We reopened to the public on the 10th of February. With no Paddocks and Exhibition available (the site is currently a very big hole) it feels rather strange! But the Hill Trips are running as usual, in fact for the February half term we brought some of our free ranging cows and nine month old calves in to our hill enclosure allowing us to do two Hill Trips a day. So, we’ve been busy looking after our the herd in the enclosure and checking in with the free rangers once every few days. February has so far been rather mild so far with not very much snow so we’ve been having a relatively easy time, and the reindeer are finding easy grazing. We’ll be back to free range visits very soon (Monday 26th Feb) so if anyone is visiting us between now and the end of April be prepared for potentially much longer walks out to find the herd.
In the year 2015, we decided upon a naming theme of hill running races located in Scotland. Therefore, all the calves that were born in 2015 were subsequently given a name from this theme. Some of which I’d have had no idea how to pronounce had I not been told. These reindeer – who are now 8 years old – wear a white ear tag with a number between 900 and 950. Hill running appears to be a common activity amongst reindeer herders. Perhaps it’s an occupational hobby. A way to keep fit for the physical nature of reindeer herding, or indeed capitalise on the miles that are done on the job by trying to win a few competitions. In this blog I will explain a bit about the races that are responsible for five reindeer names.
Scolty is a tall and handsome chap. He’s a fantastic “Christmas Reindeer”, a highly experienced and reliable sleigh-puller. He’s named after a race in Deeside, located just south of the town of Banchory. At the top of Scolty Hill there is a tower – measuring 20 metres high – that was built in 1840. The race has a distance of 7.2km with an ascent of 396 metres.
Morven is a beautiful breeding female who grows a unique set of antlers year after year. The Morven hill race occurs on Morven hill and is 8km long with an ascent of 640 metres. It is one of the favourite races of Alan Smith. It is located near to the village of Dinnet in the Aboyne area (Aberdeenshire). Dinnet is the first village along the River Dee to be located in the Cairngorms National Park.
Tap is a dark-coloured breeding female, she’s one of the shyer reindeer in the herd but very beautiful. She gets her name from the hill race Tap O’Noth which is a 7.9km race starting out from Rhynie, a village in Aberdeenshire. There is approximately 390 metres of ascent. With Tap’s athleticism, I’d fancy her chances if she was to compete in the race. What’s the prize? 7.9 kilograms of lichen?
Ochil is a distinctive lass with a white patchy face and a big personality. She’s a good mum and is also a granny. Ochil is named after a long-distance hill race starting out from Stirling University. Its route travels through the Ochil Hills, hills formed from a thick wedge of Devonian age volcanic and volcano-sedimentary rocks. Reindeer herder Joe is planning to compete in this year’s race as it is one of the races selected for the 2023 Scottish hill running championships. He’ll have to navigate through 1200 metres of ascent over the distance of 31.2km. The etymology of the name Ochil – recorded as Okhel – is thought to be Pictish in origin and may derive from the old word ‘ogel’ meaning ‘ridge’.
Suidhe (pronounced Sue-e) is a good mother but a rather shy lass, and can be fairly suspicious of what our intentions are but she can usually be won over by her greed! Suidhe is one of our local hill races. It starts from the Kincraig village green and has an approximate distance of 5km, with roughly 250 metres in ascent. The hill must be an important part of the local community because Kincraig’s pub takes its name from it.
Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.
I was up volunteering with the herd at the beginning of October for 12 days last year. It was really great fun as always.
I got to meet Sunny the hand-reared reindeer calf. He was born in May and his mum Rain had died when he was 6 days old. He was 5 months old when I met him in the kitchen at Reindeer House. He slept down at the Reindeer Centre in the Paddocks with the other reindeer at night and in the daytime he went up to the hill enclosure to spend the day with the reindeer in there. His mode of transport was mainly in the back of the reindeer van where there was some food for him to eat. Sometimes Sunny travelled up with the dogs in the morning. He had 3 bottles of warm goat milk a day; one was first thing in the morning, one was on the 11am hill trip and the 3rd one was either on the afternoon hill trip or when he got back down to the Reindeer Centre for the night.
