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Discovering a secret magical winter wonderland in ‘fairy woods’ near New Deer

If you go down to The Fairy Woods at Fedderate near New Deer in Aberdeenshire this Christmas, you’ll be sure of a big surprise.

Nikki Elrick, founder of The Fairy Woods at Fedderate, with Gayle Ritchie. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.
Nikki Elrick, founder of The Fairy Woods at Fedderate, with Gayle Ritchie. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

If you go down to The Fairy Woods at Fedderate near New Deer in Aberdeenshire this Christmas, you’ll be sure of a big surprise.

Deep in the heart of a forest wedged between New Deer and Maud, a magical winter wonderland of fairies, elves and all things festive is waiting to be discovered.

Dusk is falling when I turn up at the enchantingly-named Fairy Woods of Fedderate and I’m immediately blown away by the beauty of this little-known gem.

The first thing I notice is orange flames licking from a campfire, and then a long avenue of huge trees festooned with fairy lights.

I’m met by Nikki Elrick, the woman responsible for setting up this enchanting concept seven years ago.

Founder of Fairy Woods

The former nursery school teacher runs seasonal trails here throughout the year – there’s a “Pumpkin Patch” event, an “Easter Extravaganza” – and the “Winter Woods” spectacular runs until December 17.

Gayle meets Nikki in the woods. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

“You need two hours for a woodland adventure!” smiles Nikki, handing me a bag of marbles, aka, “magic treasure”.

“There so much to do – fairy finding, orienteering, playing in forest play-park, and popping into the elves’ workshop.

“It’s outdoor learning with a bit of magic! Come and I’ll show you!”

Off we trot through a sparkly arch, and onto a trail which leads into the heart of the dark forest. It’s a bit like entering Narnia.

Fairy treasure

Our mission is to deliver “treasure” to fairy houses, and there are dozens of these to be discovered along the route.

We then need to write a letter to the fairies, and, when we find it, pop it into a letterbox.
Venturing deeper into what Nikki calls the “explorer woods”, we pass giant toadstools, ladybirds, mini castles, a wishing well, and a friendly looking dragon.

Gayle finds a fairy house. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

“The learning is supposed to be as free as possible for the children to explore,” explains Nikki, as we check out the forest playpark.

This boasts a “mud kitchen”, tyre swings, sand pit, slide and play house, and kids are encouraged to build dens and obstacle courses.

The orienteering course, designed for older kids, is fun, too.

Discovering 15th Century Fedderate Castle

Another magical feature you’ll spot from the woods is the ruins of 15th Century Fedderate Castle.

It’s a protected monument now, but there’s not much of it left. Its crumbling condition is the result of an attempt to blow to up before it gained that status, as it was seen “as an impediment to agriculture”.

Gayle and Nikki chat with Fedderate Castle in the background. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

Before we head to the main attraction – “Winter Woods” – we check out a stunning festive display of elves and snowmen sitting on hay bales. It’s the perfect spot to take photos, and I get plenty taken while I cuddle fluffy elves.

If you’re cold you can pop into the massive heated polytunnel, and Nikki and I do exactly that.

Getting cosy with festive friends inside the heated polytunnel. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

This is another fab area for photos, with more elves, gnomes, gingerbread men, toy soldiers, polar bears and penguins – and there’s even a life-sized fluffy Santa-cum-dwarf fellow.

Into the Winter Woods

Meanwhile, the archway to the Winter Woods is decorated with candy canes, baubles, lollipops and glittery bow-ties.

Gayle prepares to enter the enchanting Winter Woods. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

Steps head down into the forest, and my jaw drops as I spot Santa’s sleigh parked under a tree.

“His sleigh broke down last year and we’re looking after it until he returns,” says Nikki.

“The elves have taken care of some gifts in their workshop. Want to see if there’s one for you?” Yes please!

Santa’s sleigh and yet another elf! Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

Inside the cosy workshop, goodie bags hang from the wall and there’s one addressed to “Ritchie”! That’ll do!

I take the opportunity to snap an “elfie” and then carry on through the woods, passing Santa’s postbox. Here, kids can post a letter to Saint Nick, and if they provide a stamped address envelope, they’ll get a reply.

Inside the elves’ workshop – and finding a goodie bag to take home. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

Pick a decoration to take home

Throughout the forest, trees are adorned with stunning decorations – fairies, reindeer, glittery baubles, snow globes and angels.

“Every child can pick a decoration to take home,” says Nikki. “Some have been coming here for years so they’ve got quite a collection!”

As I gaze in awe at pretty much everything, Nikki pops off to make me a hot chocolate and bring back some sweet treats.

Gayle toasts some marshmallows. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

We meet at the fire pit, and warm up with our drinks and by toasting marshmallows! What a treat! There’s also the option to make ‘s’mores’ – marshmallows squished between two chocolate biscuits.

Nikki with s’mores. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

The brilliant thing about Nikki’s winter wonderland is that it’s very much a “hands-on” policy.

“Some playparks say ‘hands off!’,” she says. “But nothing here is out of bounds. I want it to be as interactive as it can be, so kids can fully engage.”

Inspiration behind The Fairy Woods

While we munch on multiple marshmallows, Nikki, who owns the land with husband Colin and their family, tells me about inspiration behind the Fairy Woods.

“I’d spent years dropping my kids off here, waiting for the school bus, and felt the trees weren’t being used,” she explains.

“Laterally, in my teaching career, I did lots of outdoor learning, and had worked in restaurants, so the seed of an idea started to grow.

“My friend has a disabled little boy and I thought it might be nice to create something in the woods so they could come here and chill out.

“The more I hung out in the woods – I’d go as far as saying I was ‘forest bathing’ – the more I got ideas.”

Discovering a magic winter wonderland at Fedderate. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

Then, when Nikki, 50, broke her shoulder she was frustrated and miserable, and took to wandering round the forest to stave off boredom. One day, she decided to cut a path through the forest with an axe – and she did so, with just one arm!

“I came here every day and slowly cut a trail through the woods,” she says.

“Chopping wood was good therapy for me, and the more time I spent here, the more I loved it. It’s such a happy, magical place.

Nikki cut the illuminated trail through the woods herself. Image: Brian Smith/Jasper Image.

“It’s a great way to get children to engage with nature and to use their imaginations. There’s so much magic and wonder!”

  • Nikki runs school trips and special events in The Fairy Woods. There’s a gift and snack shop on site plus toilets. To book, go to