Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 1: Christmas 2022

I was very lucky to be volunteering with the herd for 8 days in December last year over Christmas. Fiona had said I could help with the Christmas parades that they were due to do. It was my first Christmas working with the reindeer and it was really magical and special experience.

A Fantastic Surprise at the start.

Once we got to Scotland, I had a few days off before I started work with the reindeer. There was so much snow so I was very excited. One of the days we went to Landmark in Carrbridge and my Mum and Dad said it was one of my early Christmas Presents and that there was going to be a surprise.

The surprise was that the reindeer were there!! I was so excited when we found the reindeer pen with Ruth and Mel the herders and the reindeer were Druid, Olmec, Poirot, Berlin and the 2 calves were Sorbet and Lolly. I think we also surprised Ruth and Mel with us turning up. Lol. It was funny to see the pen was next to dinosaur land and there was a gigantic T-Rex looking over the top but thankfully Fiona had made sure the noises were turned off otherwise the reindeer could have been very scared. We took all six reindeer for a walk around Landmark with Santa. I was allowed to help and led Druid whilst Santa led Poirot. It was amazing to see Poirot so calm as it was the first year Poirot was one of the Christmas Reindeer having been a breeding bull in October 2021. He used to charge at the fence protecting his girls and was very aggressive then. He was castrated in August 2022 and he became much calmer and became a Christmas Reindeer. I helped load the reindeer into the back of the lorry at the end and it was such a brilliant day and a fantastic surprise.

Poirot and Santa.
Emm helping out at Landmark!
Sorbet and Lolly – the calves at Landmark, with T-rex looming in the background.

Snow, Ice and Tamer Calves

A snowy Utsi’s Bridge.

It was very snowy, cold and icy in the first few days once I started and on my first morning, we took reindeer who had come back from Christmas events up onto the hill from the paddocks. There were adult reindeer and calves. I led Poirot, my first time leading a reindeer in snowy and icy conditions.  Andi had to dig a massive snow drift away from one of the gates in the hill enclosure as we couldn’t get through. When you walked on the snow, you didn’t know how deep it was so you had to be careful that you didn’t suddenly sink in! It was so icy Andi gritted some of the path for the Hill Trip visitors then I helped Andi worm the reindeer which was giving medicine to keep them healthy and clear of worm infection. I held onto the lead rope and put a few head collars on to the calves who were much tamer than when I was up last in October. They had grown lots too. Zoom the calf (the one who had been found on it’s own on the free-range) was so tame and would follow me and Andi around with the hand feed bribery bag whilst we were trying to catch the calves and put them on head collars. Zoom is best buddies with Sunny the hand reared reindeer calf.

Walking up to the enclosure in the snow.

In the few days before the big Christmas parades I did lots of duties in the paddocks and Reindeer House, made up the first-year adoption packs, helped file adoption leaflets away and packed adoption gifts and made feed mix with Lisette. Poo picking in the ice and snow was a new experience (you had to make sure you didn’t slip over and fall in the poo!). One morning Tilly was on Zoe Ball breakfast show on Radio 2 and we all listened to it on the radio. She was talking about the reindeer and Zoe Ball was very interested. Tilly was very good giving lots of information. Another day Joe had an interview for a BBC radio show in the paddocks before we opened. It seemed everyone wanted to know about the reindeer this time of year and our Cairngorm Reindeer Herd were very famous. There were still Christmas events happening and I helped Cameron mix the food then bagged it up for one event that Ruth was doing in Gleneagles.

The BBQ hut already for Santa’s arrival.

There were also things happening at Reindeer House with Christmas fun in the paddocks. I talked to people in the paddocks telling them all about the reindeer and also did meet and greet at times explaining what was happening during the Christmas fun. There was a Christmas quiz for people to do and all the herders wore their Christmas jumpers. Santa was in the BBQ hut where he could meet and talk to the children. There were herder talks and people could see the reindeer. The paddocks were decorated for Christmas and children were able to write letters to Santa and post them. Joe was making Christmas jokes all the time and advertising the Naked Herder’s Charity Calendar as well which went on to make a lot of money for the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. When I restocked shop there was Christmas music playing in the office.

