A Brand New Reindeer Centre!

On 4th August 1989 Alan and I took over the ownership and management of the Cairngorm Reindeer. We had both been working for the family who owned the herd for a number of years and when Mr Utsi and then Dr Lindgren passed away the opportunity arose for us to buy the herd.

Back when Alan and Tilly took over the Reindeer Centre in the late 80s (and Alan had more hair!)

To this day the 4th August is etched on my brain. Our children were 3 and 4 years old and we had never had our own business, Alan had been employed by Dr Lindgren and I was initially a volunteer. But we had lots of ideas and we had a beautiful herd of reindeer.

The requisite Smith family photo – Tilly and Alan with Alex and Fiona, and obligatory reindeer.

We immediately converted part of Reindeer House into the ‘Cairngorm Reindeer Centre’, with reception, shop and office at one end leaving the rest of the house for living in with our young family and friends, many of whom who were volunteer reindeer herders. The reindeer paddocks beside the house became a display area for visitors to see a small group of reindeer, along with the 11am Hill Trips to the herd on the mountains.

The shop and reception area, in what was once the living room of Reindeer House.

Nearly 35 years later and the status quo continues. The only difference is that we’ve all got older; Alan and I moved out to our new ventures at Glenlivet (although still closely involved with the reindeer) and our daughter Fiona is living at Reindeer House with many of the other herders (they’re paid now though!). We attract more visitors and there are extra daily visits onto the hill to the herd.

The Paddocks in recent years.

The set-up has worked really well and the homespun infrastructure and hard working herders, along with a unique herd of free ranging reindeer, has been a great story. I have written three books around the life of reindeer and our journey with them and the herd is still looked after by us along with a band of enthusiastic, caring and clever people. Our herders today have brought with them tremendous life skills which have hugely progressed the way the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is run from day to day. But most importantly the welfare and care of the reindeer is still at the heart of everything we all do on a daily basis.

Looking after the herd. Photo: Alex Smith
Tilly with Scrabble. Reindeer are the heart of the business, and always will be, regardless of the changes around them. Photo: John Paul

In the summer of 2021 we received an incredibly generous donation from a long term reindeer adopter who asked that the monies they donated be put towards upgrading the current facilities at Reindeer House, which would involve returning the house to a domestic property and constructing a stand alone building for our reindeer shop, exhibition and office.

Exhibition displays. They’ve improved a lot over the years, but the building housing them was definitely getting shabbier and shabbier!

The following January we engaged with an architect and since then we have been going through the process of agreeing plans and applying for planning permission and the building warrant. With all the statutory requirements in place we began work last September, building a 16 bay car-park close to the Paddocks. The car-park is now nearly finished (but not available for parking in yet) and work is due to start on the new building in early February, which will be situated in our existing Paddock area.

The artist’s impression of the shiny new building!The existing Reindeer House building can be seen at the left hand side here, with the entrance to the new car-park on the right hand side.

As normal we closed for a few weeks on 8th January 2024 and immediately our son Alex, with help from herders, began to demolish the wooden structures in the Paddocks to make space for the new construction. There is a tinge of sadness seeing the old buildings (that we built ourselves) coming down but I suspect the improvements are long overdue and we are imagining a really special place for visitors to come to learn about our wonderful herd of reindeer alongside new displays, children’s activities and of course reindeer. Most importantly the new Centre will be access to all abilities.

We closed to the public on Monday 8th January. By Friday the 12th the Paddocks looked like this!

So exciting (and expensive!) times ahead. Unfortunately a bit disruptive too as the Paddocks will not be available for viewing reindeer while the building is constructed. However once we re-open to the public on 10th February we will otherwise still operate as normal with reception, shop and office where they have always been and the daily Hill Trips to the herd will continue as usual.

Hill Trips will continue as normal – tickets available on our website (from 30 days in advance)!

To check out what is available and how you can still come and visit do keep an eye on our website for updates and once construction gets underway we will have a better idea of how things are progressing, and more of an idea of the duration of the work.

