A few months ago, we found out that we had been nominated for an award for rural tourism at the Scottish Rural Awards ceremony being held mid-March at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. We still aren’t entirely sure who nominated us so if anyone can shed light on this please do. There were 13 awards altogether given out during the night. Some of the categories were Education, Conservation and the Environment, Artisan food and drink, agriculture and more… It was a black tie event so for those of you who know us, you’ll know that black tie isn’t something we do on a regular basis but we made an effort and myself, Tilly, Alex and Emily went down to Edinburgh for it.
Ex-herder Heather let us stay at her house in Edinburgh so it was all very easy. Tilly and I had our first experience of Uber Taxi’s… When in Rome and all! So we made our way to Dynamic Earth in our posh frocks and kilt to be greeted by many more posh frocks and kilts. There was even quite a few tartan trousers! We were certainly out of our comfort zone, considering that morning all four of us were up on either the Cromdale hills or the Cairngorms being blasted by the wind and feeding the reindeer… oh how things changed. Free champagne on arrival… ye-ha! Then we sat down at our tables as guest speaker and Scottish comedian Fred MacAulay opened the night. He certainly knew how to capture an audience. We then had our three-course meal, which was super and afterwards the awards commenced.
We weren’t really sure what to expect but with 150-200 people there, all in their glad rags making the most of a night out it was certainly a good atmosphere all round. The Rural Tourism award came up towards the end and so Fred called out all the finalists. Other business’s we were up against were – Isle of Aaron Distillers, Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, Findlay’s Cream O’ Galloway Farm, The Famous Grouse Experience, Luss Estates Company, Oban Winter Festival, The Enchanted Forest, Aaron The Island and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh at Logan. So after all the finalists were announced they came to the three who had won. Cairngorm Reindeer got the highly commended award, runners up were Oban Winter Festival and the winners were Findlay’s Cream O’ Galloway Farm, so a representative for each went up onto stage to collect their award. Naturally Tilly was our representative so off she went with a big smile on her face to collect our award from Fred MacAulay. Fred also mentioned that many years ago he worked on Cairngorm Mountain and during that time came across the reindeer and that they enjoyed a bit of shieling pie!
This really is a great reflection on what the Cairngorm Reindeer and Wild Farm mean to Rural Scotland and this recognition means so much to all of us so thank you to whoever nominated us! I hope Mr Utsi and Dr Lindgren, founders of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, are smiling from above and that we have done them proud.
Featured Image: Eco and Santa having a moment at one of our Christmas events. Eco probably wanted to know where Santa was hiding the lichen!
Every reindeer herder working here remembers the calves here when they first started, who tend to go on to hold a special place to them in the herd as the years go by. When I first worked here in late 2007, the ‘green things’ were calves. Not actually green, I should add (although we did give them all green ear tags), but ‘green’ was our naming theme for reindeer born that year, so some of the very first reindeer I got to know had names like Kermit, Go, Ever, Fern and Uaine (Gaelic for ‘green’). And there was also Eco (as in eco-friendly!). Eco wasn’t the prettiest of calves, having a big bulky head and slightly roman nose, but he was very friendly and greedy. I also remember that by the end of the first winter he had become slightly annoying, due to his habit of occasionally jumping up at people when he wanted feeding.
The ugly duckling grew into a swan though, and Eco morphed into an extremely handsome young bull, and a big one at that. Not for very long though, as in 2009 we castrated many of our two year old bulls as they were all so enormous rather than waiting until they were three, and Eco was one of the ones who found himself suddenly slightly lacking in a certain department. But the flip side of the coin (for us at least!) was that we gained a fabulous ‘Christmas reindeer’, who could be trained to harness and join the teams of reindeer out and about at Christmas time.
Anyone who knew Eco didn’t have a bad word to say about him, or not seriously anyway. He was a lovely character, always cheerful and always delighted to be involved in whatever was going on, whether it be hand-feeding, greeting people in a pen at a Christmas event or taking part in one of the half-day treks that we used to do with visitors.
He was a bit of a handful at times however, and certainly not a reindeer to hand over to a novice or nervous person to lead. He spent much of his life slightly like a child who has been given too many blue smarties and is bouncing off the walls – he could be completely hyperactive. Without doubt he was the Labrador of the reindeer world. I once tried to take him out for a walk around Glenmore when halter-training a calf, which turned out to be a real mistake as the calf, five months old and untouched by humans until the previous day, behaved far better than Eco. Why walk calmly forwards in a straight line when you can leap in the air, jump up a bank or down into a ditch, and spin round in a circle, preferably all whilst ‘knitting’ the lead rope around your antlers??? I never tried to use such a nutcase as my steady ‘training reindeer’ again… I also had a battle with him at the back of the sleigh at an event in a garden centre once, trying to negotiate the parade without him beheading every plant he could reach en route – and surreptitiously removing leaves from his mouth at the end.
