The weather here has been chilly but there really hasn’t been more than a sprinkling of the white stuff – maybe it’s all being saved up for February but it has to be the most snow-free January I’ve had up here. We had a few days with a dusting of snow on the ground on the hill, but with a mild day today much of it has melted. The reindeer don’t mind, and are enjoying the cool temperatures whilst having easy access to the grazing still.
There’s a forecast for more snow in the next week though, so we’ll wait and see!
With Christmas over and the Centre closed to the public for a month, we have put all of our reindeer out to free-range – the males are on the Cromdale mountains and the females are split between there and the Cairngorm mountains. We don’t necessarily see them every day, but where possible we like to catch up with them, feed them and check everyone’s ok. Here’s some photos from feeding the herd the other day:
Not bad for a place to live, but where is the snow?!?
If all the reindeer were to have a 100m race, who would win?
Fiona = I reckon Shekel would have won because we exercised them at Christmas he was always in the lead. There’s a great photo of him on our playing cards that we sell in the shop where he looks like The Joker with his tongue out and this is due to all the running he used to do which made him thoroughly exhausted.
Hen = Well not Svalbard, he’s too fat to run fast. It’s gotta be a female, they’re far more fit and active than the males. Probably Sika, but only if she was running in the opposite direction to humans.
Andi = I can think of plenty of reindeer who would be contenders for coming last. But for first place I think it would be one of the younger females, as they tend to maintain their fitness, when compared to the over-indulging males who have slightly let it slide. Let’s go for Spy…she has some speed on her when she doesn’t want to be caught.
Manouk = Monopoly because he would have just cheated. He was a cheeky chappy.
Chris = Well it’s likely to be a female because they get more practice at running around, and some of the boys are carrying a bit too much timber. I can’t think of an obvious winner but Chelsea is the only reindeer that I’ve had a proper race with so I’d have to pick her. I would like to point out that she had a head start in our race though.
Lotti = Ooooo, who’s got long legs? Lace has got long legs hasn’t she? Plus she’s so beautiful. I’d like to think one of the females would be the fastest so that they can break general stereotypes and beat the males.
Ben = Drambuie or Hook. They’d find a way to win. Don’t get me wrong they’d be in last place with 2 metres to go but I’ve tried to herd them into paddocks before and they can move so quickly when they feel like being sneaky. So yeah, make either of those two feel sneaky and they’d be my outside bets for the victory.
Dave = Roman would probably have a pretty good crack. He’s a young and athletic bull.
Izzy = Dixie’s calf is a little racehorse. His legs are so long that I had to make sure he wasn’t a greyhound. And…because he’s smaller he’d be able to weave in and out of all the big boys.
Bobby = Bond: the fastest, the best muscle fibres in any reindeer EVER.
Nell = Well I’m not sure; I haven’t seen any of them run. It’d be quite interesting to see all the reindeer herders in a 100m race. I reckon Fi would win, or maybe Chris, or maybe you (Ben). Either way the reindeer would beat all of you.
Which reindeer is the easiest to bribe/coax with food?
Fiona = Urmmmm probably Crann to be honest, especially in his elder years because if he got his head in to a bucket of lichen then there was no way of getting him out.
Hen = Hmmm…Dixie. Every time you want to catch her you can count on her to fall for the bag of feed trick. So she ends up being the decoy reindeer quite a bit.
Andi = Most of the yearlings can be bribed with mere crumbs. Nancy was pretty awful come to think of it, she was pretty much climbing on me for some food whilst I was out on the free-range.
Manouk = Svalbard!!!
Chris = Oh wow, there’s too many to name really. But I guess I’ll have to go for my girl Kipling again.
Lotti = Ahhh, they’re all so greedy! I think I could make either Olympic or Sherlock follow me absolutely anywhere with food. They’re so greedy. They’re always at the front of visits.
Ben = Haha, so many of the boys: Bond, Sherlock, Dr. Seuss, Olympic. Kipling as well could be a contender. I think we’re all grateful for those greedy boys and girls; it makes the actual herding part of the job a lot easier.
