,

0:40:100:40:12

I always really look forward to Mrs C's family that comes.

0:40:120:40:15

They treat me like one of the family.

0:40:150:40:17

I have a fantastic time with them.

0:40:170:40:20

She's a joy to be with. I really enjoy having her here.

0:40:230:40:28

It was almost by accident that Mrs C fell in love

0:40:290:40:32

with this particular part of the Cairngorms.

0:40:320:40:34

I hated taking the children to the seaside.

0:40:340:40:39

I hated sitting on the sand, so when we were offered

0:40:390:40:43

half of this beat for August, we took a house in Ballater

0:40:430:40:49

and really came to see if the children could cope with it

0:40:490:40:53

and they simply loved it!

0:40:530:40:55

She has now outlived several ghillies.

0:41:000:41:04

Archie is her eighth.

0:41:040:41:06

I'll always remember the big fish I got down here.

0:41:070:41:10

And it was... What was it?

0:41:160:41:20

-20?

-25 pounds.

-25 pounds.

0:41:200:41:22

And that was exciting!

0:41:220:41:25

The art of casting is one that is mastered through years of practice.

0:41:290:41:34

The aim is to work your fly into the perfect place

0:41:340:41:38

to attract the attention of a fish.

0:41:380:41:40

But getting them to bite isn't easy.

0:41:420:41:46

With salmon you put your fly out and you know vaguely

0:41:460:41:50

where the salmon will be lying.

0:41:500:41:53

And like all things in nature,

0:41:530:41:55

it's really... you can't control it, really,

0:41:550:41:59

it's the fish that control it.

0:41:590:42:02

Once the fly is out there,

0:42:020:42:03

if the fish likes it, he'll take it. If he doesn't, he won't,

0:42:030:42:06

and it doesn't matter how good or not you are.

0:42:060:42:10

You just... I don't know, I think that's got a fascination.

0:42:130:42:16

When you're standing in the river,

0:42:220:42:24

it doesn't matter much about the fish,

0:42:240:42:27

you just become part of the river.

0:42:270:42:29

It's rather nice being part of a river.

0:42:290:42:32

You certainly don't do it for catching fish

0:42:320:42:35

cos you can fish for weeks without touching a fish,

0:42:350:42:38

it doesn't seem to matter.

0:42:380:42:41

It's just a silly thing, a mad thing that one does.

0:42:410:42:47

Archie's role is not so much knowing how to catch fish

0:42:470:42:51

but it is also about sharing the love of this stretch of wild river.

0:42:510:42:55

We'll move now, I think.

0:42:560:42:57

The fish lie would be right across that far side, towards the...

0:42:570:43:00

Yes, he'll be either this side or that.

0:43:000:43:03

Nothing as silly as fish.

0:43:030:43:05

No.

0:43:050:43:06

Although the heather moorland is managed,

0:43:090:43:11

it can be as wild and unpredictable as the river.

0:43:110:43:15

The first day of the shooting season, the 12th of August,

0:43:200:43:23

known as The Glorious Twelfth,

0:43:230:43:26

is the most important of Graeme MacDonald's working year.

0:43:260:43:30

He's dressed in his best tweed for the occasion.

0:43:300:43:33

It's the first day of the grouse.

0:43:380:43:40

It's the big test of what you've done.

0:43:400:43:43

It's just horrendous, the tension, because you've done everything.

0:43:430:43:47

You've done your grouse counts,

0:43:470:43:49

you've got everything you think right.

0:43:490:43:51

It's very, very stressful.

0:43:510:43:53

BURBLING BIRDSONG

0:43:560:44:01

Graeme hasn't had to cancel the shoot

0:44:010:44:04

but grouse numbers are still low compared to last year.

0:44:040:44:08

To make the shoot a success,

0:44:110:44:13

Graeme will be carefully co-ordinating a team of beaters -

0:44:130:44:16

local people paid to flush out the grouse.

0:44:160:44:20

You down here, birthday boy.

0:44:200:44:23

We go right over that top there.

0:44:240:44:27

'I'm the Sergeant Major of the line.

0:44:270:44:30

'I do all my shouting and roaring at the beaters

0:44:300:44:32

'just to make sure they are doing what I want.'

0:44:320:44:34

You're going here, Perry.

