You’ll all have noticed on our Facebook page the lovely snowy photos we’ve been taking with the reindeer. When news channels report that it’s going to be warm and sunny, that the daffodils are out and spring is in the air, we are usually still huddled under our blankets, heating on full with no sign of those bright yellow trumpets. However, we’ve had a few gloriously sunny days here in Glenmore, so thought we’d do a quick round up of pictures (as evidence!) before the warm weather disappears and we get snow again.
This was the picture last week – snowy, but pretty. The reindeer do love the snow and when you get snow and sunshine, it’s just bliss.
One week later, and it’s full on sunshine and cloud inversions. I drove to work in mist and fog, thinking it would be a cold, grey day on the hill. To my surprise, and delight, the sun was shining as we drove higher up and on my morning mission to find reindeer, I was down to just a tshirt. The fog cleared and we had a gloriously sunny and hot visit. The poor reindeer were feeling the heat a little, but are great at dumping heat when temperatures occasionally soar.
Since the weather has been so good, we’ve been getting on with our outside jobs, some painting and tidying up that is just too hard to face when the weather is miserable. We even found a little newt in the garden as we were raking! I thought maybe I’d raked over him a little too hard (by accident, of course!) but he was a resilient wee thing and we rehomed him to a wee burn.
There is a thick harr over Glenmore today, and unfortunately I think the weather is going to change next week. It was good while it lasted though!
Each year every member of our 150-strong herd (well, with just a handful of exceptions… Malawi, Dixie…) grows a pair of antlers. And every winter, at some point between November and May, those same antlers are naturally cast so the owner can grow a (theoretically) bigger, better set the next year.
Over the winter months, our reindeer are all roaming free on either the Cromdale or Cairngorm mountains, so there are many antlers that ping off into the heather and snow and are either never seen again, or are picked up by a lucky hillwalker. But plenty of the antlers are found by us, collected and brought back to the Centre, then usually handed over to Hen. She has (foolishly?) taken on the task of sorting out what happens to them next.
First job is to identify which reindeer the antler belongs to. Sometimes this is easy – perhaps we saw two reindeer having a tussle and witnessed the moment the antler parted ways from its owner. Some antlers are pretty distinctive and when whoever found it walks into the office with it, usually displayed held on their own head and asking, “Who am I??” there is a chorus of correct answers from the other herders present. But sometimes it is a fairly standard shape and size, and then it comes down to skimming through our photo archive (we aim to keep a recent photo of every member of the herd) until it is spotted in its previous position attached to a head.
Once the past owner of the antler is identified, first port of call is our “Antlers wanted” list – if you adopt a reindeer and fancy owning a set of their antlers just drop us an email and we can pop you on it – bear in mind there are only a maximum of two antlers available each year though, and we frequently don’t find both! Otherwise we write to any adopters of that reindeer to see if they’re interested in buying it, on a “first come, first served” basis – whilst this is the fairest way we can do it, it often leads to several phonecalls on the same day asking to buy it, and we can only sell it to the first respondant! Finally, if none of the adopters want it, or indeed if the reindeer has no adopters, then it goes for sale in our shop here at the Centre, usually in about June.
Antlers come in all shapes and sizes, from big handsome bull antlers (we usually only have one or two large sets available each year) to fancy cow antlers, and calf “twigs” to furry broken castrate antlers. We’ve already started working through the pile of antlers that we’ve found this year, and the biggest set without a doubt belonged to our breeding bull Kota. One of his adopters was delighted to purchase the set, but as they don’t live locally, the next challenge was packaging them up to post. As you can imagine, transforming a pair of unwieldly, bony objects into a postable package is easier said than done… We first wrap the points in bubble wrap, not to protect the antler (it’s solid bone) but to stop it bursting out of the package, and then pop the whole thing in an empty barley bag (or two, in the case of Kota’s set). Barley bags are super as they have two strong layers of paper, and we’re helping the environment out by recycling. As an added bonus, recipients often find a few stray flakes of barley! Though on the downside, sometimes the posting out of antlers is delayed because the reindeer haven’t eaten enough for us to use the next bag of barley in our feed mix!
