Reindeer herders come craftsmen/craftswomen!

As well as being highly qualified reindeer herders… (a qualification that takes years of course 😉 ) quite a few of us herders have our own wee side-lines which we either do as a hobby or to get an extra bit of pocket money each month selling our goods online or through our reindeer shop.

Olly has been part of the reindeer herding family for over 5½ years now, since he was 17. Although he is one of the youngest herders he is by far the most practical when it comes to handyman, maintenance and craftmanship work and the list goes on! He has fixed many a thing at Reindeer House and constantly gets roped in to help with projects including woodwork and building. As well as being a reindeer herder he has worked for a bushcraft company, teaching groups of kids the skill set and more ‘simple’ life when it comes to living and embracing the outdoors… away from the hustle and bustle of normal life!

Olly with a handmade stool

Throughout 2020 Olly has established his own company, Corvus, doing everything from putting up shelving to building sheds, whittling spoons and his latest venture of hand carving beautiful wooden cups. Each one turns out different due to the nature of the wood and working with the grain. He now has his own social media following and Etsy shop which is proving to be extremely popular. During winter/spring last year when the whole country went into lockdown, Olly lost work with the bushcraft company due to restrictions not allowing it to go ahead and has really made the most of what could have been a very long year – instead he has broadened his skill set and kept Reindeer House up to scratch in maintenance… Thanks Olly!

A carved Sami-style cup

See links below for keeping in the loop and what’s for sale through Corvus.

Corvus: Facebook page and Etsy page

I’ve (Fiona) been crafting with reindeer antler for over ten years now. I guess I’ve been inspired by the beautiful handicrafts made by the Sami people throughout Scandinavia having visited there in the past – their craft is a whole new level but having been self taught through trial and error I’ve worked out what sells and along the way got to work with a really great product. The best sellers are of course the necklaces, bracelets, keyrings and earrings I sell through our reindeer shop. These are affordable and don’t take too long to make. Pairing reindeer antler with colourful wooden beads it makes for a unique present or souvenir. I then took it a step further and now I do antler/wood handles for knives, bottle openers, cheese knives etc. This has been fun working out and having Sami friends to quiz along the way means I’m getting the best of the best advice!

One of my knives with an antler and curly birch handle

I’ve made cake knives for friends weddings and even reindeer antler rings. I don’t have a company as such but call myself Antler Crafts. It’s a great way to switch off, especially if it’s a bad weather day, I can tinker around in the workshop and my bedroom making bits and bobs from the reindeer antler.

Antler Crafts: Facebook page

And a cheese slice!

Andi has been in the reindeer herding scene now for well over ten years and full time since 2011, but has a very different hobby to Olly and I who work with wood and reindeer antler. Andi has self taught herself the art of taxidermy.

Not sure Andi would have her hand under those talons if this Buzzard was still alive!

Whenever she, or someone else (usually other reindeer herders) finds an animal or bird which has recently died through natural causes, we pop them in the freezer ready for Andi to work on. She is self taught in building manikins and tanning skins to restore these beautiful animals. Although we appreciate it is not everybody’s cup of tea there is certainly enough interest for her to keep up this unusual hobby. Seeing some of these animals up close through taxidermy may sometimes be the only way you can really appreciate their colouring or structure as in the wild they are often they are seen in a split second and you may never know it’s true beauty.

A brace of beautiful brown hares.

You can follow her on social media and she also has an online Etsy shop you can check out.

Andi’s Taxidermy: Facebook page and Etsy page

Manouk worked with us for a couple of years from 2018-2020 and still lives locally. I was always very jealous of her artistic skills and beautiful drawings.

Some of Manouk’s beautiful cards

Over the last couple of years she has been sketching landscape and mountain scenes as well as her day to day subjects such as the friendly local sheep in nearby fields. She has turned her art into gift cards and sells them online. Check out her Etsy shop and get yourself some lovely cards.

Manouk’s Etsy page

Sheena is definitely the most artistic of us all… even though she would try and say otherwise!

Sheena busy at work!

She has a real eye for colour and shape and you can be midway through a conversation and she’ll whip out her sketch book and pencil and start sketching the surroundings. We’ve been to many music festivals over the years and while everyone is taking photos there is Sheena with pencil and paper capturing the moment in a very different way. She is so encouraging to anyone who wants to give it a go, giving them sound advice but at the same time making sure they create something from their own mind, not hers.

Art pieces on recycled wooden boards, plus a couple of prints
Sheena’s ptarmigan and mountain hares in our shop window

She paints on wooden plaques and canvas as well as making clay animals and selling them through our reindeer shop. Mind you it only makes it to the shop if another reindeer herder doesn’t buy it first! Sheena doesn’t have any social media pages or online shop, but some of her items are always available in our shop here at the Centre, and can occasionally be found in our online shop too.

