Reindeer herding and hill running

It may not come as a huge surprise to readers that many of our herders are hill runners. In fact, I think almost any herder could be described as one depending on how you define runner. A run in the area where we and the reindeer live is almost automatically a hill run and sometimes herding reindeer includes running or fast walking in the hills.

On that note, much to my surprise, I found a Dutch book lying around in the office a couple of weeks ago. Being the only speaker of Dutch at the centre (apart from some inappropriate use of Dutch words by Chris which I have absolutely nothing to do with, I swear), I decided to have a wee look through it. It was an incredibly interesting book about humans and long distance running, written by legendary long distance runner Jan Knippenberg. Later on I found out that Tilly (the owner of the herd) had been given the book, as some chapters involved the reindeer herd and Mikel Utsi, the founder of the herd. Apparantly, Knippenberg is even the one who initially got Alan into hill running, a form of pastime he is known to be very fond of these days. Tilly asked if I wanted to read bits of the book and write a blog about it, so here goes.

Manouk, Kay, Sookie and Tiree with Mealle a Bhuachaille in the background.

In the book, Knippenberg explains that, in the history of the human being, it’s relatively very recent that we changed our active lifestyle of walking or running around for spending most of our days sitting or standing still. As examples of how we used to live he mentions the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the lifestyle of shepherds or herders of animals, and the Scottish gillies (helpers of lairds) who walked long distances to convey messages. Eventually he makes the point that the “running hype” is not, like we tell ourselves, a way to battle the new inactive way of life most people live, but rather a creation of society brought forth by the hype of commercial marketing and a desire to be “fit”. This “being fit”, according to him, is something completely different than the state we once had to be in, in order to survive.

Chris and Bobby running up Braeriach with Joe for Bobby’s final Scottish run (until he comes back next year)

Knippenberg argues that the marketing and popularising of “jogging” makes it a commercial thing, alienating it from what we used to do as children, simply because we felt like it. Running around on the beach, chasing each other around in a field, competing against our playmates to see who is the fastest, these are all examples of unlimited running that are closer to our native human nature instinct. Running for the pure joy of it or because our lifestyle demands it, without the faff of getting involved in fashion and hype, or keeping track of time per kilometre, heartbeat, acceleration etc. seems to be closer to the old type of lifestyle than what is currently in fashion.

Joe running the ridges of Glen Shiel

Right, back to hill running and reindeer herding. As a new herder in summer, I built up my stamina quite quickly. This happens automatically, especially in the summer months, when we sometimes chase free ranging reindeer to where they are supposed to be, go up the hill a couple of times a day, and spend a lot of our days off walking or running around in the mountains. Because we have a purpose none other than doing something with reindeer or enjoying nature, I think this comes quite close to what Knippenberg describes. I think most of us herders enjoy being in the mountains, a bit like a child enjoys running around on the beach. I don’t know if the job attracts the type of person that is likely to enjoy hill running, or that the job changes herders into hill runners. All I know is that there are a lot of people that take up hill running while working at the reindeer centre. It’s also striking that nonetheless, most of us don’t necessarily describe ourselves as runners. This confirms my theory that the way we “run” is not for running’s sake or for fitness, but for work purposes or for having a good time in the hills. It’s interesting that the lifestyle of a herder is mentioned by Knippenberg as one of the old ways of living prior to our sedentary lifestyle, and that the type of running described by him as long distance running seems very close to how it’s done at the centre, with a childlike joy.

As a runner who before did partake in the running hype, keeping track of pace and heartbeat and acceleration etc. this book provided an interesting frame, linking the lifestyle of a herder and the gradual change in how I run and what the purpose behind that is. I look forward to seeing if new herders experience a similar change, and to seeing if my running will become more like the long distance running described by Knippenberg and carried out by some of the herders (including Alan Smith) or if the links I laid in my head are a bit far-fetched and it’s basically all just coincidence 🙂

Chris and Fiona ran a mountain marathon in the Faroe Islands in September last year

Manouk

 

 

Santa’s Choice

This Christmas the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre has been given a very fancy Christmas present.  Jaguar cars have given us a 4 x 4 F Pace to drive around free of charge for the next 6 months. Adorned with Cairngorm Reindeer and Jaguar logos it has certainly turned a few heads!

So on Christmas Day when we were just about to do a local reindeer event at the Coylumbridge Hotel, Santa was in a dilemma, there were two modes of transport. A team of reindeer and sleigh, with a hard wooden seat and a team of exhausted reindeer (who had done too much flying on Christmas Eve) – or an extremely comfortable, fully automatic Jaguar F Pace 4 x 4.

He chose the Jag, but of course the children waiting at the hotel would be very disappointed if Santa rocked up in a car so he was ceremoniously booted out and plonked in the sleigh instead!

 

All our reindeer events have gone extremely well this year and everywhere we have gone we have put a smile on people’s faces.  All those reindeer we train to harness are now back on the hills and enjoying a well-deserved rest, and it will not be until next October that we bring out the harness, dig out the sleighs and decorations and prepare for another Christmas season. For the Christmas reindeer it’s not a bad life, 10 months off and 2 months doing some work. I can think of worse jobs!

