Unpredictable winter weather

As I write, it’s currently our third day in a row stuck in the office as the mountains are stormbound yet again, for what seems like the umpteenth time this winter. This reindeer herder is very much ready for spring…

Visitors to the Cairngorms often have a hard time understanding just how unpredictable and harsh the weather can be here, particularly in the months of December to March, but often encompassing November and April too. The Cairngorms are the only area of the UK with a sub-arctic habitat, and our weather here is a whole different kettle of fish to the rest of the country. No problem for the reindeer who have evolved to live in such a hostile climate, but the reindeer herders certainly feel the effects of such long winter seasons.

Battling to feed the reindeer on a wild day. Picture credit: Getty Images

Just now it’s mid-March, and while much of the country is thinking about spring, we are still held firmly in the grips of winter. It’s very cold outside and snowing lightly, but to be honest the weather down here in the glen is fairly benign compared to that which the reindeer are currently dealing with up on the hills. A glance at the Mountain Weather Information Service (http://www.mwis.org.uk) shows the current temperature at -8°C but with the windchill dropping that to -23°C. The highest windspeed on top of Cairngorm itself in the last 24 hours was 99mph, but it hit 127mph two days ago. You can find some good videos on our Facebook page each winter (click on ‘Videos’ on the left hand side of the page) of the wild weather, though videos still don’t capture quite how it actually feels.

Blasting snow. Picture credit: Getty Images

While we’re closed to the public in January, from February through till the end of April we run our 11am Hill Trip out to the free-ranging reindeer on the mountains daily, as long as we can locate the herd, but also only if the weather is ok. And it can be a big ‘if’. If you’ve visited us at this time of year before you might know the scenario first-hand – you’ve driven a couple of hours to get here, the weather seems ok, you’ve brought your warm clothes, the roads are fine…only to find an apologetic and slightly fraught reindeer herder here in the shop doing their best to explain to everyone that there will be no Hill Trip until tomorrow. Or possibly tomorrow. Maybe not. Ask us in the morning.

Coated in snow

From our point of view it can be very difficult to describe to people just how different the conditions will be above the treeline, away from the shelter and safety of the glen – over the years I’ve had many an angry parent trying to convince me that their two year old would be fine, when I know full well that the parent themselves would barely be able to stand upright, let alone their toddler. It can be extremely hard to turn people away. Sometimes our last line of persuasion is to tell them to drive up to one of the ski carparks first where the weather will be more like it will on the Hill Trip, and then to come back if they’d still like to book on. Invariably, they never do.

Leading the herd in along the ridge above the hill enclosure

But if we can, we will always run the Hill Trip, although sometimes only with adults, or even only with adults if they are wearing ski gear – jeans don’t keep anyone warm and are useless in winter. We don’t want to turn people away if we can help it though, so over the years I’ve led trips in howling gales, sideways blizzards, zero visibility, and in extremely slippery conditions where the whole group has crept around like Bambi on ice. There was a memorable trip in -10°C one year. In general visitors can be very game when there is the prospect of a herd of reindeer to see, but I often wonder in years to come, whether it will be the reindeer they remember or the weather conditions.

Sometimes I’m just not tall enough for this job!

Sometimes the decision about whether or not the Hill Trip can run and whether it’s safe to take visitors on the hill is taken out of our hands, as the snow gates on the road just beyond the Reindeer Centre close. Depending on where the reindeer herd happen to be will depend on how far up the road we need to drive, and even if the gates are closed the Cairngorm Mountain staff will often let us herders up the hill as far as one of the lower carparks. This way at least we can still give the reindeer some feed and check them over, and keep them in the habit of being fed at the same time each day, making our lives easier in the long run. If the reindeer stayed in the area where we walk up to on the Hill Trips there wouldn’t be such a problem, but unhelpfully they are moving about two miles away each night just lately, making us head much further out into the mountains in order to retrieve them. Right now though, it’s so windy that we haven’t even bothered trying to get up the hill at all for the last three days, knowing we’ll not be able to stand up on the ridge due to the wind, let alone get right out to where the reindeer are likely to be. (Update: We’ve just tried. We had to turn back.). So after three days of being stuck in the house cabin fever has set in, but on the plus side the bathroom is now freshly painted…


I prefer the less tame reindeer.

