• Words Harriet Fitch Little
  • Photography Richard Gaston

Thomas
MacDonell

  • Words Harriet Fitch Little
  • Photography Richard Gaston

Visitors to Scotland’s Highlands have always liked to imagine that they are traveling through a landscape untouched by human hands. Here, at the northernmost tip of the United Kingdom, there are more red deer than residents and it is not unusual for a trip to the nearest supermarket to take the best part of a day. The countryside is vast and brutal, with peat bogs, freezing lochs and bare mountains reaching up to a sky that always threatens rain. This is a place where few plants grow taller than the scrubby, ubiquitous heather; where even day hikers can feel they are doing well just to survive.

The only problem with this romantic vision of desolation is that it’s a fantasy. In May, I traveled to the Cairngorms National Park to spend the day with Thomas MacDonell, director of conser...

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