He was fab, and one of my all-time favourite reindeer. Sadly he died when only middle-aged which was a huge pity, but these things happen and that’s the way the world works. It sometimes feels like it’s always the ‘good ones’ that die younger than average, but when there’s 150 reindeer in the herd at any one time it’s easy to forget the shy background characters as they come and go, remembering only the reindeer who stand out for one reason or another.
A slightly telling fact of how long I’ve been working here is that the green tags are now mostly no longer with us. It was a small calving that year anyway, but only five remain now, females Hopper, Fly, Fern and Meadow and male Puddock. We now have the ‘new green tags’: all the 2016 calves. I’ve come full circle through the lives of an entire generation of reindeer, which is a thought that makes me feel old.
I thought for a wee change I’d write a bit about one of the most important parts of the reindeer company, without which we could not function as a business and place of many a giggle and frustrated sigh. It is… The Office.
Reindeer herding is an unparalleled job for variety and us herders cover the whole job, we serve visitors in the shop, take visits, cover the paperwork, walk reindeer, train reindeer as well as heading out on tour with reindeer over the festive period. All in all there’s a lot to be done on a daily basis and the office is no exception and we all have our little niche that we’re responsible for. Myself, it’s adoption renewals and advertising, some of you may have come across Hen who is the lady to speak to if you’re buying antlers, or this blog itself which is under the firm control of Imogen.
The office is often a hive of activity and the festive period is no exception, over a period of two months we made over 500 adoption packs. That means over 500 handwritten certificates, ID cards, letters (lots of letters), special requests and addresses… all in all a lot of writing. The calligraphy pens become very coveted at this time of year, woe betide you if you blunt a nib! All in all, we do industriously enjoy our office time and our wee nook is the epicentre of everything reindeer. In one tiny room all adopt records are filed, reindeer movements are noted alongside vet records, locations and family trees.
Our trusty computers must every day wake up and download the day’s queries and requests and today the great delight of an email informing us that our order of replacement mop heads has been dispatched which was a triumphant feeling as it took a surprising amount of online mop education to finally locate just what type of mop head was required. Has anyone else heard of the Kentucky mop…?
There’s always a new something in the office too whether it’s my mound of weird snacks (chia pudding being my current favourite), Hen on her ball, there have been around 5 ‘on the ball’ puns per minute since the appearance of said green sphere! After a trip away on yoga teacher training I’ve been attempting to share some of the cool wee things I’ve learned including myofascial release with a tennis ball.
Here’s Andi working on her back!
All in all it’s a pretty weird place to be in at times… as i write this I’m being serenaded by Boyz 2 Men (& Imogen) singing ‘I’ll make love to you’…. need anymore be said…
So you’ve all heard a bit from ‘Team Handi’ (Hen and Andi) on tour at Christmas but thought I’d do a wee write up of my travels round the country during November and December 2016. For my main stint away I was with newbie truck driver, but not newbie reindeer herder, Eve. We set off with our six lovely reindeer – Elvis, Oryx, Rummy, Stenoa, Viking and Pict, sleigh, decorations, reindeer feed and bowls, yoga mat, smoothie maker (priorities), and a cab full of delicious snacks for along the way… Houmous and dark chocolate (not together) being a very important part of this!
So we had some lovely reindeer and of course being away with them for a couple of weeks you really get to know their characters. Elvis is our poser of the group. He is always super inquisitive, first over for his food and certainly doesn’t act his age which is ten (nearly 11 now). Oryx is Mr Sensible. He’s a total professional in his field (harness and sleigh pulling) and is a great role model to the new Christmas reindeer. Rummy is the grumpy (not so old) man of the group, though is very chilled out and usually first to lie down once he’s had a good feed and finally Stenoa, who tells off humans who aren’t reindeer herders which is amusing for us. He is the youngest of the four adults we had away. This was his second Christmas so having seen the bright lights before he was a good boy and took it all in his stride. Our calves were Viking, who was THE BEST! – he has a cheeky yet solid character… an ‘Oryx’ in the making I think, and the other calf was Pict who was such a little sweetie. Pict was probably one of the more timid calves of the year so we wanted to make sure he had a good time away with us. His progress was excellent and it didn’t take long for him to just be like the others… but with such great role models it’s not hard!
