An Epic Day

Reindeer coming
Negotiating the ski fences with ease

Andi and I headed out a few weeks ago on a lovely sunny morning to search for the free-ranging herd – we had a spy and there was no obvious sign but they’d been hanging around the northern corries all week so we decided that was the way to go! While we toddled up the path to the corries we realised that pretty much a year to the day was my first week working with the herd and one of the most epic reindeer finding days I’ve experienced so far where we both walked over 10 miles up into the hills and found no reindeer.

As irony would have it the further we walked the less likely it seemed the reindeer were anywhere close to us, we had a wee sit down and a planning session about which one of us would walk where and luckily turned around to see a rather large group of reindeer pretty much at the top of Cairngorm. This was great – we’d found them! However, it was half past nine which meant we had but an hour and a half to walk ourselves back out of the corries and up Cairngorm then back down again to place the reindeer somewhere sensible for the visit at 11 o’clock. Time was definitely against us so we tanked it back to the van, swapped our big bags of food for something a bit more sociable and, hopeful of blagging a lift, headed into the funicular railway station. The lovely people on the desk fortunately took pity on us and we got a lovely ride to the top of the hill, amongst the skiers and snowboarders, with the reindeer shining beautifully on the top ridge in the morning sunshine. Sorted we thought, phase one of our mission accomplished!

Reindeer sighted
Good view across to the reindeer from the funicular railway

Unfortunately, once we walked out of the base station it seemed the reindeer had had other ideas and promptly disappeared. We walked aimlessly shouting and shouting as we followed the path down Windy ridge and eventually we found the group hot footing it over to the Ciste side of the ridge. All were collected in dribs and drabs and we set about getting them down the hill on time. In fact it went amazingly to plan, the girls even made use of the lovely path down Windy ridge and at one minute to eleven they were all deposited out on the flats for the 11am visit. All was well for the day… or so we thought!

Reindeer following
Good girls following us down Cairngorm

In the afternoon we usually go for a second spy around the roads to make sure the girls aren’t on the ski carparks creating havoc and this afternoon seemed normal, the reindeer were out of sight and presumed to be up in the corries again. You should never presume with the reindeer though as at 4.30pm someone dropped in to say the whole herd were pretty much chilling on the carpark – not what you want to hear late on a Friday! Once again, Andi and I trooped up to move the mischievous girls who through a stroke of luck were following really well. In the end we walked the whole group out across the flats, crossing a few burns and getting soggy along the way, into our mountain hill enclosure which is right where we want them to be in time for calving starting in a few days’ time. At six o’clock we dragged ourselves back to Reindeer House soggy, muddy and slightly garlic scented from the reindeer feed. It was a long day but naughty reindeer ended up working in our favour and we had yet another successful epic day!

Abby

Herder Zac – Moving on to Pastures New

Zac with the herd
Zac in his element

Zac initially came to work here when he was fulfilling his high school work experience week in September 2010. When he turned up, all 6’8” of him, we couldn’t quite believe the height of this 15 year old… of course going through our minds was ‘great, think how much feed he can carry up the hill!!!’ On his very first day, Zac was certainly keen and a hard worker so fitted in well to the Reindeer Centre team. It was the rutting season and during our guided tour Zac became a bit more acquainted with Grunter (our two and a half year old hand-reared bull with LOTS of character!) than he would have liked, as Grunter managed to mount poor Zac and, even at his height, Grunter got both hooves on each shoulder and did manage to leave him with a wee cut behind his ear… Oops, sorry, don’t tell the school!!! Needless to say this didn’t put Zac off and he finished his week of work experience with us – in fact we liked him so much we offered him a weekend job which he was delighted about.

3yo Zac
Starting our herders young… Zac visiting the reindeer at the tender age of 3

Over the past 4.5 years, Zac has been an absolute star. He is hard working, trustworthy, and going by our visitors’ reviews gives the best guided tours out of all of us. He is great with the reindeer and although he does tower over them slightly they are always very settled in his company. His quiet nature and calmness is the perfect behaviour around the reindeer. He has been with us through thick and thin, through the depths of winter and heights of summer and has even managed to survive the time of year that tests us all… Christmas!!! He has seen reindeer come and go and I think is still the only herder to have a reindeer calve on their guided tour. A lot of us herders rarely get to see a reindeer give birth at all, let alone for it to happen on a guided tour! Dixie decided that day that wandering away from the herd to calve would mean she missed out on hand feeding so why not kill two birds with one stone and have the calf on the visit so hand feeding was still an option!

Reindeer one-sies
Trying to be reindeer – Zac and Ben showing off their reindeer onesies!

He may have been lucky that time, but calving isn’t necessarily Zac’s favourite time of year as in 2014 we all took part in a sweep stake: which reindeer would calve first! Whoever lost had to swim in the loch, which in May is pretty much just snow melt… very, very cold!!! Zac chose Oatcake, a 5 year old female, who not only calved last out of all the chosen females, but calved last out of the whole herd, so it was time for Zac to dig out his swimming shorts. He was a good sport though and completed the forfeit with a smile on his face.

Sleigh training
Sleigh training – the Pattison family catching a ride whilst Zac acts as the “brake”

We will all miss Zac a lot and he has certainly left a hole in our weekends. The dogs are definitely going to miss him too as when Mardi (Zac’s mum) picks him up after work she comes with dog treats which have been known to include roast beef… The dogs become completely devoted to her when she is here and we get no sense from them at all! We wish him all the best in his future which I’m sure will include many great adventures along the way. He is a gentle giant who has left a great big footprint at Reindeer House which I am hoping one day he will fill again, even if it’s to visit or pick up the odd bit of work – he knows he is always welcome… Once a reindeer herder, always a reindeer herder!!!

Fiona