A Reindeer Herder and Artist

Sheena counting reindeer. Lace is the dark reindeer with her head up and antlers visible.

My involvement  with the reindeer goes  back 30 years when Tilly and Alan were my neighbours and Alex and Fiona where still very wee.

I came up to the Highlands to work at Badaguish Outdoor Centre for people with additional needs before I was due to start a nursing degree . I never left – I fell in love with the mountains, and then a reindeer herder!! And now the reindeer.

Sheena catching up with the free rangers out in the hills.
Sheena bringing back Ochil and her calf Vanilla to the enclosure after they spent the summer free roaming.

My wonderful friendly golden retriever Rosie used to end up at Reindeer House after following any walker passing by my house down at Badaguish. Tilly would phone me and I would often end up there socialising, helping out, then for dinner and end up walking home with Rosie after a wee whisky or two!

 I eventually went  to university but not to study nursing. I did a Honors Fine Art degree in 2004.

Sheena drawing on the hill!

Over the years I have kept in touch with Tilly and the  reindeer, volunteering, an extras pair of hands or legs walking out onto the mountains to help herd in the girls for calving or just going up to spy the herd in the summer months on the mountain.

Several years ago,  I got a call to work with the team and use my artistic talents for ‘Christmas Fun’ (weekends in December when Santa visits the Paddocks). By this time Fiona was all grown up and coordinating all things Christmas and the herd on Cairngorm along with her mum and the team. Now I am just a regular part-timer in the team.

Sheena doing some harness training with the male reindeer.
Sheena and Choc-ice chilling out together.
Sheena driving the Christmas lorry!

So, when I am not a reindeer herder you might find me working in my studio at home as an artist, working on some colorful wild abstract paintings. These days I also work on some reindeer crafts, inspired from my trip to Jokkmokk, Sweden in 2020 with fellow reindeer herders Fiona, Joe, and Olly where we stayed with friend Sofia, Mikel Utsi’s great niece. Inspiration for art was everywhere. The snow, visiting herds of reindeer, northern lights, traditional cloths, and traditional food.

That part of Sweden is the capital of Sami culture in Sweden holding the Sami winter festival, which involve reindeer racing, reindeer parades, and all things Sami culture. And I had a wonderful time in the Sami Museum viewing the traditional arts on show. This was very much my inspiration for small reindeer art and crafts for the shop.

The Jokkmokk crew with borrowed dogs! Fiona, Sheena, Olly and Joe.
Jokkmokk winter market.
Beautiful Sami colours.
Some of Sheena’s wonderful things we sell in the shop!
Sheena’s lovely dogs – Ginger and her mum Elsie on top of our local hill.
Sheena and Oatcake!

Sheena

Shiny new shop stock!

We’ve had quite a few new additions to our shop recently, so I thought I’d grab this opportunity to tell you all about some of them, in case you fancy indulging your reindeer themed fancies!

Magnets! Featuring our beautiful calves, plus adults Celt, Athens and Origami.

Hats! Of many types to keep your head warm!

From left to right: Wendy’s Woolies; our own branded hat; Woolly Hatz Aviemore style; locally knitted beanie. Our branded hats are available on the website, but if you fancy one of the others just give us a call!

Leather decorations, made by Loch Ness Leather.

Locally made slate coasters.

The cuddliest of reindeer teddies!

And perhaps preorder a special calendar too?!

All of the products above, along with many others, can be ordered via our main shop at https://www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk/shop/

We do also have our shop over at Teemill, who print to order on ethically produced T-shirts, Hoodies and Tote bags – https://cairngormreindeer.teemill.com/have a gander!

We have several designs available on different clothing.

… plus our first jigsaw!

Andi

Reindeer herders come craftsmen/craftswomen!

As well as being highly qualified reindeer herders… (a qualification that takes years of course 😉 ) quite a few of us herders have our own wee side-lines which we either do as a hobby or to get an extra bit of pocket money each month selling our goods online or through our reindeer shop.

Olly has been part of the reindeer herding family for over 5½ years now, since he was 17. Although he is one of the youngest herders he is by far the most practical when it comes to handyman, maintenance and craftmanship work and the list goes on! He has fixed many a thing at Reindeer House and constantly gets roped in to help with projects including woodwork and building. As well as being a reindeer herder he has worked for a bushcraft company, teaching groups of kids the skill set and more ‘simple’ life when it comes to living and embracing the outdoors… away from the hustle and bustle of normal life!