Small canvases

Joe has been a seasonal herder now for over 3 years and when he’s not working here he’s usually a mountain guide so knows the hills throughout Britain very well. More recently he’s got into photography, buying himself a fancy pants camera! He’s got a great eye when it comes to capturing a moment or scene – this was always very apparent on the photos he took on his phone so now he has the high tech equipment the photos are even more mind blowing. So with his love for being in the mountains coupled with his knowledge and fitness to take him to some incredible places in the outdoors I suspect there are going to be some pretty amazing photos to come out of it. We will definitely rope him in to get some good reindeer shots, so watch this space – particularly for our upcoming 2022 calendar perhaps!

Well chuffed with his new toy!

Loch Ness Leather is a company ran by a reindeer herder from back in the day, Heather Hanshaw. I don’t want to call her an ex reindeer herder cos you never really know when these ex herders dip their toe back into the odd bit of herding… Both Heather’s parents have always worked with leather and created businesses from it and Heather has now taken on that role and has built the most amazing company and products to go with it.

Heather hard at work (well mostly!) and some of her beautiful products

Some of you already have a keyring she has made as these have been going out in adoptions packs since last May for all adoption renewals (about which she wrote a blogfor us about last summer). She knows the rule for our shop – if it’s got a reindeer on it then we’ll sell it – so now we also have whisky hip flasks and dram sets available online.  Living locally to us, we can easily catch up on her latest products; usually done during a dog walk or once the chaos of COVID is over lots of lovely social times, dinner and drinks! While checking out her website see if you can recognise those fancy models she got to advertise her products.  😉 Lol!

Fancy models! Well, reindeer herders in disguise… Hats and bags all made by Loch Ness Leather. Photo copyright: Catriona Parmenter

Loch Ness Leather: Facebook page and website

Long time, no reindeer

It’s been a bit snowy here in the Cairngorms this winter.

The Cairngorms is unique within the UK in offering a sub-arctic ecosystem, which coupled with the wide expanses of mountainside, make it perfect for our reindeer. In most winters, we get weeks of snow cover on the mountains,  but it’s less common to have such sustained cover as we’ve experienced this year. From Christmas through to mid February, the norm was snow, both on the hills and in the glens. Perfect for the reindeer, great for all of the snowsports enthusiasts who happen to live within reach of the mountains, but I have to confess the novelty of relentless snow began to wear… a little thin for me. I lost count how many times we cleared our drive at home of snow – all that snow shovelling definitely made up for the gyms being closed!

There’s a loch there somewhere! Loch Morlich froze solid enough that some people skied right across it.

If you follow our social media accounts, you’ve probably  enjoyed all those beautiful photos of reindeer in the snow under a bright blue sky, herders skiing out onto stunning mountains to cuddle reindeer, giving the impression that that is our every day experience. But alas, social media photos can be scheduled for the future. With the current situation, we’ve all just been working two/three days a week, keeping the essentials ticking over, which also means that we can work in separate households.

Our path off the car park blocked by a 10 ft drift. No reindeer today then…

So every Friday and Saturday, Hen and me had our turn to feed the herd. As January rolled into February, with unerring precision, every day we were scheduled to work also appeared to be the scheduled day for a blizzard, a storm, or generally horrific weather. The reindeer were perfectly equipped, and with their appetites very reduced they would be a fair distance away, not fussed about seeking us out for food. Each time, we would drive up the ski road – a mission in itself as the snow was only cleared enough to allow Cairngorm Mountain’s essential staff access. We would wend our way up the closed road in our wee van, driving as far as we could, debating the safety of walking out to try to find the herd. And each time we would be forced to turn back.

The main ski road.
A passage cleared through drifts higher than the van.

Over the course of the next week, our colleagues would be gifted with better weather than us, and would catch up with the reindeer. More glorious photos for Facebook, then as we watched the forecast for our days, the harsh weather returned. The temperature plummeted to -19C, the Spey froze over. A second work “week” of seeing no reindeer, again foiled by the weather, the deep snow, and the distant reindeer. Now I know we can’t complain too much, when we have the privilege of getting to work with these awesome creatures, but by now we were starting to feel a little less like “Reindeer Herders” and a little more like office staff…

Our wee van excelled itself at being a snow van. That’s the main ski road that we’re stopped on…

It was now nearly three weeks since we’d seen the herd ourselves, and with hope we looked at the forecast for our next Friday in – the thaw having finally started. Windy, still snowy, but not too bad… We loaded the van with feed, navigated the narrow cleared passage between the drifts (apparently the deepest for 40 years on the road in places), reached the car park and spied with binoculars.

Hen sights the reindeer just above the snow drift

Reindeer! Real live reindeer! Calling against the wind, they heard us, and Pagan led them down.

Call and they shall come (possibly)

Phew, we could feel like reindeer herders once again!

Wild weather but happy herders with hungry Holy Moley

Andi

Reindeer in Space? Not quite!