I prefer the less tame reindeer…

We have a lot of very sweet reindeer. They come right up to me and stick their noses right into the feed bag I have just carried up the hill…. Bumble, for instance…. I cuddle Dr Seuss and scruff up his nose hairs. Reindeer are wonderful creatures. So powerful and hardy, standing into the gales, looking into the snow that flies across the hill, this is where they live. The likes of Bumble and Dr Seuss have lots of adopters. Everyone loves Bumble. So cheeky, so adorable.

Dr Seuss came over for a cuddle with Reindeer Herder Chris one morning to shelter from the wind!



Occasionally someone comes into the shop and asks to adopt a real wild reindeer, a rebel, one who knows no boundaries. I breathe a sigh of relief and start rattling of my favourites, because I prefer the less tame reindeer. I prefer the ones at the back that no one ever sees or the ones that elude even us herders. Tambourine, Enya, Wapiti, Chelsea, I say, these are my favourites. These reindeer have a different beauty. These reindeer laugh at us mere humans. These reindeer have few adopters. Who wants to adopt a reindeer that will wallop you, or walk away, if you go near it?

Champagne at home on the hillside.
Bega in the enclosure in late summer 2016.

My favourite when I first arrived was Bega. A pale coloured male that was born on the free-range and a real struggle to train. My other favourite was Champagne, a flighty young female, with distinctive spear like antlers. Both Bega and Champagne died before their time.

I guess this is perhaps what makes the herd so wonderful and interesting – we have both tame and less tame reindeer!

Thanks for reading. Dave

Volunteer Blog: Fiona Murray

So apparently a 2 day stint of volunteering at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre earns someone the dubious honour of writing a blog!!

We have been visiting the reindeer for 14 years or so now. On our first visit we fell in love with a gorgeous calf called Java, immediately sponsored him and the rest as they say is history! We currently adopt Sambar and Orkney for ourselves and a further 3 reindeer for family members at Christmas, Scrabble, Jaffa and Gazelle.

The cheeky Scrabble

I have been up to reindeer house previously to volunteer, allegedly to help out, but probably cause as much of a hindrance! But I have never been in the snow, so when the opportunity came up this year I jumped at the chance. Although I was away for 4 days, I was only able to be at the centre for 2 days as coming up from Leeds I needed a day travelling at either end.

Mother to Burns who featured in a January blog http://www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk/2018/01/26/burns-robert-supper-reindeer/

I arrived at 9am, as instructed, on a gorgeous, cold Tuesday morning to be met by the lovely Chris, Andi and Olly, who were only too keen to introduce me to the delights of being a volunteer reindeer herder. Apparently the most important job, and I really have no issue with this, is making tea! This however can only be done after clearing up the reindeer poo from the paddock area, followed by a quick guide of where all the necessary switches for the fab information displays are, oh and checking the videos are on, stationary filled up, water heater switched on and a general tidy up, and I thought I was kind of on holiday!! Thankfully there was an ‘idiots guide’ for all this, as the next day I ended up doing it on my own! Including bringing the reindeer out of the woods at the side of the paddock into the display area, thankfully, as any of you who have visited the herd will know, all you really have to do is show them some food and they will follow you anywhere!

Jaffa, born 2009. One of the darker reindeer in the herd. She’s also another greedy reindeer!

All that done and tea made and drunk, I was lucky enough to go on the hill visit with Chris and Olly, leaving Andi holding the fort at reindeer house. It was a stunningly beautiful day and the reindeer behaved impeccably, although it had taken Alex some time to bring them down off the mountains, where they had been free ranging, to the enclosure on the hill. I have, as I said, visited a number of times before but have never seen so many people on a hill trip, it is all good for the centre as they obviously need to make money to look after the reindeer and this is such a lovely way to generate income.

The queue to Utsi’s Bridge!

When we got back off the hill there was time for a quick bite to eat at the café next door (well worth a visit) and then back to the hard work. My next job was to mix the reindeer feed. Oats, hay, beets, molasses and sheep feed….mmmm lovely. I do have to mention here that the hay is coated with garlic, apparently this helps protect the reindeer from biting insects in summer and is generally good for them. It is also very good at making your hands and clothes very smelly, I suspect I will not have to worry about vampires for some time to come!

