Rothiemurchus is a privately owned Highland Estate within Strathspey, northeast of the River Spey. It is one of the most treasured areas of the Cairngorms National Park because of its truly special relationship between nature and people. It has been under the stewardship of the Grant family since the 16th Century but has a wealth of history before this.
There is evidence that Rothiemurchus is a very old human settlement, as the name dates to the 8th Century. The first inhabitants were most likely Picts and Rothiemurchus would have been the centre of the great Caledonian Pine Forest of Scotland. The Parish of Rothiemurchus belonged to the crown until 1226 when Alexander II gave it to Andrew Bishop of Moray as a hereditary thanage. In 1370 Alexander Stuart (the Wolf of Badenoch) became protector of the Bishop of Moray, his men and his lands, including Rothiemurchus. However, relations between the two became strained and in 1389 the Bishop dismissed Stuart and took on Thomas Dunbar as protector. In June 1390 Stuart descended on Forres and Elgin and he sacked and burned two royal burghs, destroying the parish kirk and hospital. The Wolf of Badenoch was never punished.
In 1574 John’s son, Patrick Grant, was designated “of Rothiemurchus” by King James VI and he then moved to The Doune of Rothiemurchus from Muckrach near Dulnain Bridge in 1597.
Rothiemurchus – Ràt Murchais, ‘the fort of Murchas’. Since the Rev. Patrick Grant in the Statistical Account of 1791 stated that the name signified ‘the great plane of the fir’, most people have accepted this meaning. The phonetics of the name however, do not support this interpretation and it is much more likely that the name means ‘the fort of Murchas’ (Watson 1926:517). The fort referred to is probably the structure that used to stand on the hillock behind the Doune House.
The Cairngorms – Am Monadh Ruadh, ‘the russet coloured mountain range’. Being made of pink Granite the mountains often appear russet red in the setting sun.
Loch an Eilein – ‘the loch of the island’
Gleann Einich – Gleann Eanaich, ‘the glenn of the bog’. An apt description as much of the bottom of this glen is covered by peat bog.
The Lairig Ghru – Làirig Dhrù, ‘the pass of the (river) Druie’
Braeriach – Am Bràigh Riabhach, ‘the grey brown speckled upland’
Càrn Eilrig – Càrn Eilerig, ‘the cairn of the deer trap’
Loch Pityoulish – Loch Peit Gheollais, ‘the loch of the settlement of the bright place’. Peit is a word of Pictish which originally meant ‘portion of land’ but eventually came to signify ‘open settlement’. It is common in placenames throughout the north of Scotland. In districts where Gaelic is still spoken, this Pictish element in these place names has been replaced by the Gaelic one.
Tullochgrue – Tulach Dhrù, ‘the wooded hill of Druie’
Lochan Deo – ‘sparkling Loch’
Loch Gamhna – ‘Loch of the stirks (young cattle)’
Coylum – ‘narrow leap’
Luineag – ‘dancing bubbling stream’
Beanaidh – ‘of the washerwoman’
Druidh – ‘oozing soaking
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
VISIT THE DOUNE HOUSE
You can visit the completed exterior and still to be completed restoration of The Doune House, Rothiemurchus:
April to August every Monday 10.00 to 12.00 and 14.00 to 16.00
September to March on the first Monday of every month, 10.00 to 12.00 and 14.00 to 16.00 (except after dusk).
There is no charge for this tour, except for groups of over 5 people, however, we welcome donations to Maggie’s Highlands Cancer Support Centre.
Under 18s must be accompanied by a responsible adult.
For further details please email email@example.com or ring 01479 812345
Pre-booked visitors can enjoy the weekly guided visit to the partial ‘new’ Doune repair and completed old Doune as part of The Highland Lady Safari tour which meets at Rothiemurchus Centre every Wednesday and for groups by special arrangement. There is a charge for this tour. For further details please email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 01479 812345.
Directions to Rothiemurchus Centre PH22 1QH and to The Doune House PH22 1QP
From the roundabout at the South end of Aviemore take the road to Rothiemurchus, Glenmore and Cairngorm. After .08 mile Rothiemuchus Centre is on the left hand side. Open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9.30 – 5.30, there are information, loos and a café restaurant. For the Doune House, 0.7 miles from the roundabout, turn right on the B970 road signed to Loch an Eilein and Insh; after 1.2 miles continue past the monument at the junction to Loch an Eilein and follow the road for 50 meters between the old garden stone wall on the left hand side and the iron fence on the right. Turn right through green gates through the park, round the front of The Doune House, park at the signs and you will find us by following the instructions attached to the wall.