0:44:340:44:36

While the shooters get into position, Graeme and the beaters

0:44:370:44:41

spread themselves out across the moorland

0:44:410:44:44

and then wait for a signal from the owner of the estate, the laird.

0:44:440:44:49

'And then we wait there

0:44:500:44:52

'till the laird's gone up the hill in front of us.'

0:44:520:44:54

Aye, OK, you on channel, Fraser?

0:44:540:44:57

BEEPING

0:44:570:45:00

RADIO: Aye.

0:45:020:45:03

'And then I get a signal from the laird to start the drive.'

0:45:030:45:07

-BEEPING

-On you go, Fraser.

0:45:080:45:10

The beaters walk for up to a mile in the direction of the shooters,

0:45:130:45:17

trying to force the grouse into the air and towards the guns.

0:45:170:45:21

Grouse fly low to the ground but very fast,

0:45:290:45:32

so they're difficult to shoot.

0:45:320:45:35

Most slip through the line of fire.

0:45:350:45:37

It's just fantastic when you start walking and you hear that,

0:45:500:45:53

the guns going off. You kind of relax.

0:45:530:45:56

You think, "This is going to work well,"

0:45:560:45:59

and it's just brilliant. You get that kind of relaxation

0:45:590:46:03

that you think, "Yeah, this is going to work."

0:46:030:46:07

Grouse meat is a delicacy and everyone gets to share the bounty.

0:46:100:46:14

In spite of the very cold spring and low grouse numbers,

0:46:180:46:21

the day's turned out well for Graeme.

0:46:210:46:25

WHISTLE BLOWS

0:46:250:46:27

That was a cracker, that was a good drive, that.

0:46:290:46:32

We've got two more drives to do today

0:46:320:46:34

and then back home to the gun room, sort out the guests,

0:46:340:46:37

and then take the beaters in, have a wee dram to finish the day with.

0:46:370:46:42

The moorlands have been a working landscape for millennia.

0:46:480:46:52

It's hard to imagine what these mountains looked like

0:46:520:46:55

before people began changing their nature.

0:46:550:46:59

But there are still trees that remind us

0:47:050:47:08

of a wilderness that existed even before the Scots pine.

0:47:080:47:13

10,000 years ago, when the glaciers retreated,

0:47:130:47:18

birch trees were the first to colonise these slopes.

0:47:180:47:21

And their descendants now give artist Elizabeth Pirie

0:47:210:47:24

the signal that autumn has well and truly begun.

0:47:240:47:28

I think you see autumn much more than you see spring.

0:47:280:47:31

You know, spring, you can miss that. You know, blink and it's gone.

0:47:310:47:34

Whereas you can't miss autumn.

0:47:340:47:37

To see the colours changing, to see the landscape really moving.

0:47:370:47:42

I just love it, absolutely love it.

0:47:420:47:44

It kind of moves on so many levels as well. It's not just the trees.

0:47:480:47:51

You're kind of getting shorter days, so that daylight

0:47:510:47:55

becomes kind of a bit more special, and you're just like,

0:47:550:47:58

"Oh, look at the light there. Look, the sun's still out, yes, fantastic!"

0:47:580:48:02

Elizabeth is looking afresh at a tree

0:48:050:48:07

that is one of the oldest characters in this landscape.

0:48:070:48:11

It is quite overwhelming at points cos you look up

0:48:120:48:14

and it's like, "Oh, there are so many colours!

0:48:140:48:17

"How on earth am I going to do any of this justice?"

0:48:170:48:20

And the bark of the wood,

0:48:200:48:22

it's such a contrast to the colours that are going on.

0:48:220:48:25

There's so much going on.

0:48:250:48:27

Mixing a palette, even, mixing paint on the palette, you kind of think,

0:48:320:48:36

"That's really, really harsh.

0:48:360:48:37

"That's going to be horrific on here, it'll look awful.

0:48:370:48:40

"Oh, well, let's do it anyway and see what it looks like."

0:48:400:48:43

And most of the time you put it on and you kind of go,

0:48:430:48:45

"Oh, is it actually..." You know, it's almost right.

0:48:450:48:48

And it's really weird to have that thing where that shouldn't work,

0:48:480:48:51

that colour should not be here and yet it fits.

0:48:510:48:56

In late September, autumn is announced in other ways.

