Following from a previous blog about Haze’s dynasty, I thought Fly was another good candidate to look at. Like Haze, she is also a big, striking reindeer, not necessarily the friendliest – she likes her own space – but a dependable leader of the herd and a fantastic mother.
Fly was born in our “green theme” year in 2007, and is probably the largest female in the herd today – she’s a clear inch taller than any of the others. She also grows beautiful large antlers, whilst rearing a calf most years – a sign of a strong healthy reindeer as it takes a huge amount of energy for both of these activities and most reindeer will focus on one or the other rather than both.
Fly reared her first calf, Custard, when she was two – whilst reindeer are perfectly capable of rearing calves at this age, we try to make them wait until they’re a bit more mature at three years old. Fly evidently thought differently, and reliably reared a big strong calf in 2009 (Custard), 2010 (Dragonfly), 2011 (Domino), 2012 (Balmoral), 2013 (Anster), 2014 (Hudson) and 2015 (Aonach). At that point we decided she should definitely have a bit of time off!
In 2015 and 2016, we decided to run Balmoral, Fly’s son, as one of our breeding bulls, and he fathered a lovely selection of youngsters, including Inca, Christie, Burns, Shakespeare and Dante. We are hoping that Inca may have a calf of her own this May.
Fly’s only daughter, Custard, reared several calves of her own – Coe, Cream, Ceram and Tang – and Cream has also been a mum, though unfortunately her calf didn’t survive. Hopefully she may have better luck this year.
Fly has, so far, been a mother seven times, a grandmother eighteen times, and a great-grandmother once, and she’s still in full fitness and looking like she’s got many years ahead of her!
Earlier this year, on discovering how long I’d worked here, a visitor asked me what my favourite story or anecdote from over the years was. I was completely thrown – not only had nobody ever asked me that specific question before, but how on earth was I to pick just one thing?
But the question made me ponder, and reminisce a bit. Impossible to pick a single favourite moment, but there have been many, many stand out moments – and like for any job with animals, for both good and bad reasons. So I thought I’d tell you one of them, and will maybe write more blogs with further stories at a later date.
At the time when the question was actually asked of me, I went a bit blank, and despite a million different stories I could have told, suddenly the only one I could think of was a little moment from Christmas tour, several years back. I was on tour with Mel right down south and doing a ‘reindeer only’ event in Exeter. This differs from our normal events with the sleigh and parade etc, as it is just reindeer in a display pen for 2 or 3 hours, with us herders there to chat to people in the crowd. Much less work for both us and the reindeer compared to a parade!
It was a horrible day, absolutely pouring, so I can’t say either Mel or I were particularly enamoured of the idea of standing getting utterly drenched for hours, the sort of day where you know you’re going to get soaked to your underwear and the prospect of dry pants was a long way away (Christmas tour ain’t as glamorous as it sometimes sounds) – at least the reindeer have built in waterproof coats far more effective than any human clothing. We got the pen ready; straw spread out, feed and water in bowls, signage up, and then returned to the lorry to fetch the reindeer. The route to the pen involved walking along the pavement and then through a covered shopping arcade to the pen itself – no problem at all and the reindeer are perfectly happy in such a situation as we make sure that all six stay close together in their mini herd. There’s safety in numbers if you’re a reindeer! Just at the entrance into the arcade we paused, in the pelting rain, for security to clear a route through for us and the reindeer stood gazing around in interest at their surroundings – or more realistically, in hindsight, wondering where their pen and their lunch was. We were right outside a Costa coffee shop which had window seating, full of warm cosy people inside sipping nice hot drinks and oblivious to the world outside, until suddenly 6 reindeer appeared on the pavement, literally just feet away from them. We had big male reindeer Puddock as our of our team members (I can’t remember the others), and he put his nose right to the glass and breathed out, leaving huge steamed up patches. I watched a lady inside slowly put her hand up to the glass and put it flat against it, Puddock’s nose a centimetre away the other side. A few seconds passed and then we moved on, and the moment was gone.
