Cairngorm Reindeer Centre
Reindeer House Glenmore Aviemore Inverness-shire PH22 1QU
Reindeer aren't just for Christmas. Here you can walk with these magnificent animals in the wilderness any time – except, funnily enough, around December, when they're hard at work in shopping malls and school fetes all over the UK. Six miles out of Aviemore, on the cusp of the Cairngorms National Park, is Santa's stable, otherwise known as the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. This is the only herd of reindeer in the UK who have free reign to roam around in their natural habitat (when they're not working). OK, so it's not Lapland, but it's pretty damn wild on the flanks of the Cairngorm peaks, and these guys seem right at home. The animals are friendly, and according to reindeer herder Andi, they all have distinct personalities and are keen to hang out. There are several ways you can meet them – by joining a hill visit, by exploring the paddocks and exhibition, or by taking part in a half-day trek. Hill visits run daily from mid-February to New Year, and involve up to two hours of interaction with the reindeer (providing you can find them on the hill), with a guide teaching you all about them. There's also the chance to hand-feed the animals. If that sounds like too much hard work, you can visit the reindeer in their paddocks from Easter to New Year and then explore an exhibition about the herd and other reindeer. At Christmas, there are extra activities, and Santa pops in some days. The top experience here, though, is a full hike through ancient Caledonian Forest and along high moorland ridges looking over the Cairngorms, leading your own reindeer as you go, who carry a traditional reindeer pack harness. Fitness is required.
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