Olly’s photo blog

I have been here at the Reindeer Centre (on and off) for eight years now, the last three has been the longest stint I have done with the Reindeer Centre. Now admittedly this is mostly due to Covid, but if it wasn’t for the Reindeer Centre’s generosity in keeping me around as the world went in to lockdown the week that I was meant to be leaving, I probably would never have stuck around and got more involved with the surrounding area.

I’m not one for talking a lot, so here are some of my favourite photos from the past three years with some words.

I usually work with the reindeer through the winter, as this is the time of the year they are really in their element, pun intended. The moment this photo was taken it was wind chill of -7 with wind gusts of 60mph. It is something I truly wish everyone who visits the reindeer could witness, to see their greatness, as the reindeer are behaving as though it was a mild autumn day.
This was an incredible moment, during the calving season of 2020, I was lucky enough to watch the birth of Legume (mother Scully) and see him take his first steps. Not something you can see every day, reindeer being a secretive animal especially when it comes to calving. 
This is a photo I took of Roman silhouetted on the skyline, I thought it was a good.
I think this photo of Tiree, a Reindeer House dog, does a good job summing up of a feeling I, and I feel a few other herders, get at times through the Christmas season.
This photo of Spartan and Roman looks very impressive and in the heat of a fight. Far from it, in truth, this was just a half-hearted tussle, preparation before the rut. But looks cool.
Something that I take a lot of joy from seeing is a reindeer yawning, I manage to catch one in action, though you are really missing the full affect without the noise.
The reindeer being semi-domesticated are relatively easy to work with (especially the castrates) but then there are times you remember that they are still an animal, and not ones for negotiation. On this day the rut was in full swing, and Morse (a breeding bull) hopped the fence, as he found the cows on the other side of the fence too enticing. Joe and I did manage to return him back to his group, though all the herding was done a good 20ft away from him.  I took this photo when we were in the shed, I find it fascinating to see such a difference in the reindeer when in rut, not only physical, but behaviour.
Throughout the past three years, I have worked on many maintenance projects, one of the on-going jobs is the boardwalk up in our hill enclosure (which every slat, post, and nail has been carried up – no helicopters) this summer I, along with the help of others, reinstated the top platform, which I was very pleased to finish with some flair! And pride in every step. I hope you get to see it someday.

Olly

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

Boomerang reindeer

After all summer wandering out on the free range, the females come back to the enclosure and we check them and separate who we need for the rut and who can go back out. This year, three of the girls going back out were Sambar, Okapi, and Cailin. They have been known to return occasionally, and this is the story of one time where the toublesome trio turned up almost daily and would be outside the enclosure and need to be pushed out..

Take 1: 30th September 12:30pm ish

Morna and I had just finished the hill trip and were checking the reindeer in the other enclosures, where there were bulls and cows.

“Silver mount – fine, top corridor – fine, bottom corridor – three extra?”

Okapi, Sambar, and Cailin had waited outside the gate used their big brown eyes and fluttered their eyelashes to trick an unsuspecting visitor to let them in, much to Bandy’s delight. We separated them and pushed them back out on the hill.

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Bandy and his herd of girls

Take 2: 3rd October  08:20am

Hen, Andi, and myself  checked the roads in the morning as we always do, and found Okapi and Cailin standing at the side of the road staring down in to the enclosure like a golden eagle on a levrit, scheming.  Sambar was found the day before alone outside the enclosure and so we took her in until we could find her some company out on the free range. Maybe they were scheming, taking turns going in to the enclosure a day at a time! So we lead the two girls into the enclosure, reunited them with Sambar, and once again pushed them out.

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Okapi looking moody in the mist

Take 3: 4th October 16:3pm

RTC (reindeer traffic control) were called out as the troublesome trio were causing a blockage on the Cairngorm road. Morna and I headed out to move them, and after a small discussion of the question we seem to be asking a lot recently “take them up or down?”, we moved them up on to windy-ridge. There was a glimmer of hope as they walked over the summit, that they were finally heading into the hills.

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Sambar, happy to be back?

