My First January
Having worked as a seasonal herder for many years working January is a real novelty for me. Usually on the 24th of December I hop on a train home to Bristol to spend Christmas with my family and then return to uni in the new year. But having graduated last year, and with a gentle bit of persuasion and the promise of reindeer, I convinced my family to spend Christmas up in the Cairngorms. It is now January and I am delighted to still be here. So on Monday the 6th, with no more hill visits for over a month we merrily waved the reindeer off onto the free-range for the winter.
The first full day ended up being incredibly wild and windy (gusting at 100mph) and the reindeer were very far away so we left them to find their own food for the day, something that they are absolutely fine doing as they live in their natural habitat. We spent the days slowly working through the seemingly endless list of ‘January Jobs’ some of which I think were on the list last year and still haven’t been done. On day two however, the sun was shining and then reindeer were slightly closer to home. So me, Sheena and Chris headed up to the Cairngorm ski carpark with rucksacks full of food. Upon arriving we saw lots of cars pulled over with people taking photos, a clear sign of reindeer. About a third 30 of the reindeer were waiting for us, just by the road. We walked these reindeer away from the road, a task easier said than done. Whilst the reindeer were good as gold, walking across incredibly uneven ground in the snow with 20kg of food on your back is quite difficult . Throughout the walk, Sheena lost a wellie in a patch of bog, Chris didn’t fall over once(!), and I fell over completely and couldn’t get back up because of the rucksack full of food. I can’t certainly say that I now know exactly how a woodlouse feels.
As we were leading the group of reindeer away from the road about half a mile away we could see another group of mostly male reindeer coming over from the top of the reindeer enclosure. Eventually we also saw another group of cows and calves coming from the other direction. As the reindeer were getting closer and closer the race was underway, who would come first, the boys or the girls. The boys certainly are greedier but the girls are fitter. Both groups went out of site as they ducked onto a lower area and then eventually the boys showed up, just ahead of the girls. Turns out that the motivation of an easy meal was enough to overcome their lack of distance training. Once the entire group of reindeer currently free-roaming in this area had arrived we fed them all, took plenty of photos of the beautiful reindeer in the snow and then walked back to the van.
Whilst for most people January seems like a bit of a dreary month, I can certainly now see why reindeer herders love January so much. Having all the reindeer free-ranging the hills and going up to feed them with not a soul in sight really is a fantastic experience.