Karen Peattie discovers the hidden gem that is historic Brucefield Estate, a haven for wildlife and somewhere to immerse yourself in nature less than an hour from both Edinburgh and Glasgow

IT’S ONE of those places that you can drive past without knowing it’s there, or realising that its ancestry dates back 700 years. But Brucefield Estate in Clackmannanshire – Scotland’s smallest county – has history in spades with the owners tracing their own lineage to Robert the Bruce.

This largely untouched country estate near Forestmill, now under the stewardship of biologist Victoria Bruce-Winkler, has embarked on an extensive – and ambitious – regeneration journey to create a place where people can come and relax, explore its heritage and immerse themselves in nature.

Victoria, who inherited the 420-hectare family estate in 2012, is keen to point out that Brucefield – a working estate – is a haven for wildlife, attracting red squirrels, pine martens, bats, barn and tawny owls. There are also numerous bird species associated with mature woodland such as green woodpeckers and spotted flycatchers.

“We also have a large number of invertebrate species on the estate, including the beautiful, small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, which is a Scottish Biodiversity List priority species, as well as at least 130 types of beetle and 91 species of spider, several of which are classed as nationally scarce,” she reveals.

“For the last couple of years we’ve worked with ecologists to understand the habitats here and we now have a 10-year wildlife plan to monitor and manage the rich mosaic of diverse habitats including a lowland heath – a Natural Scotland site of special scientific interest – wet woodlands and meadows with their mosses, and veteran Scots pine and oak woods.”

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In addition, there several plant species which are of local conservation interest, including corn marigold and corn spurrey, while the wet woodlands provide perfect growing conditions for several rare varieties of moss. And, interestingly, the arable field grass margins support rich botanical diversity.

Promoting rural tourism in an accessible location which is embedded with local history also forms part of Victoria’s long-term goal. “Our vision is to create an estate where people can come and relax in the mature woodlands, experience the wildlife habitats, explore the heritage of the historic buildings, and enjoy the accommodation at a working estate,” she says.

There’s certainly plenty to do and see at Brucefield which offers walkers a variety of unspoilt trails and different habitats, from Scots Pine and birch woodlands to wetlands. One trail goes up to the Pine Ridge along the Bluther burn while another leads to the Witch’s Stone and a recently discovered hidden avenue of lime trees, some dating back 300 years. There are also traditional drystone dykes.

A branch of the Round the Forth cycle route (NCN 764) runs through the middle of the estate, providing access to Alloa station, Devilla Forest, and along small roads to the nearby village of Culross – a filming location for the Outlander TV series – and beyond for those wanting to explore the surrounding area on two wheels. The estate hires out bikes too.

“I live on the estate with my husband and two daughters and have made its rejuvenation my work,” explains Victoria. “A biologist by trade, I am keen to understand the workings of Brucefield’s diverse habitats and restore the historic buildings that make up the estate to continue its revitalisation, which right now is just in its infancy.

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“My aim is to continue the journey of the families who have owned the Estate over the last 700 years and importantly, to provide a solid foundation for its regeneration.”

Inspiration, Victoria adds, has come from many places and people, but essentially it is fired by seeing how people’s eyes light up when they visit. “We’ve spent many years renovating Brucefield’s traditional buildings and working with conservationists, ecologists and people with a profound knowledge of the area, and that has all been hugely inspiring,” she says.

Brucefield is now welcoming its first self-catering guests at Slackbrae, a two-bedroom former forester’s cottage which has been renovated using a conservation approach with sustainable materials to achieve a low-energy house. Inside, specially-commissioned kitchen and bathroom tiles tell the heritage of the cottage and the estate throughout the centuries.

Slackbrae, built in the 1700s, has vaulted ceilings, day-long sunlight and stunning views of the fields and woodlands, allowing guests to immerse themselves in nature and reconnect with the land. The gardens have been rejuvenated by Stirling-based landscape designer Tracy Rich with a new planting scheme providing a blaze of colour and herbs throughout the year.

As well as the cottage there are timber-built eco bothies for two people, located in a secluded woodland part of the estate – there’s limited WiFi so they’re perfect for a romantic getaway or for those who really want to unplug and go off-grid for a few days.

Built in Clackmannanshire and featuring woodwork from a local sawmill, the bothies have a Scandinavian-Scottish interior with fantastic views across the estate.

To book Slackbrae or an eco-bothy, go to www.brucefieldestate.scot