So as most of you already know, during the winter time we locate the herd every morning and a couple of us walk out to bring them in a bit closer for our daily visit at 11am. You’ve heard many stories of this over the years but I thought I’d just put together some of my best photos. Its been a pretty snowy winter this year with the odd stormbound day preventing us from getting up the hill at all but some of the days we have been up it is absolutely glorious and by far the best place to be in the whole country (In my eye anyway)
There are always the same ones leading the way – Fly, Caddis, Kara and Okapi but some newer ones are starting to show a bit more greed in their characters and coming up front more and more. Some of these ones are Brimmick, Morven and Lora. Through January they are always super keen and come from anywhere to a call. However, as the winter goes on and into the spring they become less and less reluctant to come charging down the hill when we call them. This is because they are pregnant and sometimes the thought of staying where they are on that nice ridge seems like the better option. When this is the case we walk right out to them, one of us will lead them in while the other walks along at the back keeping them moving. They never object at this point, especially when they realise a lovely bag of food is at the other end!
The dogs also get to join us for part of this walk every morning. Sookie and TIree are allowed to come so far then they know they have to wait wherever they are asked to wait until we return with the reindeer. Reindeer and dogs don’t mix well and our dogs are very respectful of this and keep a low profile whenever the reindeer are around. Sometimes we are gone for a couple of hours but you can be sure the dogs will be exactly where we left them, waiting eagerly for our return! Needless to say there is two very excited dogs when we do come back.
I hope you enjoy my photos as much as I enjoyed going out and bringing the reindeer in daily and taking the photos.
First off, I’m not talking about the reindeer in that heading. Reindeer only fly at Christmas time after Santa has given them the magic powder and our lovely reindeer don’t attack.
I am of course talking about the flying mini beasts – flies, bugs and, the worst of the worst, midges. Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland without those little terrors, and they are a sign that summer has finally arrived here in Cairngorm, but they aren’t my friends.
No one here likes the midge, including the reindeer. With the heat rising above 20°C and them still having some of their winter coat, our boys are feeling the heat. In hot weather we often give them access to the shed to hide from the heat – you’d be amazed how many come running out at feeding time.
They are also bothered by the flies and midges, but there’s not much we can do there. As much as I’d like to eradicate midge for both my own and the reindeer’s comfort, they are an important food source for birds, toads and frogs, and bats.
Our boys cope with the midges fairly well; in the paddocks they hide under our shelter shed and up on the hill avoid stagnant pools where midges breed and shake to get rid of the biting buggers. Sometimes it’s like watching a little reindeer dance: they stomp their back foot a few times, then the other, a little shake, a few more stomps, and then if the midges are really ferocious, they’ll burst off in a sprint, jumping and kicking the air. It’s quite funny to watch!
We also spotted Oryx doing something a bit odd. It was the end of a visit, and we were heading to the gate to leave the enclosure. A few boys followed us, no doubt thinking there’d be more food. There’s a large mud bath just at the gate, which usually the reindeer don’t bother with, but this time Oryx got into the big puddle and just stood there. He seemed pretty content, so he was left to his own devices while Fran and I did some poo picking (the glamorous lives we lead). Eventually he decided his spa treatment was finished and got out of the mud bath. He looked ridiculous with mud socks up to his ankles, but he seemed pretty happy with himself.
It’s known that red deer wallow, or bathe in mud, but the cause for this is still unknown. Some think it may be to reduce ectoparasites, while others believe it is to cool down. I’m not sure it’s ever been recorded in reindeer before (a quick Google search didn’t come up with much) but I think Oryx may have been trying to avoid the midges biting at his legs. Either that or he fancied a quick mud treatment at the ‘spa de le Cairngorm’.
Since 1981, reindeer and in particular, the Cairngorm reindeer have taken up a very large portion of my daily life and I have not regretted one bit of it. Along side raising family, earning a living from our reindeer herd and in more recent years branching out into hill farming, reindeer have been for me a daily source of huge enjoyment, sometimes despair and always physical labour, a life I wouldn’t swap for anything.
The early days of rushing around ‘doing it all myself’ are luckily over and I am blessed with a band dedicated fellow reindeer herders to share the work load, caring for the reindeer, finding strays and welcoming visitors to the centre. Some people think I have ‘retired to the farm’! Well I can assure you it is a very ‘active retirement’ if I have.
Then last October I became a Granny, a stage in my life I always hoped would happen and luckily for me it has. Hamish, now 8 months old, is no doubt giving his parents the run around but for me he is just delightful and any interaction with the reindeer gives me even more pleasure. Just recently Emily and Hamish came to help me feed the animals on the farm. Young Hamish was the star of the show, mingling with the young bull reindeer as they got their breakfast and even got a shot of riding Boris and ‘surfing’ on Paintpot as both of them happily ate out of the feed bag. History has been repeated and no doubt there will be many more déjà vu’s for me as Hamish enjoys growing up among a herd of very special reindeer.
If you have missed out on the news of our twins then where have you been?!
At two weeks old as the twins were getting stronger we brought them down to our paddocks for a few days to make life a little easier for them. Fiona and Chris were away so weren’t able to give them their late night bottle of milk to supplement the milk from Lulu up the hill so they came down to the paddocks where Lulu could be given plenty of fresh birch and other browse as well as an evening bottle from other visiting staff members. We thought we’d document their first, of hopefully many, trips from the hill enclosure down to our centre and paddocks.
At the end of March 2018 I again came to be volunteer reindeer herder for a week. This was my 4th time being a volunteer reindeer herder and being with the reindeer, the herders and the dogs means so much to me which I explained in my last blog.
Dave very kindly gave me a lift with his lovely dog Tui on the days he was working like he normally does when I am up working with the reindeer.
This time I was going to experience something very magical which I hadn’t experienced with the reindeer before… SNOW!
On my first day, I got to Reindeer House and Ruth, who used to be a reindeer herder, was also there visiting. I had experienced lots of fun days with Ruth and the reindeer so I was really pleased to see her again and catch up with her news.
A group of 55 reindeer were free ranging on the Cairngorms. On the hill visits, I went to 3 different locations where I hadn’t been before and we set off from the Ciste car park for all of them.
On the first visit, there were still snow on the mountains and people were skiing fast down the main skiing area. We climbed up a very icy hill and visitors were helping each other if they were struggling to climb up. A skier was coming down and politely stopped to let us all past. I later found out that only the advanced skiers could ski on this side of the mountains.
We reached the reindeer and the magnificent views of the mountains surrounding us.
The frozen tarns and puddles looked amazing. I was so excited about being with the reindeer again and I immediately pointed Spy out to a very amazed Hen. It was so lovely seeing all the 2017 calves again, they had all grown so much and were as cute as ever. There were 2 calves which I hadn’t met before as they were free ranging with their mums on Feshie Bridge when I was last up in October. They were Blyton (Parmesan’s calf) and Keats (Wapiti’s calf). They were still extremely shy as they were still getting used to humans.
On the way back down a very icy hill, Hen taught me how to walk down it by digging your heels down into the snow making a hole grip otherwise I might have slid all the way down to the bottom of the hill. Some reindeer herders had done that before. We saw some bottom sliding marks where people had decided to go down the hill on their bottoms. I was amazed to find out that in the main gully of the Cairngorm Mountains there was up to 15m depth of compact snow. Hen told me lots of very interesting facts about snow and snow drifts on the Cairngorm Mountains.
Little did I know that later on in that week that I would experience all the amazing facts which Hen told me about……….
I was very lucky to be part of Olly’s last day being a reindeer herder. It was very sad to say goodbye to Olly but I am very pleased for him as he has got lots of exciting adventures ahead of him.
A Very Special Easter Sunday
My Dad is a very keen bird watcher who travels abroad to see birds. My Dad had only seen a Ptarmigan once so he really wanted to see one on this trip up to Scotland. Andi told my Dad where to see one so on Easter Sunday my Dad and my Mum started climbing up the Cairngorm Mountains in search of Ptarmigan. Thanks to Andi, my very excited Dad and Mum found a Ptarmigan pair and my dad was able to get some cracking photos of the Ptarmigan. Another male Ptarmigan arrived and nearly landed on my mum’s head.