And that was it. In real time just a fleeting moment, but one I have always remembered, and I often wonder too about the lady the other side of the window, and whether she still tells the story of the time she was having a coffee in Exeter and somewhat miraculously a reindeer appeared outside the window and then vanished once again. Years later I remember nothing about the actual reindeer event other than that little moment en route to the pen (and the fact that the herders at every single event across the country that day got completely soaked too apart from, ironically, at Fort William – normally one of the wettest places in the country).
In my head I debated telling the visitor on the Hill Trip about this memory, but standing outside a Costa on a wet day in Exeter, of all places, seemed so at odds with our current situation way out on the mountainside high up on the Cairngorms, on a beautiful winter’s day, surrounded by reindeer roaming freely in their natural habitat, that it didn’t seem worth the effort of explaining it all, and it wouldn’t have been the sort of the story the visitor was expecting anyway. But it’s a memory for me none the less and as Puddock has been one of my very favourite reindeer over the years but is now retired from Christmas tour, it’s a particularly poignant one.
When I think back over the reindeer that have been part of the herd over the years, one which sticks in my mind is Scout. This is probably in part because he was on my “team” the first time I went off on Christmas tour. It was back in 2010, and as I headed off for my first two-week festive reindeer experience with Fiona, those six reindeer made a bit of an impact: experienced old boys Shekel and Shock (or Shockel and Sheck as we sometimes called them if we hadn’t had enough coffee!); Scout and Hughie, our younger Christmas reindeer; and calves Lace and Gnat. When you’re working, living and travelling with the same team for a fortnight you get to know their quirks rather well!
Born in our “Green theme” year, Scout was a big reindeer (so big in fact that we castrated him at 2 years old instead of at 3), one of the tallest in the herd, and a fine looking fellow. He grew some beautiful sets of antlers, with lots of “fingers” coming off them. He was generally also holding almost too much condition, with a generous sized belly, and with this excess of energy he often had bobbles of extra velvet on his antlers, something we only tend to see in our larger (wider!) males.
My main memory of Scout from that Christmas tour is when we arrived at an event in London, set out the feed bowls ready for their breakfast, and Fiona hopped in to the truck through the (human-sized) side door, assuming I would latch it behind her. I meanwhile assumed she was going to latch it herself from the inside (the hazards of having been on tour long enough to stop communicating about everything and make presumptions). Alas, the door didn’t get secured at all and the next thing we knew Scout had squeezed his antlers and ample belly through, bounded down and of course made a beeline for his breakfast! At least he was easy to catch!
I also have a vivid memory from a more recent Christmas of taking part in an incredibly busy parade in England, and looking back from where I was leading the front two reindeer – Scout was one of the reindeer following on at the back and he was utterly at ease, chewing the cud as we pottered along, not batting an eyelid at the noise, lights, marching band, fake snow and bubble machines that we were passing. Reindeer really are incredible animals.
Scout was a dependable fellow out on tour, whether at the back or front of the sleigh, and was a friendly face at home on the hill, though he did have a grumpy streak at times, doubtless inherited from his father Sirkas, who certainly could have an attitude problem! Most of the time though he was lovely to be around, a bit cheeky and playful, and steady as a rock. His brothers included dark coloured Rummy, squinty-nosed Boris and the infamous Fergus. Scout’s grandmother, Fionn, lived to the ripe old age of 16, and her sister was Lilac, the reindeer who holds our record for longevity at 19. Unfortunately Scout didn’t live to quite such an age, but there are still many of his family alive, including two of our other biggest reindeer, Fly and Paintpot, who share the same father.
Recently I got a new phone which made me look back through all my old photos before deciding which ones to keep. Rather than give you some of my best photos from a year and a half of reindeer herding I thought I’d give you some of the ‘worst’ from my first season of Christmas events.