When the River Spey is very high or the bank is breeched by floods the drives may be closed; visit http://apps.sepa.org.uk/waterlevels/default.aspx?sd=t&lc=234254 and/or email to check..
CALEDONIAN PINE FOREST
When you arrive at Rothiemurchus you will be struck by the magnificent ancient pines.
Rothiemurchus forest covers an area of about 30 square kilometres and is believed to comprise of over 10 million trees. This is one of the largest surviving areas of ancient woodland in Europe where the average age of the Scots Pine exceeds 100 years with some more than 300 years old. These iconic Pines frame every view; from the River Spey or Loch an Eilein, to the upper tree line where the forest gives way to montane heath, screes and rock. The forest is a living icon, a history book, and a collage of mystery and emotion.
The Pinewood as an ecosystem provides a haven for species ranging from Capercaillie, Red Squirrel, Creeping Lady’s Tresses to Toothed Wintergreen, Pine Hoverfly and Stump Lichen. It comprises Aspen, Birch, Rowan and Willow, Cherry, Holly and Juniper and much more besides. Rothiemurchus forest is a very special place and therefore a forestry plan is maintained to sustain the woodland’s rich biodiversity for all to enjoy.
Regeneration of the native pinewoods has long been a major of aim of national forestry policy and Rothiemurchus has been at the forefront of this for many years. Since the large scale felling of the two world wars early last century, more than 1000ha of woodlands have been established or re-established at Rothiemurchus.
Our series of forest regeneration images monitoring woodland development was started back in 1994, as part of an Annual Management Grant programme funded by the Forestry Commission. Our fixed points covered areas where the process of natural regeneration was at an early stage or where regeneration was likely to begin in the near future.
Although the Forestry Commission project has come to an end, we have continued this photographic monitoring, adding new sites and re-visiting previous ones over the years. Some of the early 1994 sites have now been photographed 3 times and many images show dramatic change, reflecting the estate’s very positive management of the forest.
Our images are captioned with the site number, year and OS Grid Reference, eg 01 1994 GR NH936 101.
LOCH AN EILEIN CASTLE
Loch an Eilein translates from Gaelic as “Loch of the Island”.
The ancient castle on the island was built on a natural defensive site. Its origins are uncertain, however it is thought that between 1222 and 1298, the Bishop of Moray chose the south end of the island to build a half house surrounded by a defensive wall.
In the 1380s, the notorious Wolf of Badenoch (Alexander Stewart, a younger son of King Robert of Scotland and Robert the Bruce’s grandson) probably constructed a sturdy tower house as a fortified hunting lodge on the north end of the island of 10m x 8.5m with walls 1.8m thick. It also had a barrel-vaulted cellar, first floor hall and upper chamber. In 1600 Patrick Grant of Rothiemurchus built a connection curtain wall between the hall house and the lower tower to increase security in emergencies.
These are the ruined structures you will see today, made so by winter storms despite minor repairs early last century. The island, on which the castle sits proudly, decreased in size in the 1770s when a sluice built to enable felled timber to be floated down the Spey, raised the water level. The water now obscures the zigzag causeway once said to connect the castle to the shore.
The most notable skirmish to take place was in 1690, when the defeated Jacobites from the Battle of Cromdale besieged the castle. Furthermore, in 1745 after the battle of Culloden, the widow of 5th Laird Jean Gordon, (alias Grizel Mhor a well known Jacobite Lady), sheltered fugitives in the castle. More recently Grant lairds have also used the island loch to protect Osprey nests on the castle.
Although I was born and brought up in Rothiemurchus it was in 1975 when Philippa and I returned to live here. Our three children, Louisa, James and Alexandra were lucky to have their grandmother living just across the fields as I had, and although now grown up they return very often and Rothiemurchus will always be their home. The area has completely transformed from my childhood, and we see our job as managing the change in Rothiemurchus so we can keep it as a special place for each of our hundreds of thousand visitors as well as those lucky enough to live here. We prefer to be called Johnnie and Philippa as Mr has never been the traditional Highland way.
The River Spey forms the western boundary of Rothiemurchus, and its tributaries carve their way from the very heart of the mountains through the forest as it flows towards the sea.
The Spey is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. It harbours internationally important populations of Atlantic Salmon and otter among other creatures; it is therefore both nationally and internationally significant. Its waters sustain life, social and economic well being, and evoke images of the clean and healthy environment.
In days gone by the River Spey served as the primary means of transporting many tonnes of pine logs. They travelled from Rothiemurchus and Glenmore to the sea at Garmouth and then to southern markets. Today it is often fished, photographed and even flooded, but never forgotten.