The Easter Sunday hill visit was really sunny and all the reindeer were lying down sunbathing when we got to them. The top ski car park was full so they were running shuttle buses from the Ciste car park to the main skiing area and the Ciste car park was filling up. It was a perfect day for skiing so it was very busy on the main skiing area.
We were also busy and fully booked on the hill trip with 30 cars and 92 people who had a very magical experience with the very relaxed sunbathing reindeer. Kipling really enjoyed a cuddle from a child and Hopscotch (Kipling’s mum) had wandered over to Andi, Mel and myself with some very surprised visitors as Hopscotch came and sat down with them. Cheese and Fly then decided to join us all by hovering nearby. Cheese watched me as I added details to my reindeer herd list to help me learn the names of the reindeer. Also I got brilliant reindeer selfies with Dante and Fly.
One of the visitors got their leg stuck in a bog and couldn’t get it out. Andi was all prepared to take over from the visitor’s friend who was trying to loosen the mud and water from around the leg. Andi advised the visitor to twist her leg and with a big pull from Andi and the visitors friends, the visitor’s leg got free and she was out of the bog!
After the hill trip on Easter Sunday, I got to meet Dave’s baby son called Sam and his partner Emma. When I was left in October, Dave and Emma were expecting a baby and I was so over joyed to hear that they had little Sam about a month after I had left. It was so lovely meeting baby Sam and getting to know Emma. I really enjoyed my little cuddle with baby Sam and he was talking to me in his own way.
I was mixing the feeds which make up our reindeer mix such as hay barley, sugar beet, dark grains etc. together. A little robin flew through a hole and was hoping around near me collecting little bits of straw for its nest. I was so amazed how tame this little robin was. I told Dave about him and Dave says he normally comes in and out through the hole collecting things. Dave jokingly told me his name was James (which I believed). I think it is really lovely how Reindeer House have their resident robin who is now nicknamed James the robin.
Weather Suddenly Changed
On Easter Monday, I got to go and find the reindeer with Fiona and Mel and bring them down for their breakfast and for the hill visit. The reindeer were up very high on plantation hill and we could see them from the van. As we walked out it was sunny but then it got dark very suddenly. The reindeer didn’t come when we called them so we climbed a big hill and called them from there. We had to wave a bag around so that the reindeer could see us. A big hail storm came and we couldn’t see them as the visibility was so poor. I was lucky that the hail stones didn’t go in my eyes as I got glasses on but Mel’s and Fiona’s eyes were stinging. I was in my element being in a massive hail storm at a top of a hill calling reindeer who were slowly coming down the mountain, it was the most magical feeling ever. Little did I know that it was going to get even more magical …….
We started to climb down the hill and I hung back to see reindeer slowly appearing over the top of the hill. Sambar was leading the herd.
It was so magical when the reindeer followed us and Fiona got some brilliant photos of me leading the reindeer down. I was so excited about seeing them come across a little patch of snow as I hadn’t seen that before and I was more amazed how they leapt and sprang over the stream.
We settled the herd where the hill visit will come that day. I was in charge of having the sack for the calves so they could have a little extra feed whilst Mel and Fiona went around the older reindeer to give them some extra feed such as Malawi, Fonn, Cailin and Bangle as they looked a bit thin and needed more food. Fiona managed to tempt Blyton the calf over to feed from the sack so she can get use to humans.
It was so brilliant just chilling with the reindeer and walking through the herd to get to know them and check them over. Reindeer are so calming and it is so lovely that they want to be in your presence. It is such a special connection and is such a magical feeling.
Fiona gave me one of the lovely photos she had taken of me and printed it off and put it in a frame for me as a very special present which I really love. It is so special to me and means a lot to me. I have put it on my bedside cabinet and it is the last thing I see at night reminding me that the reindeer and everyone and dogs will be still there waiting for me till I am next up.
Sookie who is our resident dog at Reindeer house has to wear a bright coloured jacket saying ‘Please do not throw me sticks’ when she goes outside. Sookie suffers from arthritis now as she is getting older. It was the first time I had seen her in her new jacket and apparently she still goes up to people and shows them her begging eyes to throw her sticks and then doesn’t understand why her begging eyes are not working anymore! She does that sulking look at you like she is saying ‘do I need to wear this jacket?’.
On the first hill visit, I saw Dave waving a reindeer away. Her name is Cioch. Cioch I later learnt can be at times very grumpy and can appear friendly to an excited visitor. She loves been handfed and then stays around the visitors.
Hen says 1 herder needs to keep an eye on her at all times as she will lower her head and wave her antlers to an unexpected visitor if they approach her with no food! Cioch also might be pregnant which makes her even more grumpier so we had to keep an eye on her.
I rescued visitors from her twice. One occasion she was standing her ground and waving her antlers to a group of visitors so I encouraged her away with my empty hand feed bag.
The other occasion, Mel was talking about how to hand feed, I turned around to see if everyone was paying attention when I spotted Cioch at the side of the group of people. Some people were paying attention to her and not to Mel and they were trying to encourage her to move forwards thinking she is a lovely friendly reindeer. I was thinking this is not going to end well! I made my way over and just as I predicted Cioch had lowered her head and had started waving her antlers at them when she had realised they had no food for her. I went straight to Cioch waving my arms to scare her way and encouraged the people to listen to Mel. Dave had realised what I had done and praised me by saying I had done that very well!
The Magic Of Winter
The following day I woke up to snow on the ground and in the trees. I couldn’t wait to see the reindeer in the snow. Me and Sheena had to clear snow off the paths and steps outside the reindeer centre and in the paddocks with shovels. This was my first time shovelling snow. Being in the snow for me was just as exciting as at home we don’t get much.
We couldn’t poo pick the paddocks like normal as the snow was hiding yesterday’s poo. It had also built up on the upside down food bowls and I had to break the ice on the water troughs so the reindeer can break the water. It was so magical letting the reindeer into the snowy paddocks for their breakfast. It was my first time I had ever seen reindeer hoof prints in the snow and seeing them so at home in the snow.
The hill visit was so amazing seeing the herd in the snow. They looked so relaxed and at ease. The reindeer were all lying down when we arrived. It was so lovely seeing the visitor’s faces seeing the reindeer in the snow and interacting with them. Bumble had found a stream under the snow and was drinking nicely from it. After hand feeding the reindeer, Ochil came straight to the empty rucksack and starting pawing at it to see if there was any more food in it and then looked at me like I was just about to magic more food out of thin air for her to have.
I realised in the snow that the reindeer are more excited to see the food. In the wild they would have to kick the snow out of the way to reach the food underneath. It was so wonderful seeing the reindeer do this natural behaviour pawing at the snow to get to the heather underneath.
I was so excited experiencing seeing the reindeer in the snow.
Sheena said “Who is more excited about the snow?” “The reindeer or the reindeer herder?”
The answer was the reindeer herder!
Where Has All The Snow Gone?
I had a shock when I went into the paddocks in the afternoon. The snow had all gone. I could not believe how fast it had melted. I thought it would have stayed like it does when we have snow at home. Dave informed me that it melts away quickly up here at the reindeer centre because it is wet snow and also it had warmed up a bit throughout the day.
As the snow melted, it had revealed how much the reindeer had pooed yesterday and today. It looked like an explosion of poo with piles dotted over the enclosure.
I was near the end of poo picking the paddocks when a visitor asked me a question about reindeer. I turned my back on my big nearly full up dustpan of reindeer poo thinking it was going to be ok standing there. I was half way through answering the question when I heard a rubbing sound behind me. I turned around to see Viking rubbing his one antler on the tall dustbin handle which would had fallen over with poo rolling down the hill if I hadn’t caught it in time. Cheeky Viking!
