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Blanketed by snow, the forest is almost silent, with only the muffled crunch of boots, my frosty exhale and the occasional creak of laden branches. Low sunlight dazzles, glinting off curls of silver birch bark and branches festooned with lichen like forgotten tinsel. Ahead of us on the trail there are footprints of roe deer and red squirrel. This is Abernethy Forest, at 4,000 hectares the largest remaining section of the great Caledonian Forest that once covered much of Scotland. It’s worlds away from the monoculture of sitka spruce plantations and a balm to this urban dweller’s soul.

Map showing Nethy Bridge and Aviemore in the Cairngorns

My partner, Euan, and I are staying on the edge of the woods in Arbor Bothy, a cabin for two in the village of Nethy Bridge. We’ve come to escape the city for a few nights, but our trip is more than a simple weekend away. The owners of the bothy, Amy and Graham Niven, a goldsmith and a photographer, offer creative workshops, and we’re here to make our wedding rings (and not from a twist of silver birch).

Amy and Graham loved holidaying in Nethy Bridge as children, and became year-round residents in 2019 shortly after starting a family. The property they found allowed them to have their own studio and had a bothy, a small dwelling for visitors, in the garden.

The River Spey at Nethy Bridge. Photograph: David Gowans/Alamy

Nethy Bridge has a long history of garden bothies: traditionally villagers rented out their homes and stayed in bothies during the light summer nights. Amy and Graham’s dilapidated old bothy wasn’t salvageable for a modern conversion but had a history worth celebrating. Newspapers stuffed in the walls told stories of the building, from its construction in 1880 to its time as the village cinema in the mid-1900s.

Graham’s new self-build design kept the aesthetics of the original bothy. The exterior is clad in local larch that, as it ages, will fade to a silvery grey like its predecessor. Inside, thoughtful decor includes ceramics by Glasgow-based Kim Plimley and Graham’s striking photographs of local landscapes. An Ordnance Survey map of the Cairngorms stretches over an entire wall to the vaulted ceiling. We’re constantly drawn to it, tracing journeys we’ve made in the past and finding places we want to explore. An air source heat pump and underfloor heating keep things warm, and a projector has been added as a nod to the village’s cinematic history, using streaming services rather than the old spools discovered here.

Ailsa Sheldon and Euan enjoy the forest. Photograph: Ailsa Sheldon

Amy runs The Third Aye jewellery brand from a snug cabin beside the bothy, working on individual commissions (often designing bespoke pieces using old family jewellery), and offering small-group workshops making anything from pendants and bangles to earrings. I’d never considered making jewellery before, but with my wedding coming up, choosing a ready-made ring felt sterile and I was drawn to crafting something personal. After a bit of research, I was pleasantly surprised to find that prices were competitive. Amy’s commitment to working primarily with recycled silver and gold sealed the deal, as we are trying to keep the environmental impact of our wedding as low as we can.

Arbor Bothy. Photograph: Graham Niven

We head into the studio as the light is falling. Candles flicker and the kettle is on. We’d met Amy on a video call a few weeks earlier to discuss our rings and the materials, and she dealt skilfully with our lack of knowledge of wire shapes and metal grades. Through the whole process she is friendly and encouraging but I’m still a little nervous. At my work bench is a short length of recycled gold wire. All being well, this will become a ring that I’ll wear for the rest of my life.

We carefully measure the wire (it’s the first time I’ve calculated with pi – the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter – since high school) then saw it to size, file the edges and, using pliers, shape a wonky letter D, which we solder together. While the rings are cleaned up in the “pickle pot” (a container of mild acid that removes oxidation and excess solder), Amy produces a welcome glass of prosecco with Inshriach bramble-infused liqueur, made along the road in Aviemore.

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Euan and Ailsa making their rings. Photograph: Ailsa Sheldon

Finally we shape our rings with a mallet (I’m getting more relaxed about bashing gold) then sand and polish them. When Amy brings out the finished products I’m suddenly a bit emotional, struck by the significance of the bands we’ve made in this special place. Both rings are, thanks to Amy’s careful tuition, flawless and a perfect fit.

With rings made we have plenty of time to relax, and Nethy Bridge is a pretty base, surrounded by boreal forest and bisected by the rushing River Nethy. Friday is pizza night, when Andrew Matthew of Highland Slice parks his converted horsebox outside the village shop and serves wood-fired margheritas and more. Highland Slice pops up around the region, with locations and changing menu announced on social media – and there’s always a queue. I head back up the icy track with my piping hot boxes to the warm embrace of the bothy. The pizzas are delicious, topped with wild mushrooms and walnut pesto.

Arbor Bothy beneath the aurora borealis. Photograph: Graham Niven

Home-cooked meals can also be ordered and delivered from The Dell Grocer, an idyllic little shop nearby. In winter the grocer isn’t permanently staffed but there’s a walkie-talkie in a wooden box by the door for calling a member of staff to open up. We leave with a bottle of local cider, organic milk, and local eggs and smoked trout for breakfast.

Our last night is spent stargazing, swinging on hammock chairs by the chiminea, soaking up the silence and planning future visits. Our rings will follow us home. First Amy will send them to be hallmarked and laser etched with contours from our favourite mountain. I have a feeling that this little slice of the Cairngorms will also be wound around my finger, and my heart, for a long time to come.

Accommodation provided by Arbor Bothy. Jewellery workshops range from £95 for silver ring making, to £345 plus materials for a wedding rings workshop for two,

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