One of our adopters has brought it to our attention that the reindeer made an appearance in the Eagle comic, right back in December 1953, a mere 19 months after they first arrived in Scotland. He was kind enough to send us some scans and write a little bit for this week’s blog, so let me hand you over to John this week:
Published between 1950 to 1969, Britain’s Eagle comic was the creation of the Reverend Marcus Morris, an Anglican vicar, and Frank Hampson, who created its now world-famous space hero, ‘Dan Dare’. Alongside the famous space pilot, the weekly comic mixed a variety of other adventure and humour strips, and offered a range of features to appeal to its audience of largely teenage boys. (Publisher Hulton Press also published GIRL, for girls, and Swift and Robin, for younger readers, in similar formats).
Part of Eagle’s cover – dated 24th December 1953
Unusually, the comic had an editorial budget well in excess of what might be expected in comparison for a similar title today, and was able to commission a variety of articles – and send their in-house writing team (and freelancers) to all four corners of Britain to cover stories. Reporter Macdonald Hastings (who would go on to become a word-famous war correspondent) filed reports from far-flung parts of the world under the title of Eagle Special Correspondent reportedly making around £5000 pounds a year by 1952.
For Eagle’s 1953 Christmas issue, he was dispatched to the Cairngorms, to visit the Rothiemurchus Forest Reindeer Reserve, where he met Mr Nicolaus Labba the Laplander, who introduced Mr Hastings to some of the herd and offered some thoughts on the future of the project.
N.B. Scans of the whole pages won’t show up on our blog here big enough to read, so we’ve chopped up the article into separate sections so it can (hopefully!) be read easily enough:
So, yes, it’s true – the Cairngorm Reindeer really did rub shoulders with Dan Dare!
Eagle merged with another comic, Lion, in 1969 which in turn lasted until 1974.
John 
N.B. To add some more context, Nicolaus  Labba was a cousin of Mikel Utsi, the man who first brought the reindeer back to Scotland from Sweden in 1952, arriving with Mr Utsi in 1952 and spending the next few years as his assistant. 
Nicolaus Labba and Mikel Utsi, 29th May 1952 – the day the reindeer first arrived in the Cairngorms after their journey from Sweden and subsequent quarantine at Edinburgh Zoo.
Labba with Sarek in Feb 1953.
With Sam in August 1953, the calf who’s photo made it into the Eagle a few months later!

More information about Nicolaus Labba and the history of our herd here in Scotland can be found in our book Hoofprints, available here on our website. 

Ben and Lotti’s old phrases challenge

Since Lotti and I have been working at the Reindeer Centre there has been two and a half pages of old English phrases hanging up in the office. It seems to have been there since time immemorial and no one is quite sure how or why it’s up there. We saw this as an opportunity!! Could we enhance our ‘olde’ vocabulary? Well, we were keen to give it a go…we challenged each other to fit in a single word from the list below on each Hill Trip that we did together. Here are some of the words, their definition (followed by their origin), followed by how Lotti and I used them in our tour.

Callipygian – having beautifully shaped buttocks (1640’s).

“Ben and I know all the males in here by name, so we can tell you their name if you have a favourite. Some of the Bulls are so big by now that we can almost identify them by their callipygian bottoms”

Groaking – to silently watch someone whilst they are eating, in the hopes of being invited to join them (unknown origin).

“You might see the Reindeer groaking each other when we put the line of feed on the ground”

Editor’s Note – Groaking is probably the only word in this list that has become part of normal, everyday speech over the years at Reindeer House. Mainly because Hen is regularly accused of it.

Sluberdegullion – a slovenly, slobbering person (1650’s).

“A lot of reindeer adaptations are centred around energy conservation. As you’ve seen, they like to walk on the boardwalk with you and this is all part of the energy conservation instinct: it’s easier than walking along uneven grassland. And here is a good example, none like to conserve energy more than our very own sluberdegullion, Svalbard.”

Svalbard leading his buddies Druid, Jonas and Stuc across the moorland, through deep vegetation and over rough, uneven ground. Energy-sapping and hard going… oh wait, the sluberdegullions are all walking on a boardwalk!

 

Curmering – a low rumbling sound produced by the bowels (1880’s).

“Reindeer tend not to make too much noise. However, they do make a noise when moving. In fact, listen out for a noise whilst we walk through the enclosure alongside them, and Lotti will tell you more about that sound soon. I’ll give you a clue, it’s not a curmering.”

Snoutfair – a good-looking person (1500s).

“We run an adoption scheme so you can actually adopt the handsome Dr. Seuss or the fiery Scully here. Alternatively, you could try to adopt Ben here if you think he’s looking particularly snoutfair”

Scully – what a snoutfair!

Resistentialism – the seemingly malevolent behaviour displayed by inanimate objects (1940s).

“You might wonder what’s in these green bags at mine and Lotti’s feet. It’s essentially reindeer bribery! Reindeer love their food which is fortunate for us as reindeer herders. The reindeer certainly don’t think the bags have any resistentialism.”

Jargogles – to confuse, bamboozle (1690’s).

“It absolutely jargogles me how quickly the antlers grow on some of our big boys”

Look how quickly your antlers have grown, Domino! Jargogling.

Quockerwodger – a wooden puppet, controlled by strings (1850’s).