With a large pile of antlers still to work through, and plenty left on the heads of the reindeer on the mountains, its likely that it’ll be summer before we finish finding new homes for them. All of the funds raised from the sales go straight back into the day-to-day care of the herd, so it both helps us out and hopefully brings a lot of pleasure to anyone who buys them. Every antler is unique and its great to have something sustainable which allows people to own a “bit” of a reindeer!
Please note – as of 2021 the antler waiting list is closed, as it is so long as we need to work our way through people already on it. It will hopefully be reopened around mid-2022, but until then we will not add any new names on to it. Sorry! Demand outweighs supply…
“There’s no such thing as bad weather… only unsuitable clothing…”
This is very much the mantra us reindeer herders live by and there are unfortunately even days here in the Cairngorms where our beautiful “office” on the mountains leaks and gets a wee bit blustery. This is never more emphasized than during the winter months here where weather conditions are some of the most beautiful and the most extreme.
We often start our mornings here at 8am vaguely unaware of exactly what the weather is going to bring, Reindeer House is fortuitously sheltered at the foot of the Cairngorms and it’s often not until we venture above the tree line that the true extent of the weather hits us.
If the ski road remains open and the reindeer are there we dutifully head out onto the hills even if this means battling 80 mph gusts and freezing temperatures… winds so strong herder Hen’s car was relieved of its undercover last winter! (we love it really!).
It quite often looks a wee bit of a comedy show, us herders trying to walk in a straight line (people must think us perpetually drunk!). Annoyingly, the reindeer often look completely unfazed be it wind, icy temperatures and deep deep snow, quite often as we lumber through the drifts they use us as the snow plough for making them a path, following cheerfully in our footsteps even though they’re the Arctic animal!
This brings us to clothing, again the reindeer come annoying pre-prepared for the weather with thick insulating, water repelling coats and built-in snow shoes; us on the other hand live for woollen thermals, multiple jumpers and cosy hats and are most definitely never far from a pair of waterproofs! Woe betide the reindeer herder who doesn’t have a spare set of clothes! On the other hand, I personally often find myself far too prepared in the summer months when even in the sunshine I never quite trust that Scotland won’t throw snow at me!
Working in the Cairngorms year round is definitely a different challenge to some of the more indoor based jobs I’ve held but as long as I have my mittens and spare socks I’m super happy to battle whatever the weather throws at us!
We’re back! As you regular readers will know, the Reindeer Centre has been closed to the public for about 5 weeks while we spruce the place up for all you lovely people, and get all the maintenance jobs done after yet another busy year.
We opened back up last Saturday and awaited the masses with baited breath. It was a pretty minging day i.e. it was howling a gale up the hill and there was a bit of rain/sleet, but still the people came to see our beautiful beasts.
We had around 10 cars on the visit, a respectable but, thankfully, manageable number for our return to visits. Hen and I drove up to the Ciste, and braced ourselves as we opened the doors to the biting wind. We gathered in our visitors and explained what we were going to do, and to be careful on the slippy stairs, and then headed off into the wilds.
At this time of the year, the reindeer are all out free-ranging on the mountains, so our visits could be to a different place every day. The path out to the reindeer that day included lots of boggy bits, and wasn’t particularly a path, but we made it out to the reindeer in one piece, stopping to let people catch up when needed. Thankfully, we were walking with the wind on the way out, so it wasn’t too bad.
Hen called the reindeer and I spoke, very loudly, about their adaptations while the girls made their way over to us. We put the food out, the girls tucked into their lunch, and we started the handfeeding.
Despite the pretty rubbish weather, everyone seemed to enjoy meeting the reindeer. We were sometimes blown over by the wind, and I often had my eyes closed as I talked to the visitors because I had to face into the wind, but it was great getting back into the routine of a visit.