When we walked him to the hill enclosure and down to the carpark, it was funny to see the hill walkers surprised faces. Some wanted to stop and chat to us too. At the end of the afternoon Hill Trip, Sunny would be often found waiting at the gate waiting to come off the hill knowing he was going to go back down to the Paddocks for the night. One time when Sunny came back to the Reindeer Centre, he was in the outdoor area where the reindeer feed and hand feed are kept and he kept trying to get to it so I had to guard the feed whilst his milk was being made for him. Lol. One day on a Hill Trip, Sunny was so chilled out and lay down. He let people sit down next to him and have photos with him. On my second to last day the decision that Sunny was old enough to stay with the rest of the reindeer in the hill enclosure was made. That day, we found him as usual after the afternoon visit waiting at the gate to come off the hill and it was so hard leaving him up there. When we walked away he looked at us and started walking up and down by the gate and fence grunting wondering why we were going without him. He however did very well spending the first night up in the hill enclosure and got used to spending his nights up there.
The Calf Found On It’s Own
One day, a man phoned up The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre saying there was a reindeer calf who was on its own and was following him whilst he was out walking in a nearby area. Andi and Lotti took Clouseau and Olympic to the man’s location to see if they could catch the calf. They managed to catch him and identify him as Zoom. Zoom’s mum was nowhere to be seen and they hadn’t seen her for while. They took Clouseau, Olympic and Zoom back to the Reindeer Centre and put them in the Paddocks. Lotti and I took Zoom on his first ever walk with Clouseau and Athens with Zoom in the middle of the 2 older reindeer to make a “calf sandwich.” The older reindeer are good role models for the calves and they make the calves feel calm. Also reindeer love to stay as a group as they are a herd animal. We walked to Glenmore Visitor Centre and back to the Reindeer Centre. We had to wait for a bin lorry but the reindeer were all really good and waited patiently. Over the next few days, Zoom got attached to Clouseau and followed him around lots even when they went into the hill enclosure. In the hill enclosure Zoom got confident and was feeding out of the feed bag and hung around with us herders and the visitors.
The Special 70th Adopters Weekend
Whilst I was up, it was the special 70th Adopters Weekend where the reindeer herd was celebrating 70 years of the reindeer being in Scotland. The Saturday was based at the Reindeer Centre in the day and at Glenmore Lodge in the evening and the Sunday was based at Tilly’s farm in the day. Lots of reindeer adopters from all over came to this special weekend.
On the Saturday people could go on the hill to see the reindeer. There were 2 Hill Trips and an ‘open hill’. The open hill trip is where people could make their way up to the reindeer on their own to spend time with their reindeer. I helped on the open hill trip based in the hill enclosure with the reindeer welcoming adopters and talking to them. There were sleigh training sessions throughout the day and I helped out with one with reindeer Dr Seuss, Spider, Clouseau and Rubiks. I wore a reindeer herders’ Christmas jumper and we stopped halfway, whilst on route, and the adopters got to sit in the sleigh for a photo. I got to sit in the sleigh with my mum for a photo and also had a photo with me at the front of the sleigh and mum at the back of the sleigh. Near the end, I got to lead the sleigh pulled by 2 reindeer with 2 reindeer at the back which was very exciting.
There were activities people could do down at the centre. There was guess the weight of Sunny the reindeer calf, a silent auction for Holy Moley’s antler, lasso a reindeer’s antlers, make their own reindeer adopters badge and a memory board where adopters could write down their memories or put photos on. There was also tea, coffee, cake and biscuits and a Cairngorm Gin stall. People could walk to Utsi’s hut in their own time and explore it.
At the end, we tidied things away and put things in Tilly’s van ready for the Tilly’s farm the next day. On the Saturday evening, Tilly did a reindeer talk at Glenmore Lodge. She did 2 sittings. There was a 5:30pm one and a 6:30pm one. Tilly did a very good talk with lots of lovely photos and a lovely video.
