Local Christmas Events

I know, it’s a new year, the end of February and I’m already talking about Christmas. But don’t worry! I’m not talking about next Christmas, I’m going to cast my mind back to last years and more specifically, close to the big day itself.

On the 23rd of December our first Christmas event started just over the hill in Braemar. We survived the icy drive over to the Fife arms who were putting the event on for the hotel and local community and there was a real warm feel about the place. The parade was small but it felt a though the whole village had turned out to see the reindeer. The most amusing part of the day was that instead of Santa riding in the sleigh, we had a Queen Victoria who to this day still appears to be an iconic figure for the area. Yep, it turns out she’s still alive and kicking around Deeside! It was also nice to talk to people who knew and understood about the environment that our reindeer live in. I guess living on the other side of the plateau a lot of locals know all too well what the Cairngorm hills are like by living directly under them. All in all it was a delightful event in a very nice part of the world. Also, go and check out the flying taxidermy red deer above the Fife Arms bar…. Very interesting!

Christmas Eve was a much busier day. We started at the farm by feeding the free-range reindeer on the hill, jumping on a quad bike and heading up to find them. Fi’s dogs Tiree and Sookie came along for the exercise although poor Sookie is knocking on a bit so she hitched a lift on the bike and ran off the hill. At the farm we loaded up our awesome reindeer team for the next 2 days. Baffin, Celt, Rubiks and Matto were our experienced sleigh pullers while Helsinki and Florence were our 2 young calves.

Sookie on the quad bike

Our first event for the day was Baxter’s Highland village factory in Fochabers. Carol Parsons, a local volunteer did a great job at helping us, talking to members of the public so that Fi and I could get the sleigh and reindeer ready. The event was very straight forward and reindeer were great. Everyone was in a happy Christmassy mood thanks to a singer on a microphone who sounded just like Michael Buble (he was either very good at singing or a very good mime). In what felt like no time at all we were packed up and heading in the direction of Aviemore.

Aviemore is the biggest of the local parades one of the busiest in general. Setting up for the event was helped by reindeer herders Tilly, Olly, Zoe and Sheena. Friends who lived close by in the town also came to say hi and everyone was in good spirits. It didn’t take long for the street lit pavements to be lined full of people who had come out to see Santa and the reindeer. The closer we got to the Cairngorm hotel the busier it got and with a few hundred people also following behind us. The reindeer were all so well behaved, calm and relaxed. It was thoroughly enjoyable to be part of the event, working with the reindeer and Fi. Everyone was in such great spirits and there was a real warm Christmas community feel about the whole event.
Strarthspey Heralds picture of the Aviemore Parade

After scoffing Sausage and chips in the lorry we arrived in Kingussie. With the help from the other herders the parade went smoothly. Up the high street, turn around at the lights and back with a stop along the way. By this point all the reindeer just knew exactly what to do and couldn’t have made it any easier for us. After almost leaving the trace in the dark set up area we set off were in the direction of our final event of the day in Newtonmore.

Driving through the village to the start, we could see everyone who has been waiting patiently, it was 20:00 – 20:30 by this time but I suspect all the young children were allowed to stay up later to see Santa and the reindeer. The pipers and drummers finished their pints outside the pub and we were ready to go. This time Olly went to the back of the sleigh with Rubiks, Matto and the two calves and Fi was at the front Baffin and Celt. Fi had planned to surprise Zoe by giving her the lead half way through the parade, it was her first time doing so but she did a great job! The Highland hotel kindly offered everyone a mince pie and mulled wine at the end and after a little speaking to the hotel guest we finally headed back home to the reindeer centre for a dram of whisky and bed before another day of events.

Zoe leading at the front with Baffin and Celt in Newtonmore

While children across the country started to wake up in excitement and open presents on Christmas morning Fiona, Tilly and I were back out on the road with the reindeer. First stop Columbridge hotel. Fi was surprised with how little people were at the hotel to see Santa and his reindeer, it turned out for some reason that the hotel wasn’t fully booked so after 30 minutes or so we were packing up and ready to move on. Event number two was the Macdonald resort in Aviemore. This was a much busier event and as we started walking down to the main entrance with Santa in the sleigh and reindeer pulling in front. A large crowd was waiting for us. The reindeer were now getting too relaxed for their own good, and while people were saying hello and taking pictures, Rubiks decided he’d lie down for a little snooze. We also had help from several elves during the parade who were so good that each one was able to walk a reindeer back to the lorry, they were of course delighted.

The helpful elves walking reindeer back.