Nutkins & Anster

 

All our reindeer have now grown their lovely thick winter coats and laid down substantial fat layers to survive the winter. But where is that cold snowy weather, indeed this is one of the mildest Christmases I can remember. Maybe the New Year will bring the snow, we will just have to wait and see.

 

So from all of us here at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre we hope you had a good one this Hogmanay and best wishes for 2019!

Tilly

Diaries of yesteryear

Ever since the early days of the herd, there has been a “Daily Diary” written, keeping track of the movements of the reindeer, amounts fed, illness and veterinary care, visitors, weather and anything else of note. We still keep this up to this day, though throughout the years this has varied from handwritten to typewritten and now typed on a computer. It is an invaluable record for us, and also really interesting to look back through. I was looking through old records a while ago and started snapping photos of some humorous entries, which I thought were too good not to be shared:

Ah the joys of wet feet… Mikel Utsi on a bad day
All of the random visitors on one day!
Lucky sightings of a bird that’s rarely seen in the UK
Early sketches by Mikel Utsi, identifying the reindeer by their antler shape
Look at this funny looking calf!
In other news…
The standard menu for meals – breakfast sounds good, I’m less convinced by dinner…
Clearly a slow day for working with actual reindeer…

Andi

The Mysterious Life of an American Reindeer Herder

First day of reindeer herding

One year after spending Thanksgiving as the lone American in Nepal with a group of runners that included Fiona Smith, I could have never imagined that I would be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a group of reindeer herders in the Scottish Highlands. Nonetheless, here I am, still the lone American, but with a whole bunch of great friends surrounding me and accepting me as the, ‘token yank’.

My road to becoming a reindeer herder was unconventional to say the least. Actually, is there really any conventional way to end up working at the Cairngorm Reindeer Center? And yep, that is Center spelled with an ‘er’ at the end because there are just some things that I refuse to conform to including British spelling of certain words. So if you receive an adoption pack describing your reindeer’s ‘color’ you can bet that I wrote it.

Freerangers Fonn and Okapi

It all began last November while in the Himalaya finishing up my mission to run a marathon in every continent, and Asia was my last one. I was part of an expedition running the Everest Marathon, a group that included the one and only reindeer extraordinaire, Fiona Smith. When we were doing our introductions on the first few days of the trek, I honestly thought that she was joking when she enlightened us all to her incredibly unique profession. C’mon now, no one actually herds reindeer for a living? They just sit at the North Pole and eat carrots; no one looks after them but Santa. Boy, was I wrong. I knew virtually nothing about these incredible animals and the amazing people that take care of them here in Scotland.

Fast forward to this past July, Fiona, our friend Tom from the Everest Marathon, and former reindeer herder Ruth Molloy found themselves on a plane to America to join me on my hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT). And for about a week, they all enjoyed the delightful experience of arduously trudging through the muddy hemlock forests of Vermont.

Anytime you meet someone while traveling, you know them in a very isolated context, so it becomes quite odd when you see them outside of that original encounter. However, when participating in something like the Everest Marathon, it enables you to create a bond with people that transcends far beyond what is normal. Because of this we stayed in close communication in the months following our journey through the Himalaya. When I had first told them that I would be hiking the Appalachian Trail, they must have done little to no research because they were quite keen to join me!

First reindeer in snow experience

While we all hiked there were many jokes made on my behalf regarding my homelessness and unemployment, simply living in a tent for five months in the mountains of the east coast of the United States. These jokes however, led to an offer that seemed to be taken more seriously as the days on the trail with Fiona and company went on. She suggested that when I had finished hiking, if I would like to visit her in Scotland, I’d be welcome to come help out at the Reindeer Center for November and December. The Christmas season tends to be a busy time of year for reindeer (I at least knew that), so they always welcome an extra set of hands.

Next thing I knew, I had myself a plane ticket to Scotland and not the slightest clue into what I had gotten myself into. The first few days  as a reindeer herder were a whirlwind of fact learning, feed mixing, and poo picking. Very different than my normal job occupation in the United States as a paramedic, I found it quite enjoyable being in an environment where no one was yelling at me or bleeding on me (hopefully). And on my measure at how successful I am at a task, I was doing very well, no one was dying!

First day off in the Cairngorms exxploring with Tiree and Joe

There have been several learning curves thus far that many other herders don’t generally experience. As I’ve alluded to already, my spelling of certain words has been critiqued by many of my colleagues; they are especially disturbed by ’aluminum’. Conversely, I have a particularly difficult time attempting to pronounce many of the names of the Scottish towns and hills. People have been very amused by my attempts to say them in an American accent as well.

Additionally, I have never seen so many hot drinks consumed in my life! It seems like tea kettles are constantly boiling at all hours of the day! Honestly, I feel it would be more efficient to set up an IV infusion of tea for some of my coworkers!

Driving on the left side of the road has also evoked a sense of paranoia that even distracts me from singing along with the radio. I find myself constantly repeating the mantra of, “left, left, left” while driving on the winding narrow backroads of the Highlands. But with the help of my fellow herders, all of these hurdles (see what I did there) have been uneventfully navigated.

