In Search Of Scotland’s Reindeer

The Cromdale Grahams are a couple of hills close to home. They are known primarily for their history, which saw the Battle of Cromdale take place here. They’re also known as having 2 quite large monuments on the summit. One to celebrate the coronation of Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII, and the other to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. The hills are now though becoming more well known as a place to spot Scotland’s wild reindeer herd.

I had waited some considerable time for a high pressure system to come this way over the winter. Tackling these 2 hills at any other time of the year is hard going. Between the 2 hills lie 6.5 km of bog and peat hags. I wanted solid ground underfoot and good winter light during the day to photograph the reindeer – if they made an appearance.

Starting very early in the morning from the village of Cromdale, I hoped to be up on top by sunrise. A good path leads up to the Piper’s Stone, and from there the going turns rough.

Ascending steeply through knee high heather toward the ridge, I spot 2 reindeer some distance from, and ascending parallel with me, albeit a lot quicker. I increased my pace hoping to catch up with them on top. The light was slowly turning purple, pink and then orange as the sun was nearing its rise.

Were the 2 reindeer going to be in view?
Would I be able to get some worthwhile images, after I had carried the weight of my professional camera gear up here for this day?

The Jubilee Cairn

Summit trig and Jubilee Cairn

I arrive at the summit just as the sun rises behind the Cairngorms and casts a golden glow all around. Looking back I spot movement in the distance near to the Coronation Cairn. It’s the Reindeer.

Reindeer in the distance

Descending quickly I make my way over towards them, hoping they would remain there.

The Coronation Monument

At the monument and my first sight now of the herd.

The rest of my walk lies beyond the reindeer and to the far end of this hill in the centre of the image. The Corbett of Ben Rinnes is on the right.

Reindeer are very docile animals and it was such an amazing sight to get so close to them.

I spent quite some time around them taking photos before I finally managed to pull myself away. I still had a fair distance to hike yet, but it was difficult to leave this scene behind me. Leave I did though, and as I made my way over the frozen ground to the next Graham some 5km in the distance yet, the sound of the red grouse accompanied me.

Near to the summit of this hill I come across another, smaller herd of reindeer, and I very happily begin snapping away again.

Very reluctantly, I pack up and retrace my steps for the long descent back to the van. As I reach the road the sun is almost setting and this glorious winter day is almost at an end.

For further information on Scotland’s Reindeer, click Cairngorm Reindeer

30 thoughts on “In Search Of Scotland’s Reindeer

  1. David these are superb!!! Awesome as they say here in NZ. I have sent them on to a friend of mine whose book I am currently reading about his hunting life in the New Zealand Bush. I imagine it would be very different type of hunt in Scotland. I am so impressed with the detail in these photos. I had no idea their horns would look like that, ignoramus that i am, so this is very educational.
    Thanks for this!

  2. Wonderful pictures. Very wise to do the Cromdales when they are frozen. I recall boggy heathery hell when I did them in the rain a few years back. Perhaps the route I took left a little to be desired as well…

    • thanks Alan. I had hoped to do a traverse of this range, but it wasn’t practical at such short notice. I have seen several accounts of the bog on top and doing it in the winter also allows for that gorgeous low winter light.

      Which route did you take?

    • yep, you do see tags. Although they are left to roam wild in the hills, they are ‘managed’ reindeer.
      Just googled the Caribou. Although I knew they were like reindeer, I didn’t realise they were the same species.

  3. What fantastic pictures David. Is this likely to be part of the same herd that we saw some years ago roaming around near Ryvoan bothy? I remember they were very friendly characters! We’ve also been lucky enough to see some in the wild in Alsaka – although it was also in that holiday that Geoff ate reindeer sausage, and I’ve never forgiven him!

  4. Stunning photos! I can really imagine how hard it would be to put the camera away and continue your walk. I bumped into a rather small and slightly pathetic herd not far from Ryvoan one February (over 20 years ago). They seemed to expect to be fed, and weren’t remotely shy – poking heads into our pockets and rucksacks. I guess from the tags in their ears that these are farmed?

    • Cheers Mark, not sure about farmed, but definitely managed I think. A couple of them did look a little scrawny though. I did have several trying to get into my backpack and my pockets myself.

  5. Magnificent photos David. Like Mark and Chrissie I’ve come across the rather friendly herd that roams around Glen More although my memory was of a more manky and smelly brood. These ones look truly magnificent and wilder. Always a thrill to see some wildlife when out on the hills.

    Daft question I probably should know but are Reindeer and Caribou one and the same thing?

  6. Some superb images there David. Did you read about the woman who was attacked there last year ? She was pushed to the ground and the naughty reindeer would not let her up again.Took her a few hours to get away.
    Don`t see the guilty party in your shots as they all look cuddly 🙂

    • Yeah, I just read about that yesterday actually. I knew about the man that got hurt apparently during the rutting time, but never heard about this one. I must admit there was a little apprehension when I reached the second smaller herd. One of them was a little more forceful in trying to get at my bag. Although only small, and missing one of its antlers, there was some power in its head as it was nuzzling into me. Beautiful creatures though.

  7. I really enjoyed looking at your photos of the reindeer, they are fantastic pics David.
    Not so sure about your walk though, it sounded difficult and long. You must have left very early in the morn to get there before sunrise:)

  8. Hi David, cracking pictures and just the extra incentive that I needed to go and visit these hills.
    I had a run out just a couple of weeks after you, thought I was out of luck but found the Reindeer in the mist near the top of Carn Eachie.


    • Thanks Paul, glad you found them yourself. I’ve heard of some people who have gone up here in the past and not seen them. I think winter seems to be the best time to see them on the hill.

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