Superstitions

Since it’s Friday the 13th, I thought I would try to write up a blog about superstitions from reindeer herders around the world. I thought it would be a fairly easy subject to research, but it turns out it is rather difficult and trying to determine what was actually believed way back when, and what has been made up for the tourist industry is exceedingly difficult. I have tried my best to be as accurate as possible and only report on reliable information, but do feel free to correct me if any of what is said below is wrong. Sámi shamanism, traditions, superstitions etc. are very difficult to come by because up until the mid-20th century, the Sámi underwent ‘Norwegeniasation’. The Sámi were not allowed to speak their own languages, were converted to Christianity by missionaries and it was shameful to have Sámi roots. Attitudes have now changed and it is cool to be a Sámi now. There is even a festival in Norway called Riddu Riđđu where people can explore and enjoy their Sámi roots. Anyway, here are some little snippets of traditions and beliefs of reindeer herders around the world.

 

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A band at Riddu Riđđ,  holding a Sámi flag on stage. (Photo from norwayfestivals.com)

The Chukchi, a group of reindeer herders from Siberia, thought it akin (bad) to sell a live reindeer, but would happily sell a dead reindeer. There is a book called ‘In a Far Country’, by John Taliaferro, which is a true story describing how, after whaling ships were trapped on Alaska’s north coast by ice, a missionary named Top Lopp decided to herd reindeer out to the 200+ whalers who would otherwise starve to death, with the help of 7 Eskimo herders, in the late 1800’s. The book describes the troubles that the men faced in trying to purchase live reindeer to herd across the Bering strait to the men stranded in Alaska. It talks about the Chukchi being offered a fortune in tobacco and cloth, but they would always refuse. The Chukchi would sell dead reindeer at 75 cents apiece, up to 500 at a time, but never a live reindeer.

Chukchi reindeer herder, Sergei Elevye, with one of his bull reindeer
Chukchi reindeer herder, Sergei Elevye, with one of his bull reindeer. (Photo from mediastorehouse.com)

The Sámi had and have a very close bond with nature, and natural phenomenon which nowadays can be easily explained by science, were of course much more exciting/terrifying occurrences. The aurora borealis, or Northern lights are of course one of the most fascinating and obvious phenomena in the north. Some northern Finnish reindeer herders used to believe that they were caused by a fox running extremely fast across the sky, whipping up the colours with her tail. The Sámi of Sweden feared the lights and would even hide away from it, or at least try to cover themselves if they could not hide. It is also extremely bad luck to mock, or even make notice of the lights, to some. It was believed that if you whistled at the lights, they would swoop down and kill you. However, if they did try to kill you, you could clap your hands and they would leave you alone.

This close connection with the natural world often meant that they would pray and give sacrifices to many different Gods. They also believed that everything had a spirit including certain trees and rocks. There were often stones that people would have to greet, otherwise the stone could get angry and come down on them. Unusual landforms, especially rocks, were often called seidi‘s and were worshipped to bring the worshipper protection. They were also seen as gateways to the underworld.

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A seidi in Balsfjord (Image from wikipedia.com)

It is also believed that white reindeer bring good luck and all herders should have a white reindeer in their herd. Luckily, we have quite a few in our own herd, including Blondie, and her son Lego. Fiona has also heard that if you see a white reindeer, the sun and the moon all at the same time, it brings good luck. So have a look out next time you come on one of our visits!

Blondie 1010
Blondie, relaxing on a sunny day.

The Sámi also joik, a form of acapella singing; its themes usually include animals, people and special occasions in life. The Sámi also joik about Stállo, who is a mythical being, very rich and very smart, and who is able to change shape and can even change the landscape so people become lost. He is an evil entity, and often the joiks describe how to trick Stállo.

We haven’t had many reindeer born on Friday 13th, since it really is only May that the reindeer calve. We did have one handsome male reindeer born, called Peru. He lived up until around 8 years old, and was a ‘Christmas reindeer’. There are actually only 4 reindeer still alive who were born in 2005 with Peru, so I think he did ok to get to 8 years old. Obviously, I don’t know if one has been born today or not, but it doesn’t seem to be too bad an omen for the reindeer.

Peru 0812
Peru looking handsome in his summer coat.

 

Imogen

Is Spring Sprung?

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.

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Snowy day with grey cloudy skies and reindeer eating off the line
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Snow and a little reindeer off to the side

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.

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Reindeer, snow and sunshine – bliss!
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Snowy hills, blue skies

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.

