Reindeer Identification

What a lovely herd, but how do you learn all their names?

Reindeer identification is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of the work here at the Reindeer Centre. Of course there are a few individual reindeer that are very distinctive and easy to spot like Sherlock with those enormous antlers and Dr Suess with his with white nose. I’m also pretty confident telling apart the two white yearling males (99 and Mr Whippy) as long as they’re not too far away!

Sherlock is a very distinctive boy with big antlers.
Most visitors to the hill will be able to recognise Dr Seuss within a few mins of meeting him.

I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to try to get to know who’s who for the less obvious members of the herd. During the summer months while I’m here, the hill enclosure is home to a lovely smaller herd made up of some of the bulls. It’s a good time to try to learn a few reindeer while they’re part of a smaller group and I can see them most days.

The ear tags on the reindeer are colour coded depending on the year they are born, for example last years calves all have red ear tags (I was lucky enough to be volunteering the day they were tagged!). As a rule, I tend to look for any distinguishing features first like coat colour, markings, antler shape and size, and body size. After that, I’ll try to spot what colour the ear tag is. Some of the older reindeer are easier because there are fewer to choose from with that year’s colour ear tag.

Zoom showing off his red ear tag. But it’s his white face markings and cheeky character which give his identity away!

As well as the more obvious physical features, its been really helpful to speak to the other herders to get hints and tips on how they remember who’s who. For example, Sheena pointed out that Poirot’s antlers come out straight from his forehead like two fingers or the number “11” and his number is “211”. Isla told me how she remembers Arta’s name because the pattern on his nose looks like artwork and Mollie told me that Cicero has the biggest of the silvery coloured antlers.

Poirot having a snooze in the Paddocks. The unique shape of his left antler helps Fran identify him.

This week I learned that Merida, Dr. Suess’ mum, also has a lovely white face and I was able to spot my personal favourite, Beanie, thanks to her lovely speckly nose and the fact that she was with a group of two cows with their calves.

Merida on the left has a very distinctive white hourglass face markings. But who are the others?! Chickpea is in the middle and Solero on the right.

However, often, just when I get the hang of this ID game, things start to change. The boys summer coats don’t really last more that a few weeks it seems so no sooner was I was feeling very confident identifying Lupin and Kernel with their beautiful dark summer coats they’re both already growing their winter coats! We’re also bringing some of the girls into the enclosure which is adding ever more complexity to the task. My ID skills are definitely a work in progress and I’m loving taking every opportunity to watch the herd and learn who everybody is.

Lupin in his short dark summer coat at the end of June…
…2 months later at the end of August, Lupin is growing through his winter coat and is looking more silvery.
Fran helping to bring some more free ranging girls into the enclosure. Yet more names to learn!

Fran

Photo Blog: August 2023

August has been a fun month. The first half of the month was super busy with holiday makers but as Scottish schools went back the second half of the month got slightly quieter with visitors and we’ve been having lots of free range action which I love. Generally we start to see the free ranging females more as they come down in altitude as the weather gets cooler. Towards the end of the month we also start bringing in the mums and their calves back into the enclosure. They spend June through to August/early September out roaming the hills learning how to be little wild reindeer and enjoying all the best grazing, but when the autumn rolls around it’s time for them to learn what a feed bag is and in time, how to walk on a halter etc. The following photos are a small snapshot of what’s been occurring…

8th of August – Fab and her mum Juniper out on the free range. Juniper is currently the only reindeer in the herd who doesn’t grow antlers.
9th of August – Okapi out free ranging. I had her on a halter as she was my chosen ‘Judas reindeer’, helping me move a small herd of cows from one hillside to another.
11th of August – The herd in the enclosure relaxing in between Hill Trips.
12th of August – Sorbet, a yearling female, grazing between the big boys! Behind her is Dr Seuss and Morse, and she’s sandwiched between Spartan and Poirot.
14th of August – Joe feeding the herd in the enclosure their breakfast. Vanilla is the white reindeer at the back.
17th of August – The herd on the move in the beautiful late afternoon sunshine.
18th of August – After finding a few too many holes, Amy B and Cameron decide to replace the tonne bag that sits underneath the cement mixer where we mix the reindeer food. But which one to go for? Big dilemma to discuss in the office.
20th of August – Andi and a sea of velvet antlers. Dr Seuss and his distinctive white face at the front.
21st of August – After finding a bunch of cows and calves up on the Cas car park on her day off, I roped Fran in to helping me bring them in to the enclosure. Was a very fun and successful afternoon.
22nd of August – Another busy morning, bringing yet more cows and calves into the enclosure. Here’s Hopscotch and calf.
26th of August – Lupin looking incredibly handsome even on a soggy day.
27th of August – Lovely to have males, females and the calves all in the enclosure. The cow lying down is the lovely Marple and Sherlock is in the big bull in the background.
28th of August – Turtle back in the enclosure after a summer out. Both her and her calf are looking good.
29th of August – Another free range mission to go and retrieve this little cutie and her mum Pinto. They are both looking super and are now back in our hill enclosure for the autumn,
29th of August – Sherlock stripping his velvet. The next day we brought him down to the Paddocks.

