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The image of a hillside purpled with the blooms of heather is an icon of the Scottish uplands. You can see some of the largest swathes of heather-rich moor anywhere in the world here.

The sheer extent of Scotland’s moors is the result of work by several generations of moorland keepers. Since the mid-1800s, their practise of burning small patches of heather every few years has boosted heather growth and suppressed trees. This work is dedicated to the harvesting of one bird – the red grouse.

When to see it

There are three kinds of woody shrubs – cross-leaved heath, bell heather and ling – that give the flower colours to Scottish moors. The first two tend to bloom a bit earlier than ling, with good displays in July. Ling’s purple peak is for a few weeks from mid-August onwards. But you’ll find smaller numbers of plants in flower at other times.

Where to see it

Patches of heather-rich ground are very widespread in Scotland, so be on the look-out anywhere from the far south to Shetland. The largest areas of moorland that are managed for the benefit of red grouse are on the drier slopes of the eastern and southern Highlands and in the Borders.

For a classic route across heathery mountain ground, travel from near Ballater in Deeside along the A939 to Tomintoul and Grantown-on-Spey. Elsewhere, choose hill routes in late summer. The patchwork effect from careful ‘muirburn’ to boost heather can be very obvious throughout the year.

Interesting facts

Heather has had many uses in the past. Archaeological evidence shows that the Picts used it to flavour beer, something now revived by a modern brewery. A scented mattress could be made from carefully cut and stacked heather shoots in flower. In a more down-to-earth way, heather was useful for brooms, pot scrubbers and thatching material.