Raymond Ross takes an educational walk on the wild side with the rangers of the Rothiemurchus estate near Aviemore
Rothiemurchus is not a sporting estate but a diversified Highland estate and this is the only privately owned Highland estate with a ranger service," says ranger Ali Trinder.
Supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, the rangers provide school and university groups with tours of the farms, fishery and the forest, as well as facilitating land use and management studies.
"We get primary pupils doing environmental studies, S1 and S2 geography and science classes, and we can offer everything from high altitude to river studies," says senior ranger Scott Henderson.
"And if you're looking at changing land use, we can show you everything from Bronze Age hut circles, the 13th-century castle on Loch an Eilein, an Ice Age kettle hole loch which was partially dammed to float logs to the old sawmill which closed in the 1940s, the 19th-century lime kiln which produced fertiliser for the estate, right up to examples of present day land use."
"Schools know they are well treated here and that's why they come back time and again," says Ms Trinder. "We are flexible to what they want. If a school wants to look at a specific area or topic we will prepare their day in advance to suit tem. Schools can forward specific questions they want us to address, whether it's about conservation, wildlife, wild flowers, farming, land use or whatever. Sometimes you're talking non-stop for eight hours a day."
Most school visits to the estate take place in May, June, September and October. Last year about 560 primary pupils from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland visited, plus some 700 secondary pupils, mostly from the Scottish central belt. Also last year 27 university groups came, some from as far away as East Anglia.
"The average tour lasts two hours and it's zero cost to the schools, at least until the end of this year, because of the support from SNH. One school told us we were saving them around pound;700 a year. We hope to extend this into next year," says Mr Henderson.
A teachers' factfile and booklet with information on services for schools and colleges are available from Rothiemurchus Estate Office, by Aviemore, Inverness-shire, PH22 1QH, tel 01479 810858; fax 01479 811778; e-mail email@example.comAn information pack with details on all aspects of land use on the Rothiemurchus estate is also available.Tours begin at 10am and 2pm, but can be tailored to requirements.Whatever the season, take sturdy footwear and warm, waterproof clothing.