The hill trips were also really magical. On one trip Gloriana was cleaning her calf by licking it when lying on a snow patch which was really lovely to see. I was able to do the hand feed talk on a few occasions and it was so special that the herders trusted me to tell everyone the important information. Some hill enclosure gates had massive snow drifts so we had to use other gates and walking on snow drifts was difficult as you would sink in suddenly knee deep in snow. One day the snow gates were closed on the main road but we were allowed up to the Sugarbowl car park. This was the first time I had seen them closed. The snow gates opened an hour later. When we got up to the enclosure we moved the ice and snow cleared the path of ice and snow with shovels and our feet.

Emm and Lotti!

The reindeer on the free-range could come and go as they wanted. We left the gate to the top corridor open so most of the free-rangers could come in to feed and we could count and I.D them. I did this one day with Cameron and Lisette. We wrote their ear tag numbers down and checked herd list in the shed. It was lovely to see that the mum’s and calves stay together a lot of the time eating the same pile of food and lying down together. The mothers looking after their calves like Christie licking Gelato. Another day the free-rangers had moved to the top ski car park and I went with Sheena and Cameron to find them. One day Hen and Andi had to go to the top of Silvermount to get the reindeer as they were not coming down to the usual calls.

Iskrem and Emmental in the snow.

The other thing we had to do was split off the reindeer for the paddocks and Christmas events from the herd when they were needed and move them down from the hill enclosure and then bring them back up when they had finished so we were very busy. On one of the days I took Frost, Dr Seuss and Nuii up the hill with Andi. I was leading at the front with Dr Seuss and my job was to look out for dogs as the reindeer are very scared of dogs as they think they are wolves. I had to make sure the others stayed close behind me as they like to stick together in a group. When we were at the hill enclosure we let Nuii, the calf, off the head collar first before the adults so that they didn’t panic.

Dante and Glacée.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Emm’s Christmas blog!

Emm

December 2022: photo blog!

For this week’s blog, I’ve uploaded a heap of photographs found on my phone during this particularly busy month to give a brief snapshot of what goes on in the life of a reindeer herder. Turns out I don’t take many photographs whilst I’m sat in front of a computer answering emails so the photos are quite biased to all the fun times I’ve had out and about. Thankfully this makes for a much more enjoyable blog… lots of pictures of reindeer!

3rd of December – Sunny making sure Fiona and I have all our bags before heading away on Christmas tour!
3rd of December – Later that day the reindeer enjoying a nap after a parade though Aberfeldy, Sunny completely flaked out!
8th of December – Feeding the free ranging herd. Okapi is always first over and is such a poser! What a beautiful lass.
9th of December – lots of shovelling and gritting every morning!
9th of December – Juniper and Fab enjoying the snow! Mother and daughter doing super well.
9th of December -Sorbet (Brie’s calf) digging through the snow. What a cutie!
10th of December – Joe and Emily-Kate feeding the herd their breakfast.
11th of December – at the back of a Hill Trip. What perfect winter conditions!
11th of December – Harry and Zoom being all cute!
11th of December – moving the herd from the ‘Bottom Corridor’, back out to the ‘East Enclosure’ after the last visit of the day.
11th of December – Santa in our Paddocks with the handsome Berlin! (Photo by Joe).
12th of December – blue skies and no wind! A spell of amazing winter wonderland conditions!
12th of December – Beanie seeing if we have anymore food going… she lives in constant hope there’s another morsel for her!
13th of December – the Reindeer House dogs waiting outside the enclosure. 15 year old Sookie in her lovely warm coat!
16th of December – Holy Moley and the free ranging herd brought themselves into the enclosure for a free lunch!
16th of December – Mardi making sure the Reindeer House dogs are also not neglected and get a wee treat!
17th of December – the reindeer were completely unfazed by a huge T-rex looming over their pen at Landmark, Carrbridge!
17th of December – Santa leading Poirot during the event at Landmark.

