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Aviemore is a Highland treat come sunshine or snow

The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre (PA Archive)
The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre (PA Archive)

We went just before Christmas, before the recent cold snap, and even on top of the Cairngorms there was hardly a dusting of the white stuff.

That isn’t great for the skiing industry but there’s plenty more to do in the Highland town than just head for the slopes.

Case in point, I’m not a skier but I’ve made regular trips to Aviemore for years now and have always found it a great place to unwind.

This trip was no different, as we spent a couple of days enjoying the mountain air and friendly hospitality.

Our first stop was to the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd.

Reintroduced to Scotland in 1952 by Swedish herder Mikel Utsi, the friendly animals are now 150 strong in Britain’s only free-ranging herd.

Throughout the year there are daily guided visits up the mountain to visit the reindeer.

On this day it was blowing a gale and the wind was pelting down, so we didn’t expect there to be many folk joining us on the trek. Oh, how we were mistaken!

At least 100 people, from months-old babies to their grandparents, each and every one well wrapped up, congregated at the reindeer centre at the foot of the mountain in time for the 11am start.

After a short drive up the road, we parked and crossed into the terrain, following a narrow trail down to the river before crossing the bridge and making our way up the slightly more treacherous incline as we headed to the hilltop.

By now, many of the reindeer had congregated at the fence as they waited for lunch to arrive in the hessian sacks that the hardy guides carried on their shoulders.

We were advised the animals wouldn’t bite, but they’re not slow in giving you a nudge if you’re in the way – especially if you stand between them and the food!

It’s great to watch the youngsters as they gaze in amazement and hand-feed the reindeer, but we’re big kids ourselves so it wasn’t long before we were also having our palms tickled by the reindeer’s inquisitive noses.

Despite the biting cold it would be easy to while away hours with the animals and in the summer months there’s a chance to do just that when a guide takes groups out on half-day treks.

As we made our way back to the car, we vowed we’ll be back in the better weather to spend more time with the reindeer.

Since we were already halfway up the hill, we decided we might as well carry on and so we drove towards the funicular railway.

Anyone who’s watched The Mountain series on BBC1 will know the amount of effort and hard work that goes into maintaining the unique transportation, the only funicular railway in Scotland, and it’s well worth it.

The 10-minute journey on the train gives stunning views of the mountain range, none more so than at the top where there are panoramic views.

Not that there was much visibility on this day.

It only took travelling 3,500ft up, but finally there was some snow and as we went on to the viewing terrace it was hard to see more than a few steps ahead as the snow swirled around our heads.

After a quick bite to eat in the warmth of the Ptarmigan Restaurant, we headed back to the car and made our way to the hotel to dry off.

After a relaxing night at the cosy bar of the Cairngorm Hotel, we were up fully refreshed the next morning.

After breakfast we took a stroll along the main street, browsing the town’s independent gift shops, lots of outdoor clothing stores (of course) and an excessive amount of places to eat and drink.

And for the sweet tooths, let’s not forget about the dedicated shortbread shop – who knew there were so many different types and shapes available?

With that we returned to the car for the drive home, but we were barely on the A9 before we were discussing when we would be making our next trip to Aviemore.

The answer is – not soon enough!


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