Breeding bulls Kota and Sargasso having a tussle at the end of the rut

Often times while I blogged during my time on the Appalachian Trail, I wrote how it wasn’t necessarily the place, but the people that dictate an experience. Living at Reindeer House certainly does not fail to hold true to that theory. With seven of us from four different countries living under the same roof, from morning to night we certainly have a lot of fun. Friends that I have been with for only a month now feel like I have known them for years (in a good way). And last night the staff of the Cairngorm Reindeer Center held the first Thanksgiving in the sixty-six year history of the herd.

To say my experience as a chef is limited would be an understatement. Aside from my mother’s fantastic meals, I’ve essentially lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and noodles for the past twenty-four years, cooking a full turkey dinner was an ambitious exploit to say the least. The thought of preparing a meal of this magnitude for so many people left me more unsettled than being in the back of an ambulance with a trauma patient. But with a day off and Google at my fingertips I was eager to give it a go nonetheless. Having a bit of help from Fiona and the internet I’m happy to say it all went off without a hitch and the food was very enjoyable.

Turkey!

Everyone dressed up in their finest American attire, Fiona made an American playlist, and laughs and delicious food were shared by everyone. Even Scotty and Kate the owners of the local bar, the Pine Marten, decorated the walls with American flags, the Declaration of Independence, and many other photos of American symbols and monuments.

It was truly one of the greatest Thanksgiving celebrations I have ever had with people that I am certain will be lifelong friends. Although I missed my family, this wild bunch of reindeer herders made the holiday very special for me.

I think this says a lot about Cairngorm Reindeer Center and the people it attracts here. If you’ve ever come for a visit you may have noticed the kindness and attentiveness the staff has exhibited, but what you see is just a small sample of the true personality of all the herders. This incredible group of people that I have been working and living with are some of the most caring and altruistic humans I have ever met. Their love for the reindeer, their job, and each other is unparalleled to most environments I have witnessed. So from the bottom of my heart I need to thank Fiona and the whole Smith family because now I feel incredibly fortunate to also be a part of this wonderful community.
-Bobby

Winter excursions

Reindeer on the horizon

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)

Reindeer Ruth in action (come back soon please Ruth!)

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!

Oli leading Fly and the rest of the girls on one of his final winter excursions (come back soon too Oli please)
Caddis leading the girls down a snow bank
Caddis and Christie enjoying some winter sun

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.

Sookie and Tiree with their tree to hide behind
Mel, Bumble, Dr Seuss and Merida
Cloud inversion just above the enclosure

Attack of the flying beasts

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’.

Oryx in mud
Oryx in mud 2
Zoom!

Granny Reindeer

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.

Hamish overseeing the feeding of the young bulls

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.

Tilly

Boris was more than happy to give Hamish a ride in exchange for having his head in a bag of food.
Time to ride Paintpot

The twins’ first walk

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.

Leaving the hill enclosure for the first time
First time crossing Utsi’s bridge in front of some lucky visitors
Mid walk pause for a little browsing
First journey in Brenda (our reindeer transporting lorry)
The larger calf eyes up his new Kingdom of Glenmore
Knocking on the gate and waiting to be let into their new home for the week
Fiona tucking in the twins and offering them their bedtime feed

Chris

Sharing A Magical Winter Wonderland with the Reindeer

Reindeer Herder Again

Ochill, Bumble and Dr Seuss

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

Ptarmigan

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.

Fly the reliable reindeer (recently featured in Tilly’s Blog)

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.

Cheese thinking what am I writing about her

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!

Say ‘cheese’ Fly

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.

Sambar leading the herd over the hill

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.

Fiona feeding Cailin and Fonn

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.

Christie, Dante and JK feeding from the sack of feed

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!

First signs of reindeer in the snow, hoof prints!

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!

Viking and Scrabble eating their tea

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!

Unexpected Visitors

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!

Scrabble and Viking tussling

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!

Bumble trying to open the rucksack

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!

Chris guarding the sack of reindeer feed from Dixie and Fonn

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.

Caddis, Morven, Aral and Brie chilling in the deep snow

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!

Hobnob in her element surrounded by deep snow
Chilling with Ochil
and Bumble

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.

Kipling the calf investigating
to see if I had more food for her

My Last Day Sharing The Magical Winter Wonderland With The Reindeer

A selfie with the cheeky Dr Seuss

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.

We left the very patient Sookie and Tiree in the stay position

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.

Preferential calf feeding

 

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!

2017 Calves

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!

Little Austen,
my newly adopted reindeer

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.

Lora in April 2017
Lora in April 2018

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.

My selfie with
Cailin who is aged 15

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.

Giving Dante some TLC (tender loving care) at breakfast time

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!

Sookie

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.

 

Chilling with
Sookie selfie

 

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.

 

Emm Cassidy

 

Twins

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.

 

One of the first photos featuring Lulu and her twins.
Chris assisting with the first suckles
Nap time
Suckling together
Chris can’t keep his eyes off the twins
Getting stronger
but still tired
We gave Lulu and the twins the shed for the first few nights to help the boys save a little bit of extra energy for growing!