Next up was the Nethybridge hotel. The hotel very kindly fed us lunch beforehand and with our stomachs full we were ready to go. Along with the 3 of us, Tilly’s son Alex and 2 year old grandson Hamish (the youngest reindeer herder) came to help out. Hamish helped Fiona at the front of the sleigh making sure that Fiona didn’t drop the ropes. Once we were outside the hotel he also got to meet Santa! He was a bit unsure at first but once Santa gave him a present he was much happier. Along with the reindeer Hamish was certainly the star of the show and once again helped lead the reindeer away after everyone made their way back into the hotel.


Hamish is a natural

Finally in the middle of the afternoon we arrived at our final event at the Duke of Gordon hotel in Kingussie. With Tilly’s disappearing off to help get Christmas dinner on the go, just Fiona and I worked with the reindeer at the event. Like all 4 events on Christmas day It was nice and straight forward and everyone was happy and in the Christmas spirit. People could sit on the sleigh while we chatted to others and just before it got dark we were packing up for the final Christmas event of 2019!

Finally it was time to start the Christmas celebrations of our own at Reindeer House with everybody else. The reindeer spent the night in the paddocks and not too long after were once again free- ranging on Cairngorm mountain or in the Cromdale hills enjoying the rest of the winter grazing for a very well earned break.


My First January

My First January

Having worked as a seasonal herder for many years working January is a real novelty for me. Usually on the 24th of December I hop on a train home to Bristol to spend Christmas with my family and then return to uni in the new year. But having graduated last year, and with a gentle bit of persuasion and the promise of reindeer, I convinced my family to spend Christmas up in the Cairngorms. It is now January and I am delighted to still be here. So on Monday the 6th, with no more hill visits for over a month we merrily waved the reindeer off onto the free-range for the winter.

Letting the reindeer out at the end of the Christmas holidays

The first full day ended up being incredibly wild and windy (gusting at 100mph) and the reindeer were very far away so we left them to find their own food for the day, something that they are absolutely fine doing as they live in their natural habitat. We spent the days slowly working through the seemingly endless list of ‘January Jobs’ some of which I think were on the list last year and still haven’t been done. On day two however, the sun was shining and then reindeer were slightly closer to home. So me, Sheena and Chris headed up to the Cairngorm ski carpark with rucksacks full of food. Upon arriving we saw lots of cars pulled over with people taking photos, a clear sign of reindeer. About a third 30 of the reindeer were waiting for us, just by the road. We walked these reindeer away from the road, a task easier said than done. Whilst the reindeer were good as gold, walking across incredibly uneven ground in the snow with 20kg of food on your back is quite difficult . Throughout the walk, Sheena lost a wellie in a patch of bog, Chris didn’t fall over once(!), and I fell over completely and couldn’t get back up because of the rucksack full of food. I can’t certainly say that I now know exactly how a woodlouse feels.

Lotti stuck in a hole

As we were leading the group of reindeer away from the road about half a mile away we could see another group of mostly male reindeer coming over from the top of the reindeer enclosure. Eventually we also saw another group of cows and calves coming from the other direction. As the reindeer were getting closer and closer the race was underway, who would come first, the boys or the girls. The boys certainly are greedier but the girls are fitter. Both groups went out of site as they ducked onto a lower area and then eventually the boys showed up, just ahead of the girls. Turns out that the motivation of an easy meal was enough to overcome their lack of distance training. Once the entire group of reindeer currently free-roaming in this area had arrived we fed them all, took plenty of photos of the beautiful reindeer in the snow and then walked back to the van.

First day on the free-range in January

Whilst for most people January seems like a bit of a dreary month, I can certainly now see why reindeer herders love January so much. Having all the reindeer free-ranging the hills and going up to feed them with not a soul in sight really is a fantastic experience.


Running blog 3: Journey to the Netherlands

As I received so many positive comments on my blog about running to The Netherlands whilst I was on my way, and as some people requested to hear all about it, here’s my follow-up blog to tell you how it went! For those not knowing what I’m on about, here’s my previous blog: ….

The idea had come quite last-minute and it left me with a limited amount of time to prepare. Things I had to think about were ‘where do I sleep and how do I stay warm’; ‘what do I eat and where can I top up supplies’; ‘what route am I taking and how do I navigate en route’. As I can be a little impulsive and prone to just winging it at times, my voice of reason came from Chris. Supportive as though he was, he was constantly asking me critical questions of ‘what if’. This made me think twice about most things (and sometimes about setting off altogether) and meant I left as prepared as I could. However much he insisted I’d go out on a rainy stormy day and run for a day and camp afterwards to test my gear and capability, I couldn’t find the time to do it before I eventually left.