“We don’t want to treat you as if you were quouckerwodgers, so you can leave when you want, just give Lotti or me a wave and be sure to shut the gates.”

Lunt – walking whilst smoking a pipe (1820’s).

“We will feed the reindeer soon, after which they’re likely to graze the grass or lounge about. Perhaps they’ll even siesta. I’m sure if they were human, they’d love to have a post-work lunt.”

Twattle – to gossip, or talk idly (1600’s).

“So, without further ado, we will head into the enclosure to meet the reindeer. We will gather around one last time when we’re in there to listen to some interesting ways that reindeer have adapted to their environment. Then you’ll have as much time as you’d like to be with the reindeer. So that we remain as one big group, if we could avoid any dawdling or twattling until we’ve gathered around one final time, then that would be great.”

Hugger mugger – to act in a secretive manner (1530’s).

“Cars that are this high up don’t expect to see a big handsome group like us crossing the road, so don’t act all hugger mugger about it, be sure to pick your right moment to cross”.

Cockalorum – a little man with a high opinion of himself (1710’s).

“All of our reindeer do have a name. They are actually named after a different theme every year. This reindeer here is called Bond. He’s a got a history of being a bit of a cockalorum, although he has been behaving better so far this year”

Bond – one of life’s cockalorums.

Crapulous – to feel ill because of excessive eating/drinking (1530’s).

“We’re on the last Hill Trip of the day so the Reindeer here are getting quite a lot of food this afternoon, but they’ll make light work of that. Hopefully they don’t feel too crapulous afterwards. But they are ruminants, so they often have a bit of grass or sedge for dessert once the mix has finished.”

Lethophobia – the fear of oblivion (1700’s).

“The reindeer here live in some of the harshest environment that the U.K. offers. In winter, the temperatures can reach as low as -20 degrees Celsius and the wind speed can exceed 100mph. However, this doesn’t trouble the reindeer too much, it hasn’t led to them developing any lethophobia. They are hardy animals who love the cold.”

Elflocks – tangled hair as if matted by elves (1590’s).

“The reindeer’s coats help keep them warm in the winter – reindeer have been known to survive down to very low temperatures when they have to. They do this by having thousands of hairs per square inch, all of which are hollow, making them great at trapping a base layer of heat next to their skin. As you can see the hair is currently lovely and sleek; it stays like this throughout winter and sheds in the summer. If you saw them in July it would look like they’ve got Elflocks.”

Fine elflocks…

Curglaff – the shock one feels upon first plunging into cold water (Scots, 1800’s).

“Reindeer aren’t particularly tactile and some of them here today can be quite shy at times, so don’t be surprised if a reindeer looks curglaffed if you approached too far into their personal space.”

The A-team of guides, should you want an education on words from hundreds of years ago!

Ben and Lotti

Jokkmokk Winter Market

 

Back when everything felt much more ‘normal’ in February 2020 four of us from the Reindeer Centre went to the celebration of all things Sámi , the ‘Jokkmokk Winter Market’ in Arctic Sweden. It is held in the first weekend of February every year, and apart from world-class Sámi art, culture and handicraft, visitors are usually greeted by proper, cold winter weather.

Olly, Joe and myself at the market last year

Jokkmokk’s Market begins on the first Thursday of February every year. Situated just north of the Polar Circle and with a population a little over 2,000, the small town of Jokkmokk is a tranquil gem on the border of Laponia, the only combined nature and cultural heritage site in Scandinavia. Jokkmokk’s Market was first held in 1605, some 400 years ago, originally purely as a place to trade and meet. The Sámi people met to trade goods, to socialise, and possibly to get a bit tipsy too. At least they’d arrive in their party clothes! The market was created following a request from King Karl XI, who sought to exert control over trading in Lappmarken in order to collect taxes for the Kingdom. To make everything easier to control and run smoother, they organised the market during the coldest time of the year. People had to stay near the houses to keep warm. You might think this sounds like pure fiction, but the fact is that the Swedish state wanted to create a market for economic reasons – money was needed for all the wars the king was involved in down in Europe. And in that way, Jokkmokk got a market in the middle of the freezing cold.

Joe admiring Sámi knives at a stall
Plenty of reindeer antlers for sale!

At a quick glance, as you zigzag between stands selling sweets, t-shirts, knitted socks, doughnuts, there is little to differentiate the market here in Jokkmokk from just about any other market in Sweden. But if you look further than the muddle of seemingly pointless things you will find the genuine and the real. Much of the handicraft, art and jewellery are created in materials derived from the reindeer, such as hides and antlers. It’s an intriguing fusion of traditional Sámi styles and new, modern influences.

Reindeer racing always draws a big crowd

At Jokkmokk’s Market, there’s no mistaking that reindeer are a fundamental part of Sámi culture – they have been an integral part of Sámi life for thousands of years, from winter and summer pastures, from coastal regions to mountain terrain. Throughout history, reindeer have provided humans with food, clothing and materials for functional items, while in past times they were also used to transport everything imaginable between settlements.

For over 50 years, Per Kuhmunen has been walking his reindeer as a daily feature at Jokkmokk’s Market.