Ruth

A summary of December 2021

Merry Christmas everyone. As you may well imagine, when you have a herd of reindeer, December is a busy time of the year. And this year has been no different. In this blog, I’ll provide a summary of what happens at the Reindeer Centre throughout December.

We’ve been having plenty of ‘Christmas Fun’ in the Paddocks and Exhibition area. This has taken place every December weekend as well as every day this past week in the build up to Christmas Day. Here we’ve had Santa Claus in his cosy, fire-lit grotto as well as arts and crafts, a special Christmas activity booklet for the kids to complete and plenty of herder talks out in the paddocks alongside the reindeer. We hope you’ve enjoyed chatting to us herders and seeing Santa!

The BBQ hut warm and cosy, ready for Father Christmas!
The main man himself! Delighted to have him join us every weekend in December.

The weather hasn’t always played ball with our plans. In fact, the start of December brought some pretty wild weather. We had over 10cm of snow. The reindeer were delighted and could often be seen dancing with joy, which can be seen in the video below. However, the Ski Road leading up to the car park had to be closed on occasion due to dangerous, icy conditions and a few Hill Trips were subsequently cancelled.

Reindeer dancing with joy in the snow!
Blizzard conditions led to several Hill Trips being cancelled earlier in the month.

The snow melted about halfway through the month due to a mild spell of weather and we now have just a bit of frost on the ground in all areas except the very tops of the mountains. The weather didn’t put you hardy folks off visiting though and we had lots of visitors wrapping up warm and braving the elements on our hill trips. In fact, the December weekend hill trips were all booked up before December even started!

December is also the busiest month for our adoption scheme. As such we’ve been wading through seemingly never-ending torrents of incoming adoptions. All the herders have gallantly pulled long shifts of office work and about a week before Christmas Day we managed to paddle through the swell and get through the backlog of adoptions. No adoption was waiting more than a couple of days after being received so we hope that you receive your packages in a timely manner. During the busiest times, herders were writing letters whilst on tour and we recruited help from Linda and Tina who have been fantastic at writing letters for us from their homes.

Fiona and Ruth writing letters on an event, whilst waiting for people to visit the reindeer.

One of the other events that happens over November and December is that a selection of trained reindeer may go out on tour around the nation. Events are often relatively local, however we reached as far south as Windsor this year and went as far away as Llanelli in South Wales. Training for the reindeer occurs throughout summer and really hots up during the autumn. The reindeer may be in a display pen or participating in a sleigh procession. It varies from event to event. The team and their herders will stay at overnight bases throughout the UK, and they will travel in big lorries with lots of space which means that the reindeer will often lie down on the straw when travelling or as some of you may have seen, they may also lie down when they’re in a pen. They like to relax whenever possible. Our calves have even had a bit of exposure to Christmas events and overall, they’ve been absolute champions.

One of our Christmas lorries on the road, containing two herders and six reindeer (usually 4 adult males and 2 calves).
Bond, Clouseau, Holy Moley, Trilby and Akubra lying down in a pen in Lancaster earlier this month.

Colin D (we have two Colins!) has clocked up the most miles of all of us herders and that’s good news for the rest of us as he produces the funniest videos. Here is Colin narrating Dr Seuss’ gardening skills. Stay tuned for more of Colin’s videos in a future blog/social media posts…

Colin Delap and Dr Seuss with a special Christmas offer…

We are still open as usual until the 6th of January 2022. The Centre will then close until the 12th of February, re-opening in time for the February half-term. The entire herd will soon be free-ranging either on the Cairngorms or the Cromdales, fingers crossed for another cold and snowy winter. Thank you for all our wonderful visitors, supporters, blog-readers, and adopters throughout 2021. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, from all the reindeer herders!

