Nurture your need for freedom and adventure with Tristan Harper

Tristan Harper
12 May 2022

Scotland may be a small country but there is an abundance of experiences and activities to immerse yourself in no matter the time of the year if you’re willing to embrace the opportunity.

Wild Scotland kindly asked if l would be interested in exploring parts of Scotland over 3 days and in a way that I had never previously done before with the added touch of being guided by fellow outdoors industry professionals in their own specialised fields, engaging in new personal experiences with that perk of having some inside knowledge and experts on hand to help me learn some new skills.


The first feeling many are familiar with when contemplating trying something new in life is one of nervousness, those feelings of how will I do? Will I be good at it? And will l like it? But there is also excitement, and potential for a great experience and memory. In today’s world especially after how much we have been through individually and collectively over the last few years, and the things we may deal with in our day to day, we are all looking for these special moments that help us stoke something new within ourselves, something that rebalances, makes us feel even more alive, and something that fuels our spirit with the added bonus of that feeling of being in awe element. Many of us are increasingly seeking more experiences from our trips and adventures now, especially new experiences outdoors, and experiencing the scenery and engaging with nature in different ways.

I have witnessed it first hand from observing my own clients being a Qualified Scottish Mountain Guide, but I also understand it on a personal level being a Scotsman who enjoys creating new memories and finding new experiences outdoors and having this wonderful opportunity to dive deeper into exploring parts of my homeland respectfully, and learning more about it and what it has to offer.

I was looking forward to meeting the guides on this trip as I was excited about what they could show and teach me.

The biggest point l make when looking for new experiences in life is ensuring it embodies the Nurture element making sure that I’m not damaging the space and environment that l’m in, and that I am surrounding myself with like-minded people who have the same intentions, or ensuring I teach individuals about why it’s important to follow this principle. And the best thing about Wild Scotland is that they are very much driven and focused in helping our environment flourish whilst at the same time providing unique guided experiences for people, valuing the importance of our planet, the flora and fauna and keeping the balance.

Scotland’s Big Five in a Day, Wester Ross

Day one. The plan for today’s experience was Scotland’s Big Five which meant aiming to see the five wonderful species that brings so many tourists from around the world to explore the Highlands of Scotland. The Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Golden Eagle, Otter and the Harbour Seal. The day started at 9am where l would then meet husband and wife team Dan and Rachael Brown, professional ecologists who have absolutely tremendous passionate knowledge about Scottish species, the land and are filled with experiences from their previous travels around the world.


We met in Ullapool with the plan to spend the day driving further down the West Coast of Wester Ross stopping at select locations species spotting and of course with the professional knowledge and eyes of Dan and Rachael there was a good chance we were going to see quite a few species. I was really excited about this day when we started heading along the West Coast, they instantly made me feel relaxed and l could tell straight away their love for the outdoors and what they do. This is their profession, but they clearly love it. I always feel when you meet and interact with people of this nature who are so passionate about what they do it makes all the difference, and it’s an instant inspiration. They asked me what l would love to see and top of my list were the Eagles and Otters, l did think l may of set the expectation a little bit high but they both sounded confident and up to the challenge.

Working and doing a lot of exploring in certain parts of the Highlands myself l am used to encountering the beautiful Red Squirrel and the Red Deer, l do see the occasional Eagle but for me personally getting to see Otters, Eagles and Harbour Seals with the professional experience and guiding of two ecologists who know what to look for was really exciting as Dan and Rachael have a deep understanding of what to look for and where to go in the area with both of their levels of knowledge about Wester Ross.

It was very interesting, and anyone with an interest in wildlife would love this kind of experience.

Our first stop of the day Dan and Rachael pointed out some deer on the horizon before stopping to see some beautiful Scottish Wild Goat and their young otherwise known as their kids, I absolutely love seeing these animals and the only other place l have encountered them is mountain guiding in Glencoe one of Scotland’s National Parks, so this really was a great start to the day but what made this even more unique (which was a first for all of us) was seeing the Wild Goat feeding on lichen growing on fallen and standing trees. We didn’t know the exact reason as to why the Wild Goat were feeding on Lichen but Dan and Rachael suggested it could be due to a specific Vitamin they need. Makes sense as Lichens do produce a variety of vitamins one being Vitamin D. We continued a little further along until we reached a small car park opposite Gruinard Island getting a good view of the Harbour and Grey Seal laying out on the rocks using Dans spotting scope which l quickly realised l may need to make an investment in one of these if l plan to get a good view of species in the distance without disturbing them.

