In the years since, the reindeer have flourished and the herd has grown to about 150. They are largely self-sufficient and left to roam to find their own sustenance, but Tilly and her family manage them, keeping the mothers and calves away from the bulls and providing extra food when required. And while the driving rain, icy winds and frequent snow can make it a difficult place in which to remain warm and comfortable for us humans, the reindeer are built for exactly this kind of environment.
‘Their fur coats are incredibly thick,’ says Tilly giving a calf named JK a stroke. ‘Like a tog-factor-15 duvet! And they also have really flat fleet that work like snow shoes.’ Indeed, I quickly learnt the best route across the snow was to follow in the hoofprints of the nearest deer.
The hilly landscape also provides an excellent test for our Audi Q2 Edition #1. Armed with quattro as well as winter tyres, we are more than able to keep up with the family’s quad bike and, more importantly, the reindeer.
The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre has been a hit with tourists for decades and it’s easy to see why. The deer are endearingly gentle animals and happy to graze from an outstretched gloveful of feed. Then there are the stunning views across the National Park to be enjoyed as you walk with the herd – it’s January when I visit and skiers are zigzagging down the slopes opposite, while, below, the partially frozen Loch Morlich shimmers in the sunlight. It’s a magical way to spend a day – and one of the best family parties I’ve been invited to yet.
Words by Emma Barlow. Photographs by Tom Cockram