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Clarinet, and unidentified reindeer bum, with hills and cloud

 

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Cloud inversion and hill tops
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Gloriana and co enjoying the sun
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Our office
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Little Arrochar having a lie down

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.

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Newt!

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!

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Okapi looking majestic

 

Imogen

A Reindeer Herder’s Job in January

Reindeer
Expectant reindeer – food is always welcome!

You all know Christmas is our busy time of year, however you also know that reindeer are not just for Christmas, so what happens after all the commercial pursuits we undertake and those many visits onto the hill throughout the year…? Well, this is a reindeer herder’s favourite time of the year as the Centre is closed and for once in the year we feel like we can start to get back on top of things!

First and most important job is to get the reindeer into their correct locations for the winter. They are split between the Cromdale hills over near our Glenlivet hill farm and here on Cairngorm. We don’t use our mountain enclosure from January through to April/May (in time for calving). It’s a time of year reindeer are in their absolute element and what this species is all about – the cold, snow and thick winter coats. The split tends to be boys to the Cromdales and girls on Cairngorm however some females do also go onto the Cromdales as well.

Santana
Santana leading the herd up – single file through the snow to save energy.

We still like to see the reindeer everyday so we know where they are and therefore we feed and check them every morning. This means heading up and spying from our various points along the hill road where we get the best views of their hot spots. A reindeer herder’s eye is well trained and can spot the reindeer way before anyone else. A lot of the time we don’t even reach for the binoculars – we just know the lay of the land so well that we know which ‘reindeer shaped rocks’ are indeed rocks and which ones are actually the reindeer! The weather has a big part to play in this so no snow means we find the reindeer quickly, lots of snow means the darker reindeer stick out, however that annoying mottled, patchy snow is the worst to spot reindeer in as they are so camouflaged. High winds keep them off the high tops and closer to the tree line, sunny weather often means they are happy just to have a chilled out day soaking it up… just like us!

Feeding the herd
Mel hefting just some of the daily rations – it certainly keeps us fit lugging feed out into the mountains!

So once found we head out and give them a good feed, count and check them. Even the dogs benefit from this part as they get to come part of the way out. Obviously they can’t mix with the reindeer however Sookie and Tiree are both now trained to wait wherever we ask them. Sometimes we are feeding and checking the reindeer and look back to the dogs and all we see is their wee faces poking above the heather watching our every move and the reindeer don’t even notice them!

Dogs in the snow
Sometimes the dogs look all majestic… (Tiree, Moskki and Sookie)
Windblown dogs
… sometimes not so much! Looking windblown – Murdo, Sookie and Tiree

Once the morning is complete and reindeer fed and checked its back down to the centre to complete our long list of ‘January Jobs’. This may be painting the exhibition floor in the paddocks, fixing fences and gates, oiling the Christmas harness (ready to pack away for another year), going through every single event folder and reading all the reports, making up adoption packs, cleaning, packing away the endless decorations put up at Christmas etc, etc, etc… But being closed means we can also make the most of the good weather. If the sun is shining and snow conditions allow some of us keen skiers head for the hills for a day on the snow! Needless to say the dogs like this part too as they get to come along. This does turn us into fair weather skiers, however we spend plenty of time in the hills being blown off our feet and getting soaked to the bone, to pick and choose when we can go skiing only seems fair!

The honeymoon must come to an end though so on the 6th February we re-open our doors and get back to our daily routine of 11am guided tours. It’s all fine and well it being a nice time of year for us herders but we wouldn’t have this job if it wasn’t for our many visitors to the Centre supporting our lovely herd of reindeer in the Cairngorms!

Fiona

How to move your reindeer

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…

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Once the herd are spied, it just takes a call to get them thundering towards you (on a good day). Not just any call though – they can differentiate between a herder and a tourist!
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When it’s snowy, the easiest route is often straight down the main road – thankfully pretty quiet at this time of day.
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Off the road and we start cutting across and downhill. Glenshee is delighted to lead the way – it’s often the calves who are the greediest and most confident!
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The intended route – down the steep slope to the bridge, over the river and up the other side to the enclosure. The gate in is near the shed.
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Sometimes there’s a bit of hesitation at the top of the bank, but today the girls were happy to come straight down.
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Down the slope and onto the bridge.
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I’m always amused by the herd trotting neatly over the bridge in single file – why get wet feet when you don’t have to – great trail left down the hill too. Reindeer will walk single file through the snow to conserve energy.
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Along the path up the other side – if you’ve been on our hill visit you may recognise this path! Sometimes the girls charge past up the hill, but today they were content to potter along behind.
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Plodding up the path…
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… and in through the enclosure gate. We often feed the free-ranging reindeer inside the hill enclosure, with the gates left open, as it gives them a bit more safety from being hassled by dogs.
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Food out as their reward as the snow sets in – happy reindeer and happy herders – just 10 minutes after we set off, a successful morning complete.