Say cheese Orkney!

I joined the other team members in the office after that. I really would love to have the view out of my office window that they are lucky enough to have there…wow! My suggestion of some form of office Winter Olympics fell on deaf ears, I’m sure chair ice hockey would have been a sure fire hit….think they were too busy though. It did open my eyes as to how much work goes into running the business. Andi has just re-done the website, and a great job she has made of it. Chris was arranging all the Adoption requests that were coming in online and Olly was hammering lots of nails into the wall…think he just likes making a noise! All the day to day stuff does take a lot of time and then there are the reindeer to be looked after too, a herders work is never done.

On my drive back to my accommodation at the end of the day, I joined the steady stream of traffic coming off the mountain from a day skiing. As we were approaching Loch Morlich, everyone was braking and pulling into the side of the road, being the nosey person I am, I followed. I was rewarded with the most amazing sunset over the mountains and loch, absolutely incredible.

Another stunning sunset across Loch Morlich


Day 2 of my visit was a bit chaotic in the morning. Chris and Olly had gone to bring the herd down from the mountain for the visitors to see in the enclosure, which left poor Dave alone with me at the centre. While he was dealing with everyone in the shop wanting to book on the tour, I opened up the enclosure, following my idiots guide to the letter…no one complained, so I think I did it right. Reindeer were in the right place at the right time anyway! The herd on the mountains, however, were not so obliging this morning and really took a lot of persuasion to move, the hill visit had to be delayed until 12, but no one seemed to mind and it was all worth it in the end.

Jenga coming to say hello


I did the hill tour with Dave and Chris. It is interesting to look on and see how the different herders give such great tours, but in a different way to each other, they say the same thing but put their own take on it. Dave had to cope with one or 2 interesting questions from a few of the children on the visit and was very patient when one youngster kept putting him right on his pronunciation of ‘lichen’, he is a New Zealander so deserves a bit of stick (Fiona originally wrote ‘slack’ but we think he deserves some stick for it!). When it was time to come down off the hill, we were obviously last out of the paddock, but as there was a bit of a queue in front of us, and we were all hungry, alternative methods of getting down the snowy valley sides were explored. Dave and Chris just ran down the side to the bottom near the river, I’m not sure they actually expected me, a middle aged Yorkshire woman to follow them….but of course I did. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was that their legs are considerably longer and younger than mine, so although I managed to run about 5 steps straight down, I ended up on my backside for the rest of it…my own version of the luge afterall! It was great fun until I was aware the river was fast approaching but thankfully managed to stop in time!

The girls weren’t impressed at being made to wait for brunch whilst Chris and Dave chatted to the visitors!

The rest of the day was less of an adrenalin rush thankfully! I was in the office having a fuss with the dogs and generally chilling out until it was time to leave.


I had such a wonderful time in my 2 days there, I will always be grateful to the herders, firstly for letting me spend time there but also for their patience, time and guidance. They are a great group of people and do an amazing job, giving us all the opportunity to see these beautiful animals in their natural environment. Thanks guys!

Furry Noses

This winter we have prolonged periods of cold snowy weather, as I write this the weather forecast predicts it’s not going to be above zero during the next two weeks! It’s pretty chilly for us herders even under our many layers, but for the reindeer it’s ideal (if a little mild!) and we have a big happy free-ranging herd.
On Hill Trips we often talk about how reindeer are adapted to Arctic and subarctic life by describing their thick winter coat, large hooves, beards, and their amazing clicking back feet. However, in my opinion, one of the most wonderful and endearing adaptations of a reindeer is their beautifully soft velvet noses!

Their fuzzy noses also makes them a joy to hand feed as herder Lotti’s smile demonstrates as she feeds Brimick

Out of the 40 odd species of deer in the world, reindeer (and Caribou) are the only deer which have hairy noses rather than shiny, moist ones. This prevents the build up of frost which would occur on a cold wet surface during exhalation; perhaps this is the reason why male polar explorers (and Scottish reindeer herders) often grow beards!