0:49:050:49:10

RED STAG ROARS AND BELLOWS

0:49:100:49:12

The bellowing of red deer across the hills heralds the start of the rut.

0:49:140:49:18

This is when the stags compete for mating rights to females.

0:49:260:49:31

Red deer have become a celebrated part of the highland glens

0:49:380:49:42

but deer numbers, like red grouse,

0:49:420:49:44

were artificially boosted in the 19th century,

0:49:440:49:48

when hunting them was made fashionable by Queen Victoria.

0:49:480:49:51

'When you're stalking, when you decide on an area to go to,

0:49:540:49:58

'it can take quite a few hours

0:49:580:50:02

'to get up to a position.'

0:50:020:50:05

That's where he was lying. The stag was on that next.

0:50:050:50:08

As the deer have no natural predators,

0:50:080:50:11

part of Graeme's job is to control their numbers on the Estate.

0:50:110:50:15

But getting close enough to kill them humanely

0:50:170:50:20

takes all his years of experience.

0:50:200:50:23

'Quite often, we have to crawl.

0:50:270:50:29

'A lot of the time you're crawling into a position to get a shot.

0:50:290:50:33

'You've really got to become like a stag or a hind,

0:50:350:50:39

'you're thinking like them.

0:50:390:50:42

'This is their ground.

0:50:420:50:43

'It really depends on the wind, because if a stag smells you,

0:50:460:50:50

'sees you, anything that will disturb it, they're off.

0:50:500:50:55

'As soon as they smell you, they'll run.

0:50:550:50:57

'As long as you get the wind right,

0:51:010:51:03

'you can usually get a successful stalk.'

0:51:030:51:06

OK, now you see it, the second one on the right.

0:51:060:51:09

'And then you look with just your eyes

0:51:090:51:12

''and then make sure nothing's seen you

0:51:120:51:14

'and all of a sudden, the stag gets into a shootable position

0:51:140:51:18

'and then you have to say to the guest, "Right, take the stag now"

0:51:180:51:22

'and he shoots the stag and it's very, very exciting.'

0:51:220:51:26

All right.

0:51:260:51:27

GUNSHOT

0:51:270:51:29

Graeme only allows select deer to be shot

0:51:360:51:40

to keep the populations healthy.

0:51:400:51:43

Now that the Cairngorms no longer has bears or wolves,

0:51:460:51:50

it falls to man to control them.

0:51:500:51:52

In late autumn, Jim is back in his beloved forest below the moors,

0:51:590:52:05

revisiting the remarkable survivors of an ancient past.

0:52:050:52:09

It never ceases to amaze me

0:52:100:52:12

that within the scope of a small patch of the same wood,

0:52:120:52:16

you can come across so many trees which are so utterly different.

0:52:160:52:23

There can be very few species of trees

0:52:230:52:25

where individuality is so pronounced.

0:52:250:52:29

You find trees that grow very straight for 30, 40, 50 feet

0:52:290:52:34

before anything starts to happen.

0:52:340:52:36

And you find others, particularly the really old ones,

0:52:380:52:42

that seem to have welded several trunks together

0:52:420:52:45

and start to do astonishing things with limbs, you know,

0:52:450:52:48

within the first half a dozen feet of the ground.

0:52:480:52:52

I mean, there are some beautiful canopy trees

0:52:550:52:57

that demand their own space and almost nothing grows beneath them.

0:52:570:53:01

There is one very old tree

0:53:020:53:04

that Jim has a particular fondness and fascination for.

0:53:040:53:09

This is what I like to think of as a wolf tree.

0:53:090:53:13

It's absolutely massive - it's got to be 300 years old,

0:53:170:53:21

and I would think possibly even nearer 400.

0:53:210:53:24

It's a source of great comfort to me

0:53:310:53:34

that a tree like this might well have felt the brush of a wolf,

0:53:340:53:39

just as it was going about its everyday business.

0:53:390:53:43

I'm inclined to look at trees like this and, you know,

0:53:430:53:46

see if I can find any wolf fur that's snagged in the bark,

0:53:460:53:49

but so far I've not found any.

0:53:490:53:52

This forest was the last stronghold of the wolf in Britain

0:53:560:54:00

and Jim misses the idea of it.

0:54:000:54:03

It's the thing which I notice most here as an absence.