A Dog and A Lost Toy Fox
I had a gut feeling that I was supposed to be in the paddocks visiting area that afternoon as something will happen but I didn’t know what.
When I was tiding the paddocks visiting area, I heard a dog barking. To my disbelief, I saw the owner of that bark tied up in the paddocks visiting area. Reindeer think dogs are wolves so they are scared very easily by a dog as they think it is their predator the wolf. Dogs are not allowed in the paddocks visiting area and on the hill visit for that very reason.
Chris had been on the phone to someone that very afternoon explaining that dogs are not allowed.
A little girl ran up to the tied up dog to tell the dog to be quiet and then ran off to her family which were on the other side of the paddocks visiting area. My first thought was to get someone else to deal with it but then I felt it might have been too late by then as the dog was causing a big scene and the reindeer were looking very scared.
So I went over to the family and told them very politely that their dog is scaring the reindeer and that the reindeer thought their dog was a wolf. The lady was apologetic and got someone to take the dog out whilst she told me that they had misread the situation and had thought their dog was allowed into the paddocks visiting area.
I went inside and told the others and they were very impressed I had dealt with the situation and said I did the right thing.
A little later on, I was tiding the kids craft area in the exhibition of the paddocks visiting area and I came across a lost toy fox which a child had obviously left behind. I went round the paddocks visiting area asking families with children if this lost toy fox belonged to them. No one recognised it and I was beginning to wonder if a child was getting upset about losing their toy fox.
I put it in my pocket and finished tiding up the kids craft area. I was just about to make my way to put it in the lost property basket in the shop when a lady suddenly appeared and began looking around the kids craft area like it she was looking for something. It turned out she was looking for the little toy fox and she was so relieved when I took it out of my pocket and gave it to her. She said it had been bought only today and that it had been the 2nd time the child had lost it. I felt very pleased with myself that I had made a difference as I knew what it had felt like to lose a special teddy for a while when I was a child.
Dave had done a really good Easter Egg Hunt around the paddocks visiting area. I had a go and really enjoyed it. The hardest number egg to find was number 2 and we had lots of children coming to ask us where number 2 was. It was on the boat in the exhibition.
There were 6 eggs to find and each egg had a word on the back of it. After finding the 6 eggs, the children would have a sentence in front of them which was ‘Reindeer Roam Regularly Right Round Cairngorm’.
After the children had completed the Easter Egg hunt, they won a chocolate egg which they came back into the shop for. I would be normally restocking the shop in the afternoon when the children came in for their chocolate eggs.
One afternoon, when I was restocking the shop, a family came in and I gave the children their chocolate eggs and Hen had come in to see if I was ok and if they wanted to buy anything. The children normally go on their way again when they had got their chocolate egg.
But what threw me the man who was with the children asked me why had only 1 antler had fallen off Viking. I had answered that confidently loads of times in the paddocks visiting area but this was in the shop in a different place and situation which I hadn’t expected and my mind been on restocking the shop minutes before hand. I had brain freeze and my mind went blank. I started to try to explain the answer and then started getting more and more self conscious.
I looked at Hen who gave me a encouraging look and nod knowing that I could do it. So I carried on explaining and really thought about what I was saying and I did it! I was so pleased with myself that I had got over that hurdle and I felt I had achieved a massive achievement!
A Magical Winter Wonderland
I had never seen so much snow at once in my life. I had woken up to my mum being so excited and telling me to open my curtains, and when I did, I could not believe how much snow was on the ground and it was still snowing heavily.
The snow ploughs had been on the road to clear the snow to make them safe for people. When we got to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, we saw the snow ploughs clearing the snow and it was amazing how much snow they left piled up. The snow on the ground was about 3ft and my dad took a photo of me in the snow by the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre Sign! We couldn’t believe how much snow stayed on the fir trees weighing them down!
Me and Chris had to clear snow off the paths and steps outside the reindeer centre which excited Tiree and Sookie thinking we were playing a game with them.
Fiona, Hen,Tiree and Sookie then went off to find the reindeer. I was amazed that they didn’t need me to clear the snow off the drive for them as they just drove over it.
Back at home, we have to clear the snow off the drive to get out but I was soon learning that the snow up here is a lot wetter and softer. Chris showed me how to put grit down as I have never done that before.
I then went to clear the snow off the paths in the paddocks. I was so amazed to see how much snow there was on the BBQ hut roof and on the paths in the paddocks which was about 3ft deep! It looked so magical and a like a blanket of snow of the ground which had been untouched!
About 9:35am, I was shovelling the snow off the paths in the paddock when I heard voices shouting hello. I knew the paddock visitor entrance was still locked as we don’t open till 10 O’clock. To my disbelief I then saw a man with 2 children walking into the paddocks visiting area wanting to know where they needed to queue up for the hill trip which I just confirmed for them.
They had got in through our private front garden where the disabled entrance is. I followed them back through to make sure they got out and to shut our garden gate. In our front garden, the snow was still deep. On their way out the 2 children were picking up massive handfuls of snow.
I piled snow into the reindeer paddock enclosure, on the soil area and on the sides of the paths. The paths began to look clearer and safer for the visitors to use. I was very pleased with myself and felt like I had achieved and had made a difference.
Reindeer In A Magical Winter Wonderland
It was so magical when Mel let the reindeer through for their breakfast just before we opened. I have never seen reindeer glide through this depth of snow before and they looked so at home!
It was so lovely to see the children playing outside the reindeer centre in the snow. Children had built snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other. Many of the children were tourists and were just excited as me about the snow!
The hill trip group was smaller than the last few days. Everyone was very excited to see the reindeer in the snow including me! Most of the reindeer herders like the snow as they like skiing and I really loved it and was in my element. I was experiencing the most snow ever in my life!
I could not believe how deep it was in the mountains and I was actually experiencing what Hen had taught me about the heavy snow and snow drifts on the Cairngorm Mountains!
People had even had sunglasses on and I was learning that sunglasses were not only used for bright sunny days!
By the time Chris had finished the talk about the life of the Cairngorm Reindeer herd and where they roam, a group of children had finished building a snowman. They had built it so quickly as the amount of snow there was. Some children were even trying to make and roll big snowballs on our very exciting walk to the reindeer!
The reindeer were not on view as we reached the ridge where we did our hill visit so Mel went and found them and led them up to us. It was so magical to watch Mel walk along the ridge against the white brightness of the snowy mountains and then appear again a few minutes later with the reindeer following her!
I put my hand feed rucksack down and Bumble made a bee line for it and started kicking it to try to open it as she knew the hand feed was in it which made everyone laugh! Chris had to stand on his sack of reindeer feed as Dixie and Fonn were hanging around the sack and he knew they might try to open the sack themselves if he hadn’t stood on it.
Seeing the reindeer in their natural habitat in the snow free ranging was such a magical feeling! I felt so happy and excited! Everywhere you looked was white!
The reindeer really stood out against the white and it made their coats look darker! It was so amazing how bright the snow was! Blondie and Mozzarella the 2 white (leucistic) reindeer looked camouflaged against the snow.
As the reindeer tried to eat the heather, their heads disappeared in a snow hole and there could be up to 2 heads in a snow hole at a time. I found it very cute if it was a mother and calf.
There was just a couple left who were really enjoying being with the reindeer and Chris reassured them there is no rush to leave.
It was so magical being with the reindeer in the peace and quiet sharing their very magical winter wonderland with them. They appeared so calm and at home and let you just be around them and just chilled with us! I felt very relaxed and felt like if I was flying! It was the best feeling ever!
Chris took some brilliant photos of the couple surrounded by the reindeer and it was so lovely seeing them experiencing this magical moment too!
On the way back, the weather was closing in and it was turning into a heavy blizzard walking back to the car park. I saw people building a big igloo out of the snow and we had to be careful where we stepped as one false move we could end up waist deep in the snow. Some parts you just don’t know how deep the snow is.
