Our Nature Community: Characters of the Cairngorms

One thing all our ‘Cairngorms Characters’ share is a love of being outdoors in nature. Why not follow in the footsteps of these much-loved local characters and take inspiration from them.

Zeki Basan, Glenlivet

With a wealth of knowledge that belies his age, Zeki’s experience in bushcraft transcends a multitude of subjects to be able to co-habit with nature and share this knowledge with others. To say that Zeki is at home in the wilderness is an understatement, as his ability to balance the growth and use of natural resources on offer through his passion for the environment merges his existence into the landscape around him.

Zeki’s desire to share his knowledge comes from a deep routed understanding that knowing what nature can provide offers the perspective to care for it and conserve it. As an ambassador for the outdoors it doesn’t come more authentic.

Phil & Sarah, The Lazy Duck

This Cairngorms couple embodies what many people come to the area for: a slow, chilled pace of life where you can go with the flow and immerse yourself in the moment, in nature and in what brings you joy.

You’ll often find Sarah at one of her favourite spots, Loch Garten, swimming or paddleboarding or practising yoga, which she also teaches. As for Phil, a former endurance mountain bike racer, his highland ‘happy place’, is out on the saddle on the woodland trails, on his own and with guests.

The pair created this idyllic life for themselves at the Lazy Duck after they met, by chance, eight years ago in London, after 16 apart, and rekindled their past romance. They’d both been based in England but had a deep yearning to return to Scotland, their spiritual home, to live a more connected, simpler, self-sufficient life, living from the land.

When an opportunity came up to lease the Lazy Duck they saw a way to make this dream a reality. Now they inspire others to live this dream, too, through holiday experiences that nourish guests and nature alike, combining luxury experiences, like massage and a hot tub, with unique, off grid eco accommodation. 

They also get to indulge in, and inspire, guests to try their more ‘fast flowing’ hobbies, like mountain biking, wild swimming, canoeing, hiking and paddle-boarding. Either way, fast or slow, this is a couple who have definitely found their flow. 

Cath Wright, Highland Quietlife – Forest Bathing Walks

Cath Wright fell in love with the Cairngorms from holidays in the area as a child. 

Their honeymoon in 2001 had the same effect on her husband, Pete, so they embarked on a mission to move here in 2005 for – as Cath describes them – the ‘stretched skies, magical and much green forests and those special wildlife encounters’. 

Having worked for a wildlife tour operator for eight years Cath has long been connected to the landscape. But when taking part in a forest bathing session three years ago, she found a key part of her life jigsaw that had been previously missing: she’d found a way, like no other, to deal with those turbulent times when life feels out of control, finding solace and soothing amid the calm of the trees.

“I find trees so supportive and non-judgemental,’ she says. ‘You can tell them anything and often find the support you need within the forest.”

Since then she has qualified as a nature and forest therapy guide, loving the privilege of being able to show people what she’s learnt about how to slow down and bring attention to the ‘now’.

These quiet periods also enable her to refuel for the high energy activities she’s also renowned for locally, like hosting a weekly local radio show on Speysound Radio and fostering greyhounds for Give A Greyhound A Home (she’s on foster dog number 14, who is enjoying living alongside her own greyhounds Clover and Newt). 

Julia Duncan, Atholl Estates & Blair Castle

It’s rare to hear someone say that they absolutely love their job and there’s nothing else they would rather be doing. But that is exactly what Julia Duncan says.

Little did she dream when she was a young girl visiting the castle with her parents, wide eyed and full of imagination, that one day she would be a ranger for Blair Atholl Estates.

Having spent her former career working in a hospital, it was only in later life that she decided to make her love of the outdoors her business, not only her pleasure. The first step was volunteering with Scottish Waterways Trust, when she realised that becoming a ranger would be the perfect job for her.

Indeed, she can now be commonly spotted around the estate (where she also lives) pointing out wildlife wonders to her groups, who can’t helped but be infected by her contagious enthusiasm. She can often be seen excitedly pointing out features like a hole dug by a badger, or items moved by wildlife, or small nests tucked away in branches, much to her onlookers’ delight.

When she’s not working, you’re bound to find her swimming in the nearby pools, or traversing the trails alongside the River Tilt or Glen Barvie and you can bet that, alongside those wide eyes (which are still very much present) there’s a broad smile, too.

Kate Mennie, Speyside Wildlife

Kate started her career in childcare but always had a passion for wildlife from a young age. In fact, while she started out as a childminder in Aberdeen, it was becoming involved in forest school that first properly piqued her interest in a fully ‘outdoorsy’ career. One of her first jobs was spending a summer volunteering with the ranger service on the Isle of Mull.

She quickly discovered she had a talent for spotting wildlife, her skills at managing to follow fleeting flashes of colour becoming legendary. Even the photographer taking this photo remarked on her uncanny ability to being tuned into bird sounds – apparently suggesting she stand next to a particular tree because she could ‘hear a lot more of the coal tits here’. Sure enough, a few minutes later, they were literally eating out of her hand. 

Ed is an internationally published photographer based in Kingussie where he is also the owner of Eleven41 Gallery. @edsmithphoto

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