Ruth

Volunteer Blog: My Journey to the Cairngorms

What started off looking for volunteering opportunities for my daughter, turned out to be an unexpected adventure of a lifetime.

I have been following the Reindeer herd for some time on Instagram, when I saw they were looking for volunteers to spend a week with the herders and learning all about reindeer.  So with enthusiasm I suggested this to my daughter, however on further inspection you had to be 18 and she wasn’t quite that age.  I woke up the following morning and had a thought… maybe this is something I should do?  After a very difficult 12 months, losing my mum only a few months earlier, this seemed like an opportunity for me to get away and press the reset button, some time alone, just for me.  We have our own campervan, Glenmore Campsite, a beautiful site next to Loch Morlich, is literally just across the road from Reindeer House– all the signs were pointing North and I couldn’t find a single reason not to apply.  Thankfully my application was accepted and at the end of May, I set off on my very own adventure. 

I packed up my van, said goodbye to my family and off I went, travelling from my home in Fife arriving at Glenmore on Sunday afternoon.  The weather was unseasonably warm and the forecast promising for the rest of the week. After setting up camp I headed out for a walk up to An Lochan Uaine (the green lochan), orientating myself to Reindeer House as I passed, sneaking a peak at exactly where I needed to report the following morning.    The lochan is a beautiful place and well worth a visit. 

An Lochan Uaine

After a fairly good sleep for the first night, I set off to work with my lunch packed and a stomach churning full of nerves.   I arrived for work at 8.00am, greeted by the loveliest bunch of smiley faces, for a Monday morning this was unusual in my experience!  My nerves quickly settled, I couldn’t have felt more welcomed.  I was shown around Reindeer House, everything seemed pretty relaxed but extremely well organised, everyone getting about their morning duties and routine.  There is an awful lot to do prior to greeting the first visitors of the day, the Centre opens at 10.00am and those first couple of hours each morning are vital to getting ready for the day ahead.  My first morning was spent around the Centre, meeting my first reindeer that were in the paddock: Sunny, Spartan and Bond plus the added bonus of two very young calves, Alba and Winnie. 

Getting familiar with the reindeer in the Paddocks.

My heart was stolen in that moment, and as the week progressed, I just fell more and more in love with these beautiful, quiet animals.  Lots to do around the paddock and the house, preparing the exhibition area for visitors, cleaning the paddock, making sure the reindeer were fed and have fresh water, and of course, the poo picking! Which believe it or not ended up being one of my favourite tasks… in the background there is a constant bustle of people going about their work.  There is a lot to do here are Reindeer House and you quickly feel part of the team. 

Lunchtime came and went and it was my turn to head out with the afternoon tour up the hill, I was both nervous and excited, not knowing what to expect.  Parking at the Sugar Bowl car park, from there it is a very pleasant 15/20 minute walk up to the hill enclosure.  The scenery is breathtaking and I imagine at any time of year, the view changing with the seasons, it is stunning.  This really is a special place. 

The beautiful scenery – Meall a’ Bhuachaille and the Ryvoan Pass in the background.

Arriving at the hill enclosure, I felt emotional seeing the reindeer in the herd for the first time.  You quickly learn so much about the reindeer and their life here in Scotland.  The Herders are full of knowledge and it is incredibly interesting listening to them talk about the herd.  These people really care about the reindeer, they care about their wellbeing first and foremost and this came across time and time again throughout the week. 

The herd busy grazing.

As the week progressed, I started to learn more and more and felt more confident in answering questions from visitors.  It felt good to be part of the team and as the days passed, I began to fall into a routine myself.  Daily trips up to the hill enclosure were a highlight, after the visitors left you were able to just have some time with the reindeer, and it was these quiet moments that will remain with me always.  Sitting on the side of a hill, the sun beating down, a beautiful big reindeer with velvety antlers just a few metres away – this is surely a magical place. 

Sherlock’s velvet antlers.

Each day more and more jobs to do.  The list is endless.  Next to the paddock is a small wood enclosure and I spent a lot of time there.  Picking out all the nettles and foxgloves, and as mentioned earlier, lots of reindeer poo!  But even here you get the most incredible view of the Corries, it feels like just for a moment the world has stopped spinning and you are the only person in the world.  It was a great place to find a little shade from the relentless heat, for Scotland this is rare and I don’t like to complain.

The view of the Northern Corries from the end of the woods – the area where the Paddock reindeer spend the night.

I was lucky enough to have a couple of afternoons to myself.  This gave me an opportunity to explore the area.  I walked up Meall a’ Bhuachaille where I was rewarded with spectacular views of the Cairngorm mountains.  I was also blessed with seeing an Adder on my way through Glenmore Forest, and a quick visit to a very bustling Aviemore reminded me that I enjoy the company of reindeer way more than I do people in busy places!  Returning home each evening to my campervan was also incredibly fun – cooking a nice meal for myself was a great way to wind down after a long day and the weather could not have been better.  I could definitely get used to this life!

