• Amanda

Meeting the free range Cairngorm reindeer

Last autumn, we were fortunate to spend a week in Scotland exploring Aviemore and the Cairngorms, and the absolute all- time highlight was walking with the Cairngorms free range reindeer herd.

I was initially dubious if we should attempt the hill hiking trip with a then 2.5 year old and just turned 4 year old in tow. Added to that, the autumnal weather on the hill trip was on the frosty end.

We arrived at the Centre in Glenmore, in good time before the 10am registration. The benefit of this was we got to explore the paddocks which had some reindeer that were happily enjoying a rest. The reindeer in the paddocks are alternated regularly with the reindeer from the hill, and they deliberately select reindeer who are more suited to benefiting from the slower pace of life off the hill.

The added bonus was the paddocks have the ‘stables’ for Father Christmas’s key reindeer and you also get to see the big man's bedroom, which was simply outstanding! The children couldn’t quiet believe the beautiful set up, from his bed to his globe and calendar reminders (from Rudolph no less).

It certainly was magical, so different to all the generic ‘grotto’ type displays. There was also an ‘Artic Shed’, a ‘Hill of Fame’ and great displays of educational features to help us learn all about reindeer, their lifestyle, history and diets. There were some hidden gnomes to discover and even a gnome wendy house, complete with built in size appropriate bunk beds for the elves!

Soon it was time to drive up to Sugarbowl meeting point for the briefing before the hill trek. We had hired a backpack style carrier from the Reindeer centre for our youngest, as we were concerned how he would fair walking on the round trip which is approximately 1.5 hours. As long as you follow the instructions and come prepared in suitable clothing, hats, gloves and foot wear, then it will be fine. The walk up the hill was beautiful, the autumn colours were stunning and we crossed a bridge over a stream and then headed onto a purpose built walkway, which made the walking easier, otherwise you would get very muddy.

The herders carry up supplementary food for the reindeer and soon enough the reindeer came to greet us. The herd is very relaxed and they gather right around you. Reindeer do have a natural blind spot – in line with the height of a toddler, so you need to be mindful of this.

You get an opportunity to hand feed the reindeer and stroke them. Their noses are soft and very velvety. Our children were fascinated to hear the ‘clicks’ when they walked, and the guide explained it is believed they use this to communicate. We were super lucky to see a Mother with twins, and they even came up to greet us. Our guide explained that reindeer are uniquely engineered for the cold climate they live in. They have a fur coat with hollow tubular hairs for insulation from the cold. They can actually lie down on the snow without melting it! It was lovely to see the herders call them by name and share some information on the personality of each reindeer.

Our son was happy to come out the carrier and he decided to walk back down the hill, which was achievable on the wooden walkway. We ended the day on a high, it certainly was a bucket list item to meet the free- range reindeer in their natural environment and we left having learnt a lot of interesting facts about reindeer. As Christmas is soon upon us again, my children now aged 3.5 and 5 years old, keep asking to go back to Scotland to visit the reindeer again, that surely is a sign of the good time they had last year!

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