Our travels took us as far south as Chatham and Basingstoke so we spent a few days round the Cambridge area staying at a farm run by friends of ours. If we weren’t off to do an event our daily routine would be firstly to take the reindeer for some exercise. This was in a horse paddock beside the houses so we would walk them round on head collars then once in the paddock we could let them all off and give them a good run around. This also exercised us quite nicely too! We even found a ball which Viking and Rummy were very curious about. The others obviously aren’t football fans! We’d then walk them back to their yard and barn for breakfast which was more like them leading us back… they really do love their food the reindeer. After breakfast and yard cleaning duties we then had the day to ourselves which usually involved a nice walk somewhere or a trip into town. Two country girls in the middle of Cambridge is quite hilarious. Just a little bit out of our comfort zone!
On one occasion after our morning duties we had quite the treat lined up. David Mills, conservationist from the British Wildlife Centre was visiting with his partner Dame Judi Dench. The connection was through the two charities, the CRT (Countryside Restoration Trust) and the British Wildlife Centre. We have had strong connections with the CRT for many years now with Tilly being a trustee of the charity, and David and Judi were coming up to visit our friends but also coming to see the reindeer. The couple were really lovely and I think quite taken by the reindeer… lets face it who isn’t! Elvis, Oryx and Viking were the stars of the show… Of course. And this wasn’t the last time we were to meet David and Judi as we were doing an event at Ascot Racecourse closer to Christmas and who wanders over to the pen? Again it was lovely to have a chat, but this time with a different team of reindeer as we had been home with our first team and come south with a different team so they got to meet some other members of the herd.
During our first trip away we only had 5 events to do over two weeks and for the first 4 events we had volunteers coming to help out. Lesley, Yvonne and Paul turned up at our events and helped for the day which was great… except we got to our 5th event and suddenly we had to do everything ourselves. That was a wakeup call! Lol.
Folk music rocked out of our lorry cab. It’s important to have a team mate with a similar taste in music! We’d pick up words and phrases along the way that only we understood what they meant… This did mean when someone else joined our team or we met up with another reindeer team they were sure we were bonkers. We’d talk to the reindeer like they were one of us, naturally of course (it’s ok we know we are completely mad). We were called sisters constantly – but just cos we have blonde hair doesn’t mean we are related. All in all we had a great time away, the reindeer, as always, were absolute stars. They make us so proud. Needless to say they were delighted when they got home, as were we! I like going south but it is very different to the Highlands of Scotland so I will stick to doing it for a couple of weeks in the year. There is no place like home!
The final installment of Emm’s blog from volunteering with us in the summer. It was great working with Emm and we’re looking forward to seeing her later in the year. I’m sure Mo is too! Thanks for writing such wonderful blogs Emm, and we’ll see you soon!
In the morning, we went to check on Boxer and Kota who were doing a lot better. Boxer had his infected antler cleaned again and started to associate the head collar with people poking his antler so he wasn’t a very happy reindeer but he was very brave and loved the lichen we gave him. I helped Fran take the tracking radio collars off the 6 reindeer as her research had finished. The reindeer got fly spray put on their antlers again.
Me and Julia got the job of cleaning out and hoovering the hire car they used for hill trips as it was nearly time to give the hire car back. We made a good team. I got all the mats out and shook them off and swept them. I got the stones off the floor in the car and swept the car floor. Meanwhile, we had Sookie and Murdo wanting to play with us. Sookie kept dropping pine cones and sticks behind me hinting she wanted me to throw it and Murdo kept wanting to attack the broom and play with it and voiced his opinions about wanting to play. It was funny. The tourists found it funny too.
At the 2:30pm hill trip, I did the introduction talk and the history talk. I was so proud of myself. By this day, I knew most of the reindeer by name. The herders were very impressed.
When I adopted Dylan, I did a folder about him and his life. I stuck all the emails the herders wrote about what Dylan had been up to and all his adopters letters, photos, his family trees and any information about him. This included newsletters and anything we had done with the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. I am doing one for Mo and I took it in and showed everyone and they were all very impressed with it. They remembered seeing Dylan’s Folder at 60th Reindeer Anniversary Adopters’ Weekend in October 2012.
In the morning, me, Andi and Julia checked on Boxer and Kota. They were doing so much better. We then fed them, we just sat and chilled with the reindeer and did selfies which was brilliant and amazing. It is such a magical experience chilling and relaxing with the reindeer. I couldn’t believe it was my last day, it had all gone so fast. I would really miss being up there with the reindeer and herders as it was such a magical experience.
Today Mum, Dad and David (my brother) came on the 2:30pm hill trip. I got them to carry the hand feed bags up. I did the introduction talk and the herd history talk at Utsi’s Bridge. It was the busiest hill trip which I have done my talks on. There was about 50 people. I felt like a brilliant reindeer herder and they were so impressed with me with how I dealt with the reindeer, the people and said how I did so well with my talks. I stayed on the 3:30pm tour and chilled with the reindeer.