Take 4: 5th October 08:10am

The three girls are once again found below Cairngorm road and I volunteered to take them out to ‘the flats’ (that is the plateau area below the northern corries) and I was determined to take them out where they wouldn’t come back. I had a bucket of feed, wellies and flat cap, but unfortunately no gloves, which I soon regretted as my hands felt as if they were being pierced by shards of dry ice. We walked through a glen, over a river, dodged the bogs (which are always deeper than your wellies). Eventually I stumbled onto a deer track that was poached with Roe deer, Red deer, and now Reindeer tracks. We eventually stopped at the base of Lurcher’s crag, I scanned my surroundings to see if there was a road, footpaths or anything else nearby where the reindeer could be a nuisance. But we were enclosed by the over-towering hills. I gave them some feed and after a one-to-one with them about why they should head in to the hills, I headed back.

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A good shot of Cailin, with her characteristic hair tuft between her antlers!

“I hope that’s the last I see of them for a while”, I thought to myself as I left…… but I doubt it!

Olly

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

Hello, my name is Olly; I’ve been working at the Reindeer Centre (on and off) for about 3 years now. I first came up volunteering for work experience when I was studying Countryside conservation and Wildlife management at Sparsholt College. I started once more this season in May and since being here there hasn’t been a dull moment.

I keep on being badgered to write a blog but I have never been sure what to say. I am also dyslexic and so unfortunately writing is not one of my favourite things to do, but… I do like to take pictures! So here are some photos of mine that I have taken since I have been back with my perspective on them. And as they say, “a picture paints a thousand words”..

Picture 1: May time is calving time, which means its time for 5am starts, in our search for the newborns out on the hill. I often like an early start (as long as I have a strong coffee) as you’re seizing the day. What a day it was, not a cloud in sight and just a soft cooling breeze with the hill alight with the morning sun. I was also excited to see Black Grouse lekking in the enclosure. We eventually found the new mother Gazelle and her wee one, who was a strong healthy male.

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Black Loch looking out to Creag Chalamein

 

Picture 2: One thing I love about it here are all the lochs and rivers, as a few of us at the Reindeer Centre made a New Year’s resolution to jump in a fresh body of water once a month or week. Trying to do this down south was rather difficult and I had to go to the coast to achieve it. But now in Scotland there’s somewhere to swim around every corner. Since being back I have been in 5 different lochs and a couple of rivers. It may be cold at times but you’re surprisingly warm once you’re out, athough I’m usually on a run when I do jump in so the blood is pumping. But I highly recommend an occasional dip.

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Nothing like a quick dip to warm (or cool) the cockles of your heart.

 

Picture 3 and 4: The long socks and trainers were on, my belly was full of stew and the calf was well rested…. It was time for the cows and calves to head out on the free range. We headed out late in the evening to lessen the chances of us bumping into dogs and as we came over the brow of the hill the hills were looking fierce, but the show must go on.

With Tilly leading one of the females (Fern) on a halter; myself, Fiona, Morna, and Ceris followed from the sides and the back in case the reindeer decide to go their own way. At one point they did, but we managed to get them on the right path in the end.

Pushing them out wasn’t so bad. All you had to do was keep the right distance – far enough not to scare them but close enough to keep them moving. Apart from almost falling off the edge of a scree at one point it was just a case of getting them far out in to the hills. As we let them run off, it was rewarding to see calves running up in to the hills alongside their mothers.

Now came the race against the light! We were lucky and just as it became pitch black we made it back to the van, although going through the trees past Utsi’s bridge was rather eerie. We eventually got back to Reindeer House and celebrated with a wee dram.

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The clouds looming low over the hills as we set off.

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The cows and calves silhouetted against the low cloud.

 

Picture 5: The woman in this photo herding the reindeer is called Sally. She often wears a shirt with a sunflower design on it which suits her personality to a T. She brings sunshine to Reindeer House as she is a true pleasure to work with, and has to be one of the jolliest people I have ever met.

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Sally closely followed by the herd.

 

Picture 6: Though our days are busy and the hills and forestry tracks are a hive of activity, once the clock reaches 5:30pm Glenmore turns into a ghost town. With the sun setting late in the evening, we go to the hills. It is treat to have this on your doorstep and is a grand way to end the day, by gazing into the distance of this colossal landscape. It really makes you think how small we all are.

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The hills shining and bright as the sun goes down. We feel like the only ones alive.

Olly

 

Who’s who at Reindeer House (Part 1)

Times are a-changing and we thought we’d keep all you lovely readers informed with who is working here at Reindeer House. People have left, people have arrived, but the reindeer herding goes on…

So here goes:

Imogen and Abby (aka The Fierce and The Fluff) who both worked here for a few years have left in the last couple of months, moving on to new places and new adventures. We miss them both greatly (and their banter!), and for all of you out there who knew them as herders, we know you’ll miss their characters too..

