Here’s a selection of pics taken throughout the month, hopefully giving a snap shot of what we’ve been getting up to. It’s been full on with the rut taking place in the enclosure, our breeding bulls do now seem a bit less enthusiastic after a busy six weeks for them! We’ve also been bringing two calves at a time down to the Paddocks to halter train them. They usually spend around four days here in which we take them out on morning walks to get them used to seeing traffic, bikes, their own reflections in shiny windows and whatever else Glenmore can throw at us at 8am! Christmas sleigh training for our three year old Christmas Reindeer begins too. So far Adzuki, Haricot and Hemp have been trained and they’ve all been total pros. During the October holidays when our 11am Hill Trip sells out we’ve been putting on an afternoon Hill Trip too. Funnily enough, during the rain and wind of Storm Babet we did not require this attentional visit. But after the storm we’ve been treated to some gorgeous autumnal weather and the first decent snow on the hills of the season.
Amongst all of this we’ve also managed to get the October newsletter written, printed and sent out to our lovely adopters! Until it’s safely in the hands of our adopters I’ve left all calf names out of the blog.
This summer I picked up a few days of reindeer herding to cover the absences of holidaying herders (how dare they take time off?!). It was surprisingly easy to slide back into many of the day-to-day generic herding tasks. Opening the Paddocks, doing Hill Trips, chatting to visitors, doing the shop, it all seemed like yesterday when I last did it.
Especially doing tours and answering questions came back to me faster than I’d expected. I seem to have a mental encyclopedia of knowledge stored somewhere in the back of my mind and it just takes a good question for a switch to be flicked for the words to start tumbling out. My mouth starts answering the question before the brain has even processed it, it seems. One of the things I heard myself say was that there used to be reindeer even in France. I know this to be true, but it surprised me that I’d never really researched this fact a bit more. So why not make Ruth happy and do it in a blog?
Reindeer in France during the last Ice Age
The last ice age came to an end about 10,000 years ago. It was around this time that the last ‘land bridge’ between Britain and the European mainland turned into initially salt marsh, and eventually sea. Archeologists have found evidence of animals that lived in Europe in these times. Amongst other species there were bison, arctic foxes and reindeer.
These reindeer were wild reindeer and there’s a well-known historical place in France where hunter-gatherers would use fires to drive reindeer and wild horses into corrals in a narrow valley to make it easier to kill them in great numbers. The meat resulting from this would be dried to sustain the people throughout the year.
So yes, there were reindeer as far South as France, but this was in the time there were other (sub)arctic animals too, as might be expected during an ice age. That might make you wonder if it would make sense to reintroduce reindeer in France too. Well, there’s a story…
Reindeer in France in the 20th Century
There was someone who tried this, a few decades ago now. Pierre Marc loved reindeer so much that he bought reindeer from Northern Scandinavia to start ‘La Vallee de Renne’ in the Jura mountains. He had a summer pasture and a winter pasture, with plenty of Alpine grassland for the reindeer to graze on. It’s not exactly a subarctic climate so the temperatures were a bit higher, and he had to supplement their diet with pellets a bit more than we do with our reindeer. He brought visitors up to see them on snow scooters. Unfortunately for Pierre, the area became a national park whilst he was there and snow scooters were banned, which meant the end of his business. He decided to send the remaining 38-strong herd to none other than the Cairngorm reindeer herd in Scotland! In April 1995 all 38 reindeer (some of the cows pregnant) came across. They settled in brilliantly and the new bloodlines were welcomed with open arms. French bulls were crossed with Scottish cows and French cows with Scottish bulls. One of the bulls, Ubaye even went on to father one of our most legendary reindeer ever, Lilac, who till this day is still the oldest reindeer the herd has ever seen. Some genes 😊.
One of the last traces I could find in our computers was a 2004 herd’s list, with the oldest Scottish ones on it born in 1990 (that’s older than me!). On this list are 4 French reindeer: Neige (which means ‘snow’), Ubaye (after a valley in the French Alps), Josephine and Sophie. I’d love to say the reindeer came over from France with these names but in the rush of things, the Scottish herders never learned the French names, so they came up with their own. It’s lovely that we have a wee bit of a legacy of the history of French reindeer still running through the veins of our current herd.
My first big trip out was when I went with Fiona and we took Sunny, Frost and Druid to a local nursery school in a big lorry. When we got there we took them for a walk in the woods by the car park and found some lichen lollipops which are broken off twigs covered in lichen which the reindeer love. We then took the reindeer outside the nursery and held them on lead ropes so the children were able to come out in small groups to see them. It was so lovely to see their faces when they saw the reindeer. My job was to look after Sunny and we were wearing our Herders’ Christmas jumpers.
On Christmas Eve we went to the Ski car park to find the free-rangers and found them on the mountain so we went over to feed them. We had to jump over a few burns to get to them. I was given the job of doing the reindeer call and they all came over. It was particularly special as my adopted reindeer Scully was there and she came running over. It all felt very special as it was Christmas Eve and I was with the reindeer in their natural surroundings.
