Whilst wondering what to write about, I happened to flick back through some of our old photos, and Lilibet’s familiar face made me smile, so I thought I’d talk a little about her, as she was such a character in the herd.
Lilibet was born in 2002, to mum Glacier, one of the lightest coloured reindeer in the herd. As a young calf, she was brown in colour with a white forehead, which suggested she would turn white as she grew into her adult coat. White reindeer are relatively unusual in our herd, but Lilibet was a proper chip off the old block, and almost the spitting image of her mum. Glacier was a very friendly reindeer and taught her calves to be the same – usually when youngsters see mum marching determinedly towards humans and their bags of feed, they follow suit! Glacier had many calves over the course of her life, several of which were white, and one of which, Blondie, is pure white (leucistic) with blue eyes. 2002 was our 50th anniversary, and it was also the Queen’s golden jubilee, so Lilibet was named with the Queen’s nickname.
Lilibet went on to have several calves of her own, and has also passed on the “white” genetics to her own calves. Oryx was born in 2008, in the theme of “antlered and horned animals” and was light coloured with a pure white face. He was the first of a trend for Lilibet’s calves – we try to make links with mothers where possible to help us remember who’s related to who – so all of Lilibet’s calves ended up beginning with the letter “O”. Light coloured Oreo and Origami followed in 2009 and 2011 respectively, but then there was a surprise in 2012 when her calf, Olympic, was one of the darkest of the year! He was the dark sheep of the family so to speak, but is a very lovely fellow!
Lilibet was always a character within the free-ranging herd, a real friendly face who was delighted to see us (well, the food bag anyway) and very dependable in following along to where you wanted the herd. She had a knack of worming her nose into the feed sack and proving incredibly difficult to extract!
As is the case with many of our lovely old females, Lili passed away out on the high tops over summer at the ripe old age of 14. It feels like the right way for them to go, in their natural habitat on the hills that they know so well. She’d been a wonderful member of the herd and her legacy lives on with her sons Oryx, Origami and Olympic still entertaining us with their great natures.
For the previous few months we have been joined by a new reindeer herder called Kate who helped us out over the busy calving period. Kate was so brilliant to have around we asked her to stay a little longer until some of our regular summer staff returned through June and July. We expect to have her back at some point in the near future, but for now she has headed off to enjoy some summer wanderings. Before she left Kate wrote some lovely short stories about her time herewith some excellent drawings. Keep an eye out over summer for the next installments of her stories. Hopefully we can have Kate back here at Reindeer House in the autumn!
First day on the job – Lost in the fog
During the first hour as a reindeer herder I had managed to become a very soggy, panting mess who was lost in the fog somewhere on windy ridge with not the foggiest where the herd had gone. I remembered thinking to myself; this has gone terribly wrong- I’m not even going to make it through the first day!
It was mid-April and there were still patches of snow on the hills. My first sighting of the reindeer was brilliant, the whole free range of females were running towards us as we walked over a brow of a hill. It was an amazing sight, and one I won’t forget in a hurry, the reindeer looked beautiful and majestic in full winter white coats and impressive antlers. I was marvelling at what a lovely greeting we got, but Mel pointed out they probably came our way being spooked by something from the opposite direction. Then off we went, it was Mel leading the herd to the lower levels and me bringing u the rear, but unlike the agile reindeer that excitedly skip, gliding over the snow patches I ran behind panting and sank straight into a snow hole (Vicar of Dibley style). Up on my feet again I was wondering how on earth I was to keep up with these four legged creatures when 5 of them decided to go in the opposite direction. Standing in the middle of the groups, I thought I can’t lose reindeer on my first mission and went gallivanting after the strays. Of course being a herd animal , it really says it all , and the wanderers then did a full circle galloping off to join the rest, leaving myself lost in the fog. Luckily it wasn’t long until I found the herd again and the rest of the first day went more smoothly.
An incredibly important part of the life of a Cairngorm reindeer is its time free-ranging. For the male reindeer their time to free-range is the cold winter months, where they happily roam the Cromdale hills keeping out of mischief. The life of a female Cairngorm reindeer is even wilder, with almost the entire year spent free-ranging the mountains apart from time in the enclosure during calving and rutting.
When the reindeer are free-ranging there are no fences holding them in, and they are able to walk anywhere they chose however they are only meant to be on some of the land. If they venture off our land in search of a tasty bit of lichen we move them back to where they are meant to be. This often involves a day walking in the mountains looking for reindeer and sometimes moving them to a better location. There are a number of ways to move a herd of reindeer. For those of you who have been on our hill trips you will know how keenly they follow a bag of food; however they will only follow food so far. Another good technique is to lead a few of the reindeer on halters and hope that the rest of the herd follow. A week or so ago Fiona came across a group of naughty females reindeer just off our land, she was unable to move the group on her own so we waited for a day clear enough to move them.
On a clear day last week sometime (well mostly clear above the mountains at least) Fi, Tilly, Chris and I headed up to move a group of the free-ranging females from the tops of the northern corries further down the mountains. We headed up in pairs up two separate ridges to maximise ground coverage with the plan to join together when we found reindeer.
Chris and Tilly headed up Cairn Gorm and soon spotted the group of reindeer. So Fi and I headed towards them with Chris catching us up on route. We reached the group of reindeer just in time as the clouds covered us. We decided the distance we wanted to move them was too large to persuade them with a bag of food so instead decided to halter a few of them. Having caught the ten most willing reindeer we headed down to meet Tilly who was coming up from below. We then walked with the reindeer for about an hour till we found the right spot to leave them with a bit of food each in the hope that they will now stay in that area. Tilly went out walking a few days later and didn’t see any reindeer where they weren’t meant to be so it seems our mission was a success.
Spending a day in the hills is always one of my favourite things to do, but when it involves interacting with the reindeer in their environment it really is a pretty special experience. A day like this has got to be one of the highlights of being a reindeer herder.
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…