Tilly

Photo blog: February 2023

It’s the last blog of the month, so here we have a selection of photos I’ve taken during February. The early part of the month was all about crossing jobs off the to-do list ready for us to re-open to the public on the 11th of February for the busy half-term holidays. The second part of the month has been all about locating the reindeer and moving the herd into a suitable position for our Hill Trips each morning, the Hill Trips themselves, and afternoon talks in the Paddocks. Plus all the usual shop and office work. As always, the holidays are over in a blur, but here are some photos of our beautiful reindeer, giving a small taster of February for you all.

6th of February -Mushy and her mum Hobnob looking alike. This pair are never too far apart.
6th of February – Feta posing beautifully!
7th of February – Andi doing a absolutely superb job of introducing our lovely reindeer to our followers on a Facebook live video.
8th of February – almost 16-year-old Fly leading the herd.
8th of February – Lotti and the white bag being followed by three old girls – Okapi, Lace and Sika.
11th of February – Open day!! These are our beautiful reindeer selected to be in the Paddocks for a short spell over February half-term. From left to right we have Pip, Camembert, Fern, and Florence.
12th of February – being “sheep dog” at the back of the herd whilst Hen leads them from the front. Moving the herd in place for the 11am Hill Trip.
12th of February – Beret posing beautifully, hard to believe she’ll be two in the spring!
13th of February – what a lovely day for a Hill Trip! Walking along at the back of our excited visitors.
13th of February – Beanie, being Beanie!
15th of February – acting sheep dog again. A windy and wet morning to retrieve the herd and deposit them in the right place for our visitors.
20th of February – Gelato, Christie’s calf, being cute.
20th of February – leading the herd to the correct location just in time! We made it to the visit location at bang on 11am, giving us 10 mins to spare before the Hill Trip arrived. I had the trusty white bag over my shoulder for bribery at the front of the herd and Lisette is “sheep dog” at the back in the red jacket.
20th of February – Paddock swap day! Pip, Camembert, Fern, and Florence went back in the hill, and were replaced with (from left to right) Kipling and her calf Tub, Feta and Hopscotch. They’ll spend the next 7 days in the Paddocks before heading back up the hill after the holidays are over.
21st of February – my favourite part of a Hill Trip – watching our visitors peacefully mingling with the herd after the hectic hand feeding session if over!
21st of February – a close up of Fly’s head. She cast her antlers earlier in the winter and has already developed velvety pads. Spring is coming!
21st of February – Suidhe just checking in with her calf Solero.
22nd of February – snow again! Rocket and his mum Gloriana.
22nd of February – Morven on the left with her two daughters Pinto and calf Mochi!

A final point – if you are wondering where all the young bulls and Christmas reindeer are in the photos, they spend the winter free ranging in a different herd that Tilly and other colleagues at the farm mostly look after. I’ve not been to visit them myself this month hence why it’s just photos of our beautiful girls and some male calves that you’ll find in this month’s blog.

Ruth

Tilly’s quiz

During lockdown it seems that all the rage was quiz nights on Zoom. I was party to a couple of these and I have to confess I did quite enjoy them. However I wasn’t over enthusiastic about gazing into a computer screen of faces, all at slightly odd angles with various pictures, bookshelves and miscellanea in the background. I was also useless at all the questions about music, TV and films.

So with these thoughts in mind and once there was some relaxation of the lockdown rules I decided I would make up a ‘Tilly Quiz’ of my interests and we would all sit outside in household teams, suitably socially distanced, for a quiz afternoon. In fact it was a lovely sunny day and we ended up in the empty reindeer Paddocks beside the Centre.

Quiz teams nicely spaced out and all set to go. Note the cut hay drying – not something possible in the Paddocks in a normal year!

It was great fun and I confess some of the questions were quite quirky and nobody got the answers, but there was a winning team (only by one point ) by the end and they chose a bottle of Kendricks gin for their first prize. A bottle of single malt Balvenie Double Wood was snapped up by the runners up.