On Sunday, Fiona and Lotti and me took Spider, Olympic, Anster, Rubiks and Sunny to Tilly’s farm. Tiree and Fraoch the dogs travelled with us in Brenda the lorry cab. We stopped off near some woods near Tilly’s farm to get some lichen lollipops (sticks covered in lichen) in the woods so the adopters could give the reindeer some at Tilly’s farm. We put Spider, Olympic, Anster, Rubiks and Sunny with the rest of the older male reindeer in Tilly’s garden at her farm. Adopters could walk amongst the reindeer and give them the lichen lollipops.
Tilly did farm walks around her farm for the adopters to see the Soay sheep, the pigs, the Belted Galloway cows, the 2 hand-reared Belted Galloway calves, the Red deer and her other animals. The walks ended going into an enclosure to see the young reindeer bulls where people could walk amongst them. There was a BBQ, some handmade soup, tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. Whilst setting up, I had to guard the cake and biscuits from the chickens who were roaming around, lol. There were also some items from The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre shop in a gazebo. There were some activities from the Saturday too. At the end the day, we started putting the reindeer from Tilly’s garden to a big barn. I led Olympic and Hamish. Sunny and some other reindeer went back to the Reindeer Centre in Brenda. Moskki, one of Tilly’s dogs jumped onto Tilly’s quad bike and looked like she was driving it.
Free-range Reindeer Turn Up
One of the days when we got to the hill enclosure gate for the afternoon Hill Trip visitors, a group of 20 reindeer who had been free-ranging on the mountain were waiting by the gate. Cameron and I continued with the visit whilst Sheena, Shona and Stuart led them into the hill enclosure through another gate so they could check on them. A calf was running back and forth along the fence as it had to get use to going through a gate, eventually it got through. In the group was Morven and her calf called Mochi which was amazing because a few weeks before, Morven had turned up without Mochi. She still had an udder so the herders knew she still must have her calf so they sent her away to go and find her calf. Hey Presto, Morven had found her calf came back together so we were all very happy. What amazing mums they are. Andi and Lotti came up to check on the group of free-range reindeer and put 10 reindeer back out onto the free-range and keeping 10, including Morven and her calf Mochi, in the hill enclosure.
It’s the last blog of the month and so time for another photo dump! March has been a relatively quiet month, with the Paddocks shut and fewer visitors around, but it’s still felt very busy for us herders! Generally only four members of staff work each day throughout March. The mornings are taken up by two herders heading out to find and move the free ranging herd, and the other two herders lead the Hill Trip at 11am. So, by the time we’ve all had lunch the afternoons seem to totally fly by. We also had some very snowy and wintery weather in the middle of the month, making our lives a little more interesting and keeping us on our toes! Hopefully, we’ve managed to tick off all the important jobs in time for the Easter Holidays which kick off on the 1st of April.
It’s the last blog of the month, so here we have a selection of photos I’ve taken during February. The early part of the month was all about crossing jobs off the to-do list ready for us to re-open to the public on the 11th of February for the busy half-term holidays. The second part of the month has been all about locating the reindeer and moving the herd into a suitable position for our Hill Trips each morning, the Hill Trips themselves, and afternoon talks in the Paddocks. Plus all the usual shop and office work. As always, the holidays are over in a blur, but here are some photos of our beautiful reindeer, giving a small taster of February for you all.
A final point – if you are wondering where all the young bulls and Christmas reindeer are in the photos, they spend the winter free ranging in a different herd that Tilly and other colleagues at the farm mostly look after. I’ve not been to visit them myself this month hence why it’s just photos of our beautiful girls and some male calves that you’ll find in this month’s blog.
This year I will endeavor to make the last blog of the month a photo blog with a collection of pictures taken over the month. So here’s some highlights from January! A month when the Centre shuts and we crack on with lots of office work and general maintenance tasks such as painting the Exhibition floor and oiling the Christmas harness. But inevitably, I don’t take any photos of that stuff, so instead it’s just lots of lovely pics of reindeer!
Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.
I visited the reindeer in April for 11 days which was over Easter. It was so brilliant seeing all the reindeer, herders and dogs again. I go and say hi to everyone at Reindeer House the day before I start. I went into the living room/kitchen and the room was empty. I started fussing Sookie the dog who was chilling in the armchair when I heard a sudden bleating noise . I had no idea where it was coming from then I realised it was coming from a big cardboard box. I peered in and saw a little lamb. It turned out it was a 2 day old lamb called Derren Brown (named after the illusionist). He is a Soay Lamb who was found without his mum in the field at Tilly’s farm. The herders were hand-rearing him with bottle-feeds. When I bottle-fed him, Fraoch the puppy licked him and cleaned the milk away from Derren’s face.
