Heather Hanshaw – Past Reindeer herder and Leathersmith

Hello everyone! First of all, let me introduce myself for those who have not have met me.

I’m Heather, and I used to be a Reindeer Herder. I like to think I still am really. As we always say, it’s like being a King or Queen of Narnia, once a Reindeer Herder, always a Reindeer Herder!

In my former guise as a herder! Christmas training with Eco, Dylan, Sporran and Sting (and Ceris at the back!). Photo by Tony Marsh

So, my Reindeer herding career began way back in 1998, when the ‘Sweeties’ year of reindeer were born. I first went to the Centre for work experience from the local High school, and when I arrived for my week’s experience in September, the calves had just been named. Some of you will remember Eclair, Polo and Malteser, to name a few!

Back in 2002 when I was 18, with Cluster (biggest antlers), Shock, Rascal, Tuna, Torrent and Pepsy.

As the years rolled by, I worked at the Reindeer Centre off and on for roughly 15 years, in my school and university holidays. And once I graduated from Edinburgh University, with a degree in Geography (using the reindeer as my subject for my 4th year dissertation!), I headed back full time.

The good ol’ days of reindeer herding… Top left clockwise: Me with Shekel, Beastie, Caddis and Diddly.

After the Reindeer Centre, I worked in a couple of other jobs, before deciding it was time to head into the family business of leather working. My Mum and Dad have been leather workers since before I came along, and while I always helped them in the workshop as a child, it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I really started learning the craft. I now have my own workshop in Carrbridge, not so far from the Reindeer Centre and would now call myself a full time Leathersmith. I run my own business, Loch Ness Leather, and make belts, handbags and hats, along with smaller accessories.

In my workshop in my garden

But how is that relevant to the Reindeer Centre now? Well, those who support the herd by adopting a reindeer, will know that each year when you re-adopt your reindeer, you get a lovely pack in the post including amongst other things, a hand written letter, and a selection of gifts. Well, this year, I am in charge of one of those gifts! I have been commissioned to make leather keyrings which will be going into the adoption packs. Each one is made by hand, by myself, in my workshop in Carrbridge. Luckily my workshop is in my garden, so I have been able to carry on working safely during the current situation. And it’s just been a case of handing over a new batch each time the herders pop by with a Wild Farm meat delivery for us!

The pattern is embossed and the dye applied

Each keyring is made of natural vegetable tanned leather. I cut the leather to shape, emboss it with the reindeer design, and then dye it by hand. Layering up the colours to make each one – they’re all very individual! A rivet is then used to attach the ring, and it’s ready to go. And all made within 12 miles of the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre.

Colour complete, and the finished product!

This year is a tough time for us all, I personally usually sell my wares at Highland Games and other events across Scotland through the summer. However, they have all been cancelled this year, understandably, so I have been focusing on selling online. If you would like to see more of my work, please do visit my website, www.lochnessleather.co.uk. Or of course, you can follow me on Facebook or Instagram. As a thank you for supporting myself, and the Reindeer of course!, I would like to offer you a 10% discount across the whole of my website. To be sent the code for this, please click here to sign up for my newsletter.

You can also keep a look out for more Cairngorm Reindeer Herd and Loch Ness Leather collaborations in the Reindeer Centre online shop, coming soon and throughout the year!

I hope you all enjoy your adoption packs this year!
Thank you all and Stay Safe!
Heather Hanshaw (Past Reindeer Herder)

N.B. Because of the way our adoption scheme gifts work, only those re-adopting a reindeer from now until April next year will receive one of Heather’s keyrings with their pack. Adoptions purchased for the first time in this period will receive different gifts. However, if you don’t want to miss out on a keyring, please feel free to get in touch with Heather directly via her website to purchase one!

 

Memorable reindeer of the past: Eco

Featured Image: Eco and Santa having a moment at one of our Christmas events. Eco probably wanted to know where Santa was hiding the lichen!

Young bull Eco.jpg
Young bull Eco

Every reindeer herder working here remembers the calves here when they first started, who tend to go on to hold a special place to them in the herd as the years go by. When I first worked here in late 2007, the ‘green things’ were calves. Not actually green, I should add (although we did give them all green ear tags), but ‘green’ was our naming theme for reindeer born that year, so some of the very first reindeer I got to know had names like Kermit, Go, Ever, Fern and Uaine (Gaelic for ‘green’). And there was also Eco (as in eco-friendly!). Eco wasn’t the prettiest of calves, having a big bulky head and slightly roman nose, but he was very friendly and greedy. I also remember that by the end of the first winter he had become slightly annoying, due to his habit of occasionally jumping up at people when he wanted feeding.

10 months old.JPG
10 months old

The ugly duckling grew into a swan though, and Eco morphed into an extremely handsome young bull, and a big one at that. Not for very long though, as in 2009 we castrated many of our two year old bulls as they were all so enormous rather than waiting until they were three, and Eco was one of the ones who found himself suddenly slightly lacking in a certain department. But the flip side of the coin (for us at least!) was that we gained a fabulous ‘Christmas reindeer’, who could be trained to harness and join the teams of reindeer out and about at Christmas time.

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Hen and Eco on a Christmas event together

Anyone who knew Eco didn’t have a bad word to say about him, or not seriously anyway. He was a lovely character, always cheerful and always delighted to be involved in whatever was going on, whether it be hand-feeding, greeting people in a pen at a Christmas event or taking part in one of the half-day treks that we used to do with visitors.

Always inquisitive and up to something!
Always inquisitive and up to something!
Eco entertaining the crowds at an event
Eco entertaining the crowds at an event

He was a bit of a handful at times however, and certainly not a reindeer to hand over to a novice or nervous person to lead. He spent much of his life slightly like a child who has been given too many blue smarties and is bouncing off the walls – he could be completely hyperactive. Without doubt he was the Labrador of the reindeer world. I once tried to take him out for a walk around Glenmore when halter-training a calf, which turned out to be a real mistake as the calf, five months old and untouched by humans until the previous day, behaved far better than Eco. Why walk calmly forwards in a straight line when you can leap in the air, jump up a bank or down into a ditch, and spin round in a circle, preferably all whilst ‘knitting’ the lead rope around your antlers??? I never tried to use such a nutcase as my steady ‘training reindeer’ again… I also had a battle with him at the back of the sleigh at an event in a garden centre once, trying to negotiate the parade without him beheading every plant he could reach en route – and surreptitiously removing leaves from his mouth at the end.

Eco looking incredibly handsome as a two year old
Eco looking incredibly handsome as a two year old

He was fab, and one of my all-time favourite reindeer. Sadly he died when only middle-aged which was a huge pity, but these things happen and that’s the way the world works. It sometimes feels like it’s always the ‘good ones’ that die younger than average, but when there’s 150 reindeer in the herd at any one time it’s easy to forget the shy background characters as they come and go, remembering only the reindeer who stand out for one reason or another.

A slightly telling fact of how long I’ve been working here is that the green tags are now mostly no longer with us. It was a small calving that year anyway, but only five remain now, females Hopper, Fly, Fern and Meadow and male Puddock. We now have the ‘new green tags’: all the 2016 calves. I’ve come full circle through the lives of an entire generation of reindeer, which is a thought that makes me feel old.

Hen