My Last Day Sharing The Magical Winter Wonderland With The Reindeer
I got to go and find the reindeer with Fiona and Mel and bring them down for their breakfast and for the hill visit. The reindeer were up on the plantation. It was very different when we last went as the mountains were still covered in very deep snow and the path by the car park was very icy. Mel put some grit on the path to make it safer for the hill visit after we found the reindeer.
Mel also put some grit on the drive just before we had left as Fiona slipped on an icy patch and fell flat on her bum. Thankfully Fiona was ok and I think she was very brave.
As we walked through the snowy mountains, I was trying to spot the reindeer on the very snowy plantation hill. We got to the end of the ridge where the hill visit will be for that day (same place as yesterday). We started to do the special reindeer call and Mel pointed the reindeer out who were coming in a line down the plantation side.
I was also seeing something I hadn’t seen before. I had never seen reindeer walk in a line one behind the other. They do this to save energy. Their back hooves go into the front hoof prints.
Fiona asked me why I had followed her route across the snowy mountain and I said that it was easier and that I would get less tired. Fiona had made me realise that we are like reindeer in the snow too.
It was so magical seeing the reindeer run across the snow like they had springs on their hooves when they got nearer to us. They looked so light and springy like a rabbit running to get to its burrow.
Fly lead them up to the top of the ridge where we were waiting with the feed sacks. I encouraged the calves to come and feed out of my sack which they happily did.
Bumble was trying it on with me as she was pretending to be a calf and Mel said she will be fine if I moved her away with her 1 antler. I got hold of her antler and moved her way, it was such a strange feeling and Mel said it doesn’t her hurt her. After I let go, Bumble went straight back to the sack of feed again and so I moved her away again. By the 2nd attempt, Bumble had realised I meant business and that the sack of feed was a calves only zone!
I had got to know the calves over the week and also when I saw them in October. It seemed all the confident calves such as JK, Kipling, Dr Seuss, Burns, Pratchett and Christie had their heads always in the sack of reindeer feed. If any of the less confident calves came along, they would not let them in.
I saw Dante and Austen hanging back. When I saw them in October, they were so shy but since being on Christmas tours they have got more confident. I encouraged them to come closer and made space so they could put their head in the sack and get some reindeer feed.
Austen is such a sweet and gentle little calf. In October I remember trying to herd Austen and her mother Pavlova in to a separate part of the enclosure as we needed to check Austen’s temperature as she was on the skinny side.
In October, I had fallen in love with Bumbles’s calf called Brontie and Mum and Dad were going to adopt her for my birthday but unfortunately in December she died. I was very sad when I found out and I had a very lovely email from Morna explaining why Brontie had died and what had happened to her.
This time whilst I was up, I was getting to know the calves a bit better. I really like Dante and had some brilliant selfies with her. But I knew that she was from a very shy reindeer family and would grow up to be one of the reindeer who will want to hang at the back of the herd and not hand feed.
I already adopt Mo (aged 5) who is such a very special reindeer to me! He starred in the CBeebies programme ‘The Viking Princess’ in December last year, I am so proud of him! He also enjoyed meeting younger children on a visit to a nursery school recently and he was such a good boy standing still for the children.
I also have a soft spot for Austen and had noticed a huge difference in her since October! She was much braver and bolder and was looking much better as when I last saw her in October she looked a bit skinny. I heard that Austen got more confident and cheeky on Christmas tour and went to Cardiff and Cornwall!
With lots of thinking over the week about which calf to adopt and with a talk from Andi, I now adopt Austen too which I am so pleased about!
I had also seen Pavlova pregnant with Austen when I was a reindeer herder last April! 16 days after I had left, little Austen was born!
Has Breakfast Finished?
After Mel and Fiona had checked all the reindeer and fed the older girls, I put down the piles of feed for the reindeer’s breakfast and counted them. I hadn’t put the empty sack under my arm properly. I hadn’t realised that if the reindeer could still see the sack or get the scent of food that they will follow you and that what they started to do. So Fiona had to try to lead the away from the car park side and back to the place where we gave them their breakfast which she successfully did and she soon caught us with me and Mel, Sookie and Tiree!
Over the week, I got to know most of the reindeer by name and get to know each reindeer’s personalities. I write lots of details on my reindeer herd list and I take photos which then helps me remember them. I also see the differences and changes of each reindeer since I was last up too.
The Biggest Hill Trip
Fiona drove to the top ski car park to see what the skiing conditions were like as she was going skiing later. It was the first time I had seen the top car park with ski activity and with the chair lifts going. I was amazed how busy it looked with lots of skiers.
As we arrived back to the centre, the queue from the shop door was huge and was going across the drive and the queue had to part so we could drive past and park.
This hill visit was the last time I will see the reindeer till next time! On this hill trip we had 29 cars and a mini bus full with Girl Guides. There were so many people. I stood at the top of the icy path which Mel had gritted earlier that morning and helped people up if they were struggling. I then caught up with the front of the line and stood at the bottom of a boggy bit to help people over if they needed it. It was really nice helping people and seeing that they really appreciate it. It was really lovely seeing families do teamwork by helping each other too.
Down in one of the gullies, I saw a man doing cross country skiing with his dog on a lead, I was so amazed as I hadn’t seen that before! That is a brilliant way to walk your dog.
When we got to the top of the ridge, Chris went over to the reindeer to encourage them to come closer. Andi was leading the group over whilst I stayed at the back of the group.
All of a sudden the line stopped moving and then there was a line of cameras and phones clicking away. Chris was leading the reindeer closer us and it looked like the reindeer was on a white snowy carpet and next to me was the line of reindeer paparazzi! I have never seen so many visitors get their cameras and phones out so quickly.
When we were on the ridge, us herders went down a bit and spread out so the line of visitors on the ridge could see us when we demonstrated things such as how to hand feed. When they do visits to the hill enclosure, they have certain stopping bits for certain parts of the talk, so doing a route which they hadn’t done for ages and thinking where to stop to say which part can be very daunting for them so they tend to share the visits talk between them and double check with each other if they had said everything which is brilliant teamwork.
On this big hill visit, Chris was about to put the food down for the reindeer and was telling the visitors that me, Andi and himself will have a bag of hand feed each. I suddenly realised he hadn’t done how to hand feed the reindeer yet and reminded him.
As the visitors started going away it got quieter. I had so many excited people on this hill trip come over to me and ask me lots of questions and they were so interested about the reindeer. On the hill trips, I found it so lovely how people would come over to me and ask me questions about the reindeer and it was so rewarding sharing my knowledge of the reindeer with them. I felt I had achieved and made a difference in their lives and that I had taught them something which they hadn’t known before. It was such a special and brilliant feeling to have.
When there were only a few people left, the reindeer were moving nearer the Ciste car park side and me and Andi called them but with no response.
I went down the ridge bank and had such a very special time with Cailin, Dixie and Bangle! The sun was shining and we all just sat there chilling together and I had brilliant selfies with them! It was such a very special and magical experience being with them, knowing they were also the oldest girls in the herd which I nicknamed The Golden Oldies. I had an empty feed bag with me and they kept double checking that it was definitely empty and to make sure that it wasn’t magically filling up with reindeer feed for them.
Andi and Chris was climbing down the ridge towards the herd so I knew it was time to go. When I got up, all 3 reindeer followed me all the way to the rest of the herd where Fonn (aged 15) came running towards me to see if I had food for her. I caught that on video too which was very magical and special.
Andi and Chris joined me and I knew that all the visitors had gone. I helped Andi and Chris herd the reindeer away from the Ciste car park side by walking forwards and waving our arms with them knowing this was goodbye for now.
It was so hard to say goodbye to them as they bring a lot out of me and mean so much to me and are such a big part of my life!
Fiona had invited me for tea at reindeer house so I stayed on after 5pm. Fiona, Mel and Chris and Tiree went skiing with friends. Mel said that Sookie will love a walk with me.
Me and Sookie had a really lovely walk through the woods to Loch Morlich and went on the lovely beach with the stunning views of the Cairngorms.