The sun was starting to come out and we really lucked out with the weather ahead, it turned into a wonderful sunny day and next on the list was scoping the coastline for Otters. My fingers were crossed, we were all on the lookout as we made our way past Gruinard Bay. Rachael was first to spot the Otter and by god was she good at spotting species all day. We spotted a female Otter with her adult grown pup which was most likely due to leave the holt (nest) very soon and also spotted another Otter a few 100 metres swimming quite far out into the Gruinard Bay. We stayed around an hour watching the otters especially the mother and her pup who were on the same shoreline as us munching on some freshly caught fish possibly Goby fish. What an absolute thrill seeing and experiencing these lovely animals first hand up close and then enjoying a delicious wee feast.

We then headed further down onto the shoreline searching in Rockpools when it was low tide, something that children would normally do but l quickly learned this was something l had never really done before except maybe previously looking for the odd crab or jellyfish, but to my amazement a whole new world had been opened up to me with the help of Dan and Rachael. I was in constant awe of everything they were showing me on a micro scale and how complex rock pooling can be, it’s a completely different world. We saw a variety of different species from Starfish, Butterfish, Hermit Crab, Shrimp, Hydroids on serrated rock, to lovely different species of colourful Lichen. I actually couldn’t and still can’t believe l have never properly explored this world.

After a wonderful time rock pooling we then headed to Firemore Beach, my day was coming to an end with Dan and Rachael, we had been seeing Eagles throughout the day in the distance but when we finally parked up and headed down towards the beach we were blessed with the sight of 5 White Tailed Eagles and 3 Golden Eagles. The Golden Eagles were quite far away but 3 White Tailed Eagles were relatively close and l was hoping to get a shot of the eagles with my camera using my zoom length but they were still quite far away for a good shot.

Dan and Rachael then pointed out that one pairing of the White Tailed Eagles were chasing off a female in a territorial chase. Very exciting! Something l had never witnessed before in person, of course they did a fly by right over our heads and none of us had our cameras at that exact moment, but to witness something like this was epic and even though l had wanted to take a photograph sometimes its good to simply just enjoy the moment without snapping a photo. The large female Eagle was being chased by the male while his own partner followed closely behind then all of a sudden the male swooped in on the large female whilst the female turned upside down displaying her large talons defending herself, again another attack and then the male’s partner came in to backup him up for another attack on the invading female before they disappeared over the hill. What a buzz that was to experience and what a great end to the day.

My day had come to an end and l really had no idea how l would feel at the end of the day, it had been fantastic and I learnt a lot. Dan and Rachael really made my experience special including the amount of knowledge they shared, especially with their answers to all of the questions l had to ask, whilst at the same time making me feel very welcomed into their space and sharing an equal love for respecting the environment and making sure we tread lightly while we viewed all these wonderful species. What an experience, and I got to see exactly what I was hoping to, and more.

Overnight Fly Fishing Safari with Assynt Fishing

Day two. An overnight Fly-Fishing Safari guided by Stewart Yates the man behind Assynt Fishing. Now this experience is definitely new territory for me l have never camped in this part of Scotland before and I have never been fly fishing in my life. I am not going to lie, I was nervous about this and with the underlying thought of how can you teach someone to fly fish when they have no experience whatsoever doing this. I must admit l did have some previous experience of deep sea fishing, but this is a completely different kettle of fish (no pun intended) and style of fishing which l have now come to realise.

The day started with meeting Stewart at a local café in Lochinver which l thought was great considering l was quite nervous and meeting beforehand, having lunch together and getting to know one another on mutual ground would give me a feel for how the coming days may go. Stewart thankfully was a very welcoming, relaxed kind of go with the flow vibe and instantly we hit it off chatting about our previous mountaineering experiences and some tales from trips we have been on in the past while enjoying some local fish and chips, and of course chatting about what lays ahead.

After a lovely filling lunch, we then drove further North on the single-track road a common theme in these parts of the Scottish Highlands, a personal favourite as life is much more relaxed here considering l live in the gateway to the Highlands myself just South of the Cairngorms, Scotland’s largest National Park. It’s remarkable how you can travel 5/6hrs further North and the landscape and way of life is quite different. I can already start feeling that this trip is going to be a success and an enjoyable 24hrs learning, experiencing and getting to know Stewart and his lovely dog Geo an English Shepherd who’s full of character.