Before we went home, I spent one day visiting everyone and the dogs at Reindeer House and went on 2 hill trips to say bye to the reindeer. I had lunch with them all and met the volunteer reindeer herder for that week.
Being a reindeer herder is such a magical experience and meant so much to me. Mo, the other reindeer, the reindeer herders and the dogs are so special to me. They are like a second family to me and being there is such a relaxing and brilliant place to be where I feel I can be myself. On the hill trips, it was a brilliant feeling telling the people all about the reindeer as I was sharing my passion about reindeer with me knowing I was teaching something they didn’t know. Seeing people’s reactions when they first saw the reindeer and hand fed and stroked them was a special and rewarding feeling and experience as a lot of the people hadn’t ever seen reindeer before. On the hill trips, I really enjoyed finding out where the people had come from and they told me about their lives and interests. On these hill trips, I met people from Australia, New Zealand (one man owned a Red Deer Farm out there), Israel, Germany, Spain, France, USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy, Romania and lots more places. I even met a family who had come from the area I live in and they lived near the hospital I was born in.
6 reindeer spring to mind who always seemed to be around me or follow me when I had the hand feed bag and they were Cambozola, Glenshee, Fyrish, Blue, Merrick and Anster. They were really eager and try to stick their head into the bag or kick it or try to get the feed mid-air whilst I was giving the feed to someone and then their mouth would be excitedly eating the feed from their hand. Bless them!
I was so impressed when really tiny young children who wanted to get out of their parent’s arms and onto the ground to give the reindeer hand feed. It was so lovely giving out hand feed to children and adults and to see their faces when they feed the reindeer. On most of the hill trips, a lot of people are really interested in Blue as he is the only leucistic (pure white with blue eyes) reindeer in the enclosure and Merrick who has only 1 antler. They take a special interest in them and ask all about them. They are always surprised to find out that Blue is deaf as all leucistic reindeer are. A lot of people asked me to take photos of them and it was so lovely to see people taking selfies with the reindeer. My favourite selfies with reindeer are with Mo (my very special adopted reindeer), Glenshee and the selfie with the 4 reindeer.
Update on Boxer
The last hill trip which I went on, Boxer was well enough to be in the herd again. I didn’t recognise him at first as his poorly antler had fallen off and he was left with one antler bless him. But he made a full recovery. Don’t worry, he will still grow 2 antlers next year.
The second installment in Emm Cassidy’s volunteering blog. This is the second of three and this week Emm got to meet lots of dogs as well as the reindeer!
I turned up at Reindeer House at 8am forgetting it was an 8:30am starts as it was a week day and I met Dave who is originally from New Zealand. When Imogen arrived she started doing some knitting, which I found interesting and I enjoyed talking about knitting with her as my Granny had knitted clothes for my teddies. With Imogen, I did poo picking in the paddocks whilst the others went to check the reindeer on the hill and give them their breakfast. Some reindeer had been in the extra paddock on the Saturday when it was the changeover day where they had been swapping reindeer from Tilly’s farm, the hill enclosure and the paddocks. One was Boris, a lovely reindeer with an odd shaped nose who is Mo’s cousin. We put out breakfast for Beastie, Ost, Aonach and Nutti (the 4 paddock reindeer) in 4 bowls and then put lichen on top of each. Imogen said we don’t mix the reindeer feed and the lichen together as the reindeer don’t like that.
I went with Dave on the 11am hill trip. He wears a really cool green hat with a ptarmigan feather sticking out of it. When Dave did the introduction talk in the carpark, I realised that different reindeer herders had different sayings when they gave their talks. I thought that is really nice and makes the hill tour their own. When most people had gone, we started to make our way down to the enclosure gate. We found the reindeer relaxing and lying down again by the fence sunbathing! I was slowly identifying a few individuals too as I had been making notes on my herd list every time I go up there.
I ate my lunch in the front garden looking out on to the mountains and trees with Fiona and we talked about lots of things. I then played fetch with the 3 dogs and they barked with excitement all wanting the toy – bless.
On the 2:30pm hill trip, which I did with Abby, we met Fran and her mum. Fran is a research student doing a study on where the reindeer graze each day, with radio collars on 6 reindeer in the hill enclosure. It was very interesting and I was there when we took the radio collars off them and she showed me them and how they worked. She also had made them reindeer proof and weather proof. Fran found out why Bourbon (who had a radio collar on) had a poorly tummy by looking back at the data where he had been the night before. It turned out Bourbon was down in the forest eating the wrong type of mushrooms.