Sookie is such a very well behaved dog and obeys lots of commands so she walked off the lead. Sookie kept trying it on with me as every so often she would present me with a stick and then lay down at it starring at it.
Sookie wanted me to throw the stick for her. But she didn’t win as I kept telling her that even without her special jacket on that the rule about no stick throwing is the same.
We really enjoyed exploring the woods and going on the beach together. We spent very special quality time together and we finished our very special walk by having a brilliant selfie together on Loch Morlich beach.
I had a really lovely and special meal at reindeer house. We had very tasty wild boar from Tilly’s and Alan’s farm which Fiona had slowed cooked throughout the day. It was so nice spending an evening at reindeer house and I really enjoyed it.
It was my first time properly working with Chris whom I had met on my last day being a reindeer herder back in October. He showed me lots of videos and photos of the reindeer on the computer and also showed me how he remembers who is who and showed me photos on his phone.
Chris also showed me that on one of the computers at reindeer house has a photo folder for each reindeer with their photos on which keeps record of how you can identify each reindeer and how they change over the years. It is really interesting learning what each reindeer looks like.
I found it all really interesting and it so lovely to see the reindeer running over snow very fast very excited to see the herders who had their breakfast.
I am now counting down how many sleeps when I am next up with the reindeer, reindeer herders and dogs which is at the end of May seeing the newly born calves, another first experience for me which I am very excited about.
After 66 years of reindeer herding in Scotland we have had a first. On the 8th May 2018 we had live twins born!
30 years ago we had twins, one was stillborn and the other survived for 12 hours. Since then we have had two sets (2008 and 2015) but both were stillborn so you can imagine our shock when we found them both alive and well.
Their mother Lulu is one of our older females in the herd, at 12 years, and she is taking everything in her stride and not batting an eyelid at the two little bundles following her. She loves them both and lets them feed, however we are giving her a helping hand by offering them a top-up of bottled milk as we feel she hasn’t got enough to sustain two. They spent their first two weeks up in our mountain enclosure where they were born and we have been going out first thing in the morning and last thing at night every day since to make sure they were getting enough milk. They were being supported to suckle from Lulu in their first few days but now they are growing well and coming on leaps and bounds, and feeding themselves.
We of course must remain realistic as this is extremely rare with only one other known case of twins being born in the world: in Finland in 2010. We will do our best by both them and Lulu, making sure she gets extra feed, browse and attention. Summer time is crucial for keeping an eye on reindeer with biting insects causing illnesses which the twins will be more susceptible to so their first six months are going to be a rocky road, however we feel they have rallied through their first two weeks so this amazing news can go public.
It has been a busy few weeks here at reindeer house with with plenty of new calves being born on the hillside. We thought we’d share a few photos of the lovely new members of our herd. As long term readers or followers of our social media pages will hopefully have seen, we ask that you don’t identify any of the mothers if you know them. This information will be going in our adopters newsletter in June. Enjoy…
Blondie is different to the vast majority of the herd because not only is she pure white but she is also stone deaf. When she was born in May 2006 she was the first pure white reindeer calf for nearly 40 years, indeed since her great-great-great-grandmother Snowflake, who was born in 1968. We had no first-hand experience of a reindeer as white as the driven snow and for a while as a calf we thought she was just an incredibly lazy, ‘laid back’ reindeer. While the rest of the herd would eagerly run down the hill when we called them, Blondie would be sleeping! But it didn’t take us long to realise that actually she was deaf. Clapping our hands and shouting into her ear while she was fast asleep did nothing to rouse her; she was quite literally ‘in a world of her own.’
We worried over how she would cope out on the free range as she couldn’t hear her mother Glacier grunting to her, nor would she be able to hear the clicking of the reindeer’s tendons as they walk – a constant noise that encourages the herd to stay together. Equally she would not hear a dog barking or people talking and so be unaware of potential danger. Well, our worries were unfounded; she is now 12 years old, has successfully raised a number of calves and is very much alive and kicking. One advantage is she is really easy to spot on the hill, standing out like a sore thumb against the dark hillside, although admittedly in the winter, the white camouflage in deep snow helps to disguise her.
In 2010, Blondie had a male calf Lego who, like his mum, is pure white and also deaf. Not wanting to have too many deaf reindeer in the herd we decided not to breed from Lego, but at two years old Lego had other plans and managed to be sneaky and mate with Lulu, a seven year old, light coloured female. Lo and behold the next spring Lulu had a pure white male calf Blue, who, yes I am sure you can guess, is deaf too!
Interestingly when we have been out in Swedish Lapland we have often heard the Sámi describe white reindeer as lazy and easily predated on by wolves. I think we can safely give them the answer why!
I packed and unpacked many many times as you can imagine but left with a very civilised 13kg rucksack with everything I needed… I hoped! Having never done anything like this before I was a bit of a fish out of water but what’s the worst that could happen? Alex, my brother, dropped me off at the airport in Inverness to fly to Heathrow where I would meet most of the team of folk and organisers taking part in this adventure. When I got there I had a bit of time to spare so I went and grabbed a coffee. While sitting there I clocked someone in the coffee line who looked suspiciously like another runner and surely had to be on the same trip. He was wearing some serious gear with a fancy running rucksack and water bottles on each strap, straws sticking up ready for quick access… he looked ready to compete! And here’s me in my chequered shirt, comfy travelling trousers looking ready for a leisurely holiday. It was this point I text a couple of friends questioning whether I should be on this trip, What have I signed up for!?!?
Shortly after, Sally (fellow reindeer herder), found me. It was Sally who introduced me to the idea of doing the marathon so ultimately she is to blame for all this 😉 I pointed out the other runner, told her how much I was bricking it, but in her usual bubbly, positive self she said ‘it’ll be fine… you’ll be fine’. The two of us headed to meet up with the rest of the group and set ourselves up for the two long haul flights. We arrived into Kathmandu Airport. It was absolutely buzzing. The smog levels were unreal, felt like I needed a buff over my mouth the whole time. Our hotel was a little piece of paradise in amongst the chaos of Kathmandu. We had time for some dinner and a shower but I think everyone was feeling the need to go to bed, knowing we had a fairly early start.
The next morning we were allocated into our groups. This is where Sally comes into it, she was the yellow group leader so she got our group together in the hotel garden and we did the tedious but necessary introductions. First up was McKenzie, he was from the North of England. McKenzie was one of those people who, although dealt a harder card in life, really was an inspiration to everyone by picking himself up and ‘taking the bull by the horns’. He took on adventures for various charities supporting causes close to his heart. Now this is where first impressions were blown out the water because it was McKenzie who I saw in the coffee line only hours before and when I got to know him, he couldn’t have been more different from that serious looking, coffee drinking runner in Café Nero! Then we had an Aussie couple Travis and Kelly. They were setting off on a worldwide adventure and going for as long as money and time would allow, starting with the Everest Marathon… One hell of a start if you ask me!
The next group of people were fellow Celts… the four Irish! Tom, John, Frank and Daithi are all friends from a running group back home. As well as their great banter they were just the most genuine lovely people who I spent a lot of my time with while in Nepal. I wont big them up too much or they’ll think I liked their company, and I’ll never hear the end of it 😉. Also in our group was Chris who is an English guy now living in Thailand, he was here to be a marshal on race day having done the marathon in the past. He was a real rock in the group and had a heart of gold as well as lots of good advice for us.
Steve was one of the oldest competitors, but this meant nothing in this type of event as he was certainly fitter than most of us and has completed some amazing races including an Iron Man. If you don’t know what an Iron Man is, google it, because it will blow your mind! Christian came from Guernsey… You can’t get much further from my Cairngorm home. He was a really great guy and always so positive. Even though Nepal dealt him the mean card when it came to tummy troubles he never moaned and always had a smile on his face and a toilet roll handy 😉 (Sorry Chris!)