Stewart had sent me an itinerary beforehand with a backup plan if the weather was bad but we lucked out and the forecast was warm Southerly winds and clear cloudy skies into the following day plus no midges (which can be an annoyance in the warmer summer months). Our camp spot was just below Quinag a lovely mountain consisting of 3 Corbett’s that sit at about 809metres where we would be fishing Loch an Leothaid and the stream flowing down from the Loch the following day, after l had hopefully gradually mastered a decent form of fly fishing.

As we made our way to the camp through Gleann Leireag, Stewart who was knowledgeable with the surroundings was chatting about specific species of flora, geology and pointing out old ancient stone structures possibly from the Iron/Bronze Age whilst I was also creating a lovely image in my head of what this place must have looked like over the years especially when the likes of Wolves and Bears once roamed this ancient land. It’s one of those things l personally remind myself of when exploring the Highlands, that it’s very easy to forget the history of Scotland both the history of the people as well as ecologically, and what used to roam here and how life used to be. I feel it’s important to know this knowledge even if certain species don’t exist anymore, plus it creates a narrative that adds an extra magical element when exploring these primeval landscapes.

After making our way up the Glen we set up camp, Stewart was very much in his element and again it’s one of those things when you are with people who are doing what is true to what they love it resonates making the experience that much more enjoyable. I was here along for the ride and Stewart and his dog Geo were great hosts, its normally me who’s doing the hosting when l am out guiding clients, so this really was a treat.

Stewart got the stove going and boiled up a hot brew before he started to show me ways of how to cast, hold the rod, which knots to tie, what type of lure to use along with the ways to approach the loch, how the Brown Trout may react plus constantly acknowledging and affirming the different ways to respect the environment, safe camping, Scottish outdoor access code etc ( and being a good citizen whilst out in nature, something l value when l hear other people speak of the correct way to carry ourselves and be whilst enjoying our beautiful homeland.


Personally l was finding the fly fishing very challenging but Stewart was extremely patient with me which helped me have more confidence in what l was doing, and we couldn’t help but laugh together as the common quote of the trip was fly fishing is “incredibly easy but also very hard at the same time”.

My casting did improve then at times it would be terrible, all part of the roller-coaster of learning but something that l enjoyed very much plus the added layer of having amazing weather and views. The night was gradually coming to an end, the sun was setting and we made a few more casts into the Loch, l didn’t get lucky but Stewart managed to catch a couple of Brown Trout which was great to see how it was done before we started to shut things down for the evening.

Before we each headed to our tents Stewart invited me to share a dram with him enjoying the sunset and sharing some stories chatting plans for the following day to fish downstream
hopefully where l would catch my first Brown Trout.

After a warm cosy snug night wrapped up in my sleeping bag having a great sleep l peaked my head out of my tent hoping it was going to be a good day, and to my surprise it was dry, the sky was clear and l was feeling fresh. Can’t beat a night in the tent out in the wild, really a thing a beauty everyone must experience at least once in their life (whilst respecting the land on) going fly fishing or not. I heard Stewart unzip his tent and here’s Geo come running over to my tent giving me a lovely morning greeting followed by Stewart asking if l want a hot brew, tea or coffee, coffee it was. I was feeling really good and super excited to head further down stream to see what new lessons Stewart was going to teach me, but of course Stewart was being a top host and made some lovely French Toast which was a first for me when wild camping, that went down really well.

After a delicious breakfast we packed up our gear leaving a spotless site as if no one was ever there then continued to follow the stream downhill, fly fishing a stream came much more natural to me but it’s also slightly easier considering the line is a tad shorter and it’s an easier technique making sure to watch out for any nearby trees not getting your lure caught and to be quick when the fish bites which l quickly learned. The fish were way more active today which made us both happy and excited. Stewart caught a few small Brown Trout and l managed to catch my first small Brown Trout, yes! Quite the wee buzz of excitement and adrenaline, even though small it was a real joy to just get a catch.

My final days had come to an end doing these wonderful experiences, and l was sad to be going home but equally filled with excitement knowing that l will definitely be coming back up this way to do more exploring with the knowledge and skills l have learned. This was a really wonderful and enjoyable time Fly Fishing with Stewart. Never did l ever think that l would enjoy Fly Fishing this much. l now have a completely different understanding and view of Fly Fishing and l feel l will definitely be taking this up as a hobby in the near future. What l have learned from this trip is to sometimes consider trying new things especially if you're on the fence and not entirely sure that you will like them, sometimes you might surprise yourself and actually enjoy it. I can’t thank Wild Scotland enough for getting me involved, and if you want to check out some of their amazing experiences and what they are all about here is a link to their website below.


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