I am not going to lie, the week was tough!  Some days felt harder than others, this is hard work and my body felt pretty shattered by the end of the week, but the rewards far outweigh a few aching muscles.  Before I came, I didn’t think of myself as a spiritual person, but what I found in those quiet moments alone, was some kind of wonderful.  I hope to return again next year, if they will have me.  Volunteering itself is extremely rewarding and something I think each and every one of us should try at least once in our lifetime.  Volunteering with reindeer included – what’s not to love!!  It was fantastic and memories I will treasure forever!  I learnt a lot about myself and I feel like I healed a lot too.  I know my mum was looking down on me smiling, she loved the reindeer and since returning home, I have found photos she took of the reindeer up on the hill from when she visited many, many years before.  A very special thing.

Thank you to each and every one of you guys at Reindeer House!  I have mentioned the reindeer A LOT, but without you guys caring for them and doing the job you do, this place wouldn’t be as special as it is.  So THANK YOU for being welcoming, for teaching me, for having me.  I cannot end this blog without a special shout out to Sunny – he will forever be in my heart, a very special yearling with a tender soul.

Sunny.
Rachel on top of Meall a’ Bhuachaille.

Rachel

Photo Blog: June 2023

June has whizzed by in a cloud of reindeer hair – it’s definitely scruffy reindeer month! Not their most photogenic season but a wonderful time of year nonetheless. After a couple of days off the antlers have noticeably grown – even after six years of working with the herd, I still find it amazing just how quickly it all happens.

The last batch of cows and calves left the enclosure on the 5th and we’ve brought more male reindeer over from the farm to increase our number here to keep our visitors happy on Hill Trips. It’s also the time of year we start harness training – both the reindeer and the herders! It’s a fun way to spend the morning. Another lovely way of spending a morning is walking our two hand-reared calves, Alba and Winnie. This month we have started taking them on daily walks allowing them access to good grazing meanwhile getting all-important exercise.

Lastly, I can’t write a blog post about June 2023 without mentioning the loss of our old reindeer herding collie, Sookie. A very sad time at Reindeer House, but what an amazing life she had and I feel grateful to be part of it. She’ll be missed.

5th of June – The second batch of cows and calves are let out of the hill enclosure for a summer free ranging in the hill.
5th of June – Mangetout’s gorgeous wee calf enjoying the lichen moments after being out on the free range!
6th of June – A hot day for Sherlock, he’s cooling down by sticking his feet in a good boggy patch of Sphagnum moss.
7th of June (a) – A trip to the farm for me! You can just see Tilly leading the older boys and young bulls down into the shed. We collected 6 young bulls and brought them over to the hill enclosure here on Cairngorm.
7th of June (b) – Kate and Amy leading the young bulls into the enclosure.
10th of June – Magnum doing everything a reindeer is supposed to do in June. Looking scruffy and antler tapping.
11th of June – Amy has been volunteering with us for the week. Here she is leading LX and Olympic out of the enclosure. They’re on their way back to Tilly at the hill farm which they’ll be delighted about as it means ad-lib food!
15th of June – What a glorious morning for a Hill Trip,
16th of June – The first harness training session of the summer! We trained both reindeer and humans and all did superbly. EK and Spartan are at the front.
19th of June – Kiruna and his beautiful antlers.
20th of June – Harness training for Jelly, Cameron and Jester.
21st of June – Sherlock showing off his yoga moves. Sorry about the camera angle, Sherlock!
23rd of June – It’s well known that I have a huge soft spot for Dr Seuss. He often moults all the hair on his nose before his lovely summer coat grows though so for a few weeks of the year he has a very pick nose. We apply sun cream to him which unfortunately for him is bright yellow.
25th of June – Amy and I take the hand-reared calves for their afternoon stroll. Good exercise and grazing for them both.
26th of June – Two-year-old Jester growing a super set of antlers.
27th of June – Anster being Anster. Such a greedy lad, he jumped into the calf pen in the Paddocks to eat all their extra goodies.

Ruth

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 2: October 2022

This is the second installment of Emm’s fantastic blog. Read part one by clicking HERE. 

Emm and Druid on a Hill Trip.

The Breeding Season

Whilst I was there, there were 2 bulls with their girls in the hill enclosure separated in different areas. One group was Sherlock and his girls over on Silver Mount. He was laid back. Then the other group was Morse and his girls. Morse was a bit more aggressive and would pace the fence grunting. He was very protective of his girls.

Sherlock with his girls.
Morse doing an excellent job as a breeding bull.

