LAST month I switched on the news and saw three Scottish wildcats on TV. They had been filmed in Scotland’s Cairngorms. By the following morning I had packed my bags. I wanted to see one for myself.

Scottish wildcats are almost mythical. There are just a few hundred left in the wild; far less than the remaining population of tigers. In fact, these creatures are so scarce it is now easier to see a snow leopard in the Himalayas.

It was dark and raining heavily by the time I arrived in the Highlands. My headlights picked out a mountain hare on the side of the road. Its fur was beginning to turn white as it adopted a camouflage-coat for winter.

A red stag crossed the road in front of me. As I slowed down to watch it, five more stags appeared out of the gloom. I felt a wave of familiarity sweep over me. I was in Scotland. Even if I didn’t get to see the wildcats, there would certainly be enough wildlife here to make my trip worthwhile.

The next morning, I got up early. Ahead of me was a six-mile hike up the mountain to the spot where I suspected the wildcats had been filmed. I planned to bike the first three miles.

It wasn’t going to be easy with a rucksack containing 30 kilos of equipment, including trail cameras, tripods and cameras. And it was still raining heavily.

As I set off a red squirrel ran across the track in front of me. I was in a pine forest fringed with silver birch. The birch shone yellow against the dark green of the pines. I pushed on, pedalling higher and higher up the track. A female black grouse broke cover in a whirr of beating wings.

The rain stopped momentarily and a shaft of light hit the hillside, illuminating two red deer hinds as they trotted over the brow of the hill. I stopped for lunch at a tin shed shelter used by deer stalkers for fell ponies. The rain turned to snow. Within minutes a 30 mile-an-hour blizzard was whipping around the shed. I wondered whether it was wise to continue. The next section involved trekking up the mountain across rough terrain without a path. I decided to leave my bike and some equipment in the shed.

The wind blew a thick coating of snow over me. It settled around my feet as I walked. Up ahead I could see large birds flying in formation.

I looked through my binoculars. They were pink-footed geese; fresh in from the arctic. I watched them circle before dropping down to land behind a ridge ahead of me. I knew from my map there was a loch there and headed towards it.

I arrived at the loch, exhausted. Swimming among the geese was a flock of 32 whooper swans. It was incredible to think they had flown here all the way from Iceland.

I pressed on to the spot where the wildcats had last been seen. It was essentially a boulder field. I set up my camera traps and, with the blizzard raging around me, drizzled sardine oil over the rocks to tempt the wildcats.

I could barely see in the whiteout and I suspected that if the wildcats had any sense they would be tucked away in the boulders or on lower, warmer ground by now.

I headed back; the blizzard blowing in my face. It was hard to walk with the snow and hail bouncing off my cheeks.

I retrieved my bike and free-wheeled back. Even though I could no longer feel my fingers, I enjoyed speeding down the mountain, the wind whipping against my face and the wildlife I had just seen playing through my mind.

Suddenly a roe deer burst cover and leapt on to the track in front of me. Its winter coat shone a burnt-umber against the white of the snow.

My plan was to leave the camera traps out for a few days in the hope that they might capture the wildcats while I explored the Cairngorms.

The following day I watched a herd of more than 100 red deer. One stag was busy trying to keep control of his hinds as about 15 rivals waited in the wings, ready to seize their chance to mate with one of the females.

Then I spotted a golden eagle. I watched it soar majestically across the snow-covered scenery, swirling on air thermals and quartering the ground beneath it as it hunted.

On the final day I returned to retrieve my camera traps. They were buried beneath two feet of snow and had recorded nothing but the snow that covered them.

I was away five days in total and never did catch up with the wildcats but I came home with so many memories. The Scottish Highlands are so rugged and its wildlife is so hardy that each day was filled with incredible encounters.