Travel on Trial: 'Hit the ground, aim and fire!' – a deer stalking adventure in the Scottish Highlands

Penny Walker
Penny Walker learns how to stalk (and snap) a stag in the wild during an activity-filled stay at Kinloch Lodge

I was scrambling up a bog-ridden hillside in the Scottish Highlands when my ghillie Mitchell Partridge turned and asked, “right, how are you for speed?”

My lungs were screaming, my calves felt as though they were on fire and I could hear my blood pumping wildly in my head. In my mind the warm roaring fires, rich food and slump-perfected chairs of the lodge were calling to me. But having risen in the dark at 4.30am and tracked our quarry across the tough terrain of the Greshornish Estate, we’d finally caught a glimpse of a young stag hurtling across the heather. 

Our boot-clad, mud-guarded, stumpy legs were no match for the thin, nimble limbs of the deer and it quickly became evident that we’d have to outwit him – or rather Mitchell would have to outwit him. I was moments away from collapsing on to the ground in a heap.  

Penny managed to snap a picture of a stag in the heathy surrounds of a cloudy Skye

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“Keep low and move fast. I think he’s going to cross the fence just up here.” I gritted my teeth, stepped determinedly forward, and my leg disappeared – straight into the depths of an incredibly well-camouflaged Highland stream. Cold water swirled around my right thigh and the fact that my foot hadn’t hit the bottom yet told me I was in rather deep. I anchored myself to dry land with my left leg and elbows, my camera safely clutched between my hands. Fortunately, I’m a bit of a pro when it comes to falling (I’ve had a lot of practice) and managed to drag myself out with a grin, the thrill of the chase keeping me moving. 

travel Alli and Jason, United States

[This] was the highlight of our two-week trip. The two days were perfectly tailored for fly-fishing and wildlife photography

Even when the rain swept in for a quick, sharp, chilly shower, I hardly noticed. The skies cleared just in time to catch sight of the stag prancing into view. My ungracious delay was serendipitous. “We’d have overshot him by a good hundred metres if you hadn’t disappeared,” laughed Mitchell. He directed me to hit the ground, take aim and fire. My shutter clicked and I had what I was there for – a picture of a stag in the heathy surrounds of a cloudy Skye. 
For those that have wandered casually up to a deer in Richmond Park, I’d like to clarify that this is not the same. These stag are wild and while I may not be shooting to kill, others do, making them skittish.

With the mission accomplished, there was time to take in the view as we caught our breath. The sky may have been a smudgy grey but it only added to the beauty of this wild place. Heather turned the mountainsides a soft purple in the autumnal light, non-native pines filled the air with the smell of Christmas – mingled with moss and mud – and the ground under foot was far more difficult to walk on than I ever imagined. 

A mushroom Penny found on her travels on day two

travel Hugh and Toby, England

Brilliant for Toby, aged 14, to catch his first trout. Then the icing on the cake to catch his second! Mitchell was a pleasure to be with

“This is pretty much the most difficult the terrain gets,” Mitchell told me. “I’ve not seen it like this in a while. We were lucky to see deer at all today.” Exhilarated and exhausted, we headed back to the four-wheel drive for a cup of tea, prepared over a small, hastily lit fire, just before another shower swept in. 

For those less inclined to rise at the crack of dawn and chase a deer across a boggy moor in rather nippy conditions, it’s not just deer stalking that the Skye Ghillie offers the guests of Kinloch Lodge. And the next morning promised yet more Highland outdoor pursuits. 

The day began at a more reasonable hour with practice casts on the lawn. Today would be all about going slow, as we travelled to the shore of Loch Dùghaill for our first fly-fishing lesson. I pulled a brown trout from the quiet waters within my first 10 or so casts, and admired the shimmering colour of his scales before popping him back into the water. 

Mitchell’s knowledge of this part of the world was endless, and the lessons continued late into the afternoon as we wandered the grounds of the lodge. “One of the most poisonous plants in the world grows on these shores, and it’s easily confused with other edible shrubs and weeds”, he told me as he carefully pulled out a stem of hemlock.

The combination of the water and wild wood make this garden particularly bountiful. Mitchell pointed out sea vegetables growing in the shingle, berries and rosehips in the hedgerow and seaweed on the waterline, all of which we tasted as we went. As we wandered into the woods, I was surprised at the abundance of fungi and mushrooms. 

He pointed out each of them and discussed their properties. It seemed that almost every part of the ecosystem here has a purpose and a place in history. We discovered the medicinal properties of the plants, how to pack wounds with moss, and learned that some fungi (King Alfred’s cake and birch polypore) can be more efficient for starting fires than kindling. Highland pursuits is almost definitely code for “survival skills”. If I ever face a zombie apocalypse, I know exactly where I’m heading.

Need to know

Kinloch Lodge’s two-night Country Escape package includes fly fishing for Wild Brown Trout and stalking deer, as well as two nights’ accommodation, breakfasts, lunches, evening meals, personal guide and transfers to all activities; from £945pp (until Nov 1). Activities with the Skye Ghillie, Mitchell Partridge, can be booked year-round (skyeghillie.com; 01478 640811).