It’s not unusual for temperatures to plummet below the –30 degree mark. To get the most out of your market experience, it’s important to have the right clothing – multiple layers of warm materials such as wool, or other functional fabrics, covered by a heavy-duty down jacket, and a sturdy pair of winter boots. Add a fur cap and the warmest gloves you can find, and you’re all set!

Frosty beard men!

Jokkmokk’s Market is an annual highlight, however, this year things have to work a little different and the Jokkmokk Market has to go online… Maybe a little warmer from your kitchen table or living room than walking the streets themselves, though I know I would still prefer to be there in person having experienced the amazing atmosphere this market has to offer, even with cold hands! Learn more by visiting the market’s website and have the opportunity to purchase items from the market – the next best thing to actually being able to visit!

Beautifully carved antler crafts
Colourful gloves
Reindeer wear incredibly colourful harnesses

Mikel Utsi, who re-introduced reindeer into Scotland in the 1950s, originally came from the Jokkmokk area and still to this day when we travel to northern Sweden we stay with his family who are always very welcoming. It helps too if we bring a good bottle of Scottish Whisky! I feel extremely lucky to have visited this market a few times now and I hope this year is the only time it will have to resort to going online as nothing beats being there in person!

John Utsi, Mikel Utsi’s nephew, and his daughter Sofia at my brother Alex’s wedding back in 2013. Both are wearing traditional Sámi dress.

Fiona

My memories of the reindeer (part two)

Here’s the second part of Beth’s blog about volunteering with the reindeer over the years, and what it means to her. The first part can be found here.

One of the earliest memories I have of volunteering up in Aviemore is being sat in the back of the van in the summer with a small calf between my legs we were bringing back down the hillside for the evening (Editor’s note – this was a hand-reared reindeer calf who was at this point spending his nights in the paddocks beside the Reindeer Centre, and his days up on the mountain with the main herd in the enclosure. We don’t routinely transport reindeer up and down the hill in the back of our van!!!). He was so small, but I remember walking him down the hillside and when we got in the van he laid his head on my lap. It’s such a small thing but it meant so much. These amazing animals and I was lucky enough to be able to help and look after them!

Hand-reared calf Fergus tripping Abby up (a regular occurrence), en route to and from the hill daily

When I say the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd have a lot to answer for, I mean it. When I turned 16 I landed myself a job at Stockeld Park, near my home in Yorkshire, which is one of the many locations the Cairngorm reindeer have a reindeer parade at Christmas time. It is because of the reindeer that I got myself the job. A few years prior to getting the job one of the managers told my dad that when I was of the age to be able to work I was to fill an application out and they’d have me working on their team like a shot. And so I did. 21st May 2015 I was at Stockeld Park picking my uniform up. On my first shift there a few weeks later I walked into the shop where I would be working and a poster was behind the counter with my face on it from the previous Christmas event. I was known for a while as “reindeer girl” as most the staff first knew me for helping out at the Christmas events! That name lasted with me till I left a few years later.

Having a quiet word with 6 month old Lora at a Christmas event.

I could go on and on about the memories I have made volunteering. But I won’t bore you all! Just two more memories that have given me so much happiness  -one of them I was able to bring experience from my care work background into the day I spent with a family doing a half-day reindeer trek (which doesn’t run any more). I can’t remember the year but I remember going out early on a hill trek with a family with a young boy. They had adopted a reindeer in the past and all were excited to do the hill trek. It was a glorious day. The sun was out and it was warm. The young boy had autism and was very shy at first. It took a while to encourage him to take the rope and lead the reindeer on the walk. When he did it was like talking to a new boy. He was full of smiles and was so happy. I remember after the trek a reindeer called Lego, who he had been leading, laid down in the long grass. I’d turned away to talk to some of the other people and when I turned to see the young boy he was laid down cuddled into Lego. It was an amazing thing to see. It was like seeing a boy and his dog. They were so peaceful and seemed in their own world, and it melted my heart and made my day to see this young boy so happy.

When I was in my second year of sixth form it was mandatory to do a week’s worth of work experience during the summer after. Most people in my class chose to go work in a coffee shop or wherever their parents worked. Nope. Not me. I hopped in the car (which gave my family an excuse for a weekend away) and got myself up to Aviemore. I stayed in the Youth Hostel a few minutes away from the Reindeer Centre. That week I cooked for myself (may have burnt a meal or two…), I went for plenty of walks nearby where I was and most importantly spent five days working alongside the staff at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. I loved every moment of it !

Up on the hill with the reindeer on a drizzly day

I can also remember the day we went up on the hill trip and me and Imogen who was working there at the time went hunting for Pokemon on the way back down the van on what used to be a big craze back then on the Pokemon Go app! That’s also the same day Hen had asked me to help check a reindeer’s temperature… another new experience I had never done before!

