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Highland Diary - Late September 2019

An early morning caper!

Last Tuesday I was lucky enough to spend the early morning in one of the quietest corners of Rothiemurchus, in the company of Rothiemurchus Conservation Manager Peter and Countryside Ranger Matthew. Consistent with Government policy, Rothiemurchus carries out a cull of native wild Red and Roe deer, keeping nature in balance and conserving the natural heritage. Peter had invited Matthew and me to accompany him as he carried out the deer cull. We were particularly on the lookout for roe buck (male roe deer), and had we seen an animal of the correct age, were prepared to carry out a cull and recover the deer for consumption in the Rothiemurchus Farm Shop. Peter had already put me through my paces on the rifle range, but I preferred to see the professional take the shot - should the opportunity arise.

Almost immediately on leaving the Land Rover, Peter spotted some roe deer to the side of the track in the forest. Whilst we observed them through binoculars and a thermal imaging scope, he determined that it was a doe and young twins. We watched them for a few minutes then moved on, as stealthily as we could - but not as stealthily as I would have liked! As per Peter’s instructions the day before, I had selected my very quietest pair of trousers, but in the woods and heather - almost totally silent other than the calls of birds - I had never been so aware of how much noise I was making! I made a mental note to practice less noisy walking for next time...

There was barely a breath of wind that morning and the surface of the loch showed hardly a ripple, reflecting the hills above like a mirror. We moved up the hill towards where Peter thought we had our best chance of finding roe buck, through some heather and almost Jurassic-sized bracken. By this time the sun had risen and the clouds were lifting, revealing beautiful Rothiemurchus beneath us in glorious autumn technicolour.

As we moved across the hill and into the woodland, Peter pointed out various tracks and signs that we would otherwise have missed. Signs of badgers, and most importantly scrapes in the soil where a roe buck had marked the ground, and young trees that he had marked to show the boundary of his territory.

We were obviously getting closer to where a buck had recently been, but as dawn turned very definitely into morning, our chances of seeing him were getting slimmer by the minute. However our little expedition had a few surprises in store for us yet. As we reached the top of the hill, we came upon a huge cairn, somewhat reminiscent in its construction, proportions and scale to Hagrid’s hut from Harry Potter! Behind it, the views over Lochs an Eilein and Gamhna were breathtaking - we paused to take in the view as much as fill our lungs after the steep uphills.

We took a relatively easy route down the slope and were greeted with the impressive sight of two huge red deer stags before us. These were unfortunately not fair game however - but a pair of magnificent specimens who live within the deer park. They watched us intently for a few minutes as we made our way downhill. Once on the track we caught another glimpse of the roe mother and young twins from earlier, running uphill from us. Then to Peter and Matthew’s delight - a pair of capercaillie rose up noisily from the heather. My first ever sight of this magnificent bird and a magical Cairngorms moment for me.

Then back to the Land Rover - still not having seen another human soul - and on to the Rothiemurchus Venison Larder where Peter showed us how deer carcasses are checked over, recorded and matured for a few days before being taken to the Rothiemurchus butchery - our next stop. This is where expert Rothiemurchus butcher Brian divides the carcass into delicious cuts of venison, all ready to be sold in the Rothiemurchus Farm Shop as vacuum packs of the leanest, healthiest meat.

Of course, there was purpose to my extremely early morning visit taking in the woods, venison larder and butchery of Rothiemurchus in somewhat noisy trousers. We’re excited to announce that from next month, this entire experience, which we call “Venison: From forest to plate” is a specially created Extra for our guests at Hidden Highland Retreats. We have created it to give a holistic view of the journey from the wild to the table via larder and butchery, a truly “behind the scenes” view of this very special place. This is not hunting for the sake of a trophy, but for the sourcing healthy and delicious meat and learning how to cut and cook it to perfection - honouring the magnificent animal who provided it.

The “From Forest to Plate Experience” will be £480 - a flat rate for party of between 1 and 4 guests. Please get in touch if you would like to know more or book.