Chilling With Reindeer

Fiona, Joe and Andi went to Sherlock and his girls over on Silver Mount, the big hill in the hill enclosure, to check temperatures and do some vaccinations. Lotti and I moved Morse and his girls to a different part of the hill enclosure. We separated him with a few of his girls into a separate pen area so we were safe. Reindeer bulls with their girls can be very aggressive and can charge at you. We had moved them so we could give them vaccinations. Mushy was being chased around by some of the reindeer but it is not good to have them running around before a vaccination so I helped Lotti separate Mushy and Pinto off together into their own area. Suddenly, a mountain hare ran out of the shed and stopped in the middle of the reindeer. It was about 2 metres away from me. It was so exciting. The mountain hare and the reindeer stared at each other for a few seconds then the reindeer charged at it and then it ran away. What a lovely experience. Lotti and I then had to wait for Andi, Fiona and Joe. Whilst we waited, we chilled with the reindeer. I got to spend some quality time with my adopted reindeer called Scully. It was so nice and special spending quality time with her. I hadn’t been able to see her much as she had been in with Morse. Some of Morse’s girls had calves with them and I hadn’t got to know these calves yet so I was able to get to know them whilst Morse was separated. When Fiona, Joe and Andi got to us, some of Morse’s girls got vaccinations. Andi and I put Morse’s and his girls’ breakfast down in their usual part of the hill enclosure and then Morse and his girls were let back out to have their breakfast.

Emm enjoying spending time with Scully who is looking particularly cheeky!

Walking Calves and Reindeer Around Glenmore

To get the calves used to being handled and having head collars on, we take them away from their mums in the hill enclosure for a few days and keep them down in the Paddocks. We take about 2 calves at a time. In the mornings before the Reindeer Centre opens, we take some of the Paddock adult reindeer and the calves out on a walk around Glenmore. We sandwich the calves between the adult reindeer. The adult reindeer are the role models for the calves. One morning, I walked Dr Seuss, Bond and the 2 calves Popsicle and Vanilla to the Pine Martin Bar and back with Hen and Amy. I led Bond. On another morning with Mel and Lisette we walked Athens, Clouseau, Frost, Dr Seuss and the calf called Zoom. This time I led Dr Seuss and Frost.

Reindeer Centre and Office Jobs

There were always lots of jobs to do at the Reindeer Centre. On some afternoons, I poo picked the woods where the Paddock reindeer go at night. If reindeer have been changed in the Paddocks, I switched the reindeer ID cards over in the exhibition so visitors would know who was who. I checked the adopters gift packs to make sure everything was there, tidied and restocked the shop. The magnets and glass reindeer were very popular. Some afternoons, I tidied the exhibition and antler making area and wiped down the surfaces. I put strawboard in the adopters envelopes to protect the adoption gift packs. For the October Newsletter, they put a photo of the reindeer in with the newsletter with a sticky label on the back giving update of what the reindeer have been up to so I stuck the sticky labels onto the back of the photos.

I also talked to visitors in the Paddocks and answered their questions. One afternoon I was talking to a visitor and a child ran to get me as Popsicle the calf had got her antler in a wire mesh bit of the fence. I untangled Popsicle’s antler and she was ok.

Reindeer Off to the Free-range

With Lotti and Cameron we led 5 older girls from the top corridor in the hill enclosure back on to the free range. This was the time of year that the reindeer would be moved to the free-range for the winter. The reindeer were Dixie, Lulu, Fly, Wapiti and Pavlova. Lotti put spot on (protecting from ticks) on to Fly. The other 4 reindeer had already had it. Lotti took a photo of Wapiti for their adoption photo and Dixie came and ate out of the hand feed bag I was holding. When we let them go it was so lovely seeing them go out onto the free-range.

Dixie, Lulu, Pavlova, Fly and Wapiti heading out to free range.

Splitting Calves from their Mums

One morning I helped to move some of the calves around between the Paddocks and hill. First, we took Frost, Clouseau , Sunny and Zoom out of the paddocks and took them up into the hill enclosure and I led Clouseau and Zoom on this occasion. The 2 calves we wanted to take back down were with their mums and the bull Morse so we had to split Morse and his girls first to get the 2 calves and their mums. The 2 calves were Popsicle and Vanilla. Popsicle’s mum is Caterpillar and Vanilla’s mum is Ochil.  After we managed to get them we put  Morse and the rest of his girls back into their part of the hill enclosure. We took Caterpillar and her calf Popsicle, Ochil and her calf Vanilla, as well a 2 other reindeer Bond and Olmec off the hill. When we got to Brenda we loaded Bond, Olmec and the 2 calves into Brenda whilst Andi took the calves’ mums back up the hill to Morse. We then took the reindeer to the Paddocks at the Centre. In the Paddocks, Popsicle and Vanilla grunted for their mums for a bit as it was the first time they had been away from their mums. They would see their mums in a few days time after getting used to be handled and walked on a head collar.

Vanilla before coming down to the Paddocks.

Hill Trips

On the Hill Trips, I often would escort the back of the line of people whilst we walked to the hill enclosure and reindeer. I would sometimes put some food out for the reindeer and then count them to make sure all the reindeer were there. I would sometimes give Sunny his milk.

Emm bottle feeding Sunny.