I found out my mum and dad had seen me through binoculars and when I got back to my car, they had left a note saying:
3:30pm, lol! Saw you leading them up! Ha Ha! We were up the top looking down!! Mum, Dad xx
Me and Fiona were on duty to give the paddock reindeer their tea and put them to bed in the woods. I put the dark grain pellets in their trough in their stable then went to get some buckets of reindeer feed and lichen. The reindeer were getting very excited as there was food so they followed me up to their troughs. Whilst I put out the reindeer feed and their lichen on top I had to dodge their massive antlers. It was quite funny as one reindeer was trying to eat from the bucket whilst I poured the reindeer feed in the trough. We then closed the paddocks for the night.
Met Imogen’s dog called Brock, Dave’s dog called Tui and Alex (Fiona’s brother) and his dog Tip. At one point, there was 6 dogs in Reindeer House. I put Dave’s hat on Brock and took a photo of him, he looked so cute. I met Sarah who is a part time reindeer herder. Later we separated 8 reindeer from the herd and Fiona showed me how to put a head collar on a reindeer which I enjoyed learning about. I put a head collar on Blue and Duke. In the shed, we had 5 yearlings which included Scolty and Bhuachaille, then a 2 year old called Baltic and the 2 older reindeer called Blue and Duke (the role models) who will show the younger reindeer how to be led and behave on a head collar. For training, we went on a walk around the top enclosure. I led Duke and Baltic up the hill.
Baltic was stubborn at first but then Duke started trying it on as I was new to this. But by the top of the hill, Duke knew who the boss was and Baltic was happier with being led as he was getting used to it. The training is important for the reindeer as this will get them used to being handled, health checked and to become brilliant Christmas Reindeer.
On my 2 hill trips today, I herded all the reindeer out the shed as they were all cooling off in the shade. The shed doesn’t look like it can fit 41 reindeer in but it does, it is like Doctor Who’s Tardis! One time when I was herding them out of the shed, I realised that I hadn’t seen Blue, I found him by the shed asleep. Blue, who is deaf, didn’t hear his reindeer friends move on – bless him. Near the end of the hill trip, the reindeer leisurely make their way up to the shed gate knowing they will be let back in soon. I really like this time as it is just us reindeer herders approaching them after everybody has left.
We are met by reindeer lying down relaxing and sunbathing. I really enjoyed that quality time relaxing with them and sitting by them giving them some fuss, talking to them and getting to know them more. This is where I did my selfie with Mo!
We then let them into the shed for shade if they wanted it before we went back down to Reindeer House. I also learnt the reindeer language today which Utsi did with the reindeer.
In the morning, we counted and herded the reindeer into the front enclosure and gave them their breakfast. Kota and Boxer didn’t seem themselves as they were very slow about moving into the front enclosure with the herd so we took them into the shed to check them over. They had their temperatures taken which revealed they both had high temperatures. That can be a bit dangerous for reindeer so Hen gave them both injections to bring their temperature down. Boxer then had an infected antler treated and then had sun cream on to protect his antler. We rewarded Boxer with some lichen. Kota and Boxer were so brave. We then put them out in the pen near the shed enclosure making sure they had plenty of food and where we can keep an eye on them.
We then let the reindeer into the shed as Hen needed to fly spray (citronella) them to keep the flies and midges off their antlers. Hen did the spraying in two groups as it would be chaos if all the reindeer were in at the same time. Mo stood quietly in a corner behind me after he had his done as he realised if he kept running around that he would get more spray on him. I gave him a big fuss and talked to him saying he was a very clever reindeer.
I did the introduction talk at the start of the 11am hill trip and the herd history talk at Utsi’s Bridge on the 2:30pm hill trip. That was such a massive thing for me to do. I was so proud of myself.
Whilst I was poo picking the paddocks, mum visited and Imogen told my mum how well I had done that day with doing the two talks. Everyone was so proud of me and I was very proud of myself and I was getting so much more confident dealing with new people.
Here at the reindeer centre, unsurprisingly, requests for some modelling reindeer are not uncommon, particularly around the Christmas season. Of course a change of scenery is always exciting for both reindeer and herders, most of the photo shoots and filming sets can be of a similar ilk. However, when we got a call from Land Rover, asking if a few members of our herd could star in a photo shoot up in the hills on the banks of Loch Ordie, we felt that this was something neither us, nor the reindeer, should miss out on.
And so on a beautiful, frosty and cold morning, off we set with four Christmas boys, two herders and two dogs, with a very optimistic, yet slightly unrealistic hope of coming away with a brand spanking new Land Rover.
Two hours south on the A9 and 6 miles of forest track later in Land Rover convoy, we arrived on set to find a wee flat-pack log cabin (much like a tent, yet wooden making it slightly more cumbersome, and a little more painful if you sat up quickly whilst in bed), two small children in reindeer onesies, an incredibly tall elf and a very sparkly (and reflective) Land Rover sport.
