Back on the 27th May 2022, it was the official date, 70 years on, since reindeer set foot in Scotland. So, although we are having an Open Day this October for all the lovely people who adopt one of our reindeer (this weekend, in fact!), this year as a celebration we decided to mark the occasion in May with a very informal get together of local friends and ex, current and future reindeer herders. Future herders being all the babies and children of reindeer herders past and present!
By chance this was also the day that Sofia our lovely friend and ex herder was visiting Scotland for the first time in 4 years. Sofia and her family are Sami from the north of Sweden and also related to Mikel Utsi who co-started the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, so it was so great she was there. Sally and Ceris came up from north England and I won’t mention everyone’s names who are local as the list would just be too long… let’s just say there were lots of wonderful faces who have been part of the last 70 years of reindeer in Scotland.
During the day in our shop, as well as banners and bunting we had cake and prosecco (and a non-alcoholic version for the drivers) for our visitors to help themselves so if you were booked onto a tour that day this was a massive perk! All our visitors didn’t think twice to join in our celebrations and dig into the treats.
Then in the afternoon we put up a couple of gazebos in our paddock area, put more cake and drinks and later on had a BBQ and salads to soak up the extra prosecco. It was a really lovely afternoon/evening catching up with everyone. Hearing their stories of when they visited or worked here. Some old photos came out and we just chatted the night away. Needless to say, there were a couple of sore heads the next morning.
The kids had a great time, endless cake… what’s not to love! They were burning around on sugar highs with the odd adult trying to keep up. There were many dogs included in the celebrations but luckily they all know each other so while some were persuading people to throw sticks and toys the others were hoovering up left over BBQ. Looking onto a scene of what could only be described as total chaos was actually rather lovely. Seeing familiar friendly faces who have been joined together by our lovely reindeer… We’ve got a lot to thank Dr Lindgren and Mikel Utsi for. If it wasn’t for them then we wouldn’t be lucky enough to be part of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd and know all these wonderful people.
Throughout the year The Reindeer Centre has its core staff with a mix of full time and part time Reindeer Herders. Many of you will know us well, so we’ve got – Fiona, Hen, Andi, Lotti, Ben B, Ruth, Olly, Sheena and Lisette. We also have our hill farm contingent consisting of Alan, Tilly, Derek and Colin. We are here all year round seeing the reindeer (and other animals on the farm) through the different seasons, however we cannot manage all the work ourselves… that would be impossible!
Editor’s note (Ruth): not every herder features in the photos, please do not be offended if I’ve missed any of you lovely herders out! Check out this page on the website for more info and photos about who we all are: Who’s who – The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd
So we call upon seasonal staff who dot in and out throughout the year to help out. The parts of the year that can be busy are: February half term, Easter holidays then of course right through the summer with schools breaking up in Scotland first and English schools going back at the beginning of September. Although we aren’t so busy with tourists through September it is the start of our rutting season so we are busy with reindeer management. At this time of year we are carrying a lot of feed up the hill so it’s a reindeer herders work out! We usually have around 4 different groups of reindeer in various enclosures either running with a bull or the herd of Christmas reindeer and females we aren’t breeding from so plenty to keep us on our toes. Its busy through October half term just before we gear up in preparation for Christmas and our own Christmas tour which runs through November and December. We can all breath a big sigh of relief in January when we take a month off and close the doors to the public. We do however keep the office and reindeer management ticking over amongst the core staff.
Seasonal staff that worked throughout these busy periods in 2021 consisted of – Joe, Nell, Harry, Kate, Mel, Izzy, Colin D, Ben H, Dave, Manouk and Leonie. We even roped in ex reindeer herders Jack and Eve for a busy weekend in December… Once a reindeer herder, always a reindeer herder!
If you’ve been up to visit us in 2021 you’ll have no doubt bumped into a few of these herders both core and seasonal along the way. We are very lucky with our team here at the Reindeer Centre. Everyone works well together, is great with the public and of course fab with the reindeer. Every day we are learning more when it comes to reindeer management but we all take it in our stride and everyone mucks in which is the important thing
As you probably know, many of the reindeer herders are furloughed just now as the Centre is obviously closed to the public. So while Fiona and Lotti are working away trying to keep everything ticking over at Reindeer House and Andi and Derek are doing the same at the farm, what are the rest of the staff up to?
Sheena: What have I been up to… well I’m very lucky, I moved in with my 87 year old mum just along the road – she’s great fun and we’ve both kept very busy and well; 3 dogs and a cat and a big garden!
Some of you might know that when I’m not a reindeer herder I am an artist… so all this time I must have been busy painting yeah?… Well yes – my mum’s garden fence!! And a wee bit of crafting, the odd cycle and swim in my Loch with the dogs as its been so nice at times.
I signed up to be a Kindness Volunteer for Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland so I’ve gone through a online training with them, helped out delivering the odd parcel in the community and done a lot of weeding at my mum’s… can’t wait to tackle the jungle at my own house when this is all over!! Mostly really I can’t wait to run up a hill to see the new additions to the herd. Missing all the reindeer herders too and missing meeting all our wonderful visitors.
Dave: So what have I been up to ? Well it’s a fairly long list. I feel lucky to be healthy and secure when so many are really struggling. I look after a small Croft. So between that and my 2.5 year old son I have been very busy. My four ewes have all lambed successfully so that’s cool.