OS Maps, Streetview and Komooting our way to Newcastle

The first day was hard, it rained all day, the distance seemed much further than any 30k I’d ever done before, and pitching a tent whilst it’s raining must be amongst the top 3 least favourite things I’d ever done. It made it extra hard that I was only 20 miles from my own warm cosy bed, roughing it in a tent in the rain near the Drumochter pass. The next day it rained again.. And my tent hadn’t been 100% waterproof, I had had to pack it whilst it was wet and I was dreading the night to come. Besides, it was Chris’ birthday, and I was passing a train station from which I could get home… I decided to go home for the night, dry all my kit, and set off again from the same station the morning after. Man, did I appreciate my shower and bed that night.. And it was great to be able to spend Chris’ birthday with him.

The next few days were relatively sunny and I had support, in the form of meeting my friend Ross, staying at Adrian’s, and having Alan come along for half a leg. However, this was the point my body was at its sorest. A nagging knee (and leg and hip and back) and a half-broken cart made it the hardest section running-wise. Thankfully most of the views were great around Pitlochry, Birnam, and South of Perth. By the end of day 5 I started to develop a new type of run, which I decided to call ‘granny-shuffling’. By hardly lifting my feet but shuffling forwards at varying paces I managed to speed up a bit, and give my muscles and joints a rest. During this period I met up with fellow herders Fiona and Joe, who made me coffee and gave me fudge and teabags (thanks!!), stayed at fellow herder Julia’s in Edinburgh, who did a bit of bike support too, had bike support from Chris who camped out with me for a night too, had help from Brian Marshall, and eventually ran into the next bit of rain.

Alan pulling the cart

Completely soaked and windswept I arrived in the castle gardens of Duns Castle. I’d seen lots of deer (creepy red lights staring back at my head torch whenever I gazed into the woods), an owl, and lots of other wildlife. I couldn’t bear to get into my tent all wet and make myself food, so decided to walk an extra mile into Duns after pitching my tent in the woods. There I treated myself to a kebab (I’d never usually..) and set foot in a local pub. Hilariously enough, on a Monday night, it was completely packed, as 2 local darts teams were playing each other. Thankfully there was one other woman in the bar, otherwise I would have probably turned right around. The other woman was the bartender, who turned out to be great company, as were some of the local darts players. Guinness hardly ever tasted as good as it did that evening. The next day was easy and I had the great outlook of staying overnight at one of our enthusiastic reindeer adopters’ holiday home, free of charge! A lovely palace of warmth and cosiness made for a perfect night. It also meant I got to wash and dry all my stuff, which by now was a kindness to my own nose and that of everyone I was to encounter from there onwards.

Camping with Chris. Handily coincided with new inner tubes so he and Brian Marshall were able to source them and Chris cycled them into the hills for me.

Then my section in England properly began the next day, and I quickly found out that finding suitable spots to wild-camp wasn’t easy in England. One miserable night of looking out for a spot whilst battling storm Brian was enough for me, and I decided to book accommodation for the next 2 nights. This was my best decision yet, as they were 2 awesome nights again. The first I stayed at a cabin in the garden of a couple, Andy the UTMB ultra runner and Lynn the circus acrobat! What an amazing couple! And the next night I had a whole barn turned hostel to myself at an Alpaca farm, with a fireplace. If sipping cider next to the fire overlooking a field of alpacas isn’t yet on your bucket list, make it so because it was fantastic. The last day with my cart went amazingly well, and I was speedier than ever, had the sun on my face and the wind in my back. I felt like I could continue for miles and miles, but the best bit of the day was arriving in Whitley bay, supported by Chris’ mum, and running up to the hotel where Chris was waiting. Cart Larry got disassembled there and then, as it was getting a ride to get stored in Shropshire whilst I’d be on the ferry to the Netherlands. A good diner, lovely breakfast, and the lack of a cart made the last 10k in the UK to the ferry easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Nice warm fire

The ferry journey went smoothly and when we arrived on the other side my mom and her boyfriend were there with my best friend and 2 bicycles, one for her and one for Chris. They’d support me on the last 30k. The first 2/3s were bleak and ugly and made my question my choice of final destination. However, the last 10k, straight through Amsterdam, dodging cyclists and tourists, whilst getting half-high of the smell of weed everywhere, strangely made me a bit nostalgic in a weird way. It was great seeing my friends and family at the finish line too, and we celebrated my finish at my mum’s flat with prosecco, beer, homemade soup and salad. What a journey. The more time passes the more I seem to forget about the hard times and the more fondly I look back on it.

What’s next? A question people ask me quite a lot nowadays. No idea, there are lots of vague plans or it may be something impulsive again, we’ll see! I’m 100% it will be some crazy thing again though, so maybe ask me again in a year ;).

Thanks to everyone for all the lovely messages and comments!


Adopting a reindeer? What’s that all about?