Merida and calf Dr Seuss vacuuming up their breakfast without getting chilly thanks to a completely hairy muzzle
By comparison, here’s a red deer stag with a shiny, wet nose

However, the most special part of a reindeer nose is actually on the inside. This blog will endeavour to delve under the cute furry exterior to hopefully show how truly remarkable a reindeer’s nose is…. as well as a good excuse to show lots of lovely fuzzy photos!
There is a complicated and highly specialised arrangement of cartilage, bone, fleshy bits, mucous membranes and blood vessels that make up their nasal passages. Together they form an extremely large surface area; the shape of which is often described as a ‘rolled scroll’ or sometimes a ‘seashell’. This specialised structure allows a reindeer’s nose to remain warm and retain moisture in freezing temperatures as well as allowing them to expel excess heat on warmer days.

No cold noses for Sitini and her calf Pratchett as they munch on snow.

A reindeer would soon be chilled if freezing air was to reach their lungs on every breath. To overcome this they have the fascinating ability to change the temperature of the air they inhale before it reaches the lungs, and vice versa. This is all thanks to their ingenious nasal structure, which works as a counter-current heat-exchange system.
For example, if the outside air temperature is -40⁰C, the temperature when the air reaches the reindeer’s lungs is about +38⁰C. In other words, they can change the temperature of the air an incredible 70-80⁰C in less than one second! Additionally, winter air tends to be cold and dry, especially for reindeer that live in higher latitudes. In order for the heated air not to be over dry when it reaches the lungs, a bit of moisture is released from the internal mucous membranes into the air when the reindeer inhales. Move over Rudolph with your shiny red nose, I think that is pretty magic!

Bumble’s snowy nose

On exhalation the opposite happens so a reindeer is able to cool its warm breath, in order to conserve as much body heat as possible. When breathing out they also conserve as much water vapour as possible; especially important when snow may be the only form of water they are able to get!
So when it’s cold in winter, us meagre humans can see our breath as we exhale. However, a reindeer standing at rest in sub-zero temperatures will have no visible breath steaming from their nostrils! That’s because air leaving a human nose is about 32⁰C and the water it contains condenses into visible water droplets as our warm breath meets the cold air. In a reindeer’s nose, warm air is cooled down by about 21⁰C before it is exhaled, saving the majority of the heat. The mucous membranes in the snout recover the moisture, enabling the water in the air to condense inside the nose which then trickles into special folds which direct it to the back of the nose and into the throat, meaning the reindeer exhales drier and partially cooled air.

Beneath Christie’s pretty nose lies an amazing complicated anatomy!
Second doing his best Rudolph impression whilst out on tour last Christmas!
Reindeer noses can also be very useful for sleeping on, as Fergus is demonstrating her!
Last but not least…. Dr Seuss’s gorgeously handsome super soft snozzle!



The magical reindeer nose

The Real Rudolph, Tilly Smith

Memorable Reindeer: Esme

I’ve been well aware over the last couple of weeks that it’s definitely my turn to write a blog, and my justifications of going away on holiday, then having to catch up on work, and reorder stock for the shop, and organise the new adopt gifts, and… have started sounding a little too like excuses. Hen started a lovely series about memorable reindeer, and I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon.

Young Esme as a calf

In my first calving season, 2012, Esme was one of the pregnant females who was in the enclosure so we could keep an eye on her when she calved. Being a novice to the world of reindeer midwifery, I would walk out with a more experienced herder and learn the correct way to approach a new mum, how to check over the calf, and how to bring them back in to the herd.

As we neared the end of May, only one female was left to calve – Esme. She was the sweetest of reindeer – calm, docile, and an experienced mum. She was also beautiful, with a silvery sheen to her coat. So when the day came that Esme had left the herd to calve, we spied her with binoculars up on Silver Mount, and Fiona asked if I wanted the honour of going to find her and her new calf. I was apprehensive – What if I didn’t get it right? Or if she wouldn’t let me approach? – but still jumped at the chance. Hiking up from Black Loch onto Silver Mount, the “baby bag” with the essentials on my back, I still remember feeling the nervous anticipation. I needn’t have worried – as I came over the ridge and saw Esme, she looked up calmly and took a couple of steps towards me (well, the bag of food). I scanned around – had she calved yet? – before spotting the tiny bundle of new life at her feet.