Olly with a handmade stool

Throughout 2020 Olly has established his own company, Corvus, doing everything from putting up shelving to building sheds, whittling spoons and his latest venture of hand carving beautiful wooden cups. Each one turns out different due to the nature of the wood and working with the grain. He now has his own social media following and Etsy shop which is proving to be extremely popular. During winter/spring last year when the whole country went into lockdown, Olly lost work with the bushcraft company due to restrictions not allowing it to go ahead and has really made the most of what could have been a very long year – instead he has broadened his skill set and kept Reindeer House up to scratch in maintenance… Thanks Olly!

A carved Sami-style cup

See links below for keeping in the loop and what’s for sale through Corvus.

Corvus: Facebook page and Etsy page

I’ve (Fiona) been crafting with reindeer antler for over ten years now. I guess I’ve been inspired by the beautiful handicrafts made by the Sami people throughout Scandinavia having visited there in the past – their craft is a whole new level but having been self taught through trial and error I’ve worked out what sells and along the way got to work with a really great product. The best sellers are of course the necklaces, bracelets, keyrings and earrings I sell through our reindeer shop. These are affordable and don’t take too long to make. Pairing reindeer antler with colourful wooden beads it makes for a unique present or souvenir. I then took it a step further and now I do antler/wood handles for knives, bottle openers, cheese knives etc. This has been fun working out and having Sami friends to quiz along the way means I’m getting the best of the best advice!

One of my knives with an antler and curly birch handle

I’ve made cake knives for friends weddings and even reindeer antler rings. I don’t have a company as such but call myself Antler Crafts. It’s a great way to switch off, especially if it’s a bad weather day, I can tinker around in the workshop and my bedroom making bits and bobs from the reindeer antler.

Antler Crafts: Facebook page

And a cheese slice!

Andi has been in the reindeer herding scene now for well over ten years and full time since 2011, but has a very different hobby to Olly and I who work with wood and reindeer antler. Andi has self taught herself the art of taxidermy.

Not sure Andi would have her hand under those talons if this Buzzard was still alive!

Whenever she, or someone else (usually other reindeer herders) finds an animal or bird which has recently died through natural causes, we pop them in the freezer ready for Andi to work on. She is self taught in building manikins and tanning skins to restore these beautiful animals. Although we appreciate it is not everybody’s cup of tea there is certainly enough interest for her to keep up this unusual hobby. Seeing some of these animals up close through taxidermy may sometimes be the only way you can really appreciate their colouring or structure as in the wild they are often they are seen in a split second and you may never know it’s true beauty.

A brace of beautiful brown hares.

You can follow her on social media and she also has an online Etsy shop you can check out.

Andi’s Taxidermy: Facebook page and Etsy page

Manouk worked with us for a couple of years from 2018-2020 and still lives locally. I was always very jealous of her artistic skills and beautiful drawings.

Some of Manouk’s beautiful cards

Over the last couple of years she has been sketching landscape and mountain scenes as well as her day to day subjects such as the friendly local sheep in nearby fields. She has turned her art into gift cards and sells them online. Check out her Etsy shop and get yourself some lovely cards.

Manouk’s Etsy page

Sheena is definitely the most artistic of us all… even though she would try and say otherwise!

Sheena busy at work!

She has a real eye for colour and shape and you can be midway through a conversation and she’ll whip out her sketch book and pencil and start sketching the surroundings. We’ve been to many music festivals over the years and while everyone is taking photos there is Sheena with pencil and paper capturing the moment in a very different way. She is so encouraging to anyone who wants to give it a go, giving them sound advice but at the same time making sure they create something from their own mind, not hers.

Art pieces on recycled wooden boards, plus a couple of prints

Sheena’s ptarmigan and mountain hares in our shop window

She paints on wooden plaques and canvas as well as making clay animals and selling them through our reindeer shop. Mind you it only makes it to the shop if another reindeer herder doesn’t buy it first! Sheena doesn’t have any social media pages or online shop, but some of her items are always available in our shop here at the Centre, and can occasionally be found in our online shop too.

Small canvases

Joe has been a seasonal herder now for over 3 years and when he’s not working here he’s usually a mountain guide so knows the hills throughout Britain very well. More recently he’s got into photography, buying himself a fancy pants camera! He’s got a great eye when it comes to capturing a moment or scene – this was always very apparent on the photos he took on his phone so now he has the high tech equipment the photos are even more mind blowing. So with his love for being in the mountains coupled with his knowledge and fitness to take him to some incredible places in the outdoors I suspect there are going to be some pretty amazing photos to come out of it. We will definitely rope him in to get some good reindeer shots, so watch this space – particularly for our upcoming 2022 calendar perhaps!

Well chuffed with his new toy!

