Do reindeer like honey?
If I spread honey on your face, I bet the reindeer would lick it off.
These statements were likely becoming quite tiresome to my friend who had happily agreed to take me to “pet reindeers” after we’d discovered the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre when coming back from a walk in the Ryvoan Pass.
Reindeer? In Scotland?
Oh yeah. Since 1952 the Cairngorm Mountains have been home to the only herd of reindeer in the UK. They can be found roaming and free ranging about the Cairngorms. A more in-depth history of the Cairngorm Reindeer may be found on their website, but the short story is that they were re-introduced to Scotland by Swedish Reindeer Herder, Mikel Utsi. Mikel started the herd with only a few mountain reindeer; today the herd is maintained at a number of around 150.
When we stopped at the reindeer centre, I expected to see a half dozen reindeer in some fenced area behind the centre. There was a fenced area, but no reindeer. Where were they?
Free ranging it.
I visited the centre in March and was disappointed to find no reindeer. My disappointment didn’t last long. We were kindly greeted in the visitor centre by a herder. When I asked if there was a chance I could possibly pet a reindeer, she did me one better. She told me I could hand feed a reindeer. Feed a reindeer? Get reindeer kisses? Sign me up.
Hand Feeding the Reindeer Herd
We went on a Friday and although it wasn’t raining, it did begin to lightly snow. This did not in any way diminish the amount of fun I had. There were around 12-15 of us on the hike. After a short walk (approximately 20 minutes), we could see the herd. To my surprise, the herd walked right up to greet us. Some were more comfortable with us than others. After walking with the reindeer for a few minutes we came to a long, flat stretch where the herders laid out food for the reindeer. Additionally, one of the herders had a bag of food for those who were interested in hand feeding. Not all of the reindeer partook in hand feeding, but the majority did.
Reindeer don’t have teeth in their upper jaw, so they can’t bite you. What they can do is run their sweet velvety noses on your lower arm as they eat food (and occasionally lick it) right out of your hand. It’s an incredibly fun and endearing activity.
It was amazing to learn that the herd (as a whole) is composed of around 150 reindeer, each with their own name and distinct personality. This seemed unreal at first, but was quite visible after spending a short period of time with the reindeer. Amazing. It was such a great way to experience these animals in their environment.
Visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd
From April to New Year, a small group of reindeer is cared for at the Reindeer Centre in Glenmore and is “alternated regularly with the reindeer on the hill”. Reindeer cared for in the paddock are those who “may benefit from a slightly easier life off the hill”.
Experienced reindeer herders take you for a short walk (20-30 minutes) into the mountainside for a scenic hill walk where the herd eventually meets up and walks with you. This is followed by a feeding. Many of the reindeer enjoy hand feeding and I thoroughly recommend you try it.
Daily Hill visits all year round: 11:00
From May to September: 11.00 + 14:30
July to August: 15:30 (Mon – Fri)
*Visits are weather permitting during the winter. Additionally, they recommend that you call around 9 a.m. the morning of the day you desire to go just to ensure they’ve located the herd as they are free ranging.
Experienced reindeer herders lead you on a half-day trek across the lower slopes of the Cairngorms. Although I’ve not done a reindeer trek (yet), I can only imagine the beautiful views you’ll encounter. On the trek you’ll get the opportunity to lead your very own reindeer. At the end of the trek you get the chance to hand feed.
*Advanced booking required
Spend some time in the Scottish Highlands!
The Scottish Highlands are absolutely beautiful as are the Cairngorm Mountains located in the Eastern Highlands. If you are planning a trip I recommend you visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. They’re amazing animals and the reindeer herders are a wealth of knowledge on their herd as well as on reindeer in general.
For more information on updated prices and seasonal information and services, contact the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre:
Telephone Number: 01479 861228
International Callers: +44 1479 861228
Address: Reindeer House, Glenmore, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1QU, Scotland