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Scotland holds the eagle’s share of high-level ground in Britain and Ireland. You can experience arctic-like conditions and landforms on mountain tops, see special wildlife and enjoy views over huge chunks of hill ground by exploring the upper edge of the Scottish uplands. Come well-equipped, and you can get a tingle from the tops at any time of the year.

What to look for

The ‘arctic-alpine’ vegetation that is hardy enough to rise to the challenges of Scottish mountain living is low growing. Some of the plants – such as various saxifrages, creeping azalea and moss campion – have attractive flowers. Others are less showy, but can cover impressively large areas, such as the woolly fringe moss that carpets upper Ben Wyvis.

Look for the splashes of colour from rock-hugging lichens, such as map lichen. Look more closely in case a ptarmigan – the grouse of the mountains – or a mountain hare is trying to blend its camouflage with the tones of the boulders.

Where to visit

You could (and some do) spend a lifetime exploring the Scottish mountains and still feel that there was more to see. For a fast-track to some interesting scenery and vegetation, try the mountain gondola at Nevis Range on Aonach Mor, or go for a walk from the car park at the Cairngorm Mountain Railway to look for trackside lichens, clubmosses and ptarmigan beside the Northern Corries of Cairngorm.

In Perthshire, the visitor centre at Ben Lawers gives an introduction to the superb mountain flora near Loch Tay, and you might catch sight of an uncommon Scotch argus butterfly (a mountain insect) on this or other Breadalbane hills. In the north, you can see some ‘mountain’ flowers, such as mountain avens, near sea level at Durness and plants such as moss campion growing near sea level on Shetland.

Interesting facts

Ptarmigan can cope with life at upper levels of Scottish mountains thanks to their superb insulation. The shaft of each body feather has two feathers sprouting from it – one large and one small. Feathered feet can act as snowshoes, spreading the ptarmigan’s weight.