Well hasn’t 2020 been an unexpected year for us all?! We wanted to take the opportunity to share a little message on Christmas day – enjoy!
We hope everyone has a lovely peaceful Christmas and a good start to 2021, and big thanks to the wonderful Spud the Piper for helping add a little sparkle to this video – if you’d like some more bagpipes in your life check out his Facebook page @spudthepiper.
This week’s blog is written by Candice, one of our long standing adopters, who has become something of a obsessed follower over the years! We regularly tell her she’s mad…
My interest (or rather obsession!) with reindeer started in the early 90’s when holidaying with my parents, I was 11 and animal mad (I’m now 40 and still as besotted). So, one visit to see these wonderful creatures and I was hooked! I started adopting reindeer in 1995 and have now just signed up to my 26th year of supporting the scheme. Being from Kent, my visits only occurred 3 -4 times a year but no holiday was complete without a Hill Trip!
As the years went on and life progressed with exams, new jobs and house moves reindeer were never far from my thoughts, and relocation in 2004 resulted in me being only 80 miles from the herd instead of 580…RESULT! I was able to visit much more frequently and became a familiar face at Reindeer House, even though I know they all think I’m completely bonkers (Editor’s note: you’ll not find us arguing 😉 ) ! In 2008 I married Cameron and managed somehow to keep the reindeer obsession to a minimum until he’d signed on the dotted line, but of course we HAD to visit the reindeer on our honeymoon and then the extent of my addiction came to light!
In 2009 our daughter Pandra was born and our visits continued so inevitably she fell head over heels in love with the furry critters. At the age of 3 she took part in a series for CBeebies “Time for School” and for the Christmas episode the reindeer visited her school, Pandra proudly walked a little white calf on a lead rope into the playground in front of the cameras and the whole school. What we hadn’t realised that this was the making of a beautiful “friendship” between her and Blue, this pure white cutie. Three years later we were approached again by CBeebies to film more footage but this time in their natural environment of the Cairngorms for a programme called “The Let’s go Club”. Again it was the Christmas special and we spent a whole day filming out in the hills. By this time Pandra had a little brother, Oakley, who of course has HAD to love reindeer, luckily he does.
Oakley made his first visit to the herd at 2.5 weeks old and at 9 months refused to be carried on the Hill Trip and crawled all the way! Making frequent visits, we visit every month, and being an active contributor to the social media platform you start recognising like-minded people and friendships form, sometimes you even stumble on each other on a Hill Trip, and you hear that terrifying phrase…”Oh so you’re Candice”….cringe!!! Mind you with reindeer vinyls plastered up the side of my car, I’m not easily missed! So, I decided to create a group where we reindeer enthusiasts (that’s the posh name!) can share pictures, stories and everything reindeer. We call ourselves the Reindeer Groupies and are all as mad as a box of frogs!
The group is 20+ strong and we meet up in smaller groups throughout the year either on the Hill Trip or with Tilly at her farm near Tomintoul (the second site for the reindeer herd) but we always try and have a large ‘Groupie Meet’ in October. This wonderful group of people from all over the UK, Holland and Denmark has all come about because of reindeer, of course Reindeer House think we’re all crazy but saying that on one of our October “get-togethers” Dave (reindeer herder) arrived for our private Hill Trip dressed as a reindeer so I’m not sure they have a leg to stand on!
At Christmas the reindeer usually visit town centres around the UK spreading Christmas cheer, of course the Groupies are always there (not all together!) lending a hand, chatting to the public and educating people about these superb creatures. Every November/December in ‘normal years’ I travel over 2,000 miles to various reindeer events which I have done for many years, I’m very lucky to be able to and even luckier to be trusted to do so. It is a great privilege to have had reindeer in my life for this long and I’m even luckier to have found a group of like-minded (even if slightly crazy) group of people that I can call lifelong friends! Long live the Groupies!
People who see our photos on social media without knowing much about us must wonder why some of our reindeer have such strange names. Where’s Dasher and Dancer? Prancer and Vixen? And Rudolph??? Where on earth have ‘Pavlova’, ‘Caterpillar’ and ‘Clouseau’ come from?!
We’ve been naming the reindeer on a theme each year since the early 70s. As well as making life a bit easier for us coming up with 15 – 30 brand new names each year (where would you start otherwise?!), it has a very practical application in that it helps us remember the individual age of each reindeer, based on their moniker. For farmers naming animals is often done using words starting with a certain letter of the alphabet each year, but different themes is our chosen method.
