I’ve visited the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd a few times with friends. (You know, in that life I had before any kids came along!) I absolutely loved it and I’d wanted to take the kids to see the reindeer herd in the Cairngorms since the little lady could walk. So this year when we were thinking of somewhere to go late November for a little weekend away and Aviemore was suggested, this was the first thing I thought of!
I’m a bit of an animal nut; you know, one of those people who will stop and talk to dogs in the street or squirrels in the park even if I don’t have kids with me. I can’t walk past a puppy. And I’ve created two small humans just like me, so I knew they would have a great time meeting and feeding the reindeer herd.
The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre
This is where you go to get your tickets for your visit to the herd. During winter there is only 1 trip to meet the herd per day, at 11am. You need to arrive before this (around 10am) on the day to buy your tickets. You’ll then get instructions on where and when to meet your guide who will be taking the group to the herd. After this you have until about 10 minutes before your trip to wander round the reindeer centre.
On this visit we only popped into the Reindeer Centre to pick up our tickets and hire some wellies. But there are a few pens there with some reindeer and lots of information about reindeer, and the Cairngorm herd in particular, in case you aren’t able to go visit the herd for any reason.
This time we went to the beach for half an hour after we bought our tickets. Loch Morlich is about 2 minutes back along the road towards Aviemore and it’s one of my favourite places in the whole world. So we couldn’t not go when we were right next to it!
You’ll meet your guide in the designated car park and from there you begin the walk to the reindeer herd. It isn’t a really strenuous walk. There is a bit of a hill and the gravel track is quite rocky at some bits. The rocks kinda act as stairs though. There are also some actual stairs and a narrow bridge – it’s definitely not suitable for anything wheeled, unless you’re an excellent mountain biker. The walk itself was a little bit muddy, but not really slippery at all.
Don’t let any of that put you off though; I did it when I was 5 months pregnant (not on this visit), the little lady did it with no problem at all, husband did it with the little man strapped to his back and our 76 year old Auntie with a bad hip did it with gusto, albeit with a bit of help from me and my nephew.
The walk took about 20-25 minutes this time. The guide always makes regular stops to chat to everyone about the history of the Cairngorm herd and about reindeer in general. They always wait for everyone to catch up to the main group too.
Every other time I’ve been there have been fewer than 10 people in the group, but this particular time there must have been at least 40 of us. There were lots of kids as well and they all seemed to manage just fine.
The Reindeer Herd
Once you’re up the hill it’s plain sailing (or walking) along a series of wooden boardwalk structures and through a couple of paddocks until you get to the main area with the herd. This is where you get to meet the reindeer.
The guide will gather everyone round and give you a bit of chat about the reindeer while the reindeer make their way over to the group. They’re not daft; they know there’s food in the bags that the guide brings with them! When the reindeer herd arrive you’ll get to dive into the big sacks of food and the reindeer will eat it out of your hands.
It is so much fun feeding the reindeer. Some of them are greedier than others, some of them are more forceful than others, some of them are more slabbery than others, and they all have their own personalities. The little lady absolutely loved the reindeer eating out of her hands. She giggled and smiled through the whole thing. The little man wasn’t as gung-ho as he usually is, but to be fair the reindeer were probably a tiny bit intimidating for a small human a third their height.
The interactions with the reindeer are giving them handfuls of food. They know how it works; they come over, you take a handful of food out of the sack and they eat it from your hands. The quieter it is the more you get to feed the reindeer.
When you’re finished spending time with the reindeer you’re free to head back to the car park. You just make your own way back down the same path you came up. All in, the whole experience lasted about an hour and a half with a half hour walk up to the herd, maybe 20 minutes on the way back down, and the rest of the time spent with the reindeer. If the weather had been a bit nicer we would probably have spent a bit longer on the hill.
The Extra Bits
- You can’t book in advance to visit the herd. You have to turn up at the Reindeer Centre first thing in the morning to book for visits that day.
- You can get a lift up to the car park meeting point if you don’t have a vehicle with you.
- The fields up where you meet the reindeer herd are can be pretty boggy. Wellies are available to hire at the reindeer centre for 50p a pair.
- The wooden boardwalks are a bit slippery when they’re wet. I fell twice. The mossy, heathery, long grass of the hill makes for a soft landing though…
- Dress appropriately. We went at the end of November and it was pretty chilly. It’s usually windier up on the hill too, so bear that in mind!
- The reindeer centre has a Christmas event on weekends throughout December. They decorate the paddocks at the centre, there are some craft activities and Santa wanders round at certain times to chat with the kids. You don’t need to book in advance; just turn up.
The cost is £15 for adults, £9 for children and £12 for concessions. Under 5’s go free. You can’t book in advance for the visit to the herd. You have to turn up at the Reindeer Centre on the morning of your planned visit to book.
We had a really lovely morning meeting the Cairngorm reindeer herd. The walk to the herd was short enough that everyone enjoyed it – even the little lady who is prone to a good moan about sore legs if she’s been walking for more than 3 minutes.
The kids had a great time feeding the reindeer, as did the rest of us adults aged from 27 to 76! It’s a really fun activity for all ages. You just have to cross your fingers that the weather will hold out for you!
The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is located at Reindeer House, Glenmore, Aviemore, PH22 1QU.