I can’t claim to have done everything in a smooth polished fashion, but Esme was the most patient lass ever, standing whilst I fumbled with the headcollar, not quite having the right technique for holding her calf whilst I sprayed his navel, and talking myself through what to do (out loud!). Finally, we were ready, and we proceeded down the hill and back to the “nursery” area of the enclosure. She must have been rolling her eyes at my inadequacy, and I’m fairly sure she did actually yawn a couple of times!

Over the following years, Esme remained one of my favourite females – she was always a friendly face in the herd, dependable and happy to follow a bag of feed to wherever you wanted her to go, and easy to catch if you needed to put a headcollar on her. As she aged, she struggled a little at times to maintain her condition, and we’d slip her extra bits of feed, allowing her to join in when we fed the calves out of the bag. Throughout, she was never pushy, always waiting to be invited, though once her head was in a feed bag it was almost impossible to remove it!

Esme in her prime

Reindeer, like people, age at different rates, and whilst some of our charges still look in their prime at 13 or 14 years old, by the time Esme was 11 she certainly looked like an old girl. She was also spending more time alone, away from the herd, which isn’t uncommon for the older females – they have the confidence to enjoy their own company, and can sometimes be pushed out by the younger, stronger reindeer. In the 2014/15 winter, Esme was often away from the herd for weeks at a time, off doing her own thing, and there was a memorable day when we spied for the reindeer and saw one lone female marching across the Ciste flats towards the car park. Aware that the rest of the herd were a good distance away in the next glen, we peered through the binoculars trying to work out who it was, finally realising it was Esme!

She seemed delighted to see us, and, wondering if she was looking for the herd, thought we should join her up with them. Whilst we could have hiked over the ridge with her on a headcollar to reunite her with the herd, we wondered if we could save both her energy and ours (of course we were thinking about the fact that she’s an OAP rather than our own tiredness level…) and hop her into the back of the van…

Reindeer in the van
Supervising Esme in the van

Once we’d popped the back seats down to give her some more room, she gave no objections to following us into the van. She must have thought it was a definite upgrade on the usual trailer, with a much better view, and being allowed to munch her way through a bag of feed enroute was also an added bonus! A short 5-minute drive and it was time to emerge at the other car park nearer the herd. There was a car pulled up with a few people admiring the view, and the last thing they must have expected was for a reindeer to hop out of a van! Esme didn’t bat an eyelid at the whole experience, and was quickly reunited with the herd.

Enjoying the snow in her last winter

Esme had a good summer that year high on the Cairngorm free range, but when the females started coming down to lower ground in autumn, she was clearly feeling her years. We moved her over to our Glenlivet hill farm, where she could have access to the large straw-filled barn and ad-lib food in the day, with a gentle stroll onto the hill at night, and she settled right in – she was a funny sight – a little old lady amongst all of the big chunky castrates. She also completely won over the hearts of the men at the farm!

One evening, they went to move out the reindeer onto the open hill for the night, and for the first time, Esme didn’t want to go. With no wish to force her, they let her stay in the shed, and slipped her an extra bucket of lichen. In the morning, she had passed away in her sleep, peacefully tucked up in the straw.

Esme with her yearling daughter Okapi, a proper mini-me

It’s always galling when animals die, but I can’t think of a better end for one of the gentlest reindeer I’ve known. Esme’s family members are still in the herd – her daughter Okapi is a slightly less polite version of her, son Elvis is a dependable but enthusiastic fellow, and sister Sambar is a sweet lass who keeps to herself. All of them share the similar silvery coat colouring, and remind me each time I see them of lovely Esme.


So, what does happen at the Reindeer Centre in January?

We are now once again open to the public, hooray! Each year the reindeer Centre shuts its doors for about 5 weeks from the end of the Christmas holidays to February half term.

8th of January and we are CLOSED! Re-opening on the 10th of February!

