Reindeer in the Southern Hemisphere

This week’s blog focuses on the introduction of reindeer to obscure places around the world. I will pay particular attention to the introduction of reindeer in the lesser-known Kerguelen Islands.

Reindeer and Penguins co-existing on South Georgia Island (image from: https://assets.atlasobscura.com/article_images/62073/image.jpg)

The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is a re-introduced herd. Reindeer were once native to Scotland, and before that they could also be found across England. In fact, cave paintings of reindeer have been found as far south as the Pyrenees in Northern Spain/Southern France. A leftover memory from when the planet was no doubt a lot colder. However, the native reindeer in Scotland were thought to have died out between 800 and 1100 years ago due to both over-hunting and climate change related habitat loss. The story of our current herd of 150 reindeer began in 1949 when a Swedish reindeer herder called Mikel Utsi and his wife, Dr Ethel Lindgren, began their honeymoon in Aviemore. Mr Utsi gazed out at the Cairngorm mountains and saw the perfect conditions for reindeer but, alas, no reindeer. Mr Utsi would have seen cold and windy temperatures, a tundra landscape, and sub-arctic flora. This is because the Cairngorm mountains are the only place in the United Kingdom with sub-arctic conditions. Mr Utsi apparently spent days looking for the reindeer in the hills before dropping down to the local pub to ask the locals about their reindeer. It was here that he found out that there were no reindeer. His honeymoon doesn’t sound like your stereotypical relaxing and romantic honeymoon, at least they got some time in the pub, but his marriage withstood and together Mr Utsi and Dr Lindgren made it their life’s work to reintroduce reindeer to Scotland. It started with 8 reindeer being shipped over from Sweden in 1952 and many subsequent initial imports. And the rest, as they say, is history. We now have a reintroduced herd with a variety of genetic diversity.

Mr Utsi and Sarek the reindeer on-board the coincidentally named S.S. Sarek. Circa 1955.

Other herds of reindeer have also been introduced to different countries around the world in the not so distant past. Some reindeer have been introduced into locations where there have never been reindeer previously. Iceland is a good example of a country where reindeer have been introduced successfully. Although, this introduction wasn’t without its problems. Predominantly located in the east of Iceland, Icelandic reindeer were once close to extinction having been introduced between the years of 1771-1787. Up until the year of 1940 their numbers had gradually dropped to approximately 100-200 but stocks have now risen to between 6000-7000. The reason for the fluctuations in population is probably due to natural circumstances such as insufficient grazing, range deterioration and volcanic eruptions. More information about reindeer in Iceland can be found in a previous blog post written by Bobby: https://www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk/2020/04/17/the-curious-history-of-reindeer-in-iceland/.

Most reindeer and caribou around the world live in the arctic and sub-arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere as these are the conditions that they’ve evolved to thrive in over the course of evolution. But reindeer are incredibly adaptable and resilient, and humans have attempted to introduce them to a variety of places, some even south of the equator. Reindeer were introduced to the South Georgia Islands (about 1000 miles east of Cape Horn, Argentina) by Norwegian whalers, where the reindeer lived alongside penguins for around 100 years. However, in 2010 the government decided to eradicate the reindeer as the number were increasing and putting too much pressure on the island’s native plants and wildlife. By 2017 all reindeer were eradicated from the island. Approximately 6,750 reindeer were culled in total. More information about reindeer in South Georgia can be found here: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/reindeer-in-the-southern-hemisphere.

The South Georgia Islands (image from: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-ML303_southg_P_20160204101610.jpg)
The South Georgia Islands (image from: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/f6/88/76/f68876f58629710a940a1bf0a1c0d593.jpg)

The introduction of reindeer to the Kerguelen Islands, also known as the Desolation Islands, is a slightly happier story. The reindeer remain as residents today in these islands that are located over 2000 miles from their nearest neighbour, Madagascar. The Kerguelen Islands are a group of islands in the sub-Antarctic (southern Indian Ocean) made from igneous (volcanic) rock. They are part of a submerged microcontinent called the Kerguelen Subcontinent. Kerguelen’s climate is considered to be a tundra climate with cold temperatures and high wind speeds. The mountains are frequently covered in snow and the average annual temperature is 4.9 degrees Celsius. Lichens, grasses, and mosses grow plentifully as does the famous, indigenous Kerguelen cabbage which was popular with sailors in their bid to increase their vitamin C intake. The main indigenous animals are wingless insects, seabirds, seals, and penguins but there has been plenty of introduced animals such as cats, rabbits, sheep, and reindeer (interestingly, all cats on the island are black and white because the original 3 introduced cats were black and white).