I have also built a new mobile chicken coop. Heaps of new fencing and gates. Been planting things and painting things. But the coolest thing is the new river side den I’m building for my son! Ciao!
Hen: I’m luckier than the others perhaps, in that I live closer to Reindeer House so have been able to get up the hill to see the cows and calves on occasion within my daily exercise allowance. Has kept the withdrawal symptoms under control!
Other than that I’ve been in my garden as much as possible, and have finally started work on a rockery and a pond that’s been in the pipeline for years. Rather a few years ago, at age 30, I woke up one morning and the family genetics had suddenly kicked in – must grow plants NOW! I think Fiona was very relieved when I moved out of Reindeer House in 2015, having filled every spare inch of space (and there’s not much space spare to start with in RH…) with plants.
I even grew strawberries on the feed shed roof for a couple of years, prompting some strange looks from visitors in the Paddocks on a regular basis, looking over to see me climbing up the side of the building carrying a watering can!
Chris: It turned out I had a million and one things that needed doing so I don’t think I’ve ever had the time go by faster ever! I’ve been selling loads of stuff on eBay to try and boost my bank balance. I was cleaning and sorting out some old cycling/running shoes to sell and wondered what/how many shoes does it take to herd a reindeer?!
Walking boots x1: for when it’s too cold for wellies
Ski touring boots x1: For when there’s so much snow it’s easier to ski out to find the reindeer!
Cycling shoes x4: for when the reindeer have gone too far and its quicker too cycle out half way to where they are. No, we don’t have helicopters/drones/quad bikes which I’ve been asked several times on Hill Trips!
Hill running shoes x50: the joint most important shoe of a reindeer herder!
Light, comfy, grippy and worn almost every day outside of winter for running around the hills chasing reindeer and fixing fences/boardwalking.
Wellies x1: it is Scotland, it rains a lot, the ground is wet, muddy and boggy. Wear wellies.
Nicky: A different side of the Reindeer Centre Business is selling meat from our Glenlivet hill farm, where we have free-range cattle, soay sheep and wild boar. As lockdown kicked in and with meat scarce in the local shops, I received a message on our Reindeer Herders Whatsapp group asking if any of us would like any meat dropped off from our farm and I came up with the idea of offering an ordering and delivery service out to my neighbours and friends. We set up a safe payment and delivery method and, as I’m sure everyone has found, I never knew I could become so well acquainted with my wee bottle of hand sanitising gel that I now carry everywhere with me!
This was just the start. The word spread, other neighbours wanted to join the ‘meat delivery group’, and friends, family and colleagues I mentioned it to also wanted to join our gang. Many customers have expressed they are finding it so superior and delicious compared to other meat they have tasted. It’s lovely to receive such praise and appreciation and pass it on to my colleagues at the Reindeer Centre and Farm.
It feels good to be doing this on so many levels. For people to be able to get ethical, locally sourced meat; to get to know more of my neighbours; to help some of my elderly neighbours who aren’t able to go to the shops and are having supplies delivered to them; to deliver to friends who work for the NHS; it brings a wonderful sense of community when everyone pulls together in times like these.
So there you have it – lots of reindeer herders using their energy in different manners than normal! While some of us are quite enjoying our time off, others are itching to be back working with the reindeer. So the sooner the world can get back to some semblance of ‘normal’ the better!
At the beginning of March an event occurred in the Cairngorms which only happens once every three years… El Nino or meteor showers you may ask, no, the Reindeer Herders got our First Aid training! On a snowy morning we all headed down to our local village of Kincraig to meet our wonderful trainer Pete from Outwardly Mobile First Aid in Newtonmore (Look them up if you need training local folks!).
You’ll be glad to know that our course was aimed specifically at Outdoor Emergency First Aid, rather handy seeing as we spend lots of time out on the mountains. However, although we can theoretically now deal with almost any eventuality whilst on the hill with our lovely visitors, please don’t throw yourself off the path to test it…
As you can imagine we turned up in true reindeer herder style (slightly shambolic… but still classy I think..). Our first, or rather my (Abby) first faux pas was failing to find the ‘Meeting Room’ we were using… apparently it said it on the door… who knew! After setting up in what was basically a spare cupboard, the keeper of the hall turned up and set us right! We also had one special reindeer herder on-site to make sure we were taking things mega seriously…
She valiantly guarded us and made sure we practiced our First Aid to our full abilities!
While learning the finer arts of CPR we were all granted our own CPR dummy faces (for hygiene) although they were a tad creepy…
After going through all the basics, recovery positions, CPR and Defibrillator training it was time for the fun stuff… the scenarios! This was AWESOME! We got to dress up AND behave like idiots – in my case, my job on one scenario was to be a stressed out bystander to a cardiac arrest… there was even a prop chainsaw involved… EPIC! (We did also learn a lot of useful stuff too – like how to prioritise your patients and keep people calm).
After two intense and riotous days we all successfully passed (woohoo!) but Imogen was so super serious she got two certificates to prove her dedication to the First Aid cause!
So whilst we sincerely hope that our skills won’t be called upon, if the worst happens at least we’re all up to speed and well rehearsed on what we need to do.