Andi

Winter Holidays

As the schools go back, and the Christmas decorations, sleighs and harness are packed away at the end of another busy but successful season, the Reindeer Centre closes its doors to the public for a wee break. Of course we don’t get an actual holiday, the reindeer still like to be fed, but we put every single member of the herd out to free-range on the mountains. The boys head on over to the Cromdale mountains (where their lazy habit of hanging out on car parks can be prevented!) whilst most of the cows and calves go onto the Cairngorm range. The enclosure, and paddocks down in Glenmore, stand empty.

Okapi Lace Ciste
Lace and Okapi posing!

Every day we still drive up the mountain road early, spying for reindeer. Sometimes they make our job easy, like when the herd decide to get our attention and wait on the car park. It’s a bit of a giveaway when we see a traffic jam in an unusual place – you can guarantee there are a few females hanging out at the front of it, with excited tourists abandoning their cars to take photos!

Returning Escapees
The herd appears up the hill, completing their transformation from dots into reindeer

Other times we spot the reindeer a long way away, and on a good day they’ll hear you calling and run a mile or more to reach you. One of my favourite moments is when you see the distant dots on a faraway mountainside suddenly start streaming down towards you, looking alarmingly similar to ants until they transform into reindeer!

Cailin
Beautiful Cailin, one of our older reindeer, waits for the rest of the herd to join us

Winter is when the reindeer are in their element and whilst they’re always delighted to see us, if the weather prevents us finding them for a few days, or they decide to not be found, it quickly becomes apparent that they don’t need us. Their metabolisms slow right down in the winter months, and with shovel-like feet they have no difficulty digging through the snow for food.

Lilac
Lilac, a bit of a legend at an incredible 16 1/2 years old, has a stretch after a nap. We often leave the top part of the hill enclosure open so the free-ranging reindeer can join us to ‘request’ food, whilst safely out of the way of hill-walkers and dogs.

Whilst it makes life fairly unpredictable (Will we find the reindeer? Will they come to call? Will I have to hike up a mountain in the snow and wind with a massive sack of feed on my back???) it’s a really fun time of the year, and great to see the reindeer loving life in their natural habitat.

Nepal Merrick
“Mum, you’re embarrassing me…” Merrick looking sheepish as mum Nepal gives him a good wash round the ears.

Andi

Christmas Reindeer Chaos

As December dawned upon Glenmore the word ‘Christmas Fun’ began to be whispered amongst the herders, tinsel appeared and Christmas sneezed upon the Reindeer Centre once more.

The Christmas period is one of our busiest times of year and we feel we should do something a wee bit extra special this is where Christmas Fun begins. Over December we arm ourselves with Christmas cheer and crafting supplies and head to the paddocks. An army of extra herders appear and we make decorations, Christmas hands and even help Santa himself – he valiantly mans the paddocks and gets all the last minute Christmas requests!

Santa's weird reindeer
Santa even had time to meet two very unusual little reindeer!

We even had a major reindeer herding success when one afternoon before Christmas when myself and Imogen went for a shwizzle around the mountain roads to check for any rogue reindeer. We do this daily as the girls have a great habit of creating some rather impressive traffic jams and if so we swoop in like a reindeer removal squad and deposit them atop a ridge with some yummy food. It’s also a great wee break from Christmas madness down at Reindeer Hoose!

This time we had a very specific mission to seek out Lulu and her lovely calf Bhuachaille who had not been seen properly since September! October is usually our month for training our wee calfies to wear a head collar but wee Bhuachaille managed to miss out on all of this! The mission was bring him in and halter train him so he could participate in our Christmas day parades.

We drove up the road and saw nothing, went to the ski-ing carpark and again saw nothing promising until we spotted a loitering car then one reindeer… then 24 reindeer including Lulu! I ran down the carpark and caught Lulu so fast I forgot about getting a head collar (thank god for Imogen!) and then forgot to take off my mittens so once again required assistance. In a space of one minute we had Lulu haltered and were heading with the herd to the hill enclosure with Bhuachaille in tow. Not bad for just a wee afternoon drive!