The Kerguelen Islands from afar (image from: https://www.islandconservation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/island-conservation-preventing-extinctions-invasive-species-Kerguelen-Islands-feat.jpg)

The French originally introduced Swedish reindeer to the islands in 1956. The Kerguelen Islands were used as one of the whaling stations, where whalers would bring their catch for processing. Reindeer were introduced to be shot for food, as well as being hunted for sport. However, when the whaling industry collapsed, the reindeer stayed and there is now an estimated 3000 – 5000 reindeer on the islands. The reindeer were originally introduced to Ile des Rennes (Reindeer Island), also called Ile Australia. However, the reindeer eventually swam across to the main island of La Grande Terre a short distance away.

Reindeer and Penguins co-existing on the Kerguelen Islands (image from: http://www.pelagicodyssey.ca/ao2/64.jpg)

The conditions in the Kerguelen Islands are very similar to the conditions found in parts of Scandinavia. However, it would be interesting to know how the reindeer adapted to the change in seasons as they moved from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere. And, moreover, the effect that reindeer have had on the island’s vegetation. Researchers have previously believed that very high grazing pressure over time pushes the ecosystem in a positive direction, so that over time, the areas that are grazed become dominated by productive plants, such as nutrient-rich species of grasses. However, The Ecosystem Finnmark project believe that reindeer have a negative effect on grazing areas, even in the most productive summer pastures.

The Kerguelen Islands (image from: https://c1.staticflickr.com/8/7441/9383732243_19ecdd620b_b.jpg)

Ben

The Sámi Flag and the Children of the Sun

Recently one of our supporters posted us two Sámi flags. He wrote explaining that he had been hoping to come and visit the reindeer in February, and on Sámi day, take the flags up to the herd, and make a toast to the Sámi people, culture, and way of life. He had originally been planning a trip to visit the Sámi people but when it was apparent this wouldn’t be possible, he had planned to visit us instead. So, you can imagine how disappointed he was to find out that his trip to the Cairngorms also wasn’t possible. He asked if we could take the flags on the hill and raise a toast in his place, of course we were delighted to do this.

Fiona and the Sámi Flag with some of the free-rangers

For the week around Sámi national day, when Dennis had been hoping to visit the reindeer, the weather was so wild that we couldn’t even get to where the reindeer were, let alone fly a flag. We’re talking snow drifts across the road as tall as me! This was serious winter weather. The reindeer were of course totally fine. When the weather gets wild and the snow gets deep the reindeer head up onto the ridges where the wind has blown the snow off and it’s easier to dig through to the grazing underneath. There was a couple of days when we forgot to take the flag out to the herd. The day we were finally able to was pretty wonderful. Me and Fiona headed out to find the herd, we had spied them quite a way away and were hoping to call them a bit closer. In the end we met somewhere in the middle. It was beautiful sunshine and certainly felt like spring was on it’s way. We flied the flag with the reindeer around it, it got me thinking a bit about what the Sámi flag represents.

Fava leading the herd

The Sámi flag is a relatively new flag, it was first designed in the 60s. The colours in the flag, red, green, yellow and blue, are the most common colours used in Sámi clothing. The circle symbolises the sun in red and the moon in blue. The yellow and green in the middle are to symbolise the animals and nature.

The Sámi flag

The sun is incredibly important in Sámi culture and the sun symbol appears in lots of traditional Sámi artwork. The sun is worshipped in Sámi culture in particular due to the lack of sun in winter and the life that it brings in the summer. In the Sámpi, the area where the Sámi live, in the winter the sun doesn’t reach the horizon. Beaivi is the name of the Sámi sun deity. On the winter solstice a ceremony is carried out for Beaivi and a white reindeer is sacrificed to ensure that the sun returns, and the long winter ends. In spring when the sun arrives, the plants start to flourish and so do the reindeer which brings prosperity to the Sámi people. In order to give the sun more strength to rise in the sky, Sámi people leave butter on their doorsteps which melts and provides energy to the sun.

Fiona and Borlotti with the Sámi flag

The moon is also important in Sámi culture, unlike the sun however, in Sámi folklore people are very suspicious of the spirit of the Moon. Supposedly in December the evil spirits wander among the people and the moon is thought to be the leader of them. Traditionally in February there would be a festival under the full moon in which people would bang drums and make a lot of noise to scare the moon away so that the sun can return. The sun and the moon are often shown to be battling in folklore. I would imagine that people are suspicious of the moon as it always comes out at night when it is dark.

The Sámi flag is a beautiful array of colours and wonderfully represents how the Sámi way of life revolves around the seasons and nature, much like the lives of the reindeer themselves.

Lotti

Reindeer Internationals!