Later that day there was a big evening parade in Aviemore starting up at the top of the town. We had to load our Christmas reindeer for the event, Olmec, Scolty, Berlin, Poirot, Sunny and Popsicle into the big lorry outside the Reindeer Centre and take them to start of the parade. They were kept there with a tether line and given food. There were many people who came to say hello to them on the way to the parade. When Santa arrived he got into the sleigh along with the children who were travelling with him. Then we connected up the reindeer to the harness with two adults at the front and two at the back with the two calves. The pipe band started the music which was very loud and made poor Popsicle jump! We paraded down the high street all the way to the Cairngorm Hotel and my job for that night was to walk by the side and make sure no-one let their dog get near and scare the reindeer.
When we had finished we loaded all the reindeer and Santa’s sleigh back onto the lorry and headed for the next parade at Kingussie. On the way we stopped for some fish and chips and I had sausage. It was raining very hard at Kingussie but we still managed to get them all out of the lorry and connected up again to the sleigh for the parade. Everyone was very interested and excited to see and learn about the reindeer and Father Christmas. I stayed at the back of the sleigh to keep all the reindeer in line and not get tangled up.
When this was finished we loaded them all up again and travelled to Newtonmore for the last parade of the night. We went down the whole length of the high street and half way down Fiona surprised me by calling me forward to the front to lead the parade with Olmec and Scolty. This was an absolutely fantastic experience and I felt so honoured to be leading the whole parade with the reindeer. It was such as surprise. We finished the parade at one of the hotels and we all had a warming drink and soup while everyone could meet the reindeer and Santa. One funny time was when my dad was asked to hold all the reindeer whilst still drinking his mulled wine so he had six reindeer leads in one hand with a sleigh and his cup of mulled wine in the other!!! We finally reloaded them back into the lorry. Each time we did this we had to lead them up the ramp and take their head collars off and then load the sleigh into the lorry as well. It was very tiring but brilliant experience. We headed home for a well-earned sleep.
On Christmas Day there were four visits to do to local hotels where the guests could meet Santa with his Elves and the reindeer and have photos taken and Fiona had invited us along to help again. The first one was Coylumbridge Hotel and when I arrived I had a big surprise as Fiona had tied Scully’s antler, which she had shed earlier, to Sunny, and she walked him up to me with it and gave it to me as a present. That was very special to be presented with my adopted reindeer’s antler. We then did McDonald’s Resort Hotel, Nethy Bridge hotel and then one in Kingussie. It was the same team as Christmas Eve as well as Rocket. At each event we had to unload the reindeer and sleigh, harness them up then parade with Santa. The herders were Tilly, Fiona, Joe and Carol as well as me my mum and dad. We were able to have a break in Nethy Bridge and Tilly had arranged for soup and sandwiches for our lunch. It took most of the day but it was such a magical experience taking the reindeer to see lots of people celebrating Christmas and we were all exhausted at the end but very happy. We had a drink back at Reindeer House to celebrate with everyone. They were having their Christmas Dinner with about 20 people afterwards and everything was cooking and smelling very nice
Boxing day was again very snowy and the ski road was again shut due to snow drifts and the herders couldn’t get through till after 10am. It was snowing heavily when we went up the mountain and I couldn’t believe how quickly the snow settled and became very deep. It was great again to see the reindeer in proper snow. We had to do more digging and gritting to clear the paths. The car parks at the top were very very slippy with the ice and we had to be careful not to slip over. The reindeer made it look easy. The free-rangers were on the road so Cameron led them away out of sight and fed them. Sunny the hand-reared reindeer had his final bottle of milk as he moved completely on to normal food.
The following day our trip was over and we headed home through snow blizzards. It was really really kind of Fiona and all the herders to let us spend this special time with them and the reindeer and I loved every minute of it. We must also say a big thank you to Katie, Scott, Alan and all the team at the Pine Marten Bar for putting up with us over the week, kept us fed and watered well and who made our stay in The Treehouse so special as usual. It was such a fantastic and magical time which I will never forget.
I was very lucky to be volunteering with the herd for 8 days in December last year over Christmas. Fiona had said I could help with the Christmas parades that they were due to do. It was my first Christmas working with the reindeer and it was really magical and special experience.
A Fantastic Surprise at the start.
Once we got to Scotland, I had a few days off before I started work with the reindeer. There was so much snow so I was very excited. One of the days we went to Landmark in Carrbridge and my Mum and Dad said it was one of my early Christmas Presents and that there was going to be a surprise.
