For the past few days we have had amazing weather with cloudless blue skies, sunshine and temperatures hovering around 20 degrees C.
Making the most of this we first headed into the Cairgorms National Park and the Reindeer Centre to take our customary hill walk to hand feed the reindeer. It was a mixed group that headed up the hill but all were keen to experience seeing reindeer up close. This was our fifth trip as we have been part of the reindeer adoption scheme since our first visit in 2007 and so return whenever we are in Scotland.
Our adopted reindeer, Rubiks, was not on the hill but still out free-ranging in the mountains so we didn't get to see him. Still, there were plenty of reindeer to feed and a pushy lot they were too! As always the reindeer herder, Lottie, proved to be a mine of information and everyone had great fun. The reindeer were in fine form but much more frisky than usual as it is the rutting season. The bull in the enclosure that we were in kept an eye on everyone and frequently chased the poor castrated male reindeer although none were any threat to his "girls". Even the females were feisty with each other and it's "no holds barred" when the food comes out!
The mountains were beautiful and it was the first time we had been up on the hill in such fantastic conditions. No one was in a hurry to leave, happy to enjoy the outdoors and the company of such placid and wonderful creatures. Gradually, the reindeer drifted away once the food was exhausted and a group of mallard ducks came through to salvage the remains of the fodder still lying on the ground. Nothing wasted here!
Having taken numerous photos and video clips we eventually tore ourselves away and headed back along the boardwalk, leaving just one family from South Africa still chatting to Lottie. The little orphan reindeer, Fergus, accompanied us all the way to the gate of the enclosure and looked very bewildered when we had to leave him behind.
Wednesday proved equally fine and, after a leisurely start to the day, we drove to Grantown-on Spey to take one of the waymarked walks up to a viewpoint behind the town.
Parking in the town centre we first called in at the local bakery, Maclean's Highland Bakery, and bought some filled rolls and shortbread for lunch then crossed the road to our starting point beside the Co-Op. Alex called in for a drink and so began the saga of the water. Deciding to take a healthy option Alex bought some bottled water. We had gone a little way up the road when she realised it was sparkling water. As this makes both of us gag it was of no use whatsoever so we retraced our steps and Alex bought some flavoured water instead.
At last we were on our way, heading up the street and past the caravan park until we reached the railway bridge where the waymarked path started. By now Alex had taken a drink of her lemon/lime flavoured water only to discover it was artificially sweetened! This is only slightly less unpalatable than sparkling water as it leaves a disgusting after-taste. I offered to give Alex half my water (which I had brought with me in my pack) but she persevered.
Our (un)trustworthy guidebook was a bit vague as to the correct path as we actually had 3 to choose from. In the end we pondered the directions then took the path with the signpost showing "Viewpoint 1 mile" which seemed logical. We were quite some way along the old railway track, which has now been converted into a path and is part of the Dava Way, when we realised that we had missed a turn somewhere and we were actually walking the route in reverse direction. It made no real difference but when we did find the yellow arrows marked on posts at intervals they all pointed the way we had come not the way we were going!
Trudging up a fairly steep and uninspiring farm track we finally arrived at the viewpoint where there is a cairn as well as a picnic table and a memorial bench. Gratefully sitting down for a rest and a bite to eat, we were finally able to appreciate the views. All around us were mountains, part of the Grampian Ranges. We could even see the familiar peak of Ben Rinnes rising in the distance; we had now seen this corbett from every angle - and stood on its rocky summit.
Surrounded by Scots Pine, Hazel, Juniper, Beech and bracken we took the path down the hill. It was a steep descent and we were glad that we were navigating it at the end rather than at the start of our walk. It was also a more scenic route through woods and fields. At a second viewpoint lower down the slope we paused to look over the township of Grantown-on-Spey sprawling below us before continuing to the bottom. On our way back we emerged from the very path that we had missed on our outward bound trail and wondered how on earth we could have walked straight past a gate that was quite visible. Passing by the caravan park once more we headed down the long, straight street to end up back beside the Co-Op at out starting point. Another walk completed - again, not quite "by the book".
Next stop, The Speyside Centre (formerly the Speyside Heather Centre) to check out the gift shop (although the centre has a great restaurant famous for its Clootie Dumplings, an exhibition detailing all the uses of heather, a garden centre and an outdoor area where you can watch for squirrels and birds).
The centre is a tourist hotspot and is a regular stopping place for coaches. We were lucky and the one coach in the car park was getting ready to leave so we weren't having to fight with a busload of people to make our way around the shop. Instead we were able to browse in a leisurely fashion and take our time deciding what to buy. We both came away with a few treasures including a last-minute purchase of some Hutchinson's Ginger Cream - a whisky based cream liqueur with ginger and chocolate.
It was late in the afternoon so we didn't sample any clootie dumpling in the restaurant but I remember buying one to take home on the last occasion we visited and enjoying it with custard back at our self-catering accommodation.
Mission accomplished with our purchases it was time to head for Laggan and home.