Dave = Kara. She’d follow you anywhere man, as long as there was promise of a feed.
Izzy = Svalbard. I remember one time; Svalbard was standing in the middle of the boardwalk, blocking a group of visitors from getting past. He was there for a good few minutes and he just wasn’t budging. Nevertheless, one shake of my food bag and he quickly dashed over to me. He was pretty disappointed when he realised that the hill trip had finished and the food had gone however at least he’d budged.
Bobby = Dr Seuss definitely.
Nell = Ryvita for sure! She walked to the very top of Cairngorm with me and her calf just in case I had food in my bag. This was immediately after she had eaten all of the food in my bag.
Which reindeer has done the funniest thing in your presence?
Fiona = There was a reindeer called Pepsi and we were on a Christmas event when a noise from the visitors startled him, and his response was to jump right up on to the sleigh. Ooo, and, we used to have a hand-reared reindeer called Utsi back in the day. Dad was leading them on two events that day, and the afternoon one was down in Perth. Utsi obviously didn’t know that it was one of those rare days where we had two events in a day because he exited the van in Perth with so much enthusiasm, but when he saw that we weren’t indeed home and we had another event, his response was to just turn around and get back into the van.
Hen = Hornet once used me as a stepping stone after I fell over into the river right in front of him. Luckily he was a calf at the time. Ooooh, actually I’ve got another one for you as well…last year when we were worming the reindeer, Roule made a break for it but managed to do so by going through my legs, which meant that I was being dragged through the shed by a full grown female who possessed an impressive set of antlers. I was essentially riding a reindeer backwards. Chris mentioned that he thought about grabbing Roule to attempt to stop her, but he was concerned it may well have spurred her on. Anyway, the whole experience culminated in me having an impressive set of bruises, some of which I could show my friends, some of which I couldn’t.
Andi = Midway through a trek, on a hot summer’s day, we stopped for a break at Utsi’s hut, as we usually would. Scout then suddenly decided that the coolest place to stand was inside the tiny hut. But in order to do this he had to climb through an absolutely tiny doorway. However the boy managed it, and then subsequently enjoyed his lunch in there (Andi has a photo of this).
Manouk = Screel, she full on managed to knock over a guy who was the size of a rugby prop forward. It was pretty unbelievable.
Chris = Kipling AGAIN, sorry. There are lots of others which could be contenders, but she had the most recent incident. Trying to eat a bag of boardwalk staples and inspecting our bag of tools when Izzy and I were doing some repairs recently.
Lotti = The first thing I can think of is a funny thing that I’ve done in a reindeer’s presence, I once fell in to a bog and sunk all the way up until the top of my thighs, and then I was really struggling to get out and I just remember Okapi and Ryvita looking at me with their puzzled expressions almost saying “what on earth are you doing”.
Ben = We had a reindeer called Lego who has sadly passed away but I remember on my first summer here in 2014…Lego was partial to long siestas and Lego was deaf. Whoever was taking the 14:30 hill trip with me had called the herd and was busy leading them towards where they’d have their meal. However, Lego was too busy sleeping. Being at the back, I saw this unfold, so I approached Lego, lay 50cm away from him, and then eventually he woke up….his face when he saw none of his homies around him – just the face of a reindeer herder looking back at him – that was something that still makes me laugh to this day. It all happened over the course of a second but I could see when ‘the penny dropped’ and he realised he was all alone. Boy oh boy, he moved quickly to re-join the herd after that. Didn’t even give me a wave goodbye or nothing
Dave = The late Fergus! I mean…he tried to head butt me on my first day whilst I was working in the paddocks. He also followed me round the paddocks when I was painting the fences red, resulting in him getting his nose all red and looking like Rudolph. And then he tried to mount me.
Izzy = Chris and I were repairing the boardwalk not long ago when Kipling came over and no joke, she tried to eat the nails. I think it was because these nails were being stored in an old food bag but when we then took the bag away she got in a right mood and started stamping her feet like a right missy. We actually lost a few nails down the slats of the wood as a result of her mardy episode.