Ben

Santa’s Choice

This Christmas the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre has been given a very fancy Christmas present.  Jaguar cars have given us a 4 x 4 F Pace to drive around free of charge for the next 6 months. Adorned with Cairngorm Reindeer and Jaguar logos it has certainly turned a few heads!

So on Christmas Day when we were just about to do a local reindeer event at the Coylumbridge Hotel, Santa was in a dilemma, there were two modes of transport. A team of reindeer and sleigh, with a hard wooden seat and a team of exhausted reindeer (who had done too much flying on Christmas Eve) – or an extremely comfortable, fully automatic Jaguar F Pace 4 x 4.

He chose the Jag, but of course the children waiting at the hotel would be very disappointed if Santa rocked up in a car so he was ceremoniously booted out and plonked in the sleigh instead!

 

All our reindeer events have gone extremely well this year and everywhere we have gone we have put a smile on people’s faces.  All those reindeer we train to harness are now back on the hills and enjoying a well-deserved rest, and it will not be until next October that we bring out the harness, dig out the sleighs and decorations and prepare for another Christmas season. For the Christmas reindeer it’s not a bad life, 10 months off and 2 months doing some work. I can think of worse jobs!

Nutkins & Anster

 

All our reindeer have now grown their lovely thick winter coats and laid down substantial fat layers to survive the winter. But where is that cold snowy weather, indeed this is one of the mildest Christmases I can remember. Maybe the New Year will bring the snow, we will just have to wait and see.

 

So from all of us here at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre we hope you had a good one this Hogmanay and best wishes for 2019!

Tilly

A Second Day in the Life of a Herder on Tour

It’s a couple of days since I wrote my last blog and I’m on a roll, so here’s another. We’ve travelled back to South Wales from Cornwall, and there’s another event to be done.

7.45am: Once I again I greet my alarm clock with despair, and consider whether I would be better suited to a job working nights somewhere. The first few minutes of my day are not improved when I remember that I arrived back to Wales yesterday sans toothbrush, which is languishing in Cornwall. Andi (infinitely quicker than me in the morning to cope with life) nips out to the shed to give the reindeer a small breakfast, but they are deeply unimpressed that she doesn’t give them any lichen – that can wait until we get to our event.

reindeer-chasing-hen
Exercising the reindeer in the field yesterday afternoon

8.20am: There’s no time this morning to take the reindeer out into the field to stretch their legs, but being as they had a good blast when we got back to the farm yesterday afternoon, we’re not too worried that they’ll be too full of bounce. We collect up their feed bowls, load them up and off we go, bang on schedule at 8.45am.

A beautiful setting for our welsh farm base
A beautiful setting for our welsh farm base

We’re staying on a farm near Cwmbran, and Andi and I know it well having been here every winter for years on end. Being in rural Wales, that therefore means winding lanes and big hedges, and the first 3 miles of any journey is a narrow gauntlet to be run before we emerge on to a dual carriageway. We always play the ‘gauntlet game’ here – guessing how many cars we’ll meet – and I thrash Andi soundly this morning. What can I say – we have to make our own fun on tour…

9.55am: Today’s event is in a wee town in South Wales, and is a favourite of mine, being very well run. It’s our most ‘standard’ type of event, with a quiet set up area away from the crowds, then the parade and finally a couple of hours in a display pen before we pack up and head away. We head to the pen first to drop off our signs, feed bowls, water and leaflet box, and then make our way another half kilometre along the road to our set-up area.

10.30am: Having set up our tether rope for the reindeer so they can come out of the lorry and have a second (small!) breakfast before the parade, Andi climbs through the partition in the lorry into the reindeer area to put on their halters. A couple of minutes later there is a muffled squeak, as Paintpot has shaken his head unexpectedly and clouted Andi really hard across the face. She sticks her head back out through the partition for me to check there’s no blood (i.e. hers, not Paintpot’s!), and then emerges, reindeer in tow, with a visible bump and bruise on her forehead – an occupational hazard of the job. Paintpot appears to be smirking. We potter around the field a couple of times, letting the reindeer stretch their legs a bit, before attaching them to their tether and giving them a pile of food each.