I sometimes did the hand feed talk to the group of visitors so they knew what to do in hand feeding and what to expect. I gave out the hand feed so they could hand feed the reindeer. I talked to people and answered their questions. I sometimes took photos of visitors if they wanted photos taken with the reindeer.

This all gives you an idea of the many things that I do when volunteering with the reindeer and herders. It is such a special place and I love my time no matter how busy I am. I am really looking forward to my next trip.

Having fun with Ruth, Ben, Zoom and Merida.

Emm

Photo Blog: April 2023

April has been a busy month with some glorious spring weather and some incredibly wild winter weather too. The first half of the month saw the Easter Holidays so we had lots of visitors around – some days we put on an additional Hill Trip in the afternoon when the morning visit sold out, and in the afternoons we ran “Seasonal Herder Talks” in our Paddocks. The second half of the month was busy with moving reindeer around getting them in the right places for the fast-approaching calving season… exciting! Pregnant females were brought into our hill enclosure and the “single ladies” (mostly the old girls retired from breeding or ones having a year off motherhood) were put back out to free range after a quick health check in the enclosure.

It’s been a fun month watching antlers casting and growing, and bellies widen on our pregnant females! Bring on calving season!

1st of April: We have reindeer back in our Paddocks! From left to right is Kiruna, Jelly, Sherlock and Busby, all here for the first half of the Easter holidays.
2nd of April: Fiona and I spent the day with Tilly where we brought of some male reindeer down from their winter free range. Here we have Dr Seuss, Spartan and Scolty ready to be taken down to the hill farm in Glenlivet.
5th of April: Andi and I spent the morning moving the reindeer into position for the morning Hill Trip. You can just see Andi in the distance letting the calves feed out of the bags first.
6th of April: Cousins Fab and Tub causing trouble!
7th of April: Lopsided Florence demonstrating an excellent example of antler growth and development.
8th of April: Sherlock not remotely bothered about our wobbly fence, but it’s easy to forgive him with a nose like that!
11th of April: Beautiful morning to see the free ranging herd. Here they are crossing a burn with the Northern Corries looking dramatic in the distance.
11th of April: Emm is here and grinning away as always! Emm is one of our fabulous volunteers and was up for for a couple of weeks to help us out during April, Here she is defending the bags from the older reindeer.
12th of April: The return of winter! A VERY wintery and wild day to be on the hill. Here’s Fly leading the herd, growing her lovely velvety antlers. Pumpkin and Lace not too far behind.
13th of April: Fly posing beautifully, showing off her fast-growing antlers. Cameron in the background waiting for me to stop taking photos!
16th of April: Fiona feeding the herd in the hill enclosure. Check out that wide belly nearest the camera!
17th of April: Glacée almost a year old and looking gorgeous! Her new antlers just beginning to grow.
19th of April: Marple and her calf from 2022, Viennetta, are now in the enclosure after a winter free ranging.
20th of April; All three leucistic calves together – from left to right we’ve got 99, Mr Whippy and Vanilla.
21st of April: Moving the free rangers through the ski area on a gorgeous sunny morning.
24th of April: Beret appreciating her winter coat more today after the recent sunny weather – there’s snow dusting Meall a’ Bhuachaille (the hill behind) and hail showers during the Hill Trip.
27th of April: The boys are back in town! Fiona and I spent the morning at the hill farm and brought back six lovely Christmas Reindeer to the enclosure here on Cairngorm. Super to have them here again!

Ruth

Photos through the seasons…

These are a selection of my favourite photos taken over the last couple of years showing reindeer throughout all the seasons…

3rd February 2021: Lots of snow. It’s hard work treading a path, in fact Pony almost looks like she’s doing a spot of breaststroke. My beard, and Pony’s face, become covered in falling snow in the blizzard like conditions.
12th March 2022: “Make sure you photograph my good side”.
1st April 2021: Breakfast with a splendid view of the Northern Corries as the clouds seamlessly blend into the snow-kissed mountains.
14th May 2021: I treat Cowboy (who is just a couple of hours old) with anti-bacterial spray on his exposed umbilical cord and some insecticide to reduce the risk of being bitten by a tick at a vulnerable time in his life.
20th May 2021: Wee Beanie, less than an hour old.
30th June 2022: Sherlock is trying to investigate my pockets for any extra food. “I’m a growing boy” he pleads. At this stage of the year, he has been growing his antlers for roughly 3 and a half months, with another two months of growth still to go. His coat is malting in preparation for the hotter summer months.
25th October 2021: Frost appears to be producing a rainbow by means of flatulence. Gazelle can’t quite believe it either.
14th November 2021: Four castrate reindeer (Left to right: Frost, Aztec, Dr. Seuss, and Clouseau) pull Santa’s Sleigh, supervised by Colin and Olly.
20th December 2021: Beanie (exactly 7 months on from her earlier photo) looks a bit surprised that I’d consider taking a photo in this frosty weather.