The surprise was that the reindeer were there!! I was so excited when we found the reindeer pen with Ruth and Mel the herders and the reindeer were Druid, Olmec, Poirot, Berlin and the 2 calves were Sorbet and Lolly. I think we also surprised Ruth and Mel with us turning up. Lol. It was funny to see the pen was next to dinosaur land and there was a gigantic T-Rex looking over the top but thankfully Fiona had made sure the noises were turned off otherwise the reindeer could have been very scared. We took all six reindeer for a walk around Landmark with Santa. I was allowed to help and led Druid whilst Santa led Poirot. It was amazing to see Poirot so calm as it was the first year Poirot was one of the Christmas Reindeer having been a breeding bull in October 2021. He used to charge at the fence protecting his girls and was very aggressive then. He was castrated in August 2022 and he became much calmer and became a Christmas Reindeer. I helped load the reindeer into the back of the lorry at the end and it was such a brilliant day and a fantastic surprise.
Snow, Ice and Tamer Calves
It was very snowy, cold and icy in the first few days once I started and on my first morning, we took reindeer who had come back from Christmas events up onto the hill from the paddocks. There were adult reindeer and calves. I led Poirot, my first time leading a reindeer in snowy and icy conditions. Andi had to dig a massive snow drift away from one of the gates in the hill enclosure as we couldn’t get through. When you walked on the snow, you didn’t know how deep it was so you had to be careful that you didn’t suddenly sink in! It was so icy Andi gritted some of the path for the Hill Trip visitors then I helped Andi worm the reindeer which was giving medicine to keep them healthy and clear of worm infection. I held onto the lead rope and put a few head collars on to the calves who were much tamer than when I was up last in October. They had grown lots too. Zoom the calf (the one who had been found on it’s own on the free-range) was so tame and would follow me and Andi around with the hand feed bribery bag whilst we were trying to catch the calves and put them on head collars. Zoom is best buddies with Sunny the hand reared reindeer calf.
In the few days before the big Christmas parades I did lots of duties in the paddocks and Reindeer House, made up the first-year adoption packs, helped file adoption leaflets away and packed adoption gifts and made feed mix with Lisette. Poo picking in the ice and snow was a new experience (you had to make sure you didn’t slip over and fall in the poo!). One morning Tilly was on Zoe Ball breakfast show on Radio 2 and we all listened to it on the radio. She was talking about the reindeer and Zoe Ball was very interested. Tilly was very good giving lots of information. Another day Joe had an interview for a BBC radio show in the paddocks before we opened. It seemed everyone wanted to know about the reindeer this time of year and our Cairngorm Reindeer Herd were very famous. There were still Christmas events happening and I helped Cameron mix the food then bagged it up for one event that Ruth was doing in Gleneagles.
There were also things happening at Reindeer House with Christmas fun in the paddocks. I talked to people in the paddocks telling them all about the reindeer and also did meet and greet at times explaining what was happening during the Christmas fun. There was a Christmas quiz for people to do and all the herders wore their Christmas jumpers. Santa was in the BBQ hut where he could meet and talk to the children. There were herder talks and people could see the reindeer. The paddocks were decorated for Christmas and children were able to write letters to Santa and post them. Joe was making Christmas jokes all the time and advertising the Naked Herder’s Charity Calendar as well which went on to make a lot of money for the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. When I restocked shop there was Christmas music playing in the office.
The hill trips were also really magical. On one trip Gloriana was cleaning her calf by licking it when lying on a snow patch which was really lovely to see. I was able to do the hand feed talk on a few occasions and it was so special that the herders trusted me to tell everyone the important information. Some hill enclosure gates had massive snow drifts so we had to use other gates and walking on snow drifts was difficult as you would sink in suddenly knee deep in snow. One day the snow gates were closed on the main road but we were allowed up to the Sugarbowl car park. This was the first time I had seen them closed. The snow gates opened an hour later. When we got up to the enclosure we moved the ice and snow cleared the path of ice and snow with shovels and our feet.
The reindeer on the free-range could come and go as they wanted. We left the gate to the top corridor open so most of the free-rangers could come in to feed and we could count and I.D them. I did this one day with Cameron and Lisette. We wrote their ear tag numbers down and checked herd list in the shed. It was lovely to see that the mum’s and calves stay together a lot of the time eating the same pile of food and lying down together. The mothers looking after their calves like Christie licking Gelato. Another day the free-rangers had moved to the top ski car park and I went with Sheena and Cameron to find them. One day Hen and Andi had to go to the top of Silvermount to get the reindeer as they were not coming down to the usual calls.
The other thing we had to do was split off the reindeer for the paddocks and Christmas events from the herd when they were needed and move them down from the hill enclosure and then bring them back up when they had finished so we were very busy. On one of the days I took Frost, Dr Seuss and Nuii up the hill with Andi. I was leading at the front with Dr Seuss and my job was to look out for dogs as the reindeer are very scared of dogs as they think they are wolves. I had to make sure the others stayed close behind me as they like to stick together in a group. When we were at the hill enclosure we let Nuii, the calf, off the head collar first before the adults so that they didn’t panic.