February is always a big month for us with both my birthday and Valentine’s Day and, as of this year, we’ve now added a wedding anniversary too! To celebrate all these things we decided to take a very last minute weekend trip to the Highlands to fulfill my wedding wish of meeting some reindeer!
In the lead up to our wedding we knew we couldn’t afford a lavish honeymoon so I decided a trip to the Cairngorms to play with reindeer would be ideal, only to find out the reindeer herders take a holiday at exactly the time we would be going. I was devastated and, in bridezilla fashion, demanded Andrew found me a reindeer for my wedding day. Sadly, it just wasn’t possible despite his best efforts to source one but in the end I got something just as cute as he announced he had adopted one for me during his wedding toast.
So with the reindeer herd now back open for business and my birthday as the excuse, we took the three hour drive up to the Cairngorms to meet them. Leaving after work on Friday, we headed up to Newtownmore where we had our hotel booked for the weekend giving us a welcome night’s sleep and a cooked breakfast the next day before our Saturday reindeer adventures began.
The Cairngorm Reindeer are a free ranging, semi-wild herd who frequent the Cairngorm Mountain area, and in exchange for a daily feed, put up with excited visitors like me. Since there’s no fences and a lot of free space to roam, this means they move every day but luckily a couple have been fitted with trackers to help herders from the Reindeer Centre find them each day. Due to the nature of the set up, there is no advanced booking for the Hill Trip walk out to find the reindeer which means you need to be there early to guarantee your space. So as excited as I was, I made sure we were first in the queue. The trip leaves at 11am with the Reindeer Centre based in Glenmore opening at 10am for tickets. So naturally we arrived for 9.45 and were awaiting outside the door.
I got the first ticket of the day (although technically I was free with my adoption card) and after a quick talk on finding the departure point at Coire na Ciste we then had and hour to complete the five minute drive there. We had been advised that the weather was much wilder up on the hill side so we decided to head on round to see what conditions were like in the slightly more exposed regions. As described it was certainly a lot windier once out of the forest area but after a quick outfit change in the car park I was ready to go.
Arriving early, we had plenty of time to appreciate the views before others from the reindeer party joined us. Despite being mid February, there was very little snow around in the Cairngorms due to a very unseasonable mild spell. But, while the temperature may have be unusually high, the wind was still icy cold and so we made sure we were wrapped up against the chill with plenty of layers.
Soon after we had set off I realised that despite my toing and froing over clothing in the car park I had still made the wrong choice of footwear. Having anticipate an uphill rocky climb I had opted for my hiking shoes over wellies but today the reindeer herd were hiding in a valley area which meant walking over boggy moorland and it turned out my shoes were definitely not as waterproof and they should be! Undeterred, if momentarily grumpy at the slightly soggy feet, we hiked over the tussocks with our reindeer guides at a nice slow pace, stopping occasionally for some background info on the herd and the animals in the wild.
As we came over a final hill to see the reindeer in the valley, I must admit I did make an excited squeak and I know Andrew was certainly beaming too as much as he tries to maintain he’s not that into animals.
Once onsite, the set up is pretty relaxed, after some general safety rules and the reindeer have had their main feed there is also the chance to hand feed them. After all the food is gone, you are welcome to hang out with them as long as you want with the guides on hand to answer any questions you may have about the herd or any individuals, as each has it’s own name and herders can identify them all and tell you their ages. There’s certainly no viewing from a distance here and we’re soon surrounded with these wonderful hairy hill creatures and it turns out reindeer are all very sociable, even when the food is gone!
Most don’t mind you getting close, though it’s worth remembering they are still wild animals and best to keep an eye out for those feet and antlers. As someone who has grown up around various larger animals who can accidentally clatter into you, stand on you or impale you with horns I feel I’m pretty aware of how close I can safely get but it was clear others on the trip hadn’t really listened to safety pointers as we did watch one guy thinking he could play with a reindeer’s antlers. Mrs Reindeer was not best pleased.
At this time of year, the herd is quite mixed, with adults and last year’s calves, but all the adults in this herd are female as the males have been separated and are roaming about 30 miles away on the Glenlivet Estate. Our herders claim it’s because the males get lazy and end up relying on the daily feeds and hang around in the car parks but I’m pretty sure it’s more to do with testosterone filled males not really being a good mix with excited tourists.
We stay over an hour with the herd, but, as happy as I would be just spending the day with my new reindeer friends, the predicted wetter weather and fast approaching lunch time prise us away. I depart my reindeer herd and head on back up and over the moor back to the car only getting a little more soggy en route. But for anyone interested in reindeer this is an amazing experience and I would happily come back again. Perhaps my new husband will make it an anniversary tradition?
At the time of our visit the trip cost £14 per adult but there is also the option of meeting a couple of reindeer and looking though a small exhibit at the centre in Glenmore which costs only £3.50. We stopped in on the way back as this is also included in the Hill Trip ticket price and while not really comparable to seeing them out on the hills, the coach trip that were onsite seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves at the reindeer talk and got to hand feed the reindeer in the paddock.
If you get the chance we’d highly recommend the Reindeer Hill Trip, just make sure to turn up early to ensure a space as even in February it was quite busy…..oh and wellies, opt for wellies!