Most of the daytime, Derren went into Reindeer House’s garden and had a little pen. He was allowed out of the pen if someone was in the garden with him. The dogs were really good with him and I am sure he thought he was a dog. Derren chased the dogs and also loved to chase people’s feet. When we had lunch in the garden or we were just out in the garden and people saw a lamb running around with the dogs, they were so surprised and amazed. They asked loads of questions and took lots of photos and videos. Some even thought he was a baby reindeer. One day Derren helped me hoover Reindeer House and pack the Christmas cards and when I was doing feed mixing, Derren was trying to climb on the bags. He followed us around everywhere.
Over the 10 days I was helping out there were a lot of fun and interesting things I shared with all the herders.
Finding the Free-rangers
Most of the 11am hill trips were to the free ranging females who were free in the Cairngorm Mountains. We had different visit sites depending on where the reindeer were found in the morning. There were also a group of reindeer in the hill enclosure and if the 11am trip was full, we ran another trip to the hill enclosure reindeer in the afternoon. I enjoyed doing some of the talking parts on the hill trips and in some afternoons, the herders did talks in the paddocks.
Each morning, 2 herders went to find the free-ranging reindeer in the Cairngorm Mountains and brought them down to a suitable visit site for the visitors. It could be a long and steep walk for them as the reindeer like to go high up and also over the hills.
One morning, I was lucky enough to go and find the reindeer with Ruth and Harry. We had a steep climb and when we got to the top, we located the reindeer. Ruth tried to get the them to follow her with her food bag and calling them but they wouldn’t follow her so she put Ochil on a head collar and started walking down the steep hill to the suitable visit spot. The reindeer usually follow as they like to stay together as a herd. Meanwhile, me and Harry were pushing the reindeer from the back and made sure they all followed.
When we got to the visit spot, we let the calves (who were nearly 1) eat from the food bags. Ruth and Harry took the calves temperatures to make sure they weren’t brewing something as they are still building up their immune system. We fed them and Trilby had 2 antlers when she was feeding from the bag but after we fed them, and were counting them, I noticed Trilby had lost an antler. We all looked for her antler which we found.
We then realised there was 8 reindeer missing as there should have been 68 but we had 60. We went around the reindeer identifying them to see who was missing. Ruth was ticking off all the names. It was like doing a school register! After the Hill Trip, the reindeer wandered off but were found later on the ski road so Lisette led them away from the road. Later that day Harry was in the hill enclosure and spied the 8 missing reindeer from this morning so Lotti went out to the 8 and led them into the hill enclosure as in a few days time the rest of the free-rangers were going to go into the hill enclosure ready for the calving season.
Heavily Pregnant Reindeer
It is an exciting time of year to be up as some of the females are heavily pregnant. They have big tummies and it is amazing to think that a tiny reindeer calf is growing inside them. Hen showed me on a few reindeer where their udders were starting to show. Reindeer have fluffy udders. When they start to grow, the fur is a triangle shape under their bottom.
All the herders have a calving bet each year. Each herder chooses a reindeer who they think will calve first. I chose Scully.
One day, Ruth went to the farm to get some more reindeer for the hill enclosure and paddocks. Lulu and Gazelle went into the paddocks. Me, Ruth and Amy took Morse, Clouseau, Diamond, Aztec, Kiruna and Cannellini up to the hill enclosure. I led Clouseau and Cannellini. A dog off the lead behind them spooked them and Ruth told the dog’s owner to stay as far back as possible as reindeer think dogs are wolves and are very scared of them. When we lead the reindeer to and from the hill enclosure, we have to keep an eye out for dogs as it is a public path. When they spotted the other reindeer in the hill enclosure, it made them jump.