The next time the Centre is scheduled to close is Christmas Day, so this is one of many visits we’ll be taking throughout the year. Hopefully we won’t have to cancel too many over the winter months, and before we know it, it will be summer and we’ll be starting trekking!
It has often amused me that the most arctic living of the deer species, i.e. reindeer and caribou are not called ‘snow deer’. Apart from the obvious and appropriate descriptive title of an animal so ‘at home’ in the snow, I have always thought it would have been a rather attractive name for them as well!
There are plenty of occasions over the winter when our reindeer experience truly arctic conditions and so for me anyway in winter they become our ‘snow deer’. Part of the Cairngorm herd spends the winter on the Cromdale hills, which are situated to the north east of the Cairngorm mountain massif. Despite not being as high as the Cairngorms and so not quite the same exposure to wintry weather, the Cromdales still get their fair share of snow and so our ’snow deer’ here can experience pretty wild conditions.
These are a few photos taken a couple of years ago when in blizzard conditions our snow deer were quite at home. Not sure the same can be said for me!
There are no winter conditions that drive these animals off the hill. They have incredible soft thick coat which provide all the insulation they need against the cold. Their broad flat feet make it both easy for them to walk across the snow and dig down through the snow to their favourite winter food, lichen and in blizzard conditions they face the prevailing wind which keeps their coats ‘flat’ and so trapping air between the hairs to create another insulating layer. It does mean though that they end up with ‘ice packs’ on their foreheads.
Knowing how well adapted they are to snow, many people ask me whether reindeer like the milder weather we have come to experience more of in recent years. Indeed as I write this today, the 24th January 2016 the day is decidedly ‘spring like’, there’s no snow, no wind or rain, the grass is looking quite green and I can wander around outside without a jacket on. As far as our reindeer are concerned I suspect it just makes it easier for them, as they don’t need to expend energy digging down through the snow to find food. But that’s not to say they wouldn’t prefer to be lying on a soft bed of snow.
We were delighted, if a little surprised, to find out that our leaflet had been entered into a competition by Landmark Press for best design, and amazingly, we won! Puddock was pleased to accept the award on our behalf!
Thanks Landmark Press, and well done Emily for her awesome designing skills!
Visitors to the Centre often ask how on earth we get our free-ranging reindeer into the enclosure. The answer I give is “shake a bag of food”… whilst it sounds too simple, it can really be that easy. All of our herd are currently out on the mountains, but occasionally its easier to move them into an open part of the enclosure to feed them, out of the way of passers-by, and dogs who may like to chase them. This morning we went to spy round the roads and the tell-tale car pulled over with its hazards flashing gave away the presence of the herd who were picking at grazing through the snow just below the road. We pulled up and here’s their journey following me and a bag of food over to the enclosure…
To any southerner just an inch of snow means great excitement, school closed for a week and the front page story on every newspaper! Having spent the first 18 years of my life living in Bristol, where the yearly day of snow is celebrated (before everything grinds to a halt) you can imagine my excitement to wake up to snow one morning in early November!
Seeing as my room (fondly known as the Cave) in Reindeer House has no external windows, it was not till I opened the curtains in the kitchen, I saw the snow covered wonderland that was Glenmore. I proceeded to eat my porridge in the garden and then spend the last ten minutes before work throwing snowballs for the dogs, before realising I had no gloves on and could no longer feel my hands.
Initially my excitement was laughed at as the dusting that we woke up to barely counts as snow if you’re Scottish. By mid-morning however I was told by Fiona that we now had ‘real snow’ which looked a lot like a blizzard to me!
I was away on Christmas events the first three weekends that it snowed here, but I just about managed to fit in a few rounds of torch-lit sledging before work (dogs in tow of course) and a snow angel or two. This weekend was the first weekend to be at home for the snow (enough for the snow plough to be out) and I took up a lovely snowy visit.
The reindeer are absolutely in their element at this time of year; they couldn’t be happier in the snow. If you’re coming up to visit us make sure you’re well wrapped up (as many layers are you can wear and still move and a full set of waterproofs) so you can feed the reindeer in the snow and love it as much as I do!