Thankfully it was sunny enough that the midges weren’t around!

Anyway that was a fun day for us herders during late lockdown once restrictions had started to lift, and it occured to me that some of the questions could form a blog for our website, since my 3 areas of interest are (strangely enough): Reindeer, The Natural World and The Great Outdoors .

So why not give the following quiz a go and see how many questions you can answer without instantly referring to Google. Indeed even Google may not come up with the answers!

Here goes with just some of the questions from my quiz that day:

1. An old term for a red deer stag?

2. Name the 3 species of Scottish heather and in what order do they flower?

3. The Scottish name for a woodlouse?

4. What is the colour of the following berries: Bearberry, Crowberry, Cowberry, Cloudberry and Blaeberry? They are all found in the Cairngorms.

5. Loch Morlich (in Glenmore where the Reindeer Centre is) is a glacial feature. What type?

Wapiti, Ladybird and Addax up on the mountains with Loch Morlich in the background

6. Name the mythical creature of Ben Macdui? (Editor’s note: Tilly was very strict about us getting this name exactly right!)

7. In which coire in the Cairngorms does snow linger the longest? Indeed some years it doesn’t melt at all. (A ‘coire’ is a hollow in the mountainside formed by glaciation).

8. Name the UK’s only two insectivorous plants, both of which grow here in the Cairngorms?

9. Who was the first pure white reindeer to be born in the Cairngorm herd? (Pretty sure Google definitely won’t help with this one!)

10. What are the full titles and sub titles of my 3 books about reindeer?

11. In the foreword to ‘The Living Mountain’ by Nan Shepherd she describes the reindeer herd in Scotland ‘as no longer experimental but ………….’?

 

Nan Shephard now graces the Royal Bank of Scotland’s £5 note

12. Name 3 other places (countries, islands or states), other than Scotland where reindeer have been introduced to in the past?

The answers are here!

Tilly

Christmas Fun

Well, there’s no escaping it now. There’s only a month until C-day and here at the Centre we are getting geared up for another busy festive season. We have already munched a fair few mince pies and started reviewing the different mulled wine options available from supermarkets (in the evenings!) as we have been doing Christmas events for the past month, but now the Centre is getting her makeover and will be sparkle-tastic for the next few weeks.

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The BBQ shed with her festive lights

Here at the Centre we are still running the daily hill trip at 11am. The numbers on the visits are limited and we are unable to take bookings (because we would probably lose them! and also the weather is too unpredictable) so if you would like to join us on one of our trips please arrive at the Centre nice and early on the morning of your chosen day. We try to take the visit every day but occasionally the weather can be against us and we might have to cancel. If we do then we will post up on Facebook on the morning to let you all know, or you can call to check. If you are planning on joining us just remember that the weather can be pretty fierce and you will be outside for 1.5 hours, maybe more, and there is no shelter up on the hill. Please make sure everyone in your group is dressed up nice and warmly with lots of layers, hats, scarves and gloves and please ensure you all have waterproof coats too. They are not only brilliant for keeping you dry but help to keep the wind out. On that note, waterproof trousers are really helpful too so it’s always a good idea to pack them if you can.

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Our wee tree and board waiting for Christmas wishes

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Sparkly Paddocks

Down here at the Centre, Christmas is exploding. The paddocks will be decorated in our usual over-the-top way and we will have lots of activities for kids to do on the weekends in December and the week running up to Christmas. A chubby man in a red suit will also make an appearance! Of course, we will also have our lovely reindeer to see, so if you don’t fancy a walk into the mountains or if they weather is just a bit too horrible for wee ones, the paddocks are a great alternative, and there is a heated BBQ shed which is lovely and cosy too.

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Prices for our hill trips are £14 for adults, £8 for kids and £11 for concessions.

Paddock prices are £4 for adults, £3 for kids and £3.50 for concessions.

Imogen

 

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