International herders

We’ve got a new Dutch reindeer herder! No, not me (Manouk), yet another one, we’re taking over 😉.  From the start of May, Lisette has been part our team for 2 days a week. Having lived in Fort Bill for 5 years, experienced with sheep, shepherding and dealing with the public, we thought she’d make an excellent addition to the team. That now brings the team to 2 Dutchies, as I’m back doing Mondays again. This left Hen to wonder if there are more Dutch reindeer herders than Scottish ones, but we quickly realised that that wasn’t the case. The Scots are definitely out-Englished though!

Lisette on a snowy hill run

Lisette and I are not the first Dutch herders in Scotland. Decades back, there was a Dutch ultra-runner, Jan Knippenberg, who would fly from the Netherlands to Inverness and continue on to run to the Cairngorms. When he ran the distance from Braemar police station to Aviemore police station through the Lairig Ghru (now known as the popular Lairig Ghru hill race), Mikel Utsi asked if he fancied helping him herd his reindeer from time to time. Knippenberg inspired current owner of the herd Alan Smith to get into (long-distance) running too, and thereby left his mark by starting an era of hill running reindeer herders. It won’t surprise you to read that both Lisette and myself are also hill runners (as are many herders in the team), Lisette often even crossing the finish line as the first lady! Read more on reindeer herders and hill running in my previous blogs, where I go over why reindeer herders run in the hills and about running from Scotland to the Netherlands.

Jan Knippenberg, back in the 80s

Besides these Dutchies, we have a large variety of nationalities amongst our present and past teams of herders! Ben was born in Australia, though spent most of his life in the UK. We occasionally get American herder Bobby over and look forward to seeing him soon again when it’s possible. Ex-herder Dave is from New Zealand, his kiwi accent still present after years in the Highlands 😊. Both Olly and Lotti both are ¼ Greek, and this shows in them being slightly less pale than your average Brit and for Lotti in part of her last name too (Papastavrou). We’ve had way more but as it’s a relative newbie writing this blog (I’ve only been involved with the herd for 4 years), I won’t be able to mention them all.

Herders Lotti and Ollie, who are both part-Greek!
American Bobby a couple of winters ago
Kiwi Dave, completely surrounded by calves!

There have also been many international volunteers too over the years, but the list is too long to go over everyone. Double thanks for coming over all the way from wherever you live to come and help us here!

International reindeer

Not all our reindeer are Scottish either! Most of you will know from visiting, BBC programmes, or reading about the herd that reindeer were reintroduced to the Cairngorms in the 50s, after having been extinct for +/- 1000 years. That means the origins of our herd lie in Sweden. To keep the gene pool diverse, we’ve introduced new bulls every few years too. At the moment we only have ten Swedish reindeer, none of which are still being used to breed from.

Amongst these ten Swedish boys, there are a few all-time favourites. We have the lovely ‘dark bull’ Bovril. Bovril is a favourite amongst (ex-)herders and a tv star as well! He featured in the BBC’s Four Seasons documentary, where he can be seen fighting a younger, light bull, trying to win the battle for the right to mate. Long after his tv premiere he could be seen striking a pose to visitors, I’m sure he knows he’s handsome.

Myself with handsome Bovril, during my first week of reindeer herding!

Another well-known Swede is Matto, who is white in colour. This makes him stick out like a sore thumb when you’re looking for the herd on a hillside, making the life of a reindeer herder a lot easier! He’s also a firm favourite ‘Christmas reindeer,’ looking extra festive with a red harness and bells contrasting nicely with his white coat.

International visitors

Amongst the many sad consequences of Covid19, was the fact that we’re hardly getting any international visitors anymore. We love the wide range of people we get, from all over the world. It’s always exciting to ask where people are from and realise that, at times, within one group of people, every continent (apart from maybe Antarctica) is represented! Herders have a habit of asking people where they’re from, and with Covid restrictions this may have sounded as if we were harassing you to check you weren’t breaking any rules. So sorry if we made you feel that way – and, honestly, we just love to hear where people are from!

We are so looking forward to getting people from overseas again (as well as British people of course 😊) – please do come and visit us once it’s allowed to do so!

Manouk

Reindeer, fairy folk and giants

This week’s blog is by Sarah Hobbs, a former reindeer herder here who now has a very different job! If you’re looking for a perfect activity to learn more about the local area while you’re here on holiday, then Strathspey Storywalks is for you! Enjoy a relaxed and leisurely potter while tasting some wild tea, and you’ll go away full of knowledge about the myths and legends of Aviemore and the surrounding area. Highly recommended!

