Scottish reindeer, Cairngorms

We visited the Cairngorm reindeer herd near Aviemore today.  Reindeer are native to Scotland but were hunted to extinction by humans a long time ago. They were reintroduced in the 1950s to the Cairngorms and there’s now a managed herd of 150 of them. They cap the population at 150 because that is all the land they’re allowed to graze on can accommodate. I was a bit surprised that they don’t let them spread into other areas since they are a native species but I guess there’s no predator for them here now – it would have been the wolf in the past but this too has been wiped out from Great Britain.

You can go on a guided hill trip to see the reindeer starting from the reindeer centre in Glenmore. Daily trips run all year round except for in January through to early February. There’s a short walk up to the hill where the reindeer roam freely. It takes about 20 minutes down into a valley which is very scenic and then up the hill on the other side. It’s a good path and people of all ages and abilities can do it. You can’t book but they can take a huge group up to the hill so as long as you turn up early you should get to go. It may be busier in summer but I believe they run more frequent trips then.

Sometimes the reindeer are not there and I’m told you may have to walk further up the hill to find them. However, they like the promise of food the tours bring so they’re never far away and usually come willingly when they see the guides.

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Here’s our tour group.

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The reindeer in this next photo started following us on the wooden path. It was quite funny to turn around and see a reindeer among the procession of people. This one has lost one antler. Reindeer, like deer, lose their antlers every year and grow new ones in the spring. It hadn’t occurred to me that they’d lose them one at a time leaving the animal a bit lopsided. The other one will likely come off before Christmas, I am told. Both the male and female reindeer have antlers.

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Some of these reindeer will be taken on Santa parades around Scotland next month. I think the reindeer would much rather stay on the hills where they can roam freely. However, the land is not owned by the reindeer centre and so they need the money from the parades to lease the land the reindeer use for grazing. I’m not sure what the solution is but if you want to help them out you can adopt a reindeer.

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Reindeer have lovely thick warm coats and they were happy for us to touch them. The tour guide said reindeer have been known to survive in temperatures as cold as -70C.

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The colours were so nice today and the sun was shining in the right direction so I managed to get some nice photos.

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You have to be careful when you feed them not to end up with antlers up your nose.

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This is the pathway down into the valley.

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We’re back in Aberdeen now after our fantastic adventure in Aviemore. The first time we went to Aviemore, several years ago now, we didn’t get to see very much. It was a fleeting visit and there was also snow that blocked the road up to Cairngorm Mountain. The kids were also younger which limited our options. This time was amazing. I loved all the things we did from Loch Morlich, to Treezone, to seeing the reindeer.

Aviemore is like a giant adventure park with all sorts of activities. The village itself is kind of ugly though – it doesn’t have many quaint old buildings like other villages in the region and the main street through town is choked with traffic. But unless you want to spend your holiday looking at shops then you needn’t spend much time in the village itself as all the good stuff is in the surrounding countryside anyway. That said, it has a decent supermarket and a bookstore, both of which are handy.

We stayed at Pine Bank Chalets which I highly recommend. They have a range of options for every budget. It’s positioned within walking distance of the village centre and train station. Indeed the train line runs straight past the chalets so if you don’t like the sound of trains then it’s maybe not the best place for you. We quite like hearing trains – they’re not that frequent and they don’t run through the night.

There’s even a Marks and Spencer petrol station nearby which had wonderful meal options. We got this for dinner one night: it’s a vegan mac & cheese made with cashew nuts. It’s hard to believe we got this from a petrol station. When I was a kid all you could buy at a petrol station was a hot dog.

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Despite our very active few days we feel we have barely touched on all the things there are to do around Aviemore so we’ll definitely go back. The muscles in my back are a bit sore today after Treezone yesterday. I obviously need to work those muscles a bit more.

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