Ben

The making of the charity naked calendar

It’s hopefully common knowledge amongst our reindeer supporters and adopters by now that we have released a charity naked calendar for 2023. Raising money to support our local Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team and over a period of 18 months we braved the weather in all conditions taking off our clothes and posing with the reindeer for 13 pictures to feature. Initially we had planned to sell 500 copies but due to popular demand have sold 750 with a further 300 just ordered and under pressure to sell them before early January!

I had the pleasure (if you can say that) of being the photographer for the calendar, seeing all my friends and colleagues in their birthday suits and helping to put the whole thing together. It wasn’t something I had ever thought I’d be doing when I first came to work here five years ago but we are a quirky bunch, and I wasn’t at all surprised when as a group we decided to go ahead and create a calendar baring all!

Photographer Joe with his favourite reindeer Kipling. The face behind the camera, and the one that belongs to Mr September’s bottom 😉

The Idea

I think the idea came from several of us when our reindeer had featured in The Royal School of Veterinary Studies Charity Naked Calendar in 2020. We got a free copy from them, and the calendar hung proudly in our kitchen for the duration of the year. I guess during this time we became inspired to do one ourselves and celebrating our own 70th year anniversary, it seemed like the perfect time to do such a thing. Raising money for a charity was the second thing to consider and I don’t think we ever looked passed the idea of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. The dedicated volunteers involved already do an incredible job in the mountains and all the funding they receive goes back into the service they provide. So, with the idea set and charitable cause in mind, it was time to start taking off our clothes and get the photos!

The Early Stages

When planning how to make the calendar, it seemed only best to take a picture during every month of the year to showcase the reindeer looking different in the various seasons. With this in mind, January was to be the first month and the January of 2021 was particularly cold with temperatures being recorded as low as -18 as well as up to three feet of snow lying at a time. Fiona stepped up to be the driving force and get the calendar going by volunteering to get her picture first and Lotti also paired up to do it together. There was so much snow that it was easier to approach the reindeer by skis and the plan was set to involve these as well. Taking my camera out for the first time to do this I had no idea how to plan the picture or whether my camera should indeed focus on the bums or reindeer. What seemed like a straightforward idea turned out to be harder than first appeared with the reindeer constantly moving, never staying in the same position for more than two seconds. I clicked away taking several different pictures and hoped that one would suffice. January done, only 11 more months to go!

Miss and Miss January! This photo didn’t make the grade but has been used as a promotional picture – it even made it on to the front cover of a German newspaper.

The following few months saw a familiar trend with the reindeer not behaving for the camera, either facing the wrong direction, not interested in what was happening or sometimes we simply couldn’t find them on the free-range. Maybe they too thought it was a strange idea for the herders to stand next to them with no clothes on.

Coming Together

As the months got warmer, not surprisingly we had more herders volunteering to take part in the action. One of the things I noticed was the different ways in which people participated in. Some herders would arrive to the photo shoot with a dressing gown, and we would practice a clothed shot to make sure we were happy. I would then turn around while they removed their gown and we’d be able to get the picture without me seeing too much of them, a rather dignified way of doing such a thing.

Hen and Andi (Miss and Miss October) making sure they’re happy with their poses before baring all.
The ever chic Mel (Miss December) in her dressing gown!

Another technique of having their photo taken was to strip off completely starkers baring all and plan a photo pose on the spot. Sometimes I wouldn’t know where to look but there was lots of laughter about the ridiculousness of it all. We had to get quite imaginative towards the end making sure no two pictures or poses were the same. Some photos were taken on the free – range, others in our hill enclosure, woodland and one shot also involved water. The entire team of herders did an amazing job getting their kit off and we managed to feature every member of staff who worked here at the time along with a couple of past herders. I should also say an extra well done to Hen, Lisette and Harry who went out of their comfort zone to feature and Amy, who within her first month or working with us also volunteered to be in the calendar no peer pressure involved!

Ben (Mr February) was unfazed about being in his birthday suit and continued to carry out his reindeer herding duties unclothed. Needless to say the reindeer were also not bothered.
Sheena (Miss June) and Sherlock getting ready for the photoshoot in Black Loch.
After the photoshoot, Sheena went for a wee swim and Sherlock decided to follow… anything for food!

The Cover Shot

The final picture to take was the cover shot which was also the harshest weather experienced throughout. On a snowy and windy morning, Fiona, Lotti and Ruth took one for the team and shivered away as I tried to fumble with the camera and take a photo. By the time they got their clothes off they could barely feel a thing and the whole experience was very uncomfortable. The reindeer of course were fine. When we got back to the house and the girls had thawed out, we glanced at the photos to see how they looked. Unfortunately, the snowflakes blurred every single picture and none of them were good enough. We went out again a few hours later to repeat the whole freezing ordeal once more (sorry girls!) but thankfully on the second time of asking we got a picture we were happy with and no resulting frost bite.