We are all so fond of the reindeer that we might forget that they (and we!) live alongside giants, fairies, ghosts of cattle raiders, cleared townships, and remains of illicit whisky distilling…

In 2013 I randomly googled ‘reindeer in the UK’ while idly wondering about returning to Norway where I’d lived for a while, to work with deer during my holidays. It came as a surprise to discover a herd free-ranging the Cairngorms, and I immediately wrote an email enquiring about volunteering. A long train journey with Nan Shepherd’s wonderful book about the mountains and a warm welcome later, it never takes long to fall for the place! The reindeer are totally captivating, calming and totally belong there – it’s a very special feeling. 

After several years of spending all my annual leave volunteering with the herd, I quit my lovely job and life in London and moved to Glenmore in early 2016, completely taken with the reindeer, the mountains, and the quiet openness and warmth of Highlands folk. I worked with the herd for a year, a full turn of the calendar, and it was amazing to be with and observe them so closely as they constantly change and grow.

Glenmore and Aviemore is now my home (why would I leave?!), so fast forward to lockdown 2020, when I set up Strathspey Storywalks, taking folk on ‘slow adventures’ in and around Aviemore to share the history, culture, nature, Gaelic heritage and of course stories that this area is full of.

Myself and Abby, feeding the reindeer herd in a blizzard back in winter 2016.

After several years of spending all my annual leave volunteering with the herd, I quit everything and moved to Glenmore in early 2016, completely taken with the reindeer, the mountains, and the quiet openness and warmth of Highlands folk. Fast forward to lockdown 2020, and I set up Strathspey Storywalks, taking folk on ‘slow adventures’ in and around Aviemore to share the history, culture, nature, Gaelic heritage and of course stories that this area is full of.

Drinking pine needle tea at a Neolithic cairn on a Storywalk, looking back at the Cairngorms

I’m now doing a short mentoring program with a professional storyteller, through TRACS, Scotland’s national network for traditional arts and culture.

So, the next time you come and visit the reindeer, maybe you’ll pay a visit to Loch Morlich to try and spot Red Hand, a giant Highland warrior who patrols the beach, making sure people respect the beautiful surroundings and don’t take more than they need. Listen out for strange pipe music too – this might be Donald, King of the Fairies, who lives closeby. There are several stories of encounters with ghostly happenings and eerie music here.

Loch Morlich beach, home of Red Hand and Donald King of the Fairies

Or you might wander to Lochan Uaine, the Green Lochan, beneath Robbers’ Hill on Rathad nam Mèirleach or the Thieves’ Road, where of course it’s said the fairies wash their clothes. The strange conical hill above the lochan is a Sìthean, or Fairy Hill, and there are many across the Highlands (just look at a map and it won’t be long before you spot one!) This ‘fairy hill’ however is where local folk set up an illicit still to distill whisky, and the archaeological remains are still there.

Glenmore, the Cairngorms and Strathspey are so rich in incredible stories, it’s a genuine pleasure to share them, and for all of you to continue sharing them for many years to come! If I’ve whetted your appetite for more, please feel free to follow Strathspey Storywalks on Facebook or Instagram.

Sarah

Pollyanna – the submarine reindeer

I recently came across the remarkable story of Pollyanna the reindeer. She was a reindeer who lived on a British submarine during World War II. It was my brother who informed me of this crazy tale, knowing my passion for all things reindeer and it was such a weird and wonderful story that I initially thought it couldn’t be true. Turns out facts are sometimes stranger than fiction…there really was a reindeer submariner.

HMS Trident captain, Geoffrey Sladen, with Pollyanna the reindeer submariner.

In 1941 HMS Trident stopped for repairs in the Soviet Union and it was at this point that the crew on HMS Trident got themselves a furry new recruit, accompanied by “a barrel of moss”. There’s a couple of different stories as to the recruitment process for Pollyanna. One tale states that she was gifted to the British crew as a token of gratitude for their assistance in fighting the German forces in the Arctic Circle. Another story details that whilst dining with the Russian Admiral, the captain of HMS Trident mentioned how his wife was having problems pushing her pram in the winter snow of England. This led to the admiral stating that what the captain needed was a reindeer, and as such Pollyanna was gifted to the crew. I’m not too sure of the logic there, was the reindeer meant to pull the pram through the streets of London? If so, Pollyanna would do well at our Christmas events.

Pollyanna spent six weeks aboard HMS Trident and it began with her being lowered in through one of the torpedo tubes. The plan was for Pollyanna to live in the torpedo store area (what could go wrong there?!?!). However, Pollyanna had other plans. She took herself out of the torpedo store area and she stationed herself in the captain’s cabin. And why not? I imagine the captain’s cabin was far more comfortable.

However, it wasn’t long before the barrel of moss sustaining Pollyanna ran out. Being an active submarine, HMS Trident couldn’t stop for supplies. But Pollyanna adapted, eating leftovers from the crew’s vegetables and developing a real taste for the old war time favourite, Carnation condensed milk. It’s reported that she even ate some navigation charts. I can’t imagine that would go down well with the rest of the crew! I think she’d have more of an excuse than any human though.