Bobby was our token Yank! A 23 year old that really has been there, done that. He was completing his last marathon on every continent… what an achievement at such a young age! I spent a lot of time trekking with Bobby being a similar pace oh and not to mention kicking his ass at card games (he may say otherwise but it’s not true!). Sam lives and works in London… again couldn’t get much further from my life but its amazing how different our lives can be yet we are brought together in this adventure and get along so well. Working in the world of computers and technology I’ll never forget trying so hard to understand a conversation he was having with a friend during a trekking day about some software or app and my brain failing to understand any of it… I just don’t have it when it comes to anything technical! Sam was always game for everything, a real good sport!
Shauney was another Scottish lassie and my tent buddy… Do you think they planned that?!?! I couldn’t have asked for a better person to share this adventure with. She is the youngest person (aged 22) to complete the Everest marathon and having done some epic long distance races in the past already had some great stories. I’m not sure I would have taken on such a massive adventure when I was her age so I really admire what she has achieved. The best thing is she only lives over the hill and is a horse trainer… Future reindeer herder comes to mind!
Next are father and son Ross and Lachie from New Zealand. Ross is a mountain runner back home so this was his adventure and Lachie was coming along to be a marshal on race day. It all changed slightly for Lachie and having been strong during trekking days he decided to give the full marathon a go. Read on to see how he gets on! Mark and Ulla were a couple from Northampton who are good friends with one of the Everest Marathon doctors. This is how they came to be sat in this circle of crazy people. Mark was to take on the marathon and Ulla was there to marshal. The two were such a positive couple and so lovely. They were actually the first ones I met back in Heathrow Airport when I was super nervous about the whole adventure and they were so relaxed and calm.
Ali wasn’t here as a competitor or marshal, she was here learning the ropes for taking on the organising of the Everest Marathon in the future so she was constantly jotting down notes and off with the Nepalese organisers trying to get her head around the ins and outs of the whole thing. Nishma was our group doctor and has been the doctor on the Everest Marathon before so was all ready and set for the challenge ahead. Such a bubbly lady who always had a smile on her face and great advice. Couldn’t have asked for a better person to look after us and she had skills when it came to card games! Then last but not least, Sally. Some of you may already know Sally as she has been a seasonal reindeer herder on and off for about ten years. She is the most positive, smiley person I know. Having her as our group leader created such a great atmosphere and I really feel our group gelled so well and looked after each other which was also down to her great leadership. I wouldn’t have taken part in this amazing adventure and met these incredible people if it wasn’t for Sally, so she’s to blame… I mean she’s to thank! So as well as our group there was the red group. I won’t introduce all of them or we will be here all day but I will mention Rich and Dr Mike who we adopted as honorary yellow group members over the course of the adventure. Both great guys, game for everything and super strong in the mountains!
While we were still in Kathmandu we all took part in a fun run. We all hopped onto a bus which took us out of town to the top of a hill (thankfully) ready to run down in our costumes. We had Elvis, 118 118 man, Peter Pan, a penguin, four Irish Leprechauns and many more costumes. Everyone made a real effort to dress up. I wore a reindeer onesie which at the time seemed like a great idea until the Nepal sun came out and it turns out running in 25 degrees gets rather hot! As well as the fun run there was an excursion to the Monkey Temple and also other iconic spots around Kathmandu. This then brought us to the morning we left for the mountains. It was all getting rather real now… eek!
We hopped on a tiny 16 seater plane and flew to Lukla. The views were spectacular looking over to some of the worlds biggest mountains. Now this runway is renowned for its shortness. Luckily I couldn’t see it from my side of the plane until the last minute. It certainly made my stomach turn slightly but there was nothing we could do bar hope the pilot was on course, which he was. It helped that the weather that day was glorious so no turbulence to contend with. Once we landed, we grabbed some lunch and various instructions from our leaders and headed off on our first trek together as a group. We had about 4 hours walking that day passing yak trains, some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, Sherpas carrying the most incredibly heavy loads, many tourists, plant life I’ve never seen, traditional houses and hamlets, children running to school (which at that altitude, walking was tough enough for us), suspension bridges, and many more amazing things. What a beautiful country and the colour from prayer flags and the Nepalese clothing just brought it all alive.
Over the next two days we trekked to Namche Bazaar which is the main village and last proper civilisation for most trekkers and climbers before heading onto other trails and Mount Everest itself. It was a lovely little place with cafes, bars and shops selling curios and souvenirs. Also for sale was lots of outdoor gear which was branded names but not branded prices… We had a couple of days in Namche Bazaar getting any last minute essentials but more importantly acclimatising. It is really important for your body to adjust slowly and properly to altitude or you can make yourself really sick. Some folk in the group were already experiencing some symptoms but luckily I was OK, so fingers crossed it stayed that way. From Namche we did a couple of treks for good views but also to help with the altitude then after a few days we headed off. This was for real now. We had our lovely Sherpas, a herd of yaks to carry the gear and lots of nervous but excited folk ready for this massive adventure ahead. We still had two weeks until the marathon itself, which at the time felt like ages away but its amazing how it seemed to fly by.
On leaving Namche we discovered the red group was very well trained and all had their assigned number so when we were all due to leave they would shout out their number to make sure everyone was there. Needless to say we were rubbish and when put on the spot I’m not sure any of us remembered which number we were. So later that night, during our nightly meeting with Sally we decided we had to do better therefore we gave ourselves a letter, starting with A, B, C… etc and with our letter we had to think of an animal. So here goes… I think this was all the animals in our group and what ended up being our morning chorus before setting off on trekking days to make sure everyone was there – Ass, Baboon, Cat, Donkey, Elephant, Ferret, Giraffe, Horse, IBEX (this was Bobby’s animal and always said with great volume!), Jaguar, Koala, Lemur, Meerkat, Nightingale (this was me), Orangutan, Pufferfish, Quail, Reindeer (of course), Snake, Tiger and Unicorn. It took a few days to perfect but it sounded awesome when we did get it right. Peter, the leader of the red group said he’d buy Sally a beer if we managed so I think he needs to dig deep cos we definitely got there!
From now on we were camping. We would arrive at camp every day to our tents already set up and our Sherpas starting our dinner. Our kit bags would arrive and we set up camp for the night laying out our sleeping mat and bag then change into our evening attire (I had two sets of clothes, daytime and night time… that was it!), park ourselves in the lodge and crack out the card games. This happened most nights. Some folks would read, go for a wee walk, sleep and now and again Sally had organised a quiz so it was a real social time all round. Ulla had a birthday while we were there and amazingly the Sherpas managed to bake a cake. How? I have no idea but it was delicious. After dinner the Sherpas heated up water for us which we would stick into our water bottle and put in our sleeping bags. Worked as a fantastic hot water bottle especially when camping in the minus’s. Ice would form on the inside of the tent, that’s how cold it was.
Our first few days after leaving Namche took us up a valley towards Gokyo. We camped at a place called Machherma for four nights which was great, it meant we didn’t have to pack up camp daily. One of the days we just did a walk up and run down for nice views and acclimatising. Then on one of the other days we headed up towards Gokyo and Gokyo Ri which meant we were gaining a lot of height. This was a big day and not everybody opted into doing the bigger walk but from the top of Gokyo Ri there was the most magnificent views of Mount Everest. The walk was super tough as we reached almost 5400m but every step was worth it. Bobby had a beer from one of his sponsors which he downed at the top… not sure how but I put it down to having 8 years on me 😉 The blue water lakes were just incredible and we had great weather to top it off. Saying that it was pretty chilly up there. On one of our other days it was meant to be a rest day but Bobby, Sally and I decided to go for a wander, taking us back to Gokyo because it had a good bakery. We took a massive cake order from both yellow and red group and headed off on our ten mile round trip… things we do for cake!