Joe, Fiona and Lotti (plus dogs) attempting to take the photo for the SECOND time that day!
Snow flurry over – Ruth, Fiona and Lotti get into position…

The Finished Calendar

After the final editing tweaks, the calendar had finally been created. It was great to hold a copy for the first time and start selling them in our shop. It wasn’t long until several newspapers got in touch wanting to write a story about the calendar. The Daily Record and a couple of other tabloids did an online piece about us, and our local papers also wrote two stories. We even featured as page 3 models in the Strathspey Herald and also on the cover of German newspaper BILD showing some of our bare bottoms. It’s still all quite surreal that we have created the calendar, everyone is immensely proud of it and couldn’t be happier with how many we have sold so far.

The day the first batch of calendars arrived!!
Page 3 models!

For now, I just hope we can sell as many as possible and I can’t wait to see what the final figure will be for the mountain rescue team.

Joe

Hannah’s Volunteer Blog

It started with a Hill Trip. Back in February 2018 my partner took me on a surprise trip to Aviemore and beyond, little did I know that this would result in a lifelong love of reindeer, two volunteering sessions and 3 adoptees!

Hannah’s very first HillTrip!

I have always been an animal person so my partner knew that this would be a winner, but I was completely amazed by these beautiful creatures to the point where I rather embarrassingly burst into tears as we reached the crest of the hill and saw the herd grazing in the snow. Naturally we put the herders through two hours in the cold asking questions and generally staring in awe, and it took only the time between walking back down the hill and into the shop to get my volunteering application at the ready and adopt the lovely Anster!

Hannah and Anster in August 2019.
Hannah during her first volunteering stint in 2019.

My first volunteering week was back in August 2019, I turned up super excited to help and I was welcomed with open arms by everyone at Reindeer House. Being the height of the summer holidays, it was hill trips galore and I couldn’t have been happier to throw myself into being a volunteer reindeer herder and guide. I was a little nervous though – what if a visitor had a question I couldn’t answer? It’s amazing though how little a problem that was, with the herders being so lovely, answering my many, many questions and giving me the chance to be as hands on as possible both on the hill in the mornings and down at reindeer house. Suddenly I could hold my own with the questions and was even trusted with a wee bit of the talking by the end of the week. My time on the hill was amazing for many reasons, but especially as I got some great quality time with my adoptee, who was always first in line for a hand feed! I reached the last day so sad to leave (and with another two adoptees as I couldn’t choose between them) but ready to return a year later… Or so I thought!

For reasons I’m sure we all remember well, my 2020 return was unable to go ahead, and continued to be pushed back until finally, I was in the clear to return to Reindeer House in July 2022!

It was lovely to see the friendly faces of the herders again, but this time with a new addition – who should I see coming round the corner, but a tiny calf climbing into the feed bags! I was told all about the lovely Sunny and I couldn’t help but feel that my timing had worked out quite well after all!

Sunny on the 5th of July in Reindeer House.

Being a returning volunteer allowed me to crack on a little quicker and more confidently which meant that I got even more quality reindeer time! I spent most mornings up on the hill first thing, checking the herd, putting out the feed, checking temperatures and training on the harness. I couldn’t quite believe my luck and the ever-wonderful team helped to guide me along every step of the way.

Hannah hand feeding Kiruna and Sherlock in July 2022.

I was especially lucky to be a part of Sunny’s first ventures into ‘big school’ aka joining all of the boys together for the hill trips. He settled in amazingly well and after a small telling off from some of the yearlings has seemed to find his place among them. Being a volunteer meant that I not only got to spend the hill trips with Sunny, I also got to enjoy walking him to and from the hill, hand rearing (to a lovely chorus of ‘awhhhh’s’ from the visitors) and watching his progress from the beginning to the end of the week.

Sunny travelling up to the hill in the back of the reindeer van.

Though of course Sunny is not only the main event. I threw myself back into my mission to ID as many reindeer as possible on the hill trips and while I’m a huge ways away from the pros, both times I couldn’t believe how quickly you can catch on to the quirks and personalities among the herd that can help you to tell them apart. I have to say though, between lots of new additions to the herd in my three year gap and the transition to summer and winter coats it was a whole lot more of a challenge this time!

Saying this, it was an absolute treat to see how the boys I had got to know so well in my first week had grown and how quickly I recognised them. In 2019, Bond had no antlers and was trying to find his place among his pals in the paddock, now he has a beautiful set and looks like a fully fledged reindeer, Sherlock now has the biggest antlers I have ever seen, many of them now have calves – so much can change in a few years and it’s good to know that while I was cooped up in my flat, the reindeer were still out on the hills living their best lives!

While it’s an amazing experience for anyone, I can honestly say that volunteering not once but twice (so far…) was easily the best decision I ever made, and it is no exaggeration to say it has been life changing. Seeing the team care so diligently for these beautiful animals and how passionate knowledgeable they all are about them and their environment is beyond inspiring. In my other life as a teacher, I returned from my first stint determined to build my students appreciation for the outdoors, for animals, for their world, gained my forest schools qualification and taken steps to bring animals nature to the children and vice versa. It was something I always cared about, but seeing what the herd have achieved gave me the push that I needed to start making these goals a reality. Sharing my experiences, photos and other things I’ve picked up along the way with the children in class has also given me a fair bit of clout in the classroom too – I’ve never had so many reindeer themed Christmas and end of year gifts!