HMS Trident leaving harbour

After six weeks of patrols off Norway, HMS Trident docked in Blyth and all was well. However, when it came time to leave, it became obvious that there was a problem. After all the condensed milk and scraps (and navigation charts) Pollyanna had put on a lot of weight. She couldn’t fit out of the submarine. It took a protracted and coordinated effort of winching Pollyanna through the hatch, but it was a success and there we have it… Pollyanna set her hooves down on U.K. soil after six weeks at sea.

 

Photo courtesy of Royal Navy Submarine Museum

The captain decided that instead of giving Pollyanna the role of his wife’s ‘chief pram puller’, she would instead be gifted to London Zoo where she reportedly became a firm favourite with both staff and visitors. Pollyanna lived for a further five years and in a touching case of fate, both Pollyanna and HMS Trident met their ends within the same year of 1947, when HMS Trident was decommissioned and scrapped. It was said that Pollyanna never forgot her submariner nature and whenever a siren, bell or tannoy was sounded at London Zoo, Pollyanna would lower her head, much like she would have done when the HMS Trident dived.

All of us here at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre would obviously never condone keeping a reindeer enclosed. Nevertheless, the tale of Pollyanna does make for a very obscure and touching story I’m sure you’ll agree. The crew seemed to really take to Pollyanna and she reportedly made a massive contribution to the crew’s morale. I do wonder however, where did all of Pollyanna’s poo go? Some questions are probably best left unanswered.

The crew of HMS Trident in July 1945, towards the end of the war.

In the course of writing this blog I have found it entertaining to think of some of our reindeer aboard a submarine. Which one would do best? Of course, we’d never put our lovely reindeer aboard a submarine, not that it’s a request we often come across. But being such resilient and hardy animals, I bet most of them would take it in their stride and ‘keep calm and carry on’. They may well adapt to the situation better than me. Atlantic probably has the best name in the herd for the next reindeer submariner. And I’m counting Scrabble and Svalbard out of selection due to their size. Like Pollyanna, I don’t think we’d get them back out if they got in. And any submarine would have to double the amount of Carnation condensed milk on board. Bond would fancy himself, with his enthusiasm and in living up to his secret agent name. I mean…who wouldn’t want a submarine Bond scene?! Which reindeer from the herd do you think would theoretically make the best reindeer submariner? Or the best reindeer pram puller?

Should these lads be pram pullers instead of sleigh pullers?!

Ben – with credit to Claudia Mendes’ article on War History Online. B&W photos courtesy of National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Meeting Snowflake – one of the first white reindeer

This week’s blog is by Sharon Hudgins, and tells of a very memorable stay in a stone house in the Cairngorms, many years ago… As ever, if you also have a memorable story that you think might make a nice blog, please email it over to us! We love to publish contributions from others if we can.

I discovered the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in 2017, while doing research for a book I’m writing about the Scottish Highlands. I should really say “re-discovered” the Reindeer Centre, because, to my surprise, research revealed that I’d actually been there once before, nearly half a century earlier.

In 1969, as a young American university student on my first trip abroad, I traveled by train around England and Scotland with my college roommate. Early in the trip, our route took us to Aviemore in the Cairngorms, because my roommate was an avid skier. We rode the ski lift up to the ski area, but that second week of May there was no snow suitable for skiing. It was just cold and sleeting on top of the mountain, cold and raining when we got back down to the bottom.

We needed to find a bed-and-breakfast where we could stay for the night and dry out our wet clothes. But it was already 6 p.m., and we had no idea where to go. That area wasn’t as developed for tourism as it is now. We finally found a tiny grocery store and asked the lady behind the counter if she knew a B&B where we might stay. She didn’t—but she asked the people standing in line, waiting to pay for their groceries, if any of them knew someone who could take us in for the night.

A man at the back of the line said we could stay at his place. We normally wouldn’t have accepted such an offer from a strange man. But we were soaking wet and didn’t seem to have any other options. Besides, everyone in the store seemed to know him, so it seemed like a pretty safe bet.

Reindeer House as it was back in the 60s

When we arrived at his grey stone house, we were surprised to find that his wife was an American. She seated us in front of the blazing fire in the sitting room, fed us a hot supper there, and chatted with us about our travels in Britain and our studies in the U.S., before fixing up two beds for us to sleep in that night.

The fireplace where we warmed up that evening

But the most memorable part of that chance encounter in the Cairngorms happened the next morning. After we’d eaten a hearty Scottish breakfast, the man took us out to the paddock behind the house to meet his reindeer—including a pure white reindeer which he said was the only white reindeer in Britain. I thought it was really cool to have reindeer in your backyard—especially a white one—and I never forgot that unusual experience.