After the reindeer experienced several hours of tempting handfuls of lichen, reflection admiring/ suspicious glances, manoeuvring and a lot of snapping, darkness began to set in and it was time to head from one hill and back to another.
We were careful to make sure we loaded the actual reindeer as opposed to the imposters.
Our hairy team shone out as being the most patient of all the models there, captivating everyone on set, especially the two antler-less ones, who were over the moon when they got to charge down some of the forest track.
So at the end of the day, alas no new Land Rover, but two very proud reindeer herders!
As a little winter treat to remind us of the better weather we had in the summer, we now have a series of blogs from volunteer and adopter Emm Cassidy who came to visit us in August. This is the first of three installments. We hope you enjoy!
My name is Emm Cassidy and I was a volunteer reindeer herder for 6 days at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. It was such an amazing experience and meant so much to me and I really enjoyed it.
I have known The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre for 9 years now since my family stayed at Wild Farm Cottage in Glenlivet in August 2007 which is owned by Tilly Smith. I was in my element meeting all the reindeer, feeding them and stroking them. I fell in love with a yearling called Dylan who then I went on to adopt for 6 years until he died suddenly of an undetected heart problem in September 2013.
We came to the 60th Reindeer Anniversary Adopters Weekend in October 2012 and I had sat with Dylan fussing him in Tilly’s back garden at her farm and he was talking to me by grunting at me! It was such a brilliant, special and magical time.
I now adopt Mo who is 4. I met Mo last year on my summer reindeer trek and fell in love with him too. The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is so special to me so when I found out I could volunteer there, I was so excited!
Working as a reindeer herder was extra special to me as I felt I fitted in perfectly with the reindeer and herders. When I first entered Reindeer House, I felt like I had been there for years and felt I was part of the family. I could just be myself and everyone is so friendly, special and understanding! I even made jokes which I normally don’t do! I have Aspergers Syndrome (a form of Autism) and Anxiety so being a reindeer herder was a very massive thing to me but being part of the team, I felt I hadn’t got any challenges and that I felt normal!
I couldn’t believe how quick the days went! I was really sad when it was all over. I have gained so much from being a reindeer herder and I wish we live closer to the reindeer herd and reindeer herders.
Went into Reindeer House and it was really brilliant seeing everyone and the dogs again. I met Andy who is originally from Kansas and Paddy (Abby’s boyfriend) and properly met Julia (who I had only seen from a distance last year). I helped Fiona fill up the reindeer feed sack with reindeer feed which is the reindeers’ breakfast then with Fiona, Abby and the 3 dogs called Sukie, Tiree and Murdo went to the ski carpark in the reindeer van to find any free ranging reindeer near the road. Sukie had jumped from the boot to me in the back and snuggled up to me and enjoyed lots of fuss and attention. She had remembered me from last year when me and my brother David had thrown sticks for her outside the reindeer centre. When we had got to the ski carpark, Sukie immediately sat up and looked intently out of the window looking at the mountains with her ears up and very alert. Then we then went to check the reindeer herd in the hill enclosure. The reindeer were in the East Enclosure and followed us up the board walk. The midges were very bad up the hill that morning and they were swarming around us. Abby and Fiona fed the reindeer and then I was able to feed the last bit to them. We counted them very quickly to make sure that all the reindeer are there and ok or identify who is missing.
I spotted Mo and went to say hello and I was very excited to see him. Abby and Fiona identified some yearlings (reindeer who were born last year) who had been brought over from The Cromdale Hills the day before and they hadn’t seen them for ages. They were really pleased to see them again and were trying to recognise them and guess who they were as they had changed quite a lot since they had last seen them. They had got much bigger, had antlers and got their summer coat on.
Back at Reindeer House Imogen was hoovering up. Murdo started to play with the hoover by trying to get it which annoyed Imogen who sent Murdo to bed.
Julia showed me how to poo pick the paddocks which we both did together. The 4 reindeer in their sleeping enclosure in the woods were coming near the fence knowing it was nearly their breakfast time. We then let the reindeer into the paddocks and they headed straight for their breakfast. Julia introduced me to the reindeer who were Beastie, Ost, Aonach and Nutti. We then had to get out of the paddocks as it was time to open it to the public.
I was so excited to go in the reindeer office where lots of information is up around the room about each individual reindeer and which ones are in the hill enclosure. I had a herd list so every time I went up there, I could make notes on every individual reindeer till I got to know them all individually. They store all their paperwork and adopters folders in the office too with individual reindeer photos which is organised alphabetically and this is where the herders organise their Christmas events, do the adopters packs, answer emails, keep up to date with the social media pages and organization of the reindeer centre. I was amazed.