I imagine that there might be quite a few ‘newbies’ to the reindeer herd and to our social media pages just now, being as Christmas is the busiest time of year for our reindeer adoption scheme. Several hundred people will have had an A4 white envelope under their tree on Christmas morning last month, with a brand new, shiny reindeer adoption tucked inside. Hopefully some of those people have since tracked us down online to see what on earth they’ve just become part of… I thought I’d write a little bit of an introduction to us, and primarily to the adoption scheme, to shed some light on what we’re all about. So if you’re ‘new’, then welcome!


Reindeer roaming freely on the Cairngorms

We have the only reindeer herd in the UK whose reindeer are in their natural habitat, and who spend at least some of each year living out on the mountains in complete freedom, with no fences to be seen. Reindeer are native to the UK but died out here thousands of years ago, and our herd was re-introduced from northern Sweden in 1952. We’ve been running guided walks out to see and feed them on the hill ever since.

Reindeer in our hill enclosure, where we take the Hill Trips to (for most of the year at least)
Visitors mingling with reindeer on a Hill Trip in a different location

Guided walks form a large part of our income, directly supporting the management of the herd, but we have several other ways of earning money too – one of the main ones being the Support Scheme, the income from which is all ploughed back into the upkeep of the herd. This was started in 1990, and I see from our database records that we still have two adoptions that were originally set up in 1990 which are still going today, in their 30th years! We have about 1200 adopters in total just now, having had over 9000 adoptions in total over the years.

Highly technical filing system…

I think the biggest appeal of our adoption scheme, in comparison to those available for other animals, is that we still hand-write the majority of our correspondence to our adopters. No printed packs pulled off shelves and ready to go for us… Maybe it makes it a bit less ‘professional’ but I feel it’s so much more personal, and there can be very few animal adopters in the UK who receive a personal letter direct from the people who look after ‘their’ adoptee (complete with spelling mistakes and the likes!). A generic typed letter must be so much more the standard nowadays. Perhaps we’re just old-fashioned here at Reindeer House.

A range of certificates of former designs…
Now we’ve settled on a good certificate design, so we rotate the colours through the years. All very organised!
Photos of every single reindeer in the herd have to be taken, cropped, printed and filed ready for the right one to be glued to each certificate.

In the run up to Christmas, all hell breaks loose here in the office. Adoptions, both renewals and new ones, start pouring in and reindeer herding becomes a delicate balance of outdoor work, dealing with visitors, and frantically making up adoption packs. I liken them to a tide, at times threatening to overwhelm us and at times receding as we battle them under control. In November and December the tide never recedes for too long though, before returning with fury. There was a memorable Friday this Christmas just past when we started the day with 30 adoptions waiting to be made up, several of us then working at them pretty much all day, and finished the day with 45, as they came in faster than we completed them! Panic stations.

A typical, frantic, day in the office at Christmas time. This is Andi’s ‘panic’ face!

Along with the yearly adoption pack come the two newsletters, printed in June and October and posted out to everyone. By snail mail – we’ve not really got on board with the idea of emailing digital copies yet. Lots of our adopters are in the “mature” category too, many of whom don’t use email regularly. And to be honest, sometimes the old fashioned ways are much more straightforward – give me printed material over PDFs anyday. Don’t even get me started on whether direct debit is an option for renewing adoptions or not… (Our computers, and my brain, would melt.)

We highlight a different reindeer each newsletter, a female in June and a male in November.
A busy day for the post office when the newsletters are all ready to go!

Along with the pack and the newsletters, adopters also get one free admission each time they visit. For some this is never, for some, multiple times a year. We also always do our best to ensure adopters get to meet their adoptee when they visit too if they give us advance warning of their visit, although this is not always possible depending on the time of year. Nothing beats the delight of hand-feeding your ‘own’ reindeer!

Hand-feeding on the Hill Trip. Photo by Carole Curtis

Many adopters have become very familiar faces to us now, and with the rise of social media, friendships have formed between adopters. On the subject of social media and the internet in general, gone are the days when adopters saw one sole photo of their reindeer per year. Now we do our best to be relatively active online, posting photos regularly and (no surprise here) blogs. A social media course told us a few years back that, as a business, we should be blogging regularly, so we started doing so every Friday, and have not missed a week yet. All hail the ability to ‘schedule’ blogs far in advance, meaning there’s not a last minute panic!

And sometimes, it all just goes wrong. Spot the mistake… Face palm moment.

So thank you, each and every one of all you adopters! You help fund every aspect of the herd and the company (including paying our wages 😉 ) and enable it to be so successful, and your generous support is NEVER forgotten. And if this has whetted your appetite and reindeer adoption sounds like the thing for you, more details can be found on our website.

Here’s to the next 30 years of reindeer adoptions!


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