Fast forward to 2017, when I was planning a journey around the Scottish Highlands to gather material for my book, retracing the exact route I had taken on that first trip in 1969. While researching “Aviemore” on the Internet, I came across a map showing the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in that area. And I wondered if there was some connection with the reindeer owners I’d met there nearly 50 years before.

Through emails with Hen, one of the Centre’s herders, I discovered that the couple who had taken us in on that rainy night were Mikel Utsi, who had first introduced free-ranging reindeer to Scotland in 1952, and his wife Dr. Ethel Lindgren, who was also a reindeer expert.

Mikel Utsi

Dr Ethel Lindgren

I also learned that the white reindeer I had met in 1969 was named Snowflake, the first pure white reindeer born in the herd – and her distinctive white descendants are still part of the herd today.

Snowflake was just one year old when I met her.

When my husband and I visited the Reindeer Centre in the summer of 2017, I was delighted to see the same stone house where I’d once stayed overnight, with its reindeer paddock still out back. Although our travel schedule precluded a hike up into the hills to see the main herd, we did get to visit some of the reindeer kept inside the fencing behind the house. And I also stocked up on reindeer books and souvenirs in the Centre’s gift shop—which was originally the room where I’d dried out in front of the Utsi-Lindgren’s fireplace.

The stone house where I stayed in 1969.

My husband and I meeting the (very scruffy moulting!) reindeer in 2017.

My husband and I are also happy to have become supporters of the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre by adopting two reindeer, LX and Mozzarella, direct descendants of that beautiful white Snowflake that I’d met so long ago, when she was only one year old. Whenever it’s safe to travel again, we look forward to visiting the herd up on the hills, meeting “our” two reindeer, and letting them know that once I’d even met their great-great-great-great-etc. grandmother, too.

My adoptees Mozzarella and LX

Sharon Hudgins is an American author who has written books about Siberia and Spain. She is now working on a memoir about the Scottish Highlands. See www.sharonhudgins.com

 

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. 

The Mystical Landscape of the Reindeer: A Collection of Poetry

It’s just a couple of weeks after the shortest day of the year as I write this (6hrs and 35 minutes of daylight up here) and the weather has certainly been wild and wintry, with deep snow and thick ice across the lochs. With short days and extreme weather come additional seasonal immigrants, such as snow bunting from Scandinavia, and some of the animals in new disguises, with ptarmigan and mountain hares changing their colours to suit the elements. The wind turns harshly abrasive, carrying tiny pieces of ice, freezing rain, or thick blizzards, and the nights open up to all the phases of the moon or the open milky way. It’s like the mountains find themselves in a whole new dimension. 

Recently I’ve discovered that poetry can be a great way of condensing a particular feeling, season, or place, and it’s truly delightful when a poem seems so relevant to a Hill Trip, day out with the free-range reindeer, or view of the Cairngorms and the Strathnethy from up on the hill.  Here I have gathered some of my favourites which I hope can bring those of our supporters who haven’t been able to visit (I’ve said it a lot, but what a strange year…) back into the feeling of a day on the hill with the reindeer. Some of my photos from this winter are included too!

Spy and friends in the middle of winter. Ryvoan Bothy is just beyond the gap in the hills in the photo here, down to the right of Meall a’ Bhuachaille

The first poem which comes to mind is the Ryvoan Bothy poem, one which anyone who has visited Ryvoan Bothy, a couple of miles away from us, has probably seen pinned inside the door. Many of our visitors in the summer also take the gorgeous walk up to the “Green Lochan” or An Lochan Uaine so I imagine a lot of the places mentioned in this will be familiar to many.

Ryvoan Bothy Poem:
I shall leave tonight from Euston by the seven-thirty train, 
And from Perth in the early morning I shall see the hills again.
From the top of Ben Macdhui I shall watch the gathering storm, 
And see the crisp snow lying at the back of Cairngorm. 
I shall feel the mist from Bhrotain and the pass by Lairig Ghru 
To look on dark Loch Einich from the heights of Sgoran Dubh.
From the broken Barns of Bynack I shall see the sunrise gleam
On the forehead of Ben Rinnes and Strathspey awake from dream.
And again in the dusk of evening I shall find once more alone 
The dark water of the Green Loch, and the pass beyond Ryvoan. 
For tonight I leave from Euston and leave the world behind; 
Who has the hills as a lover, will find them wondrous kind.

