I know, it’s a new year, the end of February and I’m already talking about Christmas. But don’t worry! I’m not talking about next Christmas, I’m going to cast my mind back to last years and more specifically, close to the big day itself.
On the 23rd of December our first Christmas event started just over the hill in Braemar. We survived the icy drive over to the Fife arms who were putting the event on for the hotel and local community and there was a real warm feel about the place. The parade was small but it felt a though the whole village had turned out to see the reindeer. The most amusing part of the day was that instead of Santa riding in the sleigh, we had a Queen Victoria who to this day still appears to be an iconic figure for the area. Yep, it turns out she’s still alive and kicking around Deeside! It was also nice to talk to people who knew and understood about the environment that our reindeer live in. I guess living on the other side of the plateau a lot of locals know all too well what the Cairngorm hills are like by living directly under them. All in all it was a delightful event in a very nice part of the world. Also, go and check out the flying taxidermy red deer above the Fife Arms bar…. Very interesting!
Christmas Eve was a much busier day. We started at the farm by feeding the free-range reindeer on the hill, jumping on a quad bike and heading up to find them. Fi’s dogs Tiree and Sookie came along for the exercise although poor Sookie is knocking on a bit so she hitched a lift on the bike and ran off the hill. At the farm we loaded up our awesome reindeer team for the next 2 days. Baffin, Celt, Rubiks and Matto were our experienced sleigh pullers while Helsinki and Florence were our 2 young calves.
Our first event for the day was Baxter’s Highland village factory in Fochabers. Carol Parsons, a local volunteer did a great job at helping us, talking to members of the public so that Fi and I could get the sleigh and reindeer ready. The event was very straight forward and reindeer were great. Everyone was in a happy Christmassy mood thanks to a singer on a microphone who sounded just like Michael Buble (he was either very good at singing or a very good mime). In what felt like no time at all we were packed up and heading in the direction of Aviemore.
Aviemore is the biggest of the local parades one of the busiest in general. Setting up for the event was helped by reindeer herders Tilly, Olly, Zoe and Sheena. Friends who lived close by in the town also came to say hi and everyone was in good spirits. It didn’t take long for the street lit pavements to be lined full of people who had come out to see Santa and the reindeer. The closer we got to the Cairngorm hotel the busier it got and with a few hundred people also following behind us. The reindeer were all so well behaved, calm and relaxed. It was thoroughly enjoyable to be part of the event, working with the reindeer and Fi. Everyone was in such great spirits and there was a real warm Christmas community feel about the whole event.
Strarthspey Heralds picture of the Aviemore Parade
After scoffing Sausage and chips in the lorry we arrived in Kingussie. With the help from the other herders the parade went smoothly. Up the high street, turn around at the lights and back with a stop along the way. By this point all the reindeer just knew exactly what to do and couldn’t have made it any easier for us. After almost leaving the trace in the dark set up area we set off were in the direction of our final event of the day in Newtonmore.
Driving through the village to the start, we could see everyone who has been waiting patiently, it was 20:00 – 20:30 by this time but I suspect all the young children were allowed to stay up later to see Santa and the reindeer. The pipers and drummers finished their pints outside the pub and we were ready to go. This time Olly went to the back of the sleigh with Rubiks, Matto and the two calves and Fi was at the front Baffin and Celt. Fi had planned to surprise Zoe by giving her the lead half way through the parade, it was her first time doing so but she did a great job! The Highland hotel kindly offered everyone a mince pie and mulled wine at the end and after a little speaking to the hotel guest we finally headed back home to the reindeer centre for a dram of whisky and bed before another day of events.
While children across the country started to wake up in excitement and open presents on Christmas morning Fiona, Tilly and I were back out on the road with the reindeer. First stop Columbridge hotel. Fi was surprised with how little people were at the hotel to see Santa and his reindeer, it turned out for some reason that the hotel wasn’t fully booked so after 30 minutes or so we were packing up and ready to move on. Event number two was the Macdonald resort in Aviemore. This was a much busier event and as we started walking down to the main entrance with Santa in the sleigh and reindeer pulling in front. A large crowd was waiting for us. The reindeer were now getting too relaxed for their own good, and while people were saying hello and taking pictures, Rubiks decided he’d lie down for a little snooze. We also had help from several elves during the parade who were so good that each one was able to walk a reindeer back to the lorry, they were of course delighted.
Next up was the Nethybridge hotel. The hotel very kindly fed us lunch beforehand and with our stomachs full we were ready to go. Along with the 3 of us, Tilly’s son Alex and 2 year old grandson Hamish (the youngest reindeer herder) came to help out. Hamish helped Fiona at the front of the sleigh making sure that Fiona didn’t drop the ropes. Once we were outside the hotel he also got to meet Santa! He was a bit unsure at first but once Santa gave him a present he was much happier. Along with the reindeer Hamish was certainly the star of the show and once again helped lead the reindeer away after everyone made their way back into the hotel.
Finally in the middle of the afternoon we arrived at our final event at the Duke of Gordon hotel in Kingussie. With Tilly’s disappearing off to help get Christmas dinner on the go, just Fiona and I worked with the reindeer at the event. Like all 4 events on Christmas day It was nice and straight forward and everyone was happy and in the Christmas spirit. People could sit on the sleigh while we chatted to others and just before it got dark we were packing up for the final Christmas event of 2019!
Finally it was time to start the Christmas celebrations of our own at Reindeer House with everybody else. The reindeer spent the night in the paddocks and not too long after were once again free- ranging on Cairngorm mountain or in the Cromdale hills enjoying the rest of the winter grazing for a very well earned break.