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Cairngorms sleddog centre becomes a casualty of global warming


By Gavin Musgrove

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The UK’s only daily working sled-dog centre is shutting its doors soon with the owner of 19 years citing climate change as the reason for his decision.

During his time running the Cairngorm Sleddog Centre, Alan Stewart and his wife Fiona have welcomed Sir David Attenborough and Bear Grylls to their yard by Glenmore for filming.

Mr Stewart (64) said he has known for years that the day would come – but not how quickly it would happen.

To mark the end of an era, he is hosting an evening with friends – some of the world’s leading winter explorers, mushers and divers – at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort next week.

Come April the adventure centre will return back to its original use as solely for kennels where Mr Stewart’s remaining Alaskan husky sled dogs will live out the rest of their days.

Alan Stewart and his wife Fiona have run the attraction in the shadow of the Cairngorms for nearly two decades.
Alan Stewart and his wife Fiona have run the attraction in the shadow of the Cairngorms for nearly two decades.

Mr Stewart, a commercial North Sea oil diver, said: “Climate change started affecting the centre around seven years ago.

“In the last few years the temperatures have been rising even quicker.

“Conditioning the dogs for winter takes around two months but they do not run in temperatures over 10 degrees Centigrade.

“These days the trails never get the chance to dry up and trees come down due to soft ground. We even train with a chainsaw on-board.

“I sold the snowmobile six years ago just after the last time we had snow that lasted for a fortnight. Ever since then if it snows it melts within a day turning the tracks into mud.

“The dog yard never dries out, and it really has been a 24/7 job to keep going.

“The writing was on the wall for our sport when sleds gave way to rig racing... in mid winter.”

Man's best friend... and clearly the feeling is mutual.
Man's best friend... and clearly the feeling is mutual.

Mr Stewart said their youngest dog is now nine years old and they have no plans to breed them again. “All the of dogs will live their lives out here with us at Rothiemurchus,” he said.

“The centre has been a way of life – it’s certainly not a life for everyone – but it has helped our son John become one of the best mushers in the world and for 19 years we had every winter with our dogs, sharing adventures every day.”

Speaking of the night with friends on February 8, Mr Stewart said: “The main thing it that it’s a great way to remember all my wonderful canines dead or alive who made the centre. It’s been a massive privilege. I still get goosebumps when I walk into my dog yard every morning – when they all greet me and say let’s get out on that trail.”

Amongst the speakers on the evening will be Norwegian polar explorer, photographer and writer Boerge Ousland who, along with Mike Horn, in 2006 became the first man to travel without dog or motorised transport to the North Pole during winter, in permanent darkness.

Norwegian explorer Boerge Ousland will be one of the speakers in Aviemore.
Norwegian explorer Boerge Ousland will be one of the speakers in Aviemore.

The explorer has just recently returned from trekking hundreds of miles in the Arctic – a trip which nearly claimed his life.

Ousland and South African Horn were running out of food on the epic journey covering about 1800km (1120 miles) on treacherous drifting ice.

They had just a few days’ supply of food left but managed to meet up with two Norwegians sent to rescue them despite a local storm.

If they had got trapped, they would not have had enough food to last.

A key aim of the expedition was to collect data on the Arctic ice melt, which scientists attribute to global warming.

Tickets for the evening are available by contacting the Cairngorm sleddog centre.


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