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Abby on a beautiful day with Lace.

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A sunny winter’s day surrounded by reindeer is enough to make anyone, Imogen included, smile!

Ruth is our newest member of staff, who joined us during May. As a redhead she has gone through so much sun-cream since arriving that we’ve decided there should be a redhead grant from the government to cover the cost of this, so you can wish us luck on this venture. Ruth has a fantastic knowledge of the plants and animals of Scotland, and makes tours out to see the reindeer a whole new learning experience for both visitors and others herders!

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Ruth with one of our calves from this year.

Olly is back! Olly has worked at the reindeer centre on and off seasonally over the last few years, but is finally here to stay (we just can’t keep him away). Known for his flamboyant shirts and braces and excellent (and probably early-morning-sleep-related) comments, Olly is just great. Full of enthusiasm, knowledge, practical skills and creativity, Olly keeps us amused and is an excellent man to have about.

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Olly amongst a hungry herd of reindeer.

After having been here only four months Morna has proved she can handle the most difficult of situations. She wears many hats – equally skilled with hammer or pen, paint brush or calculator. Her calmness is appreciated by the reindeer who are at ease in her presence and us herders appreciate her love for life. Growing up on the Orkney Isles she is at home in wild places (but whatever you do don’t start a snow ball fight with her as she is likely to hurt herself).

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Morna enjoying her first calving season.

Dave has been here now for just over a year, so is a well-known bearded face at Reindeer House. Our only resident New-Zealander, Dave has worked on his Scottish reindeer call to make sure the reindeer can understand him, which makes us all chuckle here at the Centre. Dave never seems to get fazed or frazzled, and is one of those genuinely lovely people who calms the rest of us down simply by being around, and visitors seem to come away from the hill trip in a much more relaxed mood than they began in. And although he has been here for over a year, the secret finally slipped out that Dave has never mixed a bag of hand feed…

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Dave finds time for a moment of quiet contemplation on the hill.

Hen and Andi have both been here for a good number of years, and make sure everything runs smoothly here at the Centre. They are in charge of everything from our whole reindeer adoption database, to creating new road signs, to making sure the reindeer get the right amount of food, and to keeping us newbies in line. As Hen has been confined to crutches for the next few months, she is currently being our office-extraordinaire and we are all on orders to take photos of the reindeer down so she can keep up with how they are doing. Andi has taken up the slack of the missing Hen’s ID knowledge on the hill, and is providing a fountain of knowledge and tips for who is who. Andi is the herder to go to for all our stupid questions, and keeps us in line with her patience and loveliness.

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Hen on Christmas tour, with a sleepy Topi on her shoulder.

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Andi leading the herd of calves and other females out onto the hill.

Catriona is the oracle: our accountant, organiser, keeper of records, and all other hosts of jobs that need an experienced hand. She has been keeping the reindeer centre in line for longer than a few of us have been alive, and I’m not sure how the centre would work without her.

Sheena is a friend of the Reindeer Centre and has been around for over 25 years. She works on and off, filling in days here and there. She is the master of badge-making and incredibly full of energy at all times.

Stella and Ann are our long-term regular volunteers. They have helped out in many a sticky situation, have known the Reindeer Centre and all the staff over the years, and never fail to cheer us up with an odd packet of jaffa-cakes or biscuits turning up on the table.

And last, but of course by no means least, come the rest of the Smith family. Tilly and Alan, the owners of the company, are kept busy both here at the Reindeer Centre and over on their farm, working with not only reindeer but a whole host of animals, including Soay sheep, Wild Boar and Belted Galloway Cows. Over on the farm there is also Derek and Colin (brothers of Alan), and Alex (son of Tilly and Alan). Emily is Alex’s wife and, showing the reindeer centre to be a true family business, also works here for the odd day here and there.

Fiona, as many of you will know, is the backbone of the Reindeer Centre. Along with her brother Alex, they make the first native Scottish reindeer herders and her knowledge of the reindeer and how to work with them is long-ingrained. Fiona ensures that the whole of the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre organisation runs smoothly and the reindeer are happy and healthy all year round. Fiona also takes on much of the behind-the-scenes work, along with the hectic job of organising the whole of the Christmas period…

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An inquisitive girl!