This begs the question what do the reindeer and herders do for these weeks of the year! Well, some herders choose to head off on exotic travels to Australia, others choose to take time off to be with their families. Others remain hard at work clearing up after a busy Christmas season and preparing for a busy year ahead… albeit with some fantastic flexi-time, for example finishing work a wee bit early to make the most of some good weather by running up our local hill (thanks Fiona!).

View from the top of Meall a’ Bhuachaille in the late afternoon!

As for the reindeer it’s the time of year when the whole herd heads for the hills, free-ranging for the first few months of the year. Some we still see on an almost daily basis, others weekly, and others not for several months! This winter has been great for the herd; cold, snowy and the usual huge abundance of lichen to keep them going.

Each day, if the weather allows, we usually go up and check on some of the herd…


Reindeer House dogs Tiree and Sookie are ready to head up the hill and search for the cows and calves.



Reindeer Herder Chris spies for the reindeer from the ski car park, with the rain and patches of snow it’s sometimes pretty difficult…
Have you found them yet?!
And we’re off to check on the herd and give them a wee bit of extra food!
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Found them! We like to make sure the calves get a wee bit of extra feed. It’s a tough job!


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How many reindeer calves can stick their head in one bag?


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We also ‘need’ to check the calves are nice and friendly ready for when we re-open!
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Counting the cows and calves to see who is about


When we’re not out on the hill we have a big list (mostly left by the herders who went to Australia!) to try to complete, such as repairing boardwalk, repainting the floor of the Exhibition, checking first aid kits, oiling the Christmas harnesses, re-packing Christmas kit boxes etc etc…

Chris has been scrubbing and re-labelling our wellies, ready for our first visitors to make them mucky!
Morna sorting out the Christmas kit boxes ready for November!

 Meanwhile there are always the adoption packs to make up, reindeer food to mix, Wild Farm Cottage bookings to take, plus emails and phone calls to deal with. On top of all this Captain Christmas herself, Fiona, has been incredibly busy organising Christmas 2018!

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Ruth completing the daily diary after a busy day in January
Olly writing letters for our adopters

 Now we’ve got the place ship-shape and all the herders and reindeer have had some time off, we are refreshed and delighted to be open again and hope to see you soon on a Hill Trip or in the Paddocks!


Reindeer Herder Dave is raring to go!
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A busy Hill Trip on opening weekend
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Addax and Bumble enjoyed the extra food given on the Hill Trip!


Big boots to fill

We are all sad to see a beloved member of the Cairngorm Reindeer family moving on to their next step in life. With Morna leaving we have the opportunity to welcome a new member, Chris. He has some big boots to fill, but so far he seems capable!

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Morna was always our most fabulous Herder.

When asked what are your favourite memories of being here? Morna replied with “not sure, ask me in a year. That is when you can look back and focus on the really nice memories” Morna recalled one occasion early on in her time here of a hill trip she assisted Imogen on (another previous reindeer herder); “it was a hill trip on the free range and this particular time, just as we were walking out we saw the Reindeer up on plantation hill, just about to go out of sight”. This is a hill between Cairn Lochan na Beinne and Sron a’cha-no that rises behind Lochan na Beinne (Kidney lochen) at 721m. Morna had to race ahead of the tour, up the hill trying to tempt the Reindeer back down to our visitors. Unfortunately, she could not manage to persuade the reindeer to follow as they were off doing their own thing. Though she came back Reindeer-less the group were “amazed at the speed she run up the hill in the snow” and “took much delight in watching” which made Morna very happy with this hill trip.

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Morna picking some nettles to make a scrumptious nettle soup for tea with Topi watching.

What Morna likes most about looking back at her time here, is that she had a “good memory of every place. Whether being in the shop, office, kitchen, paddocks, or up on the hill such as jumping in Black loch. Those memories are shared with friend, visitors, and reindeer”.

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Morna and her favourite reindeer, Hopper, gazing over the beautiful snowy landscape.

Our new recruit to the Centre is Chris, though I say new when in fact he has been an adopter of Kola, Grunter, and now Bumble, for 20 years. He has also been a friend of the reindeer family since 2008 when Chris volunteered here for some work experience.

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Chris with the cows and calves.