Up until the early 70s Mr Utsi named his reindeer mainly just with human names, both English and Swedish in origin. However, in 1971, the calves were instead given names of different trees, such as Spruce, Larch and Alder. In 1972 it was birds: Raven, Wren and Hawk. And Tit (teehee).
Themes need to be chosen to have enough ‘good’ names; those not too long, not too complicated, not double-barrelled and either unisex or enough names suitable for a rough 50:50 split of male and female names within the theme. This rules out some ideas pretty quickly.
Over the years however, all the ‘obvious’ themes have now been done. Rivers; Butterflies; Countries; Sweeties – we’ve been there and done that. We do our best to never reuse a name as each reindeer is their own character and we feel they deserve an individual name, but also because it can cause confusion on the database if there’s more than one of the same. We do accidentally slip up however – I’m well aware that both Juniper and Frost in the herd are not the first of their kind. I think Lady holds the record – the Lady that I knew when I first started here turned out to be Lady the Third when I looked closely at the database…
So now we have to think outside the box, hence our slightly off-the-wall themes of later years. This year the calves are named after ‘Seeds, Peas and Beans’. We did ‘Police and Detectives’ recently. And before that ‘Ancient Civilisations’.
To an extent we try not to use themes that are too commercial, hence ‘car makes’ or ‘football clubs’ aren’t options. Something else we don’t generally do, or not nowadays at least, is to allow other people to name reindeer in our herd. This is quite a popular request, and most often comes from people wishing to name a reindeer in memory of someone in their family who really loved visiting the reindeer, or had some special connection with the herd for one reason or another. While this would seem a lovely tribute, sadly reindeer don’t live forever and we don’t want people to be too invested in a certain reindeer, only for it to pass away unexpectedly. Sod’s law is a big factor here – allow someone to name a reindeer in this manner and you can almost guarantee it will be the one to pop it’s clogs a week later… However, we like to accommodate people if possible, so we have in the past, in exceptional circumstances, allowed someone else to choose the theme (from a shortlist). We did it this year in fact – ‘Seeds, Peas and Beans’ was chosen in memory of a gentleman to whom gardening had been a very important part of his life.
While all the staff here are involved in naming the calves each year, the Smith family, who own the reindeer herd, have the final say in all names. And themes they don’t like won’t make the grade. Hence don’t bother asking us if ‘Game of Thrones’ will ever be the theme – I can tell you right now that it won’t. I did make a bid for ‘Sean’ for this years’ theme (think about it) but sadly it was out-ruled.
Of course there end up being lots of exceptions to the rules and reindeer often end up with really random names, but I think some details of these can wait till a future blog.
The Real Rudolph: A Natural History of the Reindeer was the second book I wrote and this time was commissioned by Sutton Publishing. The publisher had already come up with the title and they were looking for a book of ‘hard facts’. Packed full of juicy info about reindeer and caribou (which are actually the same species, but coming from different parts of the world), I combined a lot of research with personal experiences and I was lucky to know a number of good photographers who kindly provided amazing photos which are littered through the book.
The photo on the front cover is from a picture I took of a reindeer bull in Outer Mongolia and I dedicated a chapter to my trip there in 2005 and also various excursions to Swedish Lapland, which ultimately led to us bringing new breeding stock back from there.
The first half of the book is all about their world distribution as a species, seasonal nature, arctic adaptations, how they fit into the ‘Deer Family’ and their domestication. I did have one gentleman get in touch to say it was the most interesting and entertaining textbook of reindeer he had ever read!
But I was always conscious that readers would also be interested in the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, particularly since I would be selling it here at the Reindeer Centre and so the second half of the book was not just about my personal experiences of far flung ‘reindeer places’ but also some stories closer to home.
Published for the Christmas market in 2006 it is now sadly out of print, but it can be acquired, very cheaply, on Amazon!! It is (although I say it myself) a very informative book, is well produced with high quality paper and photos inserted into the text, rather than clumped together in sections as they were in my first book, Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses. That book is also out of print now, but my latest book Reindeer: An Arctic Life is in print and available on our online shop (please click hereto have a look), along with several other books and items. Many are suitable for stocking fillers!