11.30am: Reindeer are fed and happy, the event organizers are faffing with the sleigh, cable ties and a tiny camera with which to film the parade (how long can it take to attach a 3 inch camera?!), and we’re about to start harnessing up. We’ve had to had a quick experiment with Tanner to check we can actually do the harness up around his fat belly – Tilly’s obviously been feeding him too much at the farm – but unfortunately for Tanner we managed, so it’s his turn to pull the sleigh today, along with Sooty.

12 noon: We are good to go. The best thing about this event is its organization – it’s a huge parade of which we’re only a small part, but whereas most events are slightly spoiled visually by a sea of security people wearing hi-viz jackets, this town comes up trumps. There are apparently 50 police here today on duty, but almost all of them are dressed as elves! Looks-wise they are in keeping with the parade, and everything runs very smoothly with no problems – after all, who messes with a 6ft elf?

Sooty and Tanner flanked by their giant security elves!
Sooty and Tanner flanked by their giant security elves!

12.15pm: There’s been a brief delay as everybody in the parade is organized and set off in the right order, with a disagreement about where the St Bernard dogs pulling carts (oh yes) should go. NOT right in front of the reindeer is the answer! The band should have been at the front but were all in the toilet at the wrong moment, so have to be slotted in further down the line… We are the back markers as usual, and once we’re over the speed bump then Santa gets in and off we go. Our sleigh has very low ground clearance (it only flies on Christmas Eve) so grounds at the slightest opportunity, leading to us frequently kicking Santa out while we heft it over a speed bump or kerb.

Our team of reindeer behave impeccably, with Andi and I feeling slightly surplus to requirements at times, particularly so Andi at the back of the sleigh. She might as well have gone for a coffee instead to be honest, being as Paintpot, Minute, Nazca and Olmec plod along with no guidance needed at all. At the front I am barely needed either, with Sooty and Tanner being total pros. As one of the elves comments, we should be concerned for our jobs! My main task in the entire parade ends up being yelling at a helium balloon seller, marching right towards Tanner with an enormous bunch of balloons. Tanner’s eyes pop out on stalks, but the rogue bunch of balloons with legs is accosted by a police elf, who quickly sends her packing in the opposite direction.

1.10pm: After possibly the slowest, but most relaxed, parade I’ve ever done, we finally arrive in the pen. Andi unattaches the reindeer from the sleigh as quickly as possible, and the crowd has a good laugh at Nazca, who has clocked the food bowls hidden in the corner of the pen instantly. He beats us to them, and then batters us continuously with his antler twiglets as we try to space the bowls out around the pen. Toerag.

And then… I hear a chorus of gasps, and exclamations of horror. Everyone is pointing in alarm towards Minute, who 10 seconds ago had two antlers, and now only has one… Oh dear. I grab the offending antler out of his bowl where it has fallen, and head to the side of the pen to make my way around, explaining to everyone that this is completely natural at this time of year and that poor Minute has not been maimed for life! A cast antler is a very useful prop in a pen, as everyone’s natural instinct is to lean over the barriers and touch the furry velvet antlers. When still attached to the reindeer this is a strict no-no, but once one has fallen off then suddenly a new opportunity arises, and lots of hands reach out eagerly to feel the soft velvet. I do laps of the pen continuously with the antler until Andi takes over, and I head off to retrieve the lorry from the set-up, filing away a mental note of the location of a brownie stall en route. Gotta keep my priorities straight…

Antler disaster for Minute! Photo by @HortopHortop via Twitter
Antler disaster for Minute! Photo courtesy of @HortopHortop via Twitter

3pm: After the exceptionally long parade and the huge crowds around the pen (roughly 15,000 people attended today’s event), the afternoon has flown by, and we’ve just finished packing up. Thankfully it’s been dry which is always nicer anyway, as nothing is worse than packing soaked straw (rain and reindeer pee) into giant plastic bags with frozen bare hands… If any of you ever catch me at that point and choose then to tell me I’ve the best job in the UK – I may argue. But today it’s dry and I’m warm (fleece lined trousers!) so all is good with the World.

