Blink and you’ll miss it! The world’s greatest magician, Mother Nature has performed her annual sleight of hand and begun to gently awaken our senses from their winter slumbers with a deft and barely perceptible change that we struggle to pinpoint. We see some colour breaking out from the grey canvas, the dull silence has been delicately interrupted by birdsong, and sweet aromas waft in from outdoors.
A subtle change it may be on a day-to-day basis, but once the transition to spring is fully complete the effects here in the Highlands are dramatic. The hibernating world emerges in a kaleidoscope of activity where the frenetic energy of nature aims to make up for the lost months.
If a sensory overload is what you’re after, we have just the tonic…
It starts with a few snowflakes on the peaks and ends as a raging river hundreds of feet below. The carefully crafted layers of winter snow are melting at an ever-quicker pace and feed the thousands of mountain springs and streams that first trickle and then cascade their way down the glen to the valley floor. Listen closely in Glen Loy and you can even hear the River Loy crashing through the woods to link up with the River Lochy.
Fuelled with this hefty supply of water and nutrients, the earth is ripe for blossoming once the sun appears and dusts away those shadows. And look how it blossoms!
A blanket of green covers the surface, alluringly adorned with pockets of yellow, red, purple, and blue as wildflowers pop up and stretch up towards the light. Dandelions, daffodils, and cowslips illuminate this patchwork landscape, ably aided by the warm tones of the bright orange hawkweeds.
The deep purple of marsh violets adds an almost regal element to the picture, while the corridors of oak and birch trees are interspersed with a sea of bluebells extending out in every direction.
The Bees’ Knees
Aside from their colours, one of the reasons bluebells are so successful in attracting insect life is because the winged creatures can easily bite through the flower to steal its nectar without having to pollinate it first. But don’t let this fool you into thinking the bees here are lazy – their tiring tasks are crucial to stimulating life in this ecosystem!
It is these constant flights from one flower to another that contribute to the rich sights and scents we can enjoy at this time of year. Not content with this, bees are also responsible for another sensory treat by turning their efforts into sweet and natural honey.
Many health benefits have been attributed to the fruits of their labour (in addition to honey, beeswax and propolis feature in traditional medicines all over the world) and it has perhaps never been more fitting to highlight bees’ very own type of vaccine – sufferers from allergies caused by reactions to local plants should find their problems eased by trying the honey from the same area. And if you don’t have allergies, well…try it anyway, simply because it’s delicious! We particular enjoy the Scottish heather-flavoured variety when the flower blooms in July (supposedly good at reducing inflammation!).
Butterflies don’t give us any honey, but they do paint a plethora of pretty patterns right in front of our eyes. The range of semi-natural habitats and unimproved land in this area ensures we have a fantastic variety of species that are rarely found elsewhere – the Chequered Skipper strays no further than 30 miles from Glenloy, while the likes of the Dark-green Fritillary dances through the moorlands of Lochaber and the Green Hairstreak keeps itself to the uplands (read more on the butterfly species of the West Highlands here).
Munching and chomping their way through these budding plants and flowers are some four-legged friends eagerly eating for two (or more in some cases!). Lambing season can stretch from winter all the way through to the end of spring but reaches its peak around March and April when the cuteness factor is off the scales!
While spring is a popular time for the arrival of new life, sheep are undoubtedly the creatures you’ll notice the most of round here – in fact, there are more of them than us humans (some even claim they drove us off our land!). Away from the farms and out in the wild, you can expect to see baby Bambis in the early summer, when the native red and roe deer typically give birth.
Another animal that usually produces a litter in spring is the pine marten, which are found in abundance in Lochaber, despite their relative rarity across Britain. The Highland conditions are perfect for this bushy-tailed member of the weasel family to dig out a den and flourish beneath boulders and tree roots. We have a local pine marten called ‘Marty’ that visits the Estate lodges in the evening looking for some biscuits and tea! Keep an eye out for him but be wary that he can show his teeth sometimes… Not to worry though, he’ll make a quick dash before any kind of confrontation.
So if you’ve felt stuck in a slumber this winter, you can guarantee the life and sensations of the Highlands’ spring will rouse you in no time…