Later I went on the 11am hill trip with Imogen. I was a bit nervous of the people at first but then slowly got more confident with them. I carried the hand feed up in the rucksack and went at the back to make sure nobody got lost or went the wrong way as the line can be sometimes broken up as going up a steep hill. I started to get to know each individual reindeer and making notes on them on my herd list. Noted their antlers shape and size, any markings, the coat colour, something that made them stand out, their personality etc.
We all had lunch at the big long table at Reindeer House and it was lovely as everybody talked to each other and asked how their day was going and what they had been up to. Everyone was interested in each other. There wasn’t any sugar for my tea so Fiona said that you can also put a teaspoon of honey into tea to make it sweeter and it was very nice. I was also very interested of the defrosting milk on the draining board. It turned out they freeze the milk as it is used up so quickly as there is lots of people in the house so they don’t have to keep going to the shop every day to get more milk.
We filled the reindeer feed sacks and the reindeer hand feed bags for the hill trips. We put 2 scoops of reindeer hand feed in each bag. On the 2.30 trip Julia the herder was telling the people about the characters of the herd and health and safety when hand feeding, I loved the feeling when they tried to nibble on your clothes or bag and how they got close to me when I had the feed bag. Some reindeer followed you as they knew what you have got in the bag and knew what was coming out of the bag.
Nearer the end of the hill trip, we found all the reindeer just chilling and lying down at the bottom of the east enclosure by the gate. They were so laid back and it was really brilliant and special to sit and relax with them. Julia put out most of the reindeer feed and she let me give out the last bit which was brilliant.
When everyone had gone, me and Julia was really surprised that it was 4:45pm. It was a very lovely sunny day and people had just loved being with the reindeer and loved finding out about them.
We all have favourite reindeer in the herd and over the years I had a very special reindeer, Beauty, who I hand-reared, back in 1993. Beauty’s mother Sorrel died when Beauty was born and I became her mother, a relationship which lasted her whole life even though she had calves of her own. Indeed I felt a bit like a granny as a result!
Beauty died an old lady and for many, many years there was never really a reindeer for me who filled the gap. There have been some great characters since Beauty but none of them were really special enough to replace her. Various reindeer were hand-reared, but not solely by me and although each reindeer has a distinct character there was no real favourite. But over the last 4 years a reindeer has grown on me and now I can honestly say, I have a favourite again.
Olympic was born in 2012, in the year of the London Olympics, hence his name. His mother Glacier came from a long line of white reindeer and so when Olympic was born dark coloured, that was a bit of a surprise to say the least.
So he was the ‘black sheep of the family’. He grew tame and friendly like all the other calves once they are handled, indeed Olympic became quite outrageous when it came to hand-feeding, terrorising many an unsuspecting visitor on the hill visits. Which meant, in time Olympic was banished to the quieter life at our Glenlivet Farm, where visitors to the herd are less frequent and so life with Olympic and hand-feeding became manageable.
Strangely enough although Olympic is a very bold reindeer and eagerly comes up to us, amongst the reindeer he seems to be quite low down in the pecking order, almost to the point that he is a little bullied! Although he is a big strong reindeer he is just a big softy and another reindeer only has to so much look at him and he’s off. So Olympic often seeks out human companionship and whenever I am bringing the reindeer down off the hill for the daily feed Olympic is often right there beside me. So we have developed a close relationship and as time has gone on Olympic has grown on me and become my new special reindeer.
Last autumn we trained Olympic to harness and he joined the teams at Christmas time. Handling reindeer, gaining their confidence and harnessing them to pull a sleigh is a real joy for me. I love the close contact with the Christmas reindeer, feeling so responsible for them when away from home and proud of them as they delight the crowds who come to see them. Olympic was a delight to train and looks fantastic in full harness. He is as much at ease pulling the sleigh alongside another reindeer as pottering along at the back of the sleigh with the 6 month old calves. And I think Fiona, who organises Christmas now and decides which reindeer goes where made sure I had Olympic in my team! Thanks Fi!
Over the summer during a rather (tipsy) evening, us herders got on to the topic of which reindeer would make good plumbers, friends, travel companions etc… It turned out to be illuminating and hilarious, so here are four of us giving our thoughts – hopefully it’ll be an entertaining insight into our beloved reindeer characters!
…go on a round the world trip with?
Hen: It would have to be a northern hemisphere trip because they’d get too hot otherwise.
Abby: I would take a Swede because they’d know the country so you’d get to see local sights.
Hen: Maybe Bovril, but he might get lost. He gets lost on the Cromdales now…
Abby: Maybe Hook. He’s quite sweet but I think he feels quite worldly. I like Hook.
Hen: I like Hook. I think maybe Strudel, he loves to see new places!
Abby: You might have a fun holiday with Magnus but he’s a bit lazy.
Hen: It’d be more like a beach holiday with Magnus.