This was the week that I was pushed the most. I had so much fun and I was also tested on my knowledge of the reindeer. Fiona had mentioned to me on the first day that by the end of the week she was wanting me to lead a hill trip from start to finish. Now I panicked. But eventually, on my last day, I took a small group of visitors up to see the reindeer. After I had done that I was so proud of myself. I have never had the most confidence. In school I would shy away, wouldn’t even put my hand up to ask a question to the teacher. But whenever someone asked me to stand up and talk about reindeer, it was like I was a new person. I could give a speech on the information I knew and then would be able to answer questions people had to ask. I will never be more grateful to a bunch of people then I am to those I have worked with at the
Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. They have helped me come so far in life and are part of the reason who I am today.

Getting back on topic, that same week I helped out in the office, cleaned the paddocks, cleaned the visitors centre, helped in the shop and on my evenings I spent a lot of them walking and being at one with the beautiful area Glenmore is. I can remember on one of the nights Fiona had invited us to join in with their “Come dine with me” evening. That day me and another volunteer, Blyth, had helped prep some of the food they would be cooking that night. It was just lovely. I felt so involved and learnt so many skills that week. I remember sitting on the train and not wanting to go home.

I have also helped at a fair few Christmas events, mainly Stockeld Park and Beverley. Beverley by far has to be my favourite. It’s so busy and feels so festive. I used to love answering questions people had and talking to the children about Christmas and the magic of the reindeer. I remember one year helping harness the reindeer ready for the event and one of the reindeer lifted his head and bashed his antlers in to my head, bad timing on someone’s behalf and the next day I remember going to school the next day with a bruise going
from the top of my head down to my chin on the left hand side… it was bragging rights and gave me an excuse to chat all about the reindeer event!

Me (right) at the back of the sleigh with Hen, Oasis and Bingo leading

Now I feel I have gone on long enough. And it’s time to wrap up this journey I have brought you on and the memories I have shared. I have met some amazing friends over the past 19 years. Who would’ve thought one reindeer called Biscuit could have brought us a friendship with a lovely lady called Carola who lives over in Holland, and from there many friendships grew. We then found more “reindeer crazy” people like us and started a Reindeer Groupies Page” on Facebook. We’ve had many meetings through the years and have made many memories. I will forever be grateful to everyone up at Reindeer House. You all hold a special place in my heart and I so hope that in October 2020 I will be back up, starting a new chapter of memories by bringing my partner and his daughter up to see the reindeer and hopefully sharing the magic and love I have in my heart with them for these lovely creatures.

Beth

With fellow ‘groupie’ Pandra! Andi looking a little less than impressed in the background – Christmas training on yet another wet, manky day!

 

 

 

 

Reindeer love Munros!

The Reindeer love Munros! In fact, it could be said that they are our resident ‘Munro baggers’ in the Cairngorms, although, plenty of reindeer herders would also be contenders for that crown.

A ‘munro’ is any Scottish mountain above the height of 3,000 feet (914.4 metres) that has been recognised by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC). And a ‘munro bagger’ is anyone (person, or perhaps any animal?) engaged in the activity of climbing all of the listed Munros.

The reindeer herd high up on the mountains, near the summit of Cairn Gorm

Tilly, the owner of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, finished climbing all of the 282 Munros in 2019 with Moskki – her dog – completing most of them alongside her. Moreover, Alan (Tilly’s husband and fellow owner of the herd) and Joe (Tilly’s possible future son-in-law…) (Editors note: Ben is solely responsible for writing this and none of the rest of us are claiming any responsibility!) are other herders who have climbed all 282 munros.

Pelting rain last November for Tilly’s 282nd munro! Photo: Nigel Housden / Pinsharpstudios

Maybe that’s why reindeer herders feel such a connection to the reindeer…they both love the high tops. The reindeer are often found around Cairn Gorm Mountain, the 6th highest of the munros. They love the cooler air and vegetation that comes with being at a higher altitude. Occasionally they stray further afield and need bringing back into the areas they’re allowed to be in, which requires us heading out into the hills and bringing them home – potentially bagging a munro en-route.

On the move, with the Ptarmigan building and Cairn Gorm in the background

The Cairngorm Mountains are blessed with many of the highest mountains in the British Isles. The second highest in the U.K. is Ben Macdui (Ben Macduibh in Gaelic), with its height recorded at 1309 metres. And the third (Braeriach), fourth (Cairn Toul), fifth (Sgor an Lochain Uaine) and sixth (Cairn Gorm) highest U.K. mountains are also located here in the Cairngorms.

Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine

As of July 2nd 2020, 6,768 people have reported completing the round of Munros (although the SMC would rather have the spelling as ‘compleating’!). But if there was a local record for the Cairngorm Mountains, reindeer would have ‘bagged’ more than a lot of the UK population, amongst which I suspect the average climbed to be very, very small!

As a sort of epilogue, I thought it interesting that the SMC recognise six peaks in England, fifteen in Wales and thirteen in Ireland that would be classified as munros or ‘munro tops’ (a peak over 3000′, but one considered a subsidary top of a nearby munro) . That just goes to show how plentiful and large the Scottish hills are in comparison to the rest of the U.K.