The Green Lochan © VisitScotland

The poet and writer whose work is most famously connected to the Cairngorms is Nan Shepherd (1893- 1981). The first woman to feature on a Scottish banknote, she was a student and then lecturer at Aberdeen University in English Literature, the part of her life which she enjoyed alongside hill walking, through which she extensively explored the Cairngorms. The Living Mountain, her last published book is an awesome and personal, although at no point self-absorbed, memoir to her days on the Cairngorm plateau. Although a lot of her work is in plain English, I think her work is pretty unique for preserving Doric (the strong dialect in the North East of Scotland) so well, and so beautifully.

Loch Avon – Nan Shepherd
Loch A’an, Loch A’an, hoo deep ye lie!
Tell nane yer depth and nane shall I.
Bricht though yer deepmaist pit may be,
Ye’ll haunt me till the day I dee.
Bricht, an’ bricht, an’ bricht as air,
Ye’ll haunt me noo for evermair.

Nan Shepherd graces one of our £5 notes here in Scotland

Writing with equal admiration about their homeland are the Eveny, the reindeer herders of Siberia. Considering reindeer are so intrinsic to their culture that they both feature in their creation story and provide a livelihood, it’s not surprising that many of their songs and poems mention reindeer. Very little of this has been recorded though, however, in Reindeer People; Living With Animals And Spirits in Siberia (Piers Vitebsky) this song is translated and shows the deep connection which the Eveny have with their animals and the land. 

I have come from afar,
I have not beheld you for so long,
With all my heart I love you,
My Homeland! 

The Autumn leaves fall,
My voice echoes far,
My song is about you, my homeland,
Birthplace of my ancestors

If the reindeer do not come,
If the herd turns away,
If the reindeer do not come,
There will be no more Eveny!

It is difficult to source the lyrics or lines of poems and songs by minority cultures and people (which are the reindeer herders of the north) such as the Eveny or Sami, due to the suppression which these groups have faced, and also the fact that many of the poems are part of an oral tradition, passed on over time but not recorded. An exploration of Sami poetry, a lot of it related to the reindeer can be found here.

One of my favourite photos from the winter! Camembert on the ski road.

Over on the North American continent, the caribou (which are genetically the same species as reindeer: Rangifer tarandus) have a different relationship with people because they’re not herded or domestic, instead living wildly and sometimes being hunted. Richard Kelly Kemick captures the full seasonality of their lives in his book, Caribou Run which follows the year as the animal. I find this one intriguing:

The Love Poem as Caribou – Richard Kelly Kemick
It’s hard to imagine. As doves, yes,
or even vultures. But there’s nothing of a ballad
in the hard weight of antlers. You can’t cut
into an ode, stripping its skin to bones cabled
with muscle, or search its creased face for something
you can almost explain. And a sonnet has never
made me see myself inadequate beneath
the bright light of evolution’s long apprenticeship,
acutely aware of the many failings of my own form.
But maybe it’s in how a love poem will cross
a body of water without being about to see
the other side. Or maybe it’s in the deep prints
left in the drifts, that speak of how hard
it must have been to move on from here.

His poem “Antlers” can also be found here.

Crowdie with Gloriana and her calf Butter

On the same continent, Mary Oliver is a poet who has spent a lot of time observing nature, and in her writing brings the reader on a quiet walk with her.

The Poet Dreams of the Mountain – Mary Oliver
Sometimes I grow weary of the days, with all their fits and starts.
I want to climb some old gray mountain, slowly, taking
the rest of my lifetime to do it, resting often, sleeping
under the pines or, above them, on the unclothed rocks.
I want to see how many stars are still in the sky
that we have smothered for years now, a century at least.
I want to look back at everything, forgiving it all,
and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know.
All that urgency! Not what the earth is about!
How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only.
I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts.
In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.

And lastly, heading back home to Scotland and the Scots words and phrases, our rewilding landscapes, and great, airy glens we will finish with a poem which couldn’t possibly be more relevant. This one is in the first few pages of the book Hoofprints, a book which celebrates the 60th anniversary of Reindeer in the Cairngorms. It proclaims the “Reindeer Council of the United kingdom is proceeding with the experiment of importing reindeer to Scotland” – Punch magazine, August 1951. Look out for the hints of hunting, these refer to the plan that once the reindeer would be established in Scotland, they would contribute meat to the post-war rationing. Thankfully, after giving the animals names and getting to know them, our herd has always been kept for it’s own environmental and educational value to the Cairngorms.

Stag party
O Lords of misty moor and ben!
O monarchs of the mountain glen!
Crowned with your proudly branching span
Surveys your kingdom while you can.

Where Affrie’s corried glen divides,
In Atholl’s furthest forest rides,
Amid the firs that fringe Loch Shin
Will feed the herds that fed the Finn. 

Their splayed and hairy hooves will pound,
Your ancient Highland stamping ground
And Stalkers (snug in hats with flaps)
WIll hunt the quarry of the Lapps.

