But now a growing number of women – the Lady Lairds – have inherited these ancient estates and are facing new challenges of the 21st century.
Lady Lairds, a two-part BBC Scotland documentary which starts on Monday at 9pm, follows the lady lairds as they get to grips with managing their prestigious estates.
While some of Scotland’s sporting estates are owned by wealthy individuals or off-shore companies, there are a growing number where it is now a case of “all hands on deck” to keep the business financially viable by generating new income streams.
The high cost of building repairs is a recurrent theme as is the need to diversify beyond holiday cottages and traditional sports.
Among those featured are lady laird-in-training Nicola Colquhoun on the 18,000-acre Auchlyne estate in Stirlingshire, who is working alongside her mother, lady laird Emma Paterson, where deerstalking, fishing, sheep and cattle are the main sources of income. Joanna is seen discussing glamping and holiday pods to generate income.
Joanna Macpherson at the Attadale estate on Loch Carron in Wester Ross, who gave up her successful marketing career in London to take over from her parents, receives a welcome boost to funds when David Beckham arrives to film a section of a whisky advert. Ms Macpherson is also seen discussing plans to establish a small hydro-electric project.
Tuggy Delap, a widow, reaps the rewards of the Fyne Ales brewery she set up with her late husband Jonny at the head of Loch Fyne in Argyll.
Lady Lairds also shows a number of the women saying they miss their husbands, who go off to mainstream jobs during the week to earn money to help balance the books.
Kenneth Stephen of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, said: “The job of laird is solely about capabilities, not about being a man or a woman, it is about having that care required in stewardship, that passion to keep going.
“It can be unforgiving at times, prey to weather and topography, but if these females have these characteristics there is no reason why they cannot succeed.”