As days went by we covered lots of ground trekking and most of us acclimatised well. Depending how some people were coping with altitude meant their trip was altered but on the whole everyone was doing amazingly. Once dropping down again in altitude some folk decided that was as far as they would go and would meet the group again at the end of the marathon back in Namche Bazaar. For the rest of us we were starting the marathon route in reverse, trekking it over a number of days. It was crucial at this point to know where we were going as the next time we would see it would be on marathon day itself. There were a few big climbs and drops again as we made our way up the valley. This was also the main route to Base camp and Mount Everest. We stopped at various lodges along the way and camping overnight. We even went to hang out with the monks in one of the monasteries in Tengboche. We passed many yaks and Sherpas and the further up we went the colder it got. One of the coldest nights was in a place called Pheriche a couple of camps before our last night in a tent.
We reached Lobuche, this was our final two nights camping and start of preparation for marathon day. It was a bleak wee place and the lodges were cold at night. When we were back in Namche Bazaar I bought myself a yak wool blanket. I think its safe to say this was my best purchase and every night I wrapped myself up in it and wore it like a skirt in the lodges. It was so toasty warm and some of the group commented on it being surgically attached to me… it wasn’t far off it that’s for sure! We had a rest day here where we had the option to walk up Kala Putar giving us great views of Everest but a few of us opted to go to Base Camp instead. In 2016 a friend of mine summited Everest and while he was out there I would hear of his adventures and obviously he spent a lot of time at Base Camp so it was nice to go to the area I had heard so much about. Base Camp is also one of those places in the world you hear people talk about so now I have ticked that off the bucket list I’m pretty delighted. The same day we also passed Gorek Shep, this was to be the start line on race day. The first three miles was going to be tough though as it was mostly boulder field. This part a lot of people were dreading but I’m afraid to say it was the one part of the whole race I enjoyed the most. The rougher the better for me as I’m not exactly a built long distance or fast running, I am however built for hills and rough ground whether it be up or down so this part was fine by me, it was the flat runnable bits I was rubbish on!
The last health and kit checks were done the day before the marathon in Loboche and this was where we sadly had to leave Sally as she was to marshal this first check point the next morning. Really I feel she should have been allowed to come to the start line with her group. By this point of the journey we really had got to know everyone in our group so well and with Sally being our group leader it was a shame for her not to see us on our way, however, this wasn’t hers or our choice and seeing her smiling face, 3 miles into the marathon was also really nice… a real boost! That afternoon we trekked to Gorek Shep once again and stayed the night in the lodge there. It was pretty chilly and the yak blanket was out again for sure! We prepped our kit bags, got some food inside us and all hit the sack nice and early, ready for a 6.30am race start. Poor Shauney, my tent buddy, fell ill and she couldn’t manage any food that night. Not only that but the sickness kept her from resting properly before the race. We made sure she had some sugary fuel through the night but that was real bad luck as she was definitely one of the strongest women competitors in the group!
We all got up around 5am, had some porridge and tea for breakfast and also just to warm us up. The lodge didn’t exactly have central heating. We got onto the start line for 6.15am, all absolutely freezing and leaving our down jackets on for as long as possible. Minutes before 6.30am we reluctantly took our jackets off in preparation for the start whistle. Then… We were off! The Nepalese runners were wearing hardly anything and they shot off at the speed of light leaving all us international runners behind. We plodded on but at 5,140m even plodding felt exhausting. Although you make some really good friends during this adventure, come race day I was always going to run my own race and if that coincided with someone else of similar speed then great but I wanted the experience to be my own however it panned out. I reached Sally after the 3 miles of rough boulders and she was our first check point. I did a reindeer call from afar so she knew I was coming. A warm drink and hug from her was welcomed and we carried on our merry way.
We had another few miles before our next check point which was Chris in Dugla (4620), again it was so nice to see a friendly face and a bite to eat. By this point in the race we were still seeing a few of the other runners but as the race went on folk dispersed more and more and I think this was the last time I saw the front runners of the international field, they were well and truly off ahead of me after Dugla. The next part of the race was all very runnable, this is where I’m not so strong but I plodded on. Where I gained places in the rough sections I definitely lost here, which was fine, everyone excels in different terrains. Next check point was Pheriche which was where Dr Mike was based. We were now 7.5 miles into the race and it was still pretty cold, all my layers from the beginning were still on and weren’t coming off anytime soon. From here Bobby and I ended up running at a similar pace. He was much quicker on the flats though. It was really nice running with someone by this point and as we ended up trekking together most days a familiar, friendly face was definitely a boost! We ran together for the next 7 miles, through check point number 4 in Pangboche and onto checkpoint 5 in Tengboche. This was where we visited the monks and they had good coffee from our visit there a week previously. It took quite a lot of will power not to visit the bakery on route! We were given some rice pudding and another drink before the steep decent into the valley, knowing we would have to climb out of it afterwards.
It was also this check point that Bobby and I ended up on different paths but I knew I would see him again somewhere along the way. During the decent there was a yak train coming up so I stepped off the path and decided to use a wee path cutting the corner. Big mistake… immediately after stepping off the path I rolled my ankle. Gahhh!!! I could have kicked myself. I walked it out for a bit and once I got to the bottom of the valley and crossed the suspension bridge it seemed to sort itself out. Or at least it wasn’t hurting quite as much. It was down here I saw Lachie (the Kiwi who came to marshal the race but ended up running it). This was the first I had seen him since the start line. He was a couple of minutes ahead of me so I didn’t get to chat to him but I was so pleased he was going strong. The next check point was after the big climb and 17 miles in so by this point I’m only a few miles off the furthest I’ve ever run. It was here that the marshal told me I was the first international lady through, which as you can imagine totally shocked me. I felt pretty good about it (who wouldn’t) but I was well aware I was getting to a point of the race where I may get tired quicker than some of the other ladies who have done lots of marathons. But what will be, will be. This race was always just going to be an adventure for me whatever the outcome so I plodded on with no pressure.
The next 3 miles seemed to go on forever. It was quite flat and very runnable, which by mile 18, 19 and 20 I wasn’t really feeling the running love anymore. Also by this point I hadn’t seen any other runners for quite some time and it was getting quite lonely. Usually when I’m home and out running I have the dog with me and having spent the past 2.5 weeks trekking there is always someone to chat to so this was probably the hardest part of the race for me mentally. The next check point was very welcomed, it was Ulla and she was the smiley face I needed to see. This check point was actually at Namche Bazaar, mile 20. Namche Bazaar was where the finish line was, right in the middle of the village, however we still had another 6 miles to complete which was a real kick in the guts so off I set on the 6 mile Thamo loop. The only plus side to doing this extra 6 miles was I got to see some of the other runners again which really helped the moral. The loop meant we ran out for 3 miles, turned around and then ran back the same way so all those folk in front of you passed you on their way back. So, half a mile into the loop I see Franck running towards me. Franck is from France and he was always the strongest trekker and I was really gunning for him to do well in the marathon as he absolutely deserved it. So as we pass each other, we exchange a high five and he heads onto the finish line. The next friendly face was Rich, then Alistair and the fourth international runner was Chris from Guernsey. He was the first from our yellow group so again a delighted high five exchange as he goes onto finish. Theses 3 miles seemed to be going on forever but being back in amongst some friendly faces definitely helped! I reached the turning check point. It was here there was some local Nepalese marking off the runners as they went through. They clocked that I was the first international lady through so they tied a prayer scarf round my neck and I wore it as I ran back to Namche. About ½ – 1 mile on my way back I pass Kim. This was the first time I’d seen her the whole race and now I felt like I needed to try and hold my position or the lovely prayer scarf they just gave me would be hers. We exchanged our high five and I just had to hope she was as tired as I was. On my way back I now knew this was the furthest I had ever run before, and I’m not going to lie I was pretty knackered! But even if I walked the last couple of miles I knew I was going to finish so there was definitely comfort knowing this. I passed Bobby who sadly had been struck by the sickness everyone had a few hours before. He said he was OK and would see me back in Namche. Then I passed the Irish guys. Screw the high fives by this point it was hugs all round, but they weren’t for holding me up they wished me luck and told me to go get first international lady. To be completely honest I would have been delighted to have a blether by this point, it was just nice to see them, but I plodded on. Every corner I turned I hoped the next would be Namche Bazaar… Then finally there it was! The steep stony steps, narrow streets and locals ringing bells shouting ‘Runner’!!! As I jogged through the street towards the finish line I couldn’t quite believe it was all about to be over. It was all quite overwhelming but I was definitely ready to have a sit down! Through the finish line I went in 6 hours, 56 minutes and 51 seconds!