Will later landseers art portray
Proud Scandinavian stags at bay,
And (taxidermic’ly prepared)
Will foreign heads delight the laird?

Will other antlers grace the walls
As hatstands in suburban halls-
Sad pointers to the fact that you
Have yielded to the Caribou?

Shall reindeer, blue of flesh and blood,
Reign where the ruling red deer stood,
Or will one more invasion fail
And wiser councils yet prevail?

Nell

Why is that reindeer called (insert weird name here)?!

A few months ago I wrote a blog about how we choose the names for the individual reindeer in the herd, and the themes we use each year. I mentioned, however, that there are always exceptions to the rule, so I thought I’d explain a few of the odder names in the herd, which don’t fit their theme. Most names do fit – even in a rather vague roundabout manner – but sometimes they just don’t at all!

First up, Hamish. Hamish was born in 2010, the product of his mother Rusa’s teenage pregnancy. Teenage in reindeer years that is, at 2 years old. Reindeer generally don’t have their first calf until 3 year olds, but some will calve as 2 year olds occasionally, especially if they are of decent body size already during the preceding rut, triggering them to come into season. Rusa was one such female, but unfortunately Hamish was also a large calf, and he got stuck being born. This resulted in a bit of assistance needed from us, and then a course of penicillin for Rusa, which interrupted her milk flow. We therefore bottle-fed Hamish for the first 2 or 3 weeks of his life, and any calf who we work so closely with at such a young age either requires naming, or ends up with a questionable nickname that sticks (a la Holy Moley!). In Hamish’s case we hadn’t already chosen the theme for the year, so just decided we’d choose a nice, strong Scottish name. And Hamish went on to grow into a nice, strong Scottish reindeer!

How many reindeer herders does is take to work out whether a calf is suckling or not?! Hamish at a few hours old.

Svalbard next. While we’ve used both ‘Scottish islands’ and ‘foreign countries’ as themes, we haven’t technically done ‘foreign islands’. So where does his name come from? In fact, he was originally named Meccano, in the Games and Pastimes year. But at around 3 months old he was orphaned, and while he did obviously survive, it will have been a struggle, stealing milk from other females but never quite getting enough (this was while out free-ranging, so we weren’t around to help). As a result when we came across him a month or so later his growth had been stunted a bit, and he was very pot-bellied – a sign of inadequate nutrition.

On the Norwegian-owned island of Svalbard there is a subspecies of reindeer (imaginatively called Svalbard reindeer). Without any need to migrate anywhere, over time Svalbard reindeer have evolved shorter legs and a dumpy appearance, and Meccano resembled a Svalbard calf. Never one to like diversion from a neat list of themed names, I tried in vain to call him Meccano but eventually gave up. ‘The Svalbard calf’ had become ‘Svalbard’. Oh well. It does suit him.

And then there’s Stenoa. He was born in 2012 when our theme was ‘Things that happened in 2012’ (being as quite a lot of things did that year – the Olympics, the Queen’s Jubilee and most importantly, our 60th anniversary). Most of that year of reindeer have names with rather tenuous links to the theme, but Stenoa’s is probably the most obscure. Taking part in the Thames flotilla for the Jubilee was the Smith Family onboard the boat Stenoa, which belonged to Tilly’s dad and was given her name from the first name initials of Tilly, her three siblings and parents.

Handsome Stenoa as a young bull

Every now and then we import some reindeer from Sweden, bringing them into our herd to bring in fresh bloodlines and to therefore reduce the risk of us inbreeding within the herd. There are currently about a dozen ‘Swedes’ in the herd, and while most have Swedish names, some don’t. In 2011, when they arrived to join our reindeer, we were all allowed to name one each, with Alex (out in Sweden with the reindeer while they were in quarantine), named the others – mostly after people they were bought from. So we have Bovril, Houdini and Spike still amongst the more traditional names… ‘My’ reindeer was named Gin (read into that what you will…) but sadly isn’t with us anymore.

Spike – whose antlers have developed over the years to suit his name quite well!

Other than Holy Moley (explained in Fiona’s recent blog), the only calf who doesn’t quite fit last year’s Seeds, Peas and Beans’ theme is Juniper. On the day we named the class of 2020, Tilly’s long-time favourite (and ancient) Belted Galloway cow, Balcorrach Juniper, died, and her one request was that we name a calf in her honour. No point arguing with the boss! And juniper plants do have seeds I guess.

Juniper

There’s been plenty more in the past (Paintpot for example, born with one black leg which looked like he’d stepped in a pot of paint) but I think that’s the main ones covered in today’s herd. But no doubt others will come along in time, and the cycle of constantly explaining a reindeer’s odd name to visitors on a Hill Trip will continue.

Hen

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