Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Even though I’m a city girl, I love putting on my hiking boots and getting out into the countryside!

When I visited my girlfriend up in the Scottish Highlands, she booked us a special treat – to visit UK’s only reindeer herd living in the wild. More than 800 years ago, reindeer used to roam the island, but now they only live high up in the Cairngorms National Park where the herd are permitted to graze on over 10,000 acres on the mountainsides. Back in 1952, a Swedish couple re-introduced reindeer to Scotland by bringing over several Swedish reindeer to establish the herd.

Today, the Cairgorm Reindeer Centre in Glenmore is home to about 150 lively reindeer, but only a handful of older ones live at the centre. A daily guided tour takes you on a short hike up and down rocky paths and wet grasslands to where the rest of the reindeer live in the park. You’ll definitely want to make sure you wear layers to stay warm and have a good pair of hiking boots. Sometimes, the tour may be cancelled due to inclement weather or if the reindeer are too far away.
Once on the hill, we were free to interact with the reindeers, approach them slowly, pet their soft furs and even feed them. The friendly staff passed around handfuls of animal feed to us, and then the reindeers rushed toward anyone who had food. At first, I felt a little hesitant because the reindeer do have big mouths and soft noses, but as soon as they nibble in your hands, the sensation is more like a tickle. All I could do was giggle!

In fact, did you know that reindeers only have tiny teeth along their bottom jaw, and no teeth along the top, just a bony palate? We learned that these small teeth aid the reindeer in grazing on the tufts of wild vegetation, such as heather and grasses, on the hillsides.

During the winter months, the reindeer’s diet consists of up to 70 percent of lichen – a type of “reindeer moss” that grows even in the coldest environments. This is also the time of the year when the reindeer’s coats turn to a brilliant white in order to blend into their snowy surroundings. In fact, we saw some of the reindeer’s coats already turning white at the end of our September visit. The white really stood out against the bright blue sky that we got so lucky with because the next day was grey and rainy. So typical of the U.K.
Don’t worry, if you’re not able to do a guided tour, you can visit a few of the older reindeer that live at the centre, which is open from mid-February to early January.
After playing with the reindeer for nearly two hours, we headed for lunch at the nearby Rothiemurchus Centre, home to the Druie Café and Estate Farm Shop.  Both are open every day except Christmas Day. The café offers breakfast and lunch featuring homemade soups, sandwiches, scones, shortbread and cakes. The farm shop sells locally roasted coffee, leaf teas, artisan cheeses, Highland beef and venison, fresh and smoked fish, produce and other locally-made crafts. Everything looked truly mouthwatering! If you like simple, home cooking and fresh ingredients, the Druie café is a great place to try.
This trip marked my third time in Scotland – a country whose beauty continues to impress me.

Would you like to visit these reindeer in Scotland too?

Rothiemurchus is a privately-owned Highland Estate within the national park, northeast of the River Spey, that includes a 13th-century island castle, wildlife and Rothiemurchus forest covers an area of about 30 square km. This castle is located in the middle of Loch an Eilein, which means “Loch of the Island” in Gaelic.
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jaz@octoberfarm said...

how wonderful and i learned so much from your visit! i'm part scottish and have always wanted to visit there. maybe one of these days!

Joy said...

Thanks Joyce! Scotland is amazing! I love my trips there. Highly recommended if you can go someday...perhaps find some relatives? ;)

Alan said...

It's been many years since we last wandered unfettered through the hills and mountains of Scotland. Your descriptive writing has brought back many a fond memory.

Backto Bodrum said...

A wonderful part of the world.

Julia said...

Wow, what a special experience. Bet that was amazing. And great photos, too. Ghillie Başan (Turkish and Middle Eastern food specialist) lives there. Love looking at the photos on her Instagram account. :)

Joy said...

Hi Alan, I love visiting always seems so remote and wild when you're out in the countryside. Such a beautiful place.

Joy said...

@Annie, indeed! I've loved my three trips so far and with friends there that means I have a place to stay. :)

Joy said...

@Julia, amazing indeed! Oh, I just found Ghillie's acnt through Ozlem so am happily following her too. I think I may need some new cookbooks. ;)

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