Wild weather and tricky walks

After the busy festive season, the Centre is now closed for a few weeks to give both us herders and the reindeer a chance to wind down and also to catch up on a few jobs that can’t be done whilst we’re open, like giving the Exhibition a fresh lick of paint.

The dogs often come along for most of the walk out to feed the herd, then waiting patiently at a safe distance.

We’re still feeding the herd most days, but as they’re all free-ranging (with nothing in the enclosure at all) this can involve quite a walk out in some…well…entertaining conditions. Earlier this week Fiona, Ben and I hiked out in crazily windy weather, being constantly buffeted and blown off our feet, and narrowly avoiding faceplanting as the ground was like sheet ice. We eventually got off the hill 2 hours later utterly exhausted.

Dreich weather – wind and sleety snow – can make walking out hard work even when we’re well equipped and used to the conditions. Soggy herders!

We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors back from the 12th February, and will be running our Hill Trips daily (weather permitting), but as these will be to our free-range herd rather than to the enclosure that we use from May – December, we are putting an age restriction on the Trips, with our minimum age being 4 years old. We’re also recommending against younger children (aged 4 – 11) coming at this time of the year, instead recommending a visit from May onwards.

Why? I know a lot of people will have visited from February to April before with a toddler, and had a wonderful time. However, the Cairngorm winter can be extreme, and as we just don’t know until the day if it will be a pleasant bluebird day, or gale force winds with a wind chill of -20, we’ve decided we need to be sensible about it.

Reindeer and herders battling the elements (c) Joe Mann

Small children tend to struggle with the weather more than adults, just because they’re wee – this isn’t a criticism of their toughness, just an observation from the years we’ve been running Trips. Indeed, for a large number of our previous Hill Trips in this season we have had to restrict them to “adults only” due to the weather or distance – safety has to be our first priority. We need to be realistic that if folks are booking ahead, it is unfair to everyone to then have to cancel their Trip on the day.

Even when the weather is calm, the walk to the herd frequently involves crossing unavoidable snow patches, which can be waist deep in places

Along with the weather, there is also the difficulty and length of the walk. In the free-range season this can be four or even five times the distance of the walk to the enclosure, meaning that we are out on the hill for much longer. Younger kids often find these longer distances tougher (again no criticism of their ability, just an observation of their smaller legs and reserves) and struggle to keep up with the group, which then leads to the rest of the people getting cold as we stand waiting. Little kids in backpacks often struggle even more, as they are stationary and not generating any muscle warmth. There is also the added risk of the parent slipping with them, resulting in injury.

Conditions like this are far from unusual, and are just not a place for wee kids to be (c) Andi Probert

In addition, the area has been so much busier in the last couple of years, and as a result we are needing to take our free-range Trips further and further to find a quiet spot where the reindeer are less likely to be disturbed by passing dogs. It is also trickier now that we take advance bookings as it means almost all tickets are sold before the day itself – in the past we used to only sell tickets on the day once we opened at 10am, at which point we already knew what the weather was like up on the mountains. That meant we could literally look people up and down as they entered the shop and judge ourselves whether they were adequately dressed for the current conditions – before selling them tickets! Unfortunately Hill Trips are just so oversubscribed now that advance bookings are our only option.

It looks beautiful but… Eve battles to feed the herd in winter – hypothermia and exposure are a real risk, even for well-equipped adults (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

We know this decision will be a disappointment to some, so as an alternative we are going to trial “Winter Herder Talks” here in the Paddocks on afternoons through the February half term. From 1.30pm each day you will have the opportunity to meet some of our beautiful reindeer and learn all about them from one of our herders. The Paddocks is usually a self-guided experience (and will remain so from 10am until 1.30pm), but with a herder available in the afternoons to share their knowledge of the reindeer as a species and as individuals, it gives a much more in-depth experience. We hope that this will be a good alternative for families with small children. We are still delighted to take all miniature children from May to December, when the walk (and generally the weather) is more predictable and manageable.

Andi

Cairngorms Nature Festival

Yo!

So this blog is a wee bit different, of course there’ll be a wee bit of reindeer chat – what’s a reindeer blog without the reindeer! However, this week we thought we’d plug some of the fab things going on in the Cairngorms next weekend for the Cairngorms Nature Festival – if you’re around get involved as there’s a plethora (a good word I know!) of ace things on offer to see and do for all ages!

Every May, the National Park has a weekend to celebrate all the amazing nature things in the area, and this year it will be running on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th May. It’s a super way of seeing and learning a wee bit more about the environment here and what makes it special, be it if you’re local or on holiday, get out there and learn something cool!

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I guess we should get on to the reindeer bit… we’ll be business as usual with hill trips going twice a day at 11am and 2.30pm as well as the paddocks & exhibition being open and all tickets prices will have a 20% discount applied. Come and feed the reindeer up on the hill, but be prepared for all weathers!

Reindeer and Visitors
Hopefully the sun will be shining when you come to visit us!

There’ll also be tonnes of other things happening all over Badenoch and Strathspey, around Blair Atholl, Upper Deeside and Tomintoul. Some events that adults might enjoy include Green Woodworking Demos with Wooden Tom (he’s a really cool chap) at Feshiebridge Sculpture Trail on Saturday 14th. This is a ‘drop in anytime’ session running from 10am until 4pm (Here’s a handy link to his website). There is also the ‘Night Time on Nethy’ event on Saturday at 9pm. You’ll be on the river Nethy at night with the ranger, and booking is essential for that event. If you’d like to go on an all-day adventure, why not book into the ‘High Living in the Cairngorms’ event. This is a walk, starting at the Glenmore visitor centre and will involve some uphill. Booking is advisable and you will need to be dressed to be outside all day, in all weathers, and make sure you have a packed lunch too.

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Wooden Tom, who will be demonstrating Green Woodworking Skills

For families, there are lots of interesting things to do. You can help the Loch Garten forest elves and fairies, by helping to create a garden for their enchanted tree. This event takes place on Saturday 14th, from 10.30am until 3.30pm (drop in any time) and you will also make some little forest-folk to take home at the end as well! This is located just 5 minutes from the Osprey Centre, and you can ask for directions from the kiosk there. On Sunday the 15th, there’s a self-guided trail letting us know all about how trees grow. It starts from the Glenmore Visitor Centre and you can do it any time between 10am and 4pm. At Blair Atholl there’s a ‘Woolly Woods and Woolly Nature Trail’ on both Saturday and Sunday. You can drop in at any time and search for the knitted nature and other wildlife from the Blair Atholl Information Centre.

There are lots of other events going on all over the place, and you can get more information and book spaces by going to the Cairngorms Nature Festival page, where you can download a .pdf of all the events running throughout the weekend.

Hope you all enjoy some of the events being put on!

Abby and Imogen