Ben

Velvet Antlers, Velvet Nose

This was my first attempt at writing a book about reindeer. Approached by the reputable publisher Hodder and Stoughton in 1994, the editor had heard me speaking on Radio 4 and thought my ramblings had the potential for a book.

It was, to say the least, a particularly busy time in our lives, with 2 children under the age of 6, a herd of reindeer we were trying to make a living from and a second site to where we not only had moved part of the herd, but were beginning to look at how we would farm the lower ground.

So we were stretched to the limits. Indeed the introduction to the book begins with ‘I must be crazy, definitely off my head, to agree to write a book. My day is already full and chaotic.’

But as the saying goes “ If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

The text of the book is interspersed with pages of photos, including this classic of Alex on my back as a toddler!

I would describe Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses as written ‘from the heart’. The highs and lows of caring for such a special herd of reindeer. The stories of extraordinary people who dedicated their lives to successfully re-introducing them. And a crazy family called The Smith’s, who have carried on the legacy.

Alex, Tilly, Fiona and Alan back in the day. Look at those fresh faces!

From those early days of Alan and I becoming the proud owners of such a wonderful herd, the Cairngorm reindeer continue to go from strength to strength because of the dedication of the next generation. And this dedication has particularly shone through during these difficult times with the Coronavirus pandemic. Months of being closed, but with animals still to care for and hard choices to made.

Now we have opened partially it feels like a very long road ahead though with many of our normal income revenues needed; to feed reindeer, pay herders and the ability to ‘live’ normally looking like they are going to be curtailed for a long time to come.

The opening chapter of Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses describes an incident at Christmas time when I took reindeer to a local playgroup in Aviemore. The memory is etched in my brain forever when the heavy door swung back prematurely knocking the poor reindeer Larch’s antler off! It was a one-off and occasions like this are part of the steep learning curve but re-reading it this morning reminded me of the pleasure people get from seeing reindeer at Christmas (hopefully not with an antler dropping off) and how this November and December will almost certainly be very different.

Crowds like this seem like a distant memory right now!

Training male reindeer to harness and going out and about at Christmas time doing street parades, displays and events is a really important source of income for the herd and bring a huge amount of pleasure to the general public and reindeer supporters each year. Sadly I suspect this will not happen as normal this year, for all the obvious reasons, lack of money in the high street, the importance of not attracting crowds and of course not wanting to inadvertently spread the virus or put our own herders at risk of it. So interesting times ahead.

As I write the Paddocks beside The Reindeer Centre remain closed and Hill Trips are limited by pre-booking only to remain small enough to observe social distancing rules. Luckily we have an extremely generous following of adopters, who help to support the herd by adopting a reindeer. This has been and continues to be a massive lifeline for us and I would like to thank you all from the ‘bottom of my heart’ for your amazing support.

Tilly

‘Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses’ is long since out of print, but old copies can often be found online for purchase. Tilly’s latest book, ‘Reindeer: An Arctic Life’ is available, along with a couple of other books about the herd, via our website

Tilly’s quiz

During lockdown it seems that all the rage was quiz nights on Zoom. I was party to a couple of these and I have to confess I did quite enjoy them. However I wasn’t over enthusiastic about gazing into a computer screen of faces, all at slightly odd angles with various pictures, bookshelves and miscellanea in the background. I was also useless at all the questions about music, TV and films.

So with these thoughts in mind and once there was some relaxation of the lockdown rules I decided I would make up a ‘Tilly Quiz’ of my interests and we would all sit outside in household teams, suitably socially distanced, for a quiz afternoon. In fact it was a lovely sunny day and we ended up in the empty reindeer Paddocks beside the Centre.

Quiz teams nicely spaced out and all set to go. Note the cut hay drying – not something possible in the Paddocks in a normal year!

It was great fun and I confess some of the questions were quite quirky and nobody got the answers, but there was a winning team (only by one point ) by the end and they chose a bottle of Kendricks gin for their first prize. A bottle of single malt Balvenie Double Wood was snapped up by the runners up.

Thankfully it was sunny enough that the midges weren’t around!

Anyway that was a fun day for us herders during late lockdown once restrictions had started to lift, and it occured to me that some of the questions could form a blog for our website, since my 3 areas of interest are (strangely enough): Reindeer, The Natural World and The Great Outdoors .

So why not give the following quiz a go and see how many questions you can answer without instantly referring to Google. Indeed even Google may not come up with the answers!

Here goes with just some of the questions from my quiz that day:

1. An old term for a red deer stag?

2. Name the 3 species of Scottish heather and in what order do they flower?

3. The Scottish name for a woodlouse?

4. What is the colour of the following berries: Bearberry, Crowberry, Cowberry, Cloudberry and Blaeberry? They are all found in the Cairngorms.

5. Loch Morlich (in Glenmore where the Reindeer Centre is) is a glacial feature. What type?

Wapiti, Ladybird and Addax up on the mountains with Loch Morlich in the background

6. Name the mythical creature of Ben Macdui? (Editor’s note: Tilly was very strict about us getting this name exactly right!)