Andi: I think I’d take Gloriana, because she’d friendly, and attractive, and looks a bit different, so you’d meet lots of new people and have interesting conversations.
…be trapped on a desert island with?
Abby: Puddock! No, Strudel. Puddock would be good fun. Wapiti would tell you a lot of tales.
Hen: Somebody fat who I could eat…
Andi: I wonder about somebody ingenious… Houdini, escape artist 🙂
Sarah: Somebody older and sensible who would be entertaining but not annoying… maybe Bumble.
Hen: But you’d have to eat your dinner before her as she’s so greedy…
Sarah: Oh yeah…
…get to be your interior designer?
Abby: Yea, definitely Gandi!
Hen: If any reindeer is going to know about wallpaper, it’s Gandi.
Andi: Yep, Gandi. Fashion, it’d be Bajaan because he’s very concerned about his appearance.
Hen: Yes he is!
Andi: When Emily took him out on Christmas tour, he got some mud on him and really didn’t like it so Emily had to brush him, which he really enjoyed!
…go camping with?
Hen: I reckon it would have to be a female reindeer. The males are too lazy, they’d expect the tent to be put up, and their dinner made.
Abby: Wapiti. She just likes to wander. I think she’d be quite quiet, maybe too sombre. Merida! She’d be good banter, and useful.
Andi: Lilac, because she’d know all of the best spots to go to.
Sarah: Anster. He’s chilled out and not as lazy as the other males so he’d be useful. He’d also be the sort to enjoy a good ale with.
…least like to get in a fight with?
Abby: Yep Lulu. Even if you didn’t want to fight, she’d be like, ‘fight.’
Sarah: Parmesan. I just don’t think she’d give up.
Abby: She’d use words.
Andi: Bovril, because he’s just massive.
…like to be your heart surgeon?
Hen: I think the lack of opposable thumbs would worry me.
Andi: Dragonfly, because he’s a thinker. He’s very clever, he thinks things through.
Abby: I think Dragonfly for me might be liable to have a hissy fit halfway through; maybe Topi.
Hen: He’s a bit of a joker at times though…
Abby: I’m really not sure on this one. I think Ryvita and Cheese could be the heart surgeon team, because they’re so in sync with each other. Cheese would be the anaesthetist.
Sarah: I think Spider.
Abby: I’d forgotten about Spider!
Sarah: I think he’d be focused with a flourish.
…trust with a dark secret?
Abby: Shinty because he shies away from other people so he’d be too scared to tell anyone.
Hen: I was going to say an old reliable girl like Cailin but I suspect she’d gossip actually.
Sarah: Maybe Fern, I’m not sure she’d join in with the gossiping.
Abby: I think she’d gossip.
Andi: I’d say maybe Duke, he’s like a loyal hound, eager to please.
…elect as prime minister?
Abby: Who’s got a good ministerial name… need someone a bit wise.
Hen: Need someone with a bit more sense than our current government!
Andi: Fly. Sensible. A good leader.
Hen: I’d agree, a good leader.
Abby: I’d say maybe Lilac. She’s been around long enough, she’s stern, and she’d get stuff done.
Hen: But does she speak to the people?
Abby: I don’t know. Probably not…
…would be you in a film?
Andi: This could be interesting..
Andi: Because she’s small.
Hen: She’s quiet, she doesn’t like to make a fuss about things, she just gets on.
Abby and Hen: Ooh!
Andi: I love how people are judging here! Friendly, quite sensible. It’s funny how you view yourself! Independent, greedy, a little suspicious at times!
Sarah: Spy? She’s a pretty independent reindeer, knows her own mind, no nonsense, can be stubborn but also fairly willing to do things.
Abby: I think I would be Cheese. She’s a bit frantic at times. And she’s greedy. And she’s needy, she’s with her mum a lot. I don’t like to be alone! Who would Beyonce be?
Andi: Hopper? She’s a bit bolshy and a wee bit of attitude but she’s a really nice character.
…go pubbing with?
Abby: You need like an old man reindeer, like Elvis.
Andi: Elvis, yea. Or Paintpot.
Abby: Ooh yea! He’s a bit of a grouchy old man, he’d be like, ‘why’s my favourite beer no longer on tap?’
Hen: Topi. Old lad, good lad, he’d have all the gossip. Or Magnus.
…go clubbing with?
Hen: I don’t know, you’d have to pay me a lot of money to get into a club.
Abby: Fergus! I feel like he’d have a funny, mischievous night. You’d have a disaster of a night but it’d be amazing.
Sarah: Maybe Minute. He’d have the moves but he’d be pretty loyal!
Andi: I’d maybe take Chelsea because I reckon she knows the streets.
Abby: I reckon Chelsea might take me to a strip club…