The only way is up for the best views

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Highland Safaris promise to take you closer to some of the region's top wildlife. Ben West tracks the red deer stags

Tommy Young, my guide, slams the gearstick into four-wheel drive as our Land Rover slowly climbs the twisting rocky mountain track.

We are near Aberfeldy in Perthshire, in the Scottish Highlands. It is October and we are on safari in search of wild red deer, Britain's largest land mammal, but I'm not convinced that we will find any. All I can see is mile after mile of heather, a couple of birds encircling, and acres of densely planted spruce and larch plantations. It is a rugged, beautiful landscape, topped by the snowy peaks of Farragon and Schiehallion.

Autumn is the best time to look for red deer. We are at the height of the brief, annual rutting season, when the stags attempt to herd in their harems of hinds. To attract mates and stake their territories, they demonstrate their physical prowess by bellowing and strutting, rubbing their antlers against trees and fighting with other stags.

I am travelling with Highland Safaris, which started 20 years ago. Co-founder Donald Riddell had been taking friends on wildlife tours and then realised that many more people would enjoy the experience. It has since expanded into forest and mountain safaris, 4x4 off-road driving sessions, and walking and cycling safaris, where you are driven up a hill and left to make your own way down.

The journeys relate to the seasons. In winter, you can take a night tour to see the nocturnal world of grouse, owls and deer, as well as trips to discover how the snow buntings, white ptarmigan and mountain hares survive in sub-Arctic conditions.

The temperature has dropped dramatically in the 45 minutes or so since we left the mild conditions in the valley below. It's quite a thrill now that we are so high up and, as we turn a corner, the lush, green landscape suddenly changes to bright white snow.

We are a giddying 2,500ft above sea level, having used the access track to the UK's highest mine, which is busy extracting the mineral barite from a maze of blasted tunnels. There is no one else to be seen, but, as we stop by a mine shaft, we can hear the drone of the water pumps used in the mining process going on below us.

As I survey this pocket of industry tucked away in one of Europe's last great wildernesses, I begin to wonder whether we will spot anything larger than a red squirrel. Suddenly, two hinds dart past the vehicle, and a stag's dramatic roar can be heard. Tommy swiftly starts the engine and we head out in its general direction.

We set up shop, a little further down the track, with our telescope and binoculars. Tommy's trained eyes spot around 30 hinds galloping across the heather, with their stag following close behind. They all stop to graze, with the stag standing above them, displaying magnificent antlers. His roar bounces across the hills.

A few moments later, another herd runs past us from the other side, around 20 hinds and their stag. This time they are so close that we have no need to use binoculars. Tommy says that it is rare to see so many red deer at the same time. We retire to a mountain bothy to warm up next to a gas fire: never have hot chocolate, shortbread and a dram tasted so good.

The next day, I am joined by my family – my wife Bryony, 11-year-old son Jethro, and my 17-year-old daughter Jerusha – for a "drop at the top" cycle safari. We travel by Land Rover again to the summit of a hill overlooking Aberfeldy before hopping on our bikes. After a few minutes, we stumble across Loch Glassie, and stop to take in views which are populated by wildlife including whooper swans on migration from Siberia and Greenland, mallard and widgeon – the wildlife show here is ever changing.

We ride on across empty mountain tracks, country lanes and forest roads, and we get lost a couple of times – the map and description aren't detailed enough for someone used to navigating the London A-Z – finding ourselves on barely traversible, rutted muddy tracks. Then again, being assailed by the harsh elements found here is all part of the experience.

As we near the bottom of the hill, we cycle along a track in the middle of a forest of larch trees. They are so tall and tightly packed it is almost pitch black, a spooky contrast to the blazing sunlight beyond their branches.

Back on the valley floor, it is a relief to find ourselves on the side of the valley nearest to the Highland Safaris headquarters. We are muddy and tired, but delighted to have completed the course.

These safaris may not be the most comfortable way to see the extraordinary landscape of the Scottish Highlands, but they are the most exhilarating choice.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Highland Safaris (01887 820071; highlandsafaris.net) offers a calendar of tours to suit all the seasons. The Wests stayed at Gushat Cottage courtesy of Rural Retreats (01386 701177; ruralretreats.co.uk), which offers two-night breaks from £377.

News
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
news
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
film
Sport
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
football
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
World Book Day
News
people
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot