A Christmas Interrogation (part 1)

Whilst we’re all still recovering from another busy Christmas season, I took it upon myself to accost some of my colleagues with some Christmas themed questions: There’s a limit to how fast I can type, so I didn’t manage to get down everything – some of the answers were very long, with lots of umming and ahhing! But you’ll get the gist. My chosen interviewees were Tilly (herd owner), her daughter Fiona (manager), and long-term employees Andi, Lotti, Ruth and Joe.

First up – FAVOURITE REINDEER TO WORK WITH AT CHRISTMAS(PAST OR PRESENT): I thought I was starting with an easy question, but apparently not, as lots of people had to come back to it later on once they’d had a think.

Andi’s response came after a short pause ‘At Christmas?… Nutkins. He wasn’t easy and you had to think carefully about which reindeer you paired him with, and which events would suit him, but he was such a fun reindeer.’ I’d like to add in here that Nutkins was, a lot of the time, a nutcase. A lovely reindeer, but undeniably a nutcase. He was one of those unpredictable characters – you never knew whether he was going to behave like a kid on a sugar high, or be utterly chilled. He played Russian roulette with us at every event.

Nutkins (left) contemplating whether to behave or not. Laptev looking resigned to be harnessed up next to one of life’s plonkers. Andi has a noticeably tighter grip on Nutkins’ rope. Just in case…

No pause for thought for Tilly though, her answer was quick! ‘Mystery, who was so loyal that he didn’t even need to be led, he just wandered along at the back at his own pace’.

Mystery, back in 2001

Scolty’s, somewhat surprisingly (to me, anyway), name came up several times, amongst other deliberations. Lotti: ‘Scolty. He’s very good at both the back and the front of the sleigh, and is an excellent role model for the calves’. Fiona: Scolty. Because he’s not too tame and he’s not too wild! He’s a thinker… like Dragonfly. Or maybe Dragonfly?’. Joe: ‘Probably Olympic. Or Baffin was good. Or Scolty. Well technically Kipling would be in there too, even though she’s a female. She has done some events as an adult though!’

Scolty. The ultimate ‘Christmas reindeer’?

Ruth’s answer, when caught off guard, appeared to not be what she thought she would say… ‘The first reindeer to pop into my head, which was a surprise to me, was Poirot! He was just phenomenal this Christmas, and didn’t put a hoof wrong.’ And for myself, the answer would be Topi I think. He was a total professional at events and parades, bombproof, and would always fall asleep on our shoulders when waiting for the off at the start of a parade. I’m sad he’s no longer with us, he was one of the special ones.

Lots of us have photos of Topi like this, but this one of him asleep on Fiona’s shoulder at an event is ultimately the best I think!

FAVOURITE EVENT? For those of us that have been around for years, this is a hard question as we’ve literally been to hundreds. Tilly has over 30 years of events under her belt! Some stand out whilst others – it must be said – all merge into one another after a while. On that note… Lotti: ‘I can’t remember which I’ve done! It’s all a blur!’

Andi: ‘Cowbridge in Wales [Editor’s note: we only go as far south as Manchester area these days, but Cowbridge (in South Wales) was a long-running event before that change]. An enormous but brilliantly organised event with all the police dressed as elves really took the biscuit!’ I also liked some of the biggest events like Cowbridge the best, where we were just a small cog in a large wheel. One of my other favourites was Wells [again, not one we do these days], where we followed a choir singing carols, which is far more festive than loud Christmas music blaring out. I also like Banff, as we usually got a full Christmas dinner at the end before leaving.

Cowbridge parade, complete with 6′ elves.

For Joe, it’s the smaller events nearer the day itself: ‘I really like the Christmas Eve events [Aviemore, Kingussie and Newtonmore]. Everyone is festive and happy, in good spirits!’.

Fiona and Tilly had – completely independently – identical answers. ‘The  Duke of Gordon Hotel – it’s the last one.’  Predictable – by the end of the season they are knackered and ready to put away the harness till the following year! Tilly did add ‘Yee haa, back home for yummy dinner and lots of alcohol afterwards’ too! And as for Ruth’s favourite event? Got a least favourite one… that count?’. I’ll not elaborate.

Fiona and Tilly on Christmas Day, a good few years back. The end of tour for the season firmly in sight! The reindeer are Veikka, Kermit, Bee, Eco and Go.