I have decided to run the Paris Marathon in April 2016, what have I let myself in for!
I will be raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, aiming to reach a target of £1000. Luckily, working as a Reindeer Herder is fantastic fitness training….running around the mountains looking for free-ranging reindeer, carrying feed up the hill, running after non-conforming reindeer!….. and the years of ‘compulsory’ hill-running, prompted by Alan Smith, are going to set me in good stead, I hope! However, I still definitely need to train in long distances and having someone to run with always helps with motivation… and here are some of my eager running partners:
All the Reindeer House dogs… Tiree, Moskki, Tip, Sookie and Murdo (not pictured… off eating something no doubt!)… they never say no to a run… and of course Fergus!
Fergus offering some training tips from his months of running experience!
I chose to run for Macmillan as cancer seems to affect so many of us these days, whether directly or indirectly through friends or family. I am running the Marathon with one of my best friends, Ailsa, who hasn’t as much running experience as me but as she lost a friend recently to cancer she has been motivated to give it a go and I think it’s really brave of her so want to support her and raise money for a great cause. Macmillan nurses provide amazing support to people who are fighting cancer and their work is invaluable.
Fergus is providing fundraising support! I did try to persuade him to come to Paris too but he says he prefers the hills to the cities!
Fergus counting the donations so far…
If you would like to support me please donate by going to:
We’re pleased to tell you about an exhibition we’re helping to host up here in Glenmore.
Life in the snow forests: 100-year-old photographs displayed for the first time
Indigenous people from the snow forests of Inner Mongolia and Siberia have been reunited with century-old photographs of their family and communities as part of a research project and exhibition at the University of Cambridge.
Previously unseen photographs capturing life in a remote corner of the world a hundred years ago will now be displayed in Glenmore, following the River Stars Reindeer first unveiling at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.
The photographs record the indigenous Evenki and Orochen communities and were made by Russian ethnographer Sergei Shirokogoroff and his wife Elizabeth between 1912-1917, and by Cambridge graduate Ethel Lindgren and her husband, Oscar Mamen, between 1929-1932.
The exhibition, was the culmination of a painstaking curatorial process, which involved choosing 70 images from more than 26,000 photographs. A process further complicated by the research team coming from ten different institutes located in three different countries.
One of the curators of the Cambridge exhibition, Jocelyne Dudding said: “This is a unique opportunity to see the very best of their images together for the very first time. The photographs are not only a wonderful record of the ways of life for Evenki and Orochen, but they also speak of the more personal stories behind every image.
“Each photograph tells many, many different stories about the lives of the people, the clothes they wore, the animals they raised and the places they called home.
The conversations Dudding and her fellow researchers from Aberdeen, St Petersburg and Hohhot had with the indigenous communities directly influenced the selection process for the exhibition. As the project developed and word spread, more and more communities from other areas came forward and asked to be included.
“River Stars Reindeer comes about from a digital sharing project to reunite Evenki and Orochen communities with their photographs, and thereby their histories and their cultural heritage,” added Dudding. “We are now in the process of digitally sharing our photographs with them – having spent the last 18 months digitising 16,000 images so far.
The exhibition title River Stars Reindeer speaks of the cosmologies and realities of the lives of Evenkis and Orochens in an area known as the three rivers region.
Many of the photographs to be displayed at the exhibition were gathered by anthropologist Dr Ethel Lindgren and photographer Oscar Mamen. Lindgren went on to continue her studies and immersion with reindeer husbandry and in later years married her second husband Mikel Utsi, Swedish Sami reindeer herder. In 1952 Lindgren and Utsi successfully re-introduced reindeer to Scotland. The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd still thrive today and exist freely within the Cairngorm mountains.
River Stars Reindeers exhibition runs from 26 November 2015 until 3 January 2016 and will be displayed at Glenmore Visitor Centre. The exhibition is on loan from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge where it has recently been shown.