Prehistoric encounters on Cairn Gorm
We are just back from a weekend with friends in the Cairngorms. Usually a small family in a huge isolated house, we relished the experience of being part of a large noisy group crammed into a cottage. Luckily we have all known each other for years, which helps a good deal! All of us are now at the stage of being responsible for small children and ageing parents, so it was a great treat to cast off care once the children were in bed (if not asleep, being thoroughly over-excited at sharing a room full of bunk beds) and stay up far into the night, drinking too much wine and whisky and generally behaving as we used to before parenthood. It is such a pleasure to have the time just to hang out with old friends. Of course, the mornings are rough, being shouted awake at six-ish by the kids, but it’s worth it for the fun of the night before.
On Saturday morning, after a huge cooked breakfast and a good deal of coffee, we took the children to feed the reindeer herd on Cairn Gorm. Apparently this is the only herd of reindeer in Britain. We were led by a girl whose Sami uncle established the herd decades ago, having realised that the sub-arctic environment of the Cairngorms was perfect for reindeer. They are beautiful animals, small and tame with large liquid eyes and the deepest, softest fur. We were buffeted about on the exposed peaty hillside by gusting gale force winds – the children were sometimes blown off their feet and the littlest had to be carried all the way – but the deer seemed oblivious to the weather.
What I found most striking about the reindeer was how timeless, or rather how ancient, they look. With their shadowed fur and branched antlers, they look more than anything like prehistoric cave paintings. Only we humans, in our bright anoraks and man-made fibres, looked out of place.
These deer are all known to the herdwoman by name and none are culled for meat, but the Cairn Gorm reindeer centre sells hides imported from northern Finland, where the Sami use every part of the beast, for food, clothing, jewelry and tools. I have yearned for a reindeer skin rug for several years and we finally succumbed to two beautiful pelts, which are now beside our bed at home. Last night, wakeful from the cold, I pulled my reindeer rug on top of the covers and was instantly warm as toast. What a blissful way to sleep through the Scottish winter!