FAVOURITE CALF BORN IN 2022? This was met with squeals of horror at the prospect of having to choose! I refused to let anyone cop out with ‘all of them’ though. Nuii was a front-runner, ‘The cutest, pint-sized perfection of a calf!’ (Andi) and Lotti had a particular reason for choosing her: ‘Since I thought she was still-born at first, but then she was fine. But oh goodness! SO difficult! They are all very lovely!’

Lovely Nuii!

Ruth was horrified at such a question. ‘Oh Hen, this is mean! [loooong silence] I’ll go with Lolly, since Lotti and I were the ones to bring her in from the free-range… although… Zoom’. Another vote for Zoom came from Tilly ‘A great wee success story and the best friend of Sunny’. Sunny is the calf we hand-reared in 2022, and living at Reindeer House, Fiona was responsible for him a fair bit of the time. I had no need to ask her who her favourite calf was (but I did anyway). ‘Ummm… Wafer. Only joking!’. Another predictable answer came from Joe: ‘Tub. Did you guess that?!’ (Tub’s mum is Joe’s favourite reindeer, Kipling).

This proved a hard question for myself though. As I’ve managed to effectively retire from attending Christmas events these days, instead remaining at Reindeer House, it means I didn’t work quite as closely with some of the calves as others did. It was Choc-ice to start with, as I was so delighted that Cheer had actually had a calf and that he was tame in comparison to her (Cheer is a very shy reindeer) – but he’s turned into a real brute and his little pointy antlers have been responsible for bruises on my backside over the last few months, so I’ve gone off him…

More to follow in a future blog!

Hen

Reindeer impressions

A few weeks back we asked on social media for short stories from visitors about special memories of meeting the reindeer, or perhaps what the reindeer mean to them. When you work with them daily, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how special meeting them can be, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that! Here’s a few contributions, with more to follow in the future.

D’Cruz family – Wirral: As a family we have had many memorable treks (9!), but the one in 2015 was extra special. Our herder that year was Mel who had been hand rearing orphaned calf Fergus, so not only did we all get to lead our own reindeer but Fergus decided to join us too. He just trotted along by our sides mingling in and out of the other reindeer for the whole trek which made our memorable experience even more special and we even got to give him his bottle as we rejoined the rest of the herd.

Trekking with (left to right) Atlantic, Balmoral, Laptev, Grunter and wee Fergus leading the way!

Rebecca – Oxfordshire: Deer and reindeer have always been my favourite animals. So, when I discovered the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd existed, I vowed to myself I would visit. A year and a half later, in August 2019, my wish came true! I arrived at the Centre nearly two hours early to make sure I got a place on the Hill Trip – and it was worth the wait! Definitely one of the most memorable aspects of my Scottish Highlands visit. (I have since adopted Origami the reindeer – looks like a return trip is inevitable…)

Up in the hill enclosure on the Hill Trip

Clare – Kettering: My first proper Hill Trip was in April 2013 with Deborah. I enjoyed it so much that we went again in September 2013 and that’s when it all started! I met and then adopted Svalbard!  After posting a photo on the Herd’s Facebook page, Carola commented, saying she adopted him too. We then became friends on FB which was lovely. Then through Carola I became friends with Candice after chatting about reindeer on FB too. Candice came up with the idea of having a ‘Group’ meet up in October 2014 and that’s when I met Michelle, Graham, Maggie, Steve, Beth, Brody, Gwenda and Gordon. Since then the gang has grown, Deborah joined in the fun and then we met Belinda and Martin too. It’s been great to meet up on various Hill Trips and events together and share our love for the reindeer. We have a really special friendship and it’s all thanks to the reindeer and herders.

Meeting Svalbard for the first time!

At the start of our group Hill Trip a couple of years back. Complete with guide Dave dressed for the occasion!

JessicaOntario, Canada
Best day of my life! We stopped on the way to Skye to feed the Reindeer Herd. The hill was snowy, windy, we were soaking wet from head to toe, but it was GORGEOUS! None of it mattered. We had never met reindeer before and it was life changing. To feel so connected with nature and we felt a mutual respect between us and the Reindeer. It was beautiful and we will never forget the experience.

Female reindeer Jenga

If you’d like to be involved in a future blog, please email/message us (FAO Hen) with your contribution of a small bit of text and preferably a photo too!

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