Chris came to the rescue at Christmas when it was all hands on deck for us, keeping base under control whilst others were away touring the country. Even after the hectic time at Christmas he wasn’t scared off! Chris has now taken on the duties which Morna once carried out. He is also the current proud owner of the pink badge (which I’m not sure has been mentioned yet in the Reindeer blogging world, but there is talk of it becoming a blog). The pink badge is passed on from one herder to another if they thing you have gone beyond expectations in doing something.

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Not sure how to explain this one? Chris with a pick axe.

Like Morna, Chris gets just as enraged with the computer as she did and as I am currently writing this he is make some strange musical noises to himself, I think he will do very well here.

Chris hoped one day he would work here and now he is, and so is very excited to be as he has loved the reindeer for a long time. We all think he is a real joy to have around and is a hard worker and he “loves it here” and has already won over the hearts of the dogs though really the dogs have won his!

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Morna preparing Chris for his new duties.

So we come to the end of the blog but the beginning of Chris’ time here and we welcome him with open arms. Sadly we say a big GOODBYE to Morna and wish her good health and happiness wherever she goes next. I hope wherever she does go, they realise how lucky they are to have her.

Thank you for reading,

Oliver W.

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Ruth, Morna and Chris on top of Cairn Gorm back in November when he arrived with his travellers beard.

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A Visitor’s Blog

Our blog this week is not written by us, but by one of our visitors. Some of you may have seen it on our facebook page, but it gives a brilliant outsider’s perspective on what we do and what amazing animals the reindeer are. With good information and some wonderful photos, click here to read the blog, written by Traveltoes Shaly.

Burns: Robert / Supper / Reindeer

Burns Suppers celebrate the life and work of the Scots poet Robert Burns. More commonly known as Burns Night the suppers take place on or around his birthday, 25th January and are effectively a second national day in Scotland. Here at Reindeer House we just love any excuse to get together and eat some fantastic food with some great company! For those of you that don’t know about the Burns Supper tradition here’s a brief overview of what we got up to last night at our Burns Supper, along with some tales of our reindeer named Burns, seeing as this is a reindeer blog after all!

Robert Burns 1759-1796. Photo from Wikimedia commons.

Robert Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway, Ayshire and lived until he was 37. He is known and celebrated worldwide for his poetry much of which was written in the Scots language or Scots dialect. Whilst many of his poems were of the Romanticism style he lived through a period of political repression. His work often reflected or commented upon this and some considered him to be a radical and revolutionary which perhaps helped give him such a huge following during and after his lifetime.

The poem and song “Auld Lang Syne” is sung all over the world on Hogmanay and is one of Rabbie Burns’ most famous works. Other well known work by him includes “Scots Wha Hae”, a patriotic song which became an unofficial national anthem for Scotland. It was written in the form of a speech from Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 where Scotland defeated England in Battle. Romantic work included (My Love is Like) “A Red, Red Rose” whilst “Tam o’ Shanter” and “To a Mouse” reflect on his upbringing as a tenant farmer. For us though at Reindeer House his “My Heart’s in the Highlands” seems most appropriate!

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains, high-cover’d with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green vallies below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
My heart’s in the Highlands.

If you needed further persuasion of Robert Burns’ stature then did you know he won a contest run by STV to be called “The Greatest Scot” of all time in 2009? It is a rather impressive feat to have beaten Mel Gibson (William Wallace) to the title don’t you think? Perhaps he was aided by some of his extremely impressive nicknames that make him sound more like a cross between a rap artist and a boxer:

– The Bard of Ayrshire

– The Ploughman Poet

– Or just plain Rabbie Burns

Here’s a photo of some of our cows and calves on the free range a couple of weeks ago for anyone desperate to get back onto reindeer!

Burns Suppers have been taking place for over two centuries with the evenings format barely changing over the years. There is usually a general welcome followed by the “Selkirk Grace”

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Supper usually then begins with a soup dish such as Scotch broth or Cullen skink before everyone stands for the “Piping” of the haggis (this is exactly how it sounds). We stand whilst the haggis is brought into the room by the cook whilst a piper plays a tune such as “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” written by Burns. Before you can eat the haggis though, you must first address it! “Address to a Haggis” is a poem written to a haggis with the opening line of Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face” (translated as Nice seeing your honest, chubby face). At last we can eat the haggis! Served with neeps (swede) and tatties (potatoes) our meal last night was delicious! The evening concludes with an often amusing “Toast to the Lassies” and a reply for the laddies before a vote of thanks is given and everyone stands to sing “Auld Lang Syne”.