We have too many volunteers and occasional staff to mention by name who turn up and massively help us out on a weekly basis, but who without, many jobs would go undone. So a big shout out to them all, for their fantastic help over the years. And of course, there are a whole host of others, family and friends of the Reindeer Centre, who work on and off or just help out, and are there to cheer us up if the occasion arises!

A Jolly January!

As many of you know we close for 4-5 weeks between the school holidays in January / February. This year some of my colleagues had lots of exciting places to go lined up – Thailand, Namibia, New Zealand, Wales and for me just bonny Scotland! Myself, Hen and Andi were the (hard) core staff over this period and a few others roped in on the odd day to help feed the reindeer. Carrying 6 buckets of feed out on your own is impossible so Tilly, Alex, Olly, Andy and Sheena were around to help out as well.

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Olly and I leading the reindeer out of the mountain enclosure for the winter. Tiree, my collie, adding another skill to reindeer dogs by carrying a wee bit of reindeer food to help lighten my load.

Once we are closed we don’t use our mountain enclosure so Olly and I had the pleasure of taking the reindeer out onto the free range once we had shut up shop! We were seeing them pretty much everyday giving them a good feed to manage where they were during this time. They would move around a fair bit but never said no to a tasty bag of feed when we called them. With only the odd small dump of snow this was pretty easy to access the hills which meant we had some lovely walks out to find and feed the reindeer. On these walks out we could take the dogs, as long as they were well behaved! I was dog sitting for friends on holiday in New Zealand so Frankie was a new addition to being a ‘reindeer dog’ and she took to it very well. Our dogs are trained to sit and stay wherever we ask them for the duration we are off in the distance feeding the reindeer but Frankie had to be tethered, she wasn’t quite as savvy yet but she waited patiently. For ten days I was on my own with help from a crew of folk to carry feed onto the hill for me. Turns out with her paniers on Tiree (my collie) can also carry a wee bit of food… every little helps! It’s quite weird being the only one in work… extra tea breaks! Don’t tell the boss 😉

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Tiree and Frankie waiting while we go off to feed the reindeer (top left). Fiona leading Okapi with an improvised head collar (top right). Tiree and Sookie doing office work with me (bottom left). Three of the oldest girls in the her – Tambourine (17 years old), Tuppence (16) and Lilac (18).

On one occasion, it was actually a day off, we (myself, Tilly, Olly and Holly) went for a morning run up onto Cairngorm as it was such a lovely day. We took our pack of hounds and needless to say they had an absolute ball. On route we spotted a wee group of reindeer we hadn’t seen in a week or so, so Tilly and Holly carried on back to the car with all the dogs, being as reindeer and dogs don’t mix, while Olly and I went to see which ones they were and see if we could persuade them to follow us down, knowing we had no reindeer related useful items to catch or lure them with. We called them over and they came straight away, no questions asked. As they got closer they were a bit confused to begin with as we weren’t in the same reindeer herding attire they are used to, however we certainly sounded like reindeer herders so good old Okapi was first up to sus us out. All I had to pretend it was reindeer food was an empty packet of Haribo (of course it was empty) so I rustled it around, pretending it was reindeer food and low and behold she fell for it. So now I’m in the position to put a head collar on her… only problem was we didn’t have a head collar. So Olly whipped off his belt, I rolled up my jacket and she wore the belt like a collar and my jacket acted as a lead rope. It worked a treat and she followed like a lamb. The others followed too so we brought them a bit closer to home where Andi then met us with some actual reindeer food, not Haribo!

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Feeding the herd on a beautiful sunny day with the northern corries in the background (top left). Moskki, Tiree and Murdoch enjoying their mountain runs (top right). Fiona with Moskki in a rucksack as Moskki tries to have a lick of an antler while still attached to the reindeer’s head (bottom left). Hill running with the hounds (bottom right).

So we are back in business here at the Reindeer Centre. Shop and paddocks are open and we are doing our daily guided tour up to see the herd on the hill. The chosen reindeer to spend a couple of weeks in the paddocks are Sambar, Hopper, Hobnob, Jenga, Israel and Inca. They’ll be back on the hill once schools go back. Everyday we wander out to locate the herd and with our lack of snow at the moment that is very easy indeed.

Fiona

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