On another day, me, Fiona and Zoe took Celt and Spartan from the paddocks to the hill enclosure. I led Celt. On the way back, we took Aztec and Morse from the hill enclosure to the paddocks and this time I led Morse. When we transport reindeer, we use a big animal lorry called Brenda. I think it can fit 8 reindeer in, depending on how big their antlers are. It has a partition inside it too.
The Adventurous Hill Trip
I did a hill trip on the free-range with Amy, Harry and Carol. We met the people in the carpark and we then realised the reindeer were on the path next to the carpark. They had made their way down the hill from the visit spot to the path next to the carpark. It was the first time that it happened to me.
Amy led the visitors up the hill with the food bag calling to the reindeer to follow her. Me and Harry herded the reindeer from the back. I was so focused with herding the reindeer that I fell into a knee-deep bog! My knees to my toes got soaked and I had to empty the bog water out of my wellies after I climbed out of it. Eventually we managed to get the visitors and reindeer to the top of the hill where the visit was happening.
The Reindeer Herding Badge
There is a very special badge going around the herders. Whoever has it passes it on to someone who they think deserves it. This could be a herder doing something very special or doing something above and beyond.
I did some Christmas card packing (6 cards in a pack). I did it on and off through the time I was there. When I was a way through packing, I realised some people had been packing 2 designs and some people had been packing 3 designs. And they were all mixed up. So I went all through the packs sorting them into 2 designs and 3 designs. I was so busy and worried about it I missed a hill trip. Ruth who had the special badge thought I deserved it for my work and gave it to me and I was so happy I got it.
I passed it onto Lotti a few days later as on a hill trip Lotti thought Holy Moley’s wee was a different colour so she sat with her for ages until she went for another wee. Me and Amy left her on the free-range sitting by Holy Moley. It was very important to check if it was the right colour or if it had any blood in it. If it has blood in it, it means the reindeer could have Red Water Fever caused by a tick bite. Luckily she was fine.
To be continued! Look out next week for the second installment of Emm’s blog.
One of our long-standing supporters is Carola, who started by adopting a reindeer many years ago, and has since amassed quite a herd! Here’s her story about her love of the reindeer:
I am not only a reindeer ‘adopter’ but also a reindeer ‘groupie’. Yes, a groupie. We have a group of friends that are all reindeer mad. Most of them live in the UK, one in Denmark and my husband and I live in the Netherlands. We visited the Reindeer Centre for the first time in 1999.
I fell in love with a greedy baby called Biscuit. I then adopted him in 2004. On the Facebook page of the Reindeer Centre I met the Pattisons who adopted Biscuit as well. Maggie and I became friends, and a few years later we met , in Aviemore of course. I met some other people on the reindeer Facebook, some at Christmas Events, we became friends on online, friends became friends so we got a whole group of reindeer mad people, the ‘reindeer groupies’. We’ve met several times, and try to spend some time together in Aviemore every October. It’s great to visit the reindeer with them, we all love the reindeer and can spend ages sitting on the hill and watching them.
I’ve been to some Christmas events with Candice and Pandra; had a great girls weekend with Belinda and Candice – attending Christmas events with the reindeer, and bubbles and disco lights in our hotel room. That was fun and it ended up with the three of us adopting Clouseau together.
And adopting – yes, love adopting. I’ve had quite a few reindeer. It started with Biscuit. Then his brother Bhoy who sadly died too young. I had Paintpot and Oryx, who is still around. I adopted Biscuit’s mum Glacier who was 16 at the time. Can remember Hen saying I was crazy, I know, I am. Six weeks later Glacier died. I had deaf Lego, Swedish-born Magnus, Tinto, and Mo who are all gone now. One of the sad things, getting that letter that no one of us wants to get, telling that your adopted reindeer has died. But that is how it is.
I can’t remember when the adopting thing got a bit out of hand. But now I am adopting 9 reindeer. Yes I know, I told you before, I’m crazy. I have a soft spot for my old man Oryx. I have Svalbard, a real character. I have Boris, who is NOT ugly guys! (Editors note: Boris was born with a wonky nose and let’s say he’s not our most handsome reindeer…) I have my girlie Morven who I fell in love with on the hill when she was a calf, staring at me. I have Celt, together with my husband, who was such a cute little boy and now is a real big lad. And we also both have Frost, a light one with nice face markings. I have Clouseau who I share with Belinda and Candice. I have Baffin, who (sorry Baffin), I think is difficult to recognize, but Belinda adopts him as well, and she does. And last October I adopted 14 year old, white , deaf Blondie, mother of Lego.