7. In which coire in the Cairngorms does snow linger the longest? Indeed some years it doesn’t melt at all. (A ‘coire’ is a hollow in the mountainside formed by glaciation).

8. Name the UK’s only two insectivorous plants, both of which grow here in the Cairngorms?

9. Who was the first pure white reindeer to be born in the Cairngorm herd? (Pretty sure Google definitely won’t help with this one!)

10. What are the full titles and sub titles of my 3 books about reindeer?

11. In the foreword to ‘The Living Mountain’ by Nan Shepherd she describes the reindeer herd in Scotland ‘as no longer experimental but ………….’?

 

Nan Shephard now graces the Royal Bank of Scotland’s £5 note

12. Name 3 other places (countries, islands or states), other than Scotland where reindeer have been introduced to in the past?

The answers are here!

Tilly

My top 5 calving memories!

This year was the very first time I had work during calving season, as until now, calving season had always been exactly the same time as exam season. I can very easily say that calving season this year was the happiest month of my life so far, so it has been very difficult to think of just 5 highlights. But here we go, these are my five favourite memories from calving season this year.

Finding the first calf of the year

On Saturday the 25th of April, me and Fiona headed off around the enclosure to look for Galilee who was the first reindeer who had headed away from the herd to calve. It was much earlier in the year than the previous year, so I didn’t get my hopes up too much in case she was just ill or being a loner – Galilee can definitely be known to wander from the group. As me and Fi rounded the top of Silver Mount we caught a glimpse of Galilee, licking the ground. Fiona told me that this was a sure sign of her having calved, and as we got closer I could see the tiny calf on the ground. A new-born calf is barely recognisable compared to the calves I had seen previously in the summer and I can honestly say that Galilee’s calf is the most perfect thing I have ever seen. Galilee let us catch the calf and Fi show me how to treat the calf with an insecticide and some antibiotic spray on her navel. Galilee was very good but she clearly want us to leave her to bond with her calf uninterrupted. So we then fed Galilee and left them too it. The weather was even warm enough to cool off (and calm down from the excitement) with a quick dip in our own ‘private’ loch in the reindeer enclosure.

A quick dip in Black Loch!

Watching Brie calving

My second favourite calving memory has got to be watching Brie calve. One morning Brie was missing from the herd, from spying through binoculars we  saw her but couldn’t tell if she had calved yet or not so I headed out to go and check. Once I got closer I realised that she had legs actually coming out of her back end – she was midway through calving. I sat down a little way away from her and watched the whole thing through binoculars. I watched the calf take his very first, incredibly wobbly steps and have his first milk.

First time up on his feet!

Finding Gloriana’s calf

Another favourite calving moment for me was finding Gloriana’s calf. Gloriana is an 8-year-old female who had previously never had a calf. I really fell in love with her during the 2015 rut. She was amongst a group of reindeer on Silver Mount however she was a bit of a loner from the group and used to sometimes follow me away from the herd once I had finished feeding them. Having never had a calf, we thought that she was infertile so imagine my delight when she started to develop an udder, the first sure sign that a reindeer is almost ready to calve. On one very wet and rainy day, Gloriana was missing from the herd. Andi and I headed out around the enclosure and found her on Silver Mount with a beautiful big male calf. Gloriana was a wee bit nervous but let us treat the calf with no problems. The next day however when we tried to bring Gloriana and her calf to a closer section of the enclosure, I couldn’t get anywhere near her. I think having a calf for the first time at 8 years old made her a bit of an overbearing mum, so it took us a couple of days to get near her again. She did eventually settle down and both her and her calf became more and more confident during the time they were in the enclosure.

Gloriana’s calf with the white nose, with his cousin, Fly’s calf.

Hanging out with an experienced mum

Okay so this calving favourite is not just one moment. A couple of times during calving I got to go out and find a cow and calf from a very tame and experienced mum. Usually once we find the calf we will catch it and treat it and then leave the cow and calf as soon as possible to make sure that we don’t upset the mum. However, some of the cows have had so many calves and are so used to people that they are perfectly happy to lie down with you and their new-born calf. The new-born calves are incredibly inquisitive and totally unafraid of humans. It is a really wonderful experience just hanging out with the new-born calves and their very relaxed mums.

A wee chin rub for Ryvita’s calf (not a strangling!!!)
Ibex and calf!
Kipling and calf with Joe

Sending the calves onto the free-range for the summer.

My final favourite calving memory was letting the calves onto the free-range for the summer. We walked out of the enclosure with some of the cows on halters and the rest following towards the hills. Having spent every day of the last 6 weeks or so with the cows and then the calves, letting them go onto the free-range for the summer where we would likely see them every couple of weeks at the most was both sad and wonderful. Definitely sad to not be seeing them every day but also very wonderful to know that they would spend the next few months of their lives in the very best place for them, the mountains.

 

Leading the herd out of the enclosure
Off they go…
Lotti, Joe, Fiona and a socially distanced Andi after a busy morning!

Lotti