Loch Ness Leather is a company ran by a reindeer herder from back in the day, Heather Hanshaw. I don’t want to call her an ex reindeer herder cos you never really know when these ex herders dip their toe back into the odd bit of herding… Both Heather’s parents have always worked with leather and created businesses from it and Heather has now taken on that role and has built the most amazing company and products to go with it.

Heather hard at work (well mostly!) and some of her beautiful products

Some of you already have a keyring she has made as these have been going out in adoptions packs since last May for all adoption renewals (about which she wrote a blogfor us about last summer). She knows the rule for our shop – if it’s got a reindeer on it then we’ll sell it – so now we also have whisky hip flasks and dram sets available online.  Living locally to us, we can easily catch up on her latest products; usually done during a dog walk or once the chaos of COVID is over lots of lovely social times, dinner and drinks! While checking out her website see if you can recognise those fancy models she got to advertise her products.  😉 Lol!

Fancy models! Well, reindeer herders in disguise… Hats and bags all made by Loch Ness Leather. Photo copyright: Catriona Parmenter

Loch Ness Leather: Facebook page and website

Heather Hanshaw – Past Reindeer herder and Leathersmith

Hello everyone! First of all, let me introduce myself for those who have not have met me.

I’m Heather, and I used to be a Reindeer Herder. I like to think I still am really. As we always say, it’s like being a King or Queen of Narnia, once a Reindeer Herder, always a Reindeer Herder!

In my former guise as a herder! Christmas training with Eco, Dylan, Sporran and Sting (and Ceris at the back!). Photo by Tony Marsh

So, my Reindeer herding career began way back in 1998, when the ‘Sweeties’ year of reindeer were born. I first went to the Centre for work experience from the local High school, and when I arrived for my week’s experience in September, the calves had just been named. Some of you will remember Eclair, Polo and Malteser, to name a few!

Back in 2002 when I was 18, with Cluster (biggest antlers), Shock, Rascal, Tuna, Torrent and Pepsy.

As the years rolled by, I worked at the Reindeer Centre off and on for roughly 15 years, in my school and university holidays. And once I graduated from Edinburgh University, with a degree in Geography (using the reindeer as my subject for my 4th year dissertation!), I headed back full time.

The good ol’ days of reindeer herding… Top left clockwise: Me with Shekel, Beastie, Caddis and Diddly.

After the Reindeer Centre, I worked in a couple of other jobs, before deciding it was time to head into the family business of leather working. My Mum and Dad have been leather workers since before I came along, and while I always helped them in the workshop as a child, it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I really started learning the craft. I now have my own workshop in Carrbridge, not so far from the Reindeer Centre and would now call myself a full time Leathersmith. I run my own business, Loch Ness Leather, and make belts, handbags and hats, along with smaller accessories.

In my workshop in my garden

But how is that relevant to the Reindeer Centre now? Well, those who support the herd by adopting a reindeer, will know that each year when you re-adopt your reindeer, you get a lovely pack in the post including amongst other things, a hand written letter, and a selection of gifts. Well, this year, I am in charge of one of those gifts! I have been commissioned to make leather keyrings which will be going into the adoption packs. Each one is made by hand, by myself, in my workshop in Carrbridge. Luckily my workshop is in my garden, so I have been able to carry on working safely during the current situation. And it’s just been a case of handing over a new batch each time the herders pop by with a Wild Farm meat delivery for us!

The pattern is embossed and the dye applied

Each keyring is made of natural vegetable tanned leather. I cut the leather to shape, emboss it with the reindeer design, and then dye it by hand. Layering up the colours to make each one – they’re all very individual! A rivet is then used to attach the ring, and it’s ready to go. And all made within 12 miles of the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre.

Colour complete, and the finished product!

This year is a tough time for us all, I personally usually sell my wares at Highland Games and other events across Scotland through the summer. However, they have all been cancelled this year, understandably, so I have been focusing on selling online. If you would like to see more of my work, please do visit my website, www.lochnessleather.co.uk. Or of course, you can follow me on Facebook or Instagram. As a thank you for supporting myself, and the Reindeer of course!, I would like to offer you a 10% discount across the whole of my website. To be sent the code for this, please click here to sign up for my newsletter.

You can also keep a look out for more Cairngorm Reindeer Herd and Loch Ness Leather collaborations in the Reindeer Centre online shop, coming soon and throughout the year!

I hope you all enjoy your adoption packs this year!
Thank you all and Stay Safe!
Heather Hanshaw (Past Reindeer Herder)

N.B. Because of the way our adoption scheme gifts work, only those re-adopting a reindeer from now until April next year will receive one of Heather’s keyrings with their pack. Adoptions purchased for the first time in this period will receive different gifts. However, if you don’t want to miss out on a keyring, please feel free to get in touch with Heather directly via her website to purchase one!

 

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