We were told as a rough guide to how long we will take was to double our marathon time and this would be pretty accurate, however I couldn’t do this so I was delighted with my personal best! Seeing the others who had already finished was really nice and hearing of their stories along the way. Lachie who wasn’t even coming to do the race finished a few minutes ahead of me, also getting a personal best as it was his first marathon too so he was super happy, and looked way to fresh… or at least fresher than me! We then waited at the finish line for our other friends to come in. Kim was about 15 minutes behind me, but looked like she could have done another few miles, no bother! Then a few more came in over the next hour. The Irish weren’t far away, however it turned out that Bobby fell really quite ill, staggering, being sick and generally not in great form. The Irish group clocked this on their way back and they helped him back to the finish line. It was a real shame the illness got Bobby mid race but finishing alongside his good friends must have been pretty special too. He needed to see the doctor right away but soon got himself sorted out. I was now waiting for Shauney to arrive. Knowing she was so ill the night before I was really keen to see her finish. Sam from our group ran with her the whole day which was absolutely incredible of him and the two of them came in a couple of minutes apart. I absolutely take my hat off to that girl, she completed that race having the worst night and illness. I’m not sure I would have managed in her circumstances. We then welcomed home Mark who was still looking so strong and Frank, the last of the Irish to come through. Unfortunately he also wasn’t well but considering lack of energy and illness he plugged through and completed it. So out of the 46 who started the race, 40 completed the full marathon. The rest finished at the 20 miles mark when we first reach Namche Bazaar so everyone did amazingly. A massive well done to all runners. Of course we had the support of the check points along the way which did heaps for moral and food and drink where necessary so a massive thank you to them as well. Sally and Chris who were the furthest away check points were the real heros of the day as MacKenzie fell ill very early on in the race and they helped him home by walking but he was so weak that he had to get on a horse to get back to Namche so the real gold medal goes to them and the Irish team for helping others.
I think we were all ready for some comforts now after a pretty gruelling day so we headed to the Irish bar (of course!) for food and beers all round. It was, as expected, a fairly tame night but catching up with everyone on their day was really nice and everyone experienced a really different race ultimately ending in their own massive achievements! I was shocked, overwhelmed, delighted… all the emotions, as I really hadn’t set out for any great achievement, I was just in it for the jolly and adventure so to bag first international lady was as much of a shock to me as everyone else. But I couldn’t have done it without the support of the amazing yellow team and Sally so really they are all to thank.
The next day was a rest day in Namche Bazaar and of course a bit of retail therapy… AKA buying presents for friends and family, and myself. My legs today were pretty exhausted and sore but a few celebratory beers later helped ease the pain. That afternoon Bobby organised the worlds highest beer mile, Google ‘beer mile’ for details, but at 3000+ meters and sore legs there was no way I was going to survive this so I watched from the side line. The next day we had to walk 14 miles back to Lukla where we were going to catch our flight the following day back to Kathmandu. This was the hardest walk I have ever done. My legs two days after the marathon were the sorest they have ever been. Stepping down was the worst but in general the body was just exhausted. We plugged through and made it to Lukla but was very happy to see a bed that night.
The flights from Lukla go in small aeroplanes so we were split into 3 groups to get back. Due to poor weather conditions the 2nd and 3rd group unfortunately didn’t get back to Kathmandu that day. This included me, however that is the way the cookie crumbles and it was out of our hands. We pushed hard the next day to get on one of the first flights going and much to everybody’s delight, we got back… Woo Hoo! The hotel seemed so luxurious compared to when we first stayed there. A hot shower was welcomed by everyone and a change of clothes meant we all transformed from that grotty hiker back to clean holiday maker. All the men were suddenly clean shaven again, they were hardly recognisable! As we missed a day in Kathmandu due to flight delays we all rushed around getting some extra shopping (more yak blankets), had a few more celebratory beers (can they still be called celebratory beer by this point?) and headed back to the hotel for the presentation of our certificates. The food and celebration was great and it was nice to have one last night with everyone before we all went our separate ways the next day. One beer of course leads to another which apparently leads to drinking card games in the hotel rooms so our heads the next day were a bit worse for wear… When in Kathmandu!
So the adventure comes to an end, and what an adventure it was. We all caught our various flights back home. A few kilos lighter for most people as when you spend time at altitude inevitably you lose weight. Some folk lost a stone, I only lost 4kg, which was enough that my trousers looked a bit silly on me! The last of us said our goodbyes at Heathrow airport, I blagged a lift to the Lakes District where I then jumped into a reindeer lorry going back home to the north of Scotland. 12 hours later from Heathrow and after walking the reindeer back onto the hill after their Christmas tour all my family and friends were there waiting to welcome me back. Dogs went mental having not seen me for 3.5 weeks and after two days travelling it was sooooo good to be back. Especially back into my own bed!
So although this amazing adventure has come to an end I am left with the most incredible memories and lifelong friends out of it. Already there are plans to visit folk and a reunion up here in Scotland later in the year. This of course has to be based around a race of some sort so the Dramathon (marathon around the whisky distilleries) seems like the most apt one to pick which is happening in October. Already a good few folk are booked in to do this so its going to be a great weekend, I cant wait!
The Everest Marathon is a charity set up to help the people in rural Nepal. As runners we were asked to fundraise to take part in the race. Friends and family have been super generous, as well as adopters from our reindeer support scheme and the general public passing through the Reindeer Centre and I managed to raise £2,431.23 which is just amazing so THANK YOU all so, so much.
Here’s some more photos of my amazing adventure and friends along the way.
For the calves born in 2012 the theme was just ‘2012’ because so much happened that year. It was he Queen’s Jubilee year our 60th anniversary and also the London Olympics. So we had great fun coming up with diverse names to suit the theme and as one of the biggest calves of the year Balmoral was aptly named.
He was, however, a mistake! During the rut of 2011, when Balmoral was conceived, we attempted to restrict the number of cows breeding by leaving them out on the free-range without a bull. That all seemed fine until a young bull, Strudel, went missing in the hill enclosure and turned up a few weeks later on the free range having found ‘heaven’, i.e. lots of reindeer females – even more than your average breeding bull would manage in a season.
Fly was one of those cows left out but ended up in calf to Strudel. But we’re not complaining because there are now some great reindeer in the herd now as a result from that rutting season in 2011.
During the 35 plus years I have been with the reindeer there have been some iconic bull reindeer who have stood out amongst the rest of the herd. In the early 1980s it had been Troll: great name (from the children’s story Billy Goat’s Gruff – and yes there was a Trip and a Trap too) and an equally great reindeer. His son Gustav, a real gentleman among reindeer, took over from him in the late 80s and early 90s. Then we brought in a young bull from Whipsnade Zoo for new blood and that was Crackle, who featured in many photos, leaflets and articles about the herd. Indeed he was the reindeer on the front cover of the first book I wrote about reindeer, Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses’.
In 2003, a bull calf named Crann was born and by two years old he showed all the signs of being something special. As a mature breeding bull he grew huge antlers year after year, probably the biggest antlers that have ever been seen in the Cairngorm herd and right up until his last year he continued to grow amazing antlers for his age.
By 2015, Balmoral was the most promising young bull in the herd, growing huge antlers as a three year old. As a result, we decided to give him a shot as a breeding bull, allowing him to father some calves, rather than being castrated as most of the other three year old males are. In 2016 he looked incredible with even bigger antlers, and ended up being the main breeding bull that autumn, with many of the calves born last spring fathered by him. He’s well and truly spread his genes about! His son Burns, born May 2017, who is big, bold and boisterous may well follow in his footsteps and become a breeding bull in his own right in a couple of years.