Bobby = I’ve seen a bunch of reindeer pee on people which is always kinda funny but I don’t know if you can put that in your blog (yes, we definitely can). Just put Bond again, he tells the best jokes, he’s such a special reindeer.
Nell = I remember hearing about how traumatic castrations were (granted all the boys told me this whilst crossing their legs) however when Atlantic’s time came he just stood there and chewed the cud. He wasn’t bothered in the slightest.
It may not come as a huge surprise to readers that many of our herders are hill runners. In fact, I think almost any herder could be described as one depending on how you define runner. A run in the area where we and the reindeer live is almost automatically a hill run and sometimes herding reindeer includes running or fast walking in the hills.
On that note, much to my surprise, I found a Dutch book lying around in the office a couple of weeks ago. Being the only speaker of Dutch at the centre (apart from some inappropriate use of Dutch words by Chris which I have absolutely nothing to do with, I swear), I decided to have a wee look through it. It was an incredibly interesting book about humans and long distance running, written by legendary long distance runner Jan Knippenberg. Later on I found out that Tilly (the owner of the herd) had been given the book, as some chapters involved the reindeer herd and Mikel Utsi, the founder of the herd. Apparantly, Knippenberg is even the one who initially got Alan into hill running, a form of pastime he is known to be very fond of these days. Tilly asked if I wanted to read bits of the book and write a blog about it, so here goes.
In the book, Knippenberg explains that, in the history of the human being, it’s relatively very recent that we changed our active lifestyle of walking or running around for spending most of our days sitting or standing still. As examples of how we used to live he mentions the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the lifestyle of shepherds or herders of animals, and the Scottish gillies (helpers of lairds) who walked long distances to convey messages. Eventually he makes the point that the “running hype” is not, like we tell ourselves, a way to battle the new inactive way of life most people live, but rather a creation of society brought forth by the hype of commercial marketing and a desire to be “fit”. This “being fit”, according to him, is something completely different than the state we once had to be in, in order to survive.
Knippenberg argues that the marketing and popularising of “jogging” makes it a commercial thing, alienating it from what we used to do as children, simply because we felt like it. Running around on the beach, chasing each other around in a field, competing against our playmates to see who is the fastest, these are all examples of unlimited running that are closer to our native human nature instinct. Running for the pure joy of it or because our lifestyle demands it, without the faff of getting involved in fashion and hype, or keeping track of time per kilometre, heartbeat, acceleration etc. seems to be closer to the old type of lifestyle than what is currently in fashion.
Right, back to hill running and reindeer herding. As a new herder in summer, I built up my stamina quite quickly. This happens automatically, especially in the summer months, when we sometimes chase free ranging reindeer to where they are supposed to be, go up the hill a couple of times a day, and spend a lot of our days off walking or running around in the mountains. Because we have a purpose none other than doing something with reindeer or enjoying nature, I think this comes quite close to what Knippenberg describes. I think most of us herders enjoy being in the mountains, a bit like a child enjoys running around on the beach. I don’t know if the job attracts the type of person that is likely to enjoy hill running, or that the job changes herders into hill runners. All I know is that there are a lot of people that take up hill running while working at the reindeer centre. It’s also striking that nonetheless, most of us don’t necessarily describe ourselves as runners. This confirms my theory that the way we “run” is not for running’s sake or for fitness, but for work purposes or for having a good time in the hills. It’s interesting that the lifestyle of a herder is mentioned by Knippenberg as one of the old ways of living prior to our sedentary lifestyle, and that the type of running described by him as long distance running seems very close to how it’s done at the centre, with a childlike joy.
As a runner who before did partake in the running hype, keeping track of pace and heartbeat and acceleration etc. this book provided an interesting frame, linking the lifestyle of a herder and the gradual change in how I run and what the purpose behind that is. I look forward to seeing if new herders experience a similar change, and to seeing if my running will become more like the long distance running described by Knippenberg and carried out by some of the herders (including Alan Smith) or if the links I laid in my head are a bit far-fetched and it’s basically all just coincidence 🙂
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!
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!