0:54:060:54:11

The thing that allows nature to manage the landscape

0:54:110:54:15

according to the natural order,

0:54:150:54:19

and the wolf permits that to happen.

0:54:190:54:21

To bring back wolves today would be highly controversial.

0:54:210:54:27

The Cairngorms may never be truly wild

0:54:280:54:32

but it remains the wildest, most remote part of Britain.

0:54:320:54:37

When winter returns, mountaineer John Lyall is at his happiest,

0:54:440:54:50

exploring far-flung parts of the mountains.

0:54:500:54:53

Winter comes very quickly here and when it starts,

0:54:530:54:57

the change is quite dramatic.

0:54:570:54:59

For me, snow turns the Cairngorms into mountains.

0:54:590:55:03

You don't experience in other ranges.

0:55:040:55:07

In lots of ways, the hills we have are just that, the hills.

0:55:070:55:10

They don't have glaciers.

0:55:100:55:12

They're not your classic mountains, in a sense.

0:55:120:55:15

It's the snow that just turns them into, I think,

0:55:150:55:18

an extra-challenging and extra-beautiful place.

0:55:180:55:22

Within hours, the Cairngorms can become a perilous place.

0:55:260:55:30

But hidden in some of the remotest parts of the range

0:55:300:55:33

are natural shelters that offer a refuge from the elements.

0:55:330:55:37

The most dramatic of them is the Shelter Stone.

0:55:380:55:42

So the Shelter Stone is the mummy of all the shelters in the Cairngorms.

0:55:460:55:51

People have been very glad of this place in winter especially.

0:55:510:55:55

People have got lost on the Cairngorm plateau

0:55:550:55:59

and come down by mistake into the Loch Avon basin

0:55:590:56:02

and some of them were very glad to get in here.

0:56:020:56:05

Here you really see the colour of the granite,

0:56:050:56:08

the fantastic reddy-brown, almost orange at times colour

0:56:080:56:12

that makes up Am Monadh Ruadh, the red hills that are the Cairngorms.

0:56:120:56:16

As you can see, it looks almost like frost

0:56:160:56:18

just glinting off the roof as the light catches it. It's...

0:56:180:56:22

..superb, superb.

0:56:240:56:25

I know some people feel uncomfortable in here

0:56:250:56:29

with the thought of thousands of tons of rock.

0:56:290:56:32

To me, it feels very safe

0:56:320:56:33

and we're here right in the womb of the Cairngorms.

0:56:330:56:37

In a landscape so harsh that it takes lives,

0:56:370:56:40

knowledge of shelters like this is of great comfort.

0:56:400:56:44

But it's the testing nature of the landscape

0:56:510:56:54

which offers infinite rewards.

0:56:540:56:57

The big, wild expanses of plateaus,

0:57:000:57:03

the hidden corries, the places that take a lot of effort to get to.

0:57:030:57:07

To me, they've got as many challenges

0:57:070:57:10

as I can want in my whole life.

0:57:100:57:12

Down the centuries, we've made our mark on this mighty landscape.

0:57:180:57:23

Although people, animals and even forests have come and gone,

0:57:230:57:28

these granite mountains remain.

0:57:280:57:32

"First and last is the mountain land.

0:57:390:57:43

"We, whether mile-high eagle, wildcat, wolf, pine wood, people,

0:57:430:57:48

"we are its mirror image, blood to its bone.

0:57:480:57:53

"First and last, the land is mother to us all."

0:57:530:57:58

This mountain land we've come to know as the Cairngorms

0:57:580:58:02

is Britain's last great wild space,

0:58:020:58:05

a place where people continue to be humbled and inspired.

0:58:050:58:10

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:430:58:46

The harsh beauty and surprising wildlife of Scotland's Cairngorms National Park through the eyes of the people who know it best.

The Cairngorms is Britain's largest and wildest National Park. A land of Arctic extremes in the heart of the Scottish highlands. Its granite mountains and ancient pine forests are home to some of our rarest and most spectacular animals, including golden eagles, ptarmigan, capercaillie, red deer and crested tits. This lyrical and thought-provoking film reveals the inner secrets of this wild landscape over a year through the eyes of individuals who know and love the Cairngorms: a mountain guide, an artist, a salmon ghillie, a gamekeeper and a nature writer.