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Creative Christmas wishes, beautifully made in our paddocks!

The ultimate day is Christmas Eve, definitely one of the busiest days of the year and the team that day was Andi, Hen, Sheena, Imogen, Abby, Anne and a very festive Shona! We took the busiest visit of the year, and to our knowledge of all time, with a whopping 51 cars on the visit! Have a look at all the people!

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Just one or two visitors on Christmas Eve!

We all survived Christmas fun and even wore some very stylish jumpers!

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A triumphant Christmas eve team!

Hope you all have had a wonderful Hogmanay!

Abby

A summer with the reindeer

Being a reindeer herder for the summer has been a series of firsts for me: my first job, my first time living away from home and, of course, my first time herding reindeer! It’s been an amazing summer (bar the weather) and for this blog I will be writing about going straight from leaving school, to full time work, and my experiences being the newest and youngest reindeer herder. I have also included a lot of the photos I have managed to take of the reindeer on the hill.

I can remember my first day clearly. I had just arrived and was immediately given my first job: poo-picking in the paddocks. Having been handed a bucket and trowel, I was sent out to tackle the task. Although it may seem ridiculous now, this posed a serious problem: I had no idea what reindeer poo looked like! Being too embarrassed to go back and ask, I continued with the job hoping I was picking up the right stuff. I remember having doubts about being a herder at this point which were soon forgotten when I spent the rest of the day herding reindeer and running around the hills. It was on my first day that I also discovered a certain reindeer we now called Fergus (see our previous blog). Another herder and I were moving the reindeer up the enclosure when I noticed Fergus’ mother Foil wasn’t moving with the herd. I went over to investigate and discovered she had given birth to a tiny, fluffy calf! Sadly she died ten days later but I have been privileged to see Fergus grow up into the confident and slightly naughty reindeer he is today!

Fergus
Fergus peering through the gate
Carrying Fergus
The best way to move Fergus when he won’t behave! Unfortunatly he is getting too big to pick up now.

Being a naturally shy person, my first time taking a tour was quite nerve racking. I had spent the days before attempting to learn all the facts and information I could about reindeer, as on previous visits I had been unable to answer many questions I was asked. It went quite well I think, and since I have taken many more tours, been on several treks and even managed to learn all the names of the reindeer in the hill enclosure! I have grown to love many of the reindeer such as Duke and Bovril who both are sweet and very beautiful. However, some reindeer I am not so keen on… Macaroon (possibly the greediest reindeer ever), delights in kicking my legs whenever he sees me with the hand feed bag which has resulted in me getting many bruises! Minus this personality defect he is still a very sweet reindeer and I can honestly say I don’t dislike any of the herd.

Duke and Bovril
The lovely Duke, and Bovril investigating my phone
Macaroon
Don’t be fooled by the picture, Macaroon is the greediest reindeer in the herd!
Laptev
Trekking with Laptev

Outside of work I have been living at Reindeer House. I am moving to Edinburgh for University in the next few days so the experience of living away from home will really help me with this. My spare time has been taken up by manically painting reindeer on rocks to sell in the shop. As I am going on to do a degree in geology, I feel I am justified by this ‘obsession’ with rocks which has proved to be quite a good wee business.

Reindeer rocks
One of my reindeer rocks
Origami
Origami plotting an escape
Free-range
Moving free-ranging females and calves into the enclosure… which involved walking up a very steep hill!
Lilac
Lilac. At 16 she is now the oldest reindeer in the herd, but is still looking fantastic!
Champagne
Champagne running for her food! I love her antlers that make her look more like an antelope than other reindeer.
Sargasso
Yearling male Sargasso enjoying a feed
Boxer
I wanted to photograph Boxer’s new bone antlers, but instead captured Fergus and Origami posing in the background!
Lego
Lego, a completely deaf but lovely reindeer, who’s always first for hand feeding.
Views
The incredible view from the top of Meall a’ Bhuachaille – the Reindeer Centre is nestled at the bottom.
Julia
Being followed by reindeer!

I have been extremely lucky to have worked with the reindeer and I would like to thank Tilly and Fiona Smith for giving me this incredible opportunity. I would also like to thank all the staff at the centre (in no particular order) Imogen, Abbey, Hen, Andi, Mel, Catriona and all the volunteers, you are all amazing! And lastly I would like to thank anyone who has been on my tours or is reading this blog.

Julia

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