Because we live in the Netherlands we don’t get to see the reindeer as often as we would love to. But we’re lucky to have our groupie friends who visit more often and always want to make pictures of my little herd. Thanks guys. I wish we could have come and visit this June or October to see the reindeer, but sadly 2020 is not a very good year because of the Covid-19. But I enjoy the pictures from the friends and the herders, and the Facebook Live videos from Andi, which are great.
Oh, and since the Reindeer Centre can use some extra support this year, I decided to adopt reindeer number 10… not sure who yet.
And yes, I know, I’m mad, reindeer mad. And I love it.
Other than the few reindeer still out free-ranging who I haven’t seen lately, I’ve otherwise managed to get nice ‘adopt’ photos of everyone in the herd in the last few weeks. These photos are to go on the certificates that go out to all the lovely people who support us by adopting a reindeer, and as autumn is when reindeer look at their best, it is therefore when I take all the photos.
I realise (after sitting down to write this) that I’ve actually written a blog about photos before (to be fair, that was 5 years ago and I have a rubbish memory at times…) but hey, what’s wrong with repetition?! But actually I thought I’d just show you some of the ‘outtake’ photos, ‘cos everyone likes to see photos of reindeer looking daft, don’t they?
Most photos that don’t make the grade are just because of open mouths or closed eyes:
But after my trip over to our farm last month to photograph the reindeer there, I realised that I’d mainly just taken photos of Olympic looking ridiculous!
Then there’s just the odd ones:
Reindeer often need encouragement to look alert for their photo, with ears pricked. This results in my photography assistant (Andi) doing a lot of dancing in the background while making a lot of noise, or sprinting back and forth shaking a feed bag…
And sometimes we resort to throwing things at the reindeer (well, nearby anyway) to get their attention!
Most of the time it seems, this is what the reindeer think of me and my camera!
This week I’d like to talk about Tambourine and her extensive family. Tambourine was born in 2000, in our musical instruments theme. She was a distinctive looking reindeer, slightly on the petite side, with particularly pointy ears. I didn’t know her in her youth, but my memory of her in her latter years was as a rather suspicious lass with plenty of wiles and a furious expression! As a bit of a shier reindeer, she was perhaps not very well known amongst visitors, though she did have an adopter who branded their car with reindeer logos!
Tambourine was a prolific breeder, producing 12 calves over the course of her life, many of which have gone on to be good breeding reindeer themselves. Her wild streak has been passed on to her offspring, and we’ve always known that reindeer from her family will need lots of extra bribery and calm gentle handling to win their trust as calves. That said, her sons Allt, Gnu and Ost all went on to be solid, steady Christmas reindeer, not batting an eyelid at crowds and bright lights. Though they never wanted to be stroked!
Tambourine’s daughters Hobnob, Spy, Rain and Tap have all gone on to become mothers themselves. Hobnob has had three daughters (Swiss, Ocean, and this year’s as-yet-unnamed calf) and a son (Carnethy); and Spy has the same count of three daughters (Morven, Dante, and this year’s calf) and a son (Nok). Rain has reared a son (Koro) and is rearing a daughter this year. And Tap did a great job with her first calf last year, daughter Angua.
Whilst we ran both Gnu and Ost for one season as breeding bulls, we can’t say for definite that either fathered a calf. They then joined our Christmas team instead – a much more peaceful way of life!
Tambourine’s sisters Lorn and Tuppence were also successful mothers, with many descendants between them, and sister Flake attempted motherhood rather less prolifically, but I think I’ll talk about them another time – otherwise I should have titled this blog ‘Dynasties: Talisker’ and focused on their mum!
Tambourine lived to a ripe old age, finally passing away out on the mountains at 17 years old. She surpassed the average lifespan of a reindeer by several years, and leaves behind a strong family line which will hopefully continue for many years to come.