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Snoozing Olmec! © John Lewis via Facebook

After a hasty gallop into Tesco on a toothbrush related mission, Team Handi are ready to go. The reindeer will be tired after a busy day and deserve to get back to base as soon as possible, so we do our best to oblige. Andi wins the gauntlet game this time.

sun-reindeer
Dramatic backlit reindeer! 

4.50pm: Reindeer are back in their barn, the animal movement license paperwork for the day is finished, we are back in our cottage and another day is done. We’ve checked in briefly with Fiona to let her know that all has gone well, and written our ‘event report’. This details carefully all relevant info from the day, including the travel times taken, details of the pen (was it big enough etc), set-up area and behaviour of the reindeer, plus anything that needs addressing for future years. At the bottom of the sheet is the most important bit though – the Santa rating. Today’s Santa has garnered himself a big fat shiny 10, based on: good banter, own beard (bonus point), glittery boots and the fact that he didn’t instantly address all the reindeer as ‘Dasher’ or ‘Dancer’. A Santa rating of 10 is not too common, or at least not from the pen of Team Handi, so good work that man!

Now, to finally brush my teeth…

Hen

Christmas Reindeer Chaos

As December dawned upon Glenmore the word ‘Christmas Fun’ began to be whispered amongst the herders, tinsel appeared and Christmas sneezed upon the Reindeer Centre once more.

The Christmas period is one of our busiest times of year and we feel we should do something a wee bit extra special this is where Christmas Fun begins. Over December we arm ourselves with Christmas cheer and crafting supplies and head to the paddocks. An army of extra herders appear and we make decorations, Christmas hands and even help Santa himself – he valiantly mans the paddocks and gets all the last minute Christmas requests!

Santa's weird reindeer
Santa even had time to meet two very unusual little reindeer!

We even had a major reindeer herding success when one afternoon before Christmas when myself and Imogen went for a shwizzle around the mountain roads to check for any rogue reindeer. We do this daily as the girls have a great habit of creating some rather impressive traffic jams and if so we swoop in like a reindeer removal squad and deposit them atop a ridge with some yummy food. It’s also a great wee break from Christmas madness down at Reindeer Hoose!

This time we had a very specific mission to seek out Lulu and her lovely calf Bhuachaille who had not been seen properly since September! October is usually our month for training our wee calfies to wear a head collar but wee Bhuachaille managed to miss out on all of this! The mission was bring him in and halter train him so he could participate in our Christmas day parades.

We drove up the road and saw nothing, went to the ski-ing carpark and again saw nothing promising until we spotted a loitering car then one reindeer… then 24 reindeer including Lulu! I ran down the carpark and caught Lulu so fast I forgot about getting a head collar (thank god for Imogen!) and then forgot to take off my mittens so once again required assistance. In a space of one minute we had Lulu haltered and were heading with the herd to the hill enclosure with Bhuachaille in tow. Not bad for just a wee afternoon drive!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=babqms7-bVs&w=420&h=315]

wish
Creative Christmas wishes, beautifully made in our paddocks!

The ultimate day is Christmas Eve, definitely one of the busiest days of the year and the team that day was Andi, Hen, Sheena, Imogen, Abby, Anne and a very festive Shona! We took the busiest visit of the year, and to our knowledge of all time, with a whopping 51 cars on the visit! Have a look at all the people!

xmasevevisit
Just one or two visitors on Christmas Eve!

We all survived Christmas fun and even wore some very stylish jumpers!

Group
A triumphant Christmas eve team!

Hope you all have had a wonderful Hogmanay!

Abby

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