The Rothiemurchus Estate, in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park just a couple of miles from Aviemore, offers nature in abundance – wildlife, woodland, hill and glen – and much more besides.

Over the years I’ve spent many happy times walking in and around the estate, which covers 30 square kilometres and is reckoned to have 10 million trees, accompanied by outdoor enthusiasts ranging from toddlers and pensioners to super-fit mountaineers.

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What strikes me about every visit I’ve made to this very special corner of the Highlands is that it has always been during winter. It’s always stunning in the Cairngorms, of course, but the cold, short days bring with them a special intensity of light and colour, even when you’re looking from the inside out.

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It’s also especially lovely at this time of year because it’s less busy. If summer at Rothiemurchus is the season of adventure, in winter it’s all about taking things slower and savouring the tranquility. And, of course, the food.

Historical highlights

The name Rothiemurchus – thought to mean ‘fort of Murchais’ in Gaelic – is believed to date back to the 8th century, and the first human inhabitants were likely to be the Picts, living in what would have been the ancient Caledonian pine forest.

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The parish belonged to the Crown until the 1220s, when it was given by Alexander II to the Bishop of Moray. In 1389, a local feud led the then-protector of the lands, Alexander Stuart (known as the Wolf of Badenoch) to ransack Rothiemurchus and a neighbouring parish.

In 1574, at the behest of James VI, the Grants of Freuchie in Fife took ownership of the Estate, and it has been in the same family ever since. The 13th Earl of Dysart, John Grant, is the 17th Laird of Rothiemurchus, and he manages the estate alongside his son, James. In 2014 the family sold 5,700 acres of Rothiemurchus Forest to Forestry and Land Scotland, previously the Forestry Commission.

What to do

The first thing you’ll want to do upon arrival is get straight out into that landscape, which takes in forest, loch and mountain. Get yourself an Explorer Map from the visitors centre and identify the level of walks (or cycles) you feel comfortable taking on – there are plenty of options for every level of fitness.

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The estate has a great website – – which has a wealth of information about activities on offer, many of which are free.

Two of the self-guided walks, the Lochan Mor and the Loch an Eilein, take around 60-90 minutes and are accessible for just about everyone with a good pair of shoes or boots. It should be noted that a few paths might be tricky for wheelchairs and buggies at the moment due to landscaping work.

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The Loch an Eilein is one of my favourite walks anywhere in the Highlands, taking in the island that gives it its name and the 13th century ruined castle, site of the last remaining Osprey eyrie in Scotland when the birds were being driven to extinction during Victorian times. Thankfully these magnificent birds have come back to Rothiemurchus, though you’re more likely to see them fishing in the loch than nesting on the island.

During winter, look out for red squirrels, coat tits and chaffinches foraging. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a capercaillie. There’s a fair chance you’ll also see plenty of Highland cows on the estate at this time of year, not to mention red deer. Look out, too, for stunning snow-capped views of the northern Cairngorms, including Braeriach, the third highest mountain in the UK.

If you’re feeling wee bit more adventurous, an afternoon scooting round the quad-bike trails is a blast at any time of year. All equipment is provided and no experience is necessary. Costs £52 per session, over 12s only.

Winter is also the ideal time to see the estate by Land Rover, especially since it comes with the added bonus of a friendly and knowledgeable park ranger to tell you about the history of this beautiful land and its hardy folk. Blankets and binoculars provided. £60 per person.

Where to eat

Being on a remote Highland estate means the options for eating out are quite limited. But that’s not to say foodies aren’t in for a rare treat at Rothiemurchus thanks to one of the best farm shops you’ll find anywhere.

The top-quality local produce includes stupendously good beef and venison reared on the estate, as well as wild rainbow trout. And I never leave without a jar of the local heather honey.

The adjoining Druie Café, meanwhile, which takes its name from the burn outside, is open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. The morning fry-up sets you up for a good day’s walking, while the lunchtime soup and homemade bread is always hearty and delicious - especially the Cullen Skink if it's on.

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Aviemore, which is just 10 minutes’ drive away, has an ever-improving selection of cafes and restaurants. Though be prepared to pay a resort premium.

For big burgers and steaks – you may struggle to finish the portions – the quirky Skiing Doo is the place to go. The Winking Owl is also good for something substantial in the evening, and you can stay on afterwards for a dram or pint of craft beer.

Where to stay

On site: The Rothiemurchus Estate has a range of luxury self-catering cottages and houses to rent. You can also pitch your tent or park your tourer on the well-equipped camping site. See the website for details and prices.

Loch view: Back in Aviemore, the Rowan Tree Country Hotel, an 18th century former coaching inn overlooking Loch Alvie, offers comfy rooms and a warm welcome. From £85 per night.

Quirky: Antler Corner is a cosy one-bedroom cabin at the bottom of a quiet garden in Aviemore. From £63 a night.

What to do nearby

The Highland Wildlife Park is home to a wide array of native and non-native mammals and birds including wolves, snow leopards and red pandas, not to mention Scottish wildcats. Talks and feeding sessions throughout the day give visitors the chance to learn more about the animals and their habitats.

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Take a tour of the Dalwhinnie Distillery, 30 minutes south of Aviemore. Those with a sweet tooth are particularly well catered for here, not just with the excellent range of Speyside single malts but also the pairings with handmade chocolates.

If the weather is wet, head to the MacDonald Hotel in Aviemore for a swim, sauna or spa. There’s also a good kids’ play centre. Open to the public.