Reindeer herders, spotted for once out of our scruffy clothes!

As you can see we had a fantastic evening, but back to the reindeer!

As well as giving us an excuse for a party at the end of January, Rabbie Burns is of particular importance to us because we have a reindeer named after him! This year our calves were named after authors, writers and poets so we obviously had to name one Burns. He has turned out to be one of the biggest, strongest and healthiest calves of the year. He is extremely tame and bold and quickly became quite a cheeky chappy. We have him marked down, along with Dr Seuss, as being one of the biggest characters of the next few year but hopefully neither of them will misbehave too much in the following years as young bulls like Fergus did.

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Burns, of the reindeer variety rather than his namesake Robert. Taken a few months ago he’s now substantially bigger!

When he came in off the free range in late summer with his mother Gazelle he had broken one of his antlers and it was growing over his face making it difficult for him to feed. We called out the vet who cut away the antler from his face and after a short while with a bandage in the shed he recovered well to become the strong healthy calf that he is. We are interested to see next year whether his antler will grow back in a more “normal” direction and shape or whether the pedicle from which the antler grows has been damaged and Burns will perhaps always grow one antler in a funny shape and direction.

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Fiona and Burns out on the free range this week showing off his forward growing antler.


The importance of reindeer to regions in the Arctic

Reindeer are an integral part of life in the far north. The cultures there rely on the animals for transport, food and skins.

Reindeer are the only animal suited to the cold that can provide the people living in the arctic regions with animal protein. They are raised for venison but almost all parts of the animals are used. The skin is an obvious, valuable and extremely useful product. The skins are used for clothing, rugs and numerous other everyday items. Reindeer are used as draft animals – transporting both people and freight from A to B.

Many of the people of the far north are nomadic. Families or groups migrate large distances to access seasonal pastures. Their reindeer graze and grow and then move on and the people who own them travel with them. Their possessions are on sleighs or directly on the backs of the reindeer. This blog will highlight some of the many arctic cultures and people, and discuss how these people live and especially how they care for, work with and use reindeer.

Reindeer harnessed for a demonstration of sleigh pulling. Photo taken during visit to Sweden in 2008.
During a cold winter in Sweden, reindeer historically provide the main means of survival. Photo taken during visit to Sweden in 2008.

Nenets herders of Russia travel up to 1000km seasonally to survive the challenges of life so far north. The Nenets form the largest group of people in Northern Russia totalling around 40,000 people, with some 700,000 reindeer. The Nenets eat reindeer meat and use the skin of the reindeer as clothing.

A warm jacket made of reindeer skin from the Nenets culture. Photo from Wikimedia commons.

The Chukchi people of Eastern Russia trade reindeer meat and skins with coastal people who provide whale fat and seal skins. The Chukchi people make their tents out of reindeer skins.

The Evenki people in China live with small numbers of reindeer who are milked and used for transport. The reindeer are highly prized and not slaughtered for meat. The antlers are taken and used in traditional Chinese Medicine.

Sami people are the indigenous people of Scandinavia and today live in the far northern areas of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Currently around 3000 people in this area are involved full time in nomadic reindeer herding. The Sami culture is famous for its connection to reindeer. The Sami people produce wonderful crafts and engravings often using reindeer antlers and skins.

Knives made by people from the Sami culture. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Reindeer herding is big business in the Arctic regions and without reindeer the survival of the people and their cultures would be in question. The Cairngorm Reindeer herd was of course established by a Sami reindeer herder. Mikel Utsi came from Swedish Lapland and brought his herding, reindeer husbandry skills and Sami culture with him to Scotland. These skills and culture continue and live on through us and our herding here in the Cairngorm National Park.

A reindeer pulling a sledge in Sweden. Photo taken during visit to Sweden in 2008.
Mikel Utsi with his reindeer – originally from Sweden – in our current hill enclosure in the 1960s.