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Saturday 1st June. A day spent in Glenmore Forest Park, in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park. The morning was spent with the reindeer herd. This involved being led, (with 49 others) on a 15-minute walk, just a little steep at times, above the treeline, there to find a group of males kept during the summer months, within an enclosure of some 1200 acres, while they grow their antlers. The females and calves had dispersed a few weeks previously to roam the 10,000 acres available to them. The total herd is kept, by managed breeding, to 150, new bloodstock being introduced from Sweden from time to time.

We learned that a Saami (formerly known as Lapp), named Mickel Utsi, was visiting the Cairngorms in 1949 and realised that the conditions, (sub-arctic altitude, ground, lichens), were absolutely ideal for keeping reindeer, which are domesticated caribou. Indeed reindeer are a UK native species, but went extinct here about a thousand years ago. With his wife, Dr Ethel Lindgren, Utsi brought the first reindeer from Sweden to the Cairngorms in 1952. In due course, the Forestry Commission granted them the right to use the current land to keep reindeer. By the late 1960s the hill trip for tourists was well established, having been by appointment only up to that point.

Despite being in a group, or perhaps because of it, I was able to stop and take some pictures on the way up.

At the bottom right of the preceding picture is part of a boulder, with faintly engraved on it, ‘Utsi Bridge’.

Beginning to leave trees behind.

We come to a fence and see a boardwalk we will take, with the reindeer lying down by another fence.

Seen with camera much zoomed
But as we start along the boardwalk, the reindeer move to join us. In total we all went through the gates of three fences. Fortunately we had been told in advance that the deer would walk with us, across us, and alongside us.
I turned round and saw this
turned back and saw this,
looked ahead and saw a procession of reindeer and people ahead of me.
Despite the fact that they know what is in the green bag, they are patient while we listen to the next instalment in the story.
But when another green bag is rattled, they home in
on their huge, spreading feet. (Very useful in snow.)
They are moulting quite heavily now. Indeed, I learnt later that last Sunday was called ‘Scruffy Sunday’.
We each had one or more chances to feed the reindeer. A two-handed technique was necessary to begin with, but when I had just a little left, I was able to use my right hand to take this picture. Their teeth are flat and very ground down by tearing up lichen. This poor deer’s had his head elongated by the camera!
Lichen technique
Gentle creatures, enjoy a scratch, but we are warned to touch neither head not antlers, which will be taken as aggressive..

We made our way back down in our own time, when we wanted.

From Utsi Bridge
I was pleased to meet this woman and her golden retriever, Elsie (who was expecting her first puppies very shortly) near to the end of the walk. She had something to do with the herd, and was able to tell me how Utsi’s widow had taken on Alan Smith to manage the herd in the early 1980s, how a summer volunteer had shortly afterwards become Mrs Smith and how together they bought the herd on Ethel Lindgren’s death a few years later.

I had some soup at the Glenmore Visitor Centre, and then looked at a plan of the various waymarked walks. I decided to do the longest, 3.5miles/5.8 km, starting from there. It was marked ‘strenuous’, which I would normally have avoided, but the shorter ones, all marked ‘moderate’ looked really so easy that I decided to risk the more demanding one. To begin with the path sloped gently upwards, and was wide and gravelly. The route, from the contour lines, appeared to continue to climb gradually and then steeply toward the end of the outward leg, culminating at a loch.

Looking over right,
zooming in with the camera,
zooming in further, and confirming with my binoculars that the white dots in the middle are indeed reindeer. The path is the boardwalk.
Looking left, and still on a broad, gently sloping path. What is strenuous about this?
The broad path has now gone, and the contour lines are closer I am glad that I have a walking pole with me, for the sake of balance.
Oh. Nice to have the Escher-looking boards to walk on over the boggy bits, but they are not meant to to be going down, please. This suggests there is going to be some climbing on the leg the other side of the glen, back to the start, where I had hoped it would be a gentle stroll downwards. (I much later realised that I had not noticed the heights marked elsewhere on the contour lines.)
Oh. Even steeper now, and I’m extra glad I have a walking pole with me. I allow some human mountain goats rush by me, on legs much more confident than and half the age of mine.
Arrived after much more descent at An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch)
And again in the dusk of evening I shall find once more alone
The dark water of the green loch. And the pass beyond Ryvoan.

After a brief chat with two of the mountain goats who had passed me, who were contemplating continuing along to Ryvoan Bothy, and a nibble of a date flapjack, I continued on the waymarked walk, and was relieved to find that it was an easy path along a contour.

I was intrigued to notice this.

At first it reminded me of the mud volcanoes I had seen in Yellowstone last year. Then I thought it resembled a fountain. Then I realised it was a spring – and understood why in French the words for ‘spring’ and ‘fountain’ are the same, ‘fontaine’.

These four passed and fell behind me several times on my homewards stroll. I learned in due course that the 20-year-old grey was being used to train the 8-year-old piebald not to be afraid of the narrow drains which crossed the path at regular intervals.

The reindeer booking office/shop was just before the visitor centre car park, so I called into the paddock where those unable for various reasons to do the hill walk could go and see four reindeer, each kept there for just two or three weeks on a rotating basis. It was interesting to learn more about the creatures from the many information boards there.

I had once stood beside a model of a megaloceros in a French museum, an impressive experience! (And I don’t remember the moose in Yellowstone being so big.)

Finally, I had seen very few birds on my walk, though the loud and joyful sound of them up in the trees had accompanied me all the way. So I was pleased to see on a feeder several instances of one of my favourite small birds, the siskin. This has not graced my garden for a couple of years now, presumably because climate change means it does not now have to come so far south in the winter.

I was right to take the ‘strenuous’ walk. It was, I would say, not so much strenuous as a bit difficult at times. And, despite the grey colour of the sky, and the chill up there with the reindeer, the weather was OK. It didn’t rain all day!