Hannah and Sunny – July 2022.

I feel so lucky to have had these opportunities with the herd and the wonderful help everyone in the team to give me the most magical of experiences. I can’t wait to head back up the hills again – just maybe without the three year wait this time…

Hannah

The Legend of the Pink Badge

Many years ago, a reindeer herder made a Badge. This Badge was pink, and he wore it with pride. In time he decided to pass it on to another herder, who had done a Worthy Thing that day (what the Worthy Thing actually was has since been lost in the mists of time). However, that herder then took it upon themselves to pass it on once again, to another Worthy Person, and so it is that the Pink Badge of Worthiness came into being.

Or something along those lines anyway. The badge maker at Reindeer House was a very good investment of ours, many years back, and has churned out thousands of the things over the years for kids visiting the Paddocks and having a go at a quiz (we use different quizzes through the year and not all have a badge to make on them, before you get your knickers in a knot about why your family didn’t get the option of badges on a visit…). We have, of course, made plenty of badges for ourselves too, and this is how the pink badge started off – it was made from a bright pink post-it note upon which one of us had drawn a smiley face.

Managing to identify every single one of a big group of free-ranging female reindeer can be a badge-worthy affair – when they have all changed hugely in appearance since last seen, are moving at a constant jog to avoid the flies, and some won’t come near you at all!

I can’t quite remember the full details of exactly how the tradition of passing on the badge came about, but the essence of it is exactly as I’ve written at the start of this blog. The owner of the badge can hold on to it (usually pinning it on their t-shirt/jumper) for as long as they want, and when they feel someone else has gone above and beyond the call of duty, they award them the badge. And then the next person continues, and so on. There are no real rules, no limit on how long you can have it, or how many times; the badge is an item of supreme simplicity.

The Pink Badge on my t-shirt 😀

As I write this the current holder is Ruth, awarded it for managing to get our ancient and decrepit Landrover into 4WD mode on a early morning reindeer retrieval mission! The badge itself is currently in it’s second incarnation, after one too many accidental trips through the washing machine; but I’m not even too sure where Pink Badge 2 came from, as it’s not the size our own badge-maker produces. We’re also not colour blind – we’re well aware that this model is not pink! But in the best tradition the name endures regardless.

Morse and Jimmy admiring the badge pinned proudly on Ruth’s t-shirt!

At times the badge has been lost, or forgotten about, or unearthed months later on an old jumper in the back of a cupboard. Sometimes it’s just been found on the office pinboard, and no-one has appeared to know how it got there, or who was responsible. Our boss Tilly got it once, but was banned from taking it home with her as we were worried that once it disappeared into the depths of her farmhouse it would never, ever be seen again!

Very few photos of the original pink badge actually exist – this is the only one we could find (thanks Manouk!). It looks like it may have been through the washing machine a few times already by this point…

Fiona wishes me to point out that for the first five years she was only ever awarded it once a year, at the end of December, after organising (and surviving) the Christmas tour season, traditionally the busiest time of the year. I myself have been given it for a range of activities, most of which I can’t remember now, but the most memorable was the time I was given it for managing to not throw a printer through the office window. You may laugh, but deep down everyone reading this knows the deep-rooted and boiling fury a malfunctioning printer can incite – what does ‘general error’ even mean?! – so really I feel it was justified. I have had a hate-hate relationship with every single printer that has ever lived in the Reindeer House office.

Later that same day, however, Andi managed to extract a section of old fencing wire that had somehow become entangled around the antlers of one of our biggest breeding bulls, Kota, and this was right in the middle of the rutting season when he had morphed from a gentle giant to a raging testosterone-fueled beast. To this day I am therefore still the record-holder for the shortest ownership of the badge.

Kota – not an inviting prospect to have to get close to with a pair of wire cutters…

A lot of the other reasons for receival have been forgotten over the years, but have often included epic catches of ‘wilder’ reindeer, or memorable displays of herding. Olly received it last year for a stupendous and skillful effort of getting Rain and her newborn calf Jimmy into the right area of the hill enclosure after she had led Nell and myself on a merry (and ultimately unsuccessful) dance the previous day until a good two hours after we should have finished work. Then there was an interesting episode last Christmas when Sherlock got his antlers caught in the fairy lights of our Paddock shelter, and Joe spent about 45 minutes de-tangling him – again no mean feat with an enormous bull. One antler had come off already, but much to Joe’s annoyance when finally freed, Sherlock wandered out the shed, shook his head and the other promptly fell off! It’s completely normal for a bull to cast his antlers at this time of year, but 45 minutes earlier would have saved everyone a lot of hassle.

What a tangle! Eventually Sherlock, antlers and cable were all separated!

So if you visit us and notice a herder with the Pink Badge pinned to their shirt, then note that this is a Worthy Person, and should therefore be due the utmost respect. Or maybe it’s just me, and I’ve refrained from throwing another misbehaving electronic item through a window.

Hen

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