My memories of the reindeer (part one)

Beth has been visiting us for most of her life, and has now become a valued occasional volunteer. Here’s her account of her involvement with the reindeer, in her own words.

It all started when mum and dad booked a toddler break to Aviemore back in 2001. I was 2 years old. I can barely remember it. But all I know is this toddler break has a lot to answer for! My first memory of the reindeer was actually being at home here in Harrogate. Sat in my mum and dads bedroom one
morning asking for a “Biscuit”. However back then I would call it a “bissy”. The reason this relates to the reindeer is the first reindeer we adopted as a family was called Biscuit, all because I used to call biscuits ‘bissy’s’.

Feeding Biscuit in later years

Fast forward to May 2008 and we went up to Aviemore for my birthday. By this time we had the two time-shares at the Coylumbridge, my brother Brody had been born and we had many memories made at what was the Hilton Hotel (now owned by a different company but still The Coylumbridge Hotel). It’s the
23rd May, my 9th birthday and we head up onto the hillside for a hill trip. Staying till the very end Fiona and Emily invited me into the smaller enclosure by the hut at the top. That was when I met the reindeer Elvis. That is a day I will never forget.

Now this is where my dates and times get all muddled up, cause I can’t quite remember what order things happened or what years they took place. But I’ll try my best to keep the events in order and try remember some years they happened! Now, I have always loved the reindeer and the species has
fascinated me. However I wasn’t always so confident around them. If it wasn’t for Tilly Smith being up on one of the hill trips one day I’m not sure how long after it would’ve taken me to feed a reindeer from my hands. I can quite honestly remember Tilly grabbing my hands and putting me in front of a reindeer with her still holding me and letting the reindeer eat the food we had for it. From that point on, you had a hard task getting me off the hillside! We went up to celebrate Christmas one year, I think it was 2005. It was magical. Christmas Eve was spectacular. The crowds down in Aviemore watching the parade go through the town and then the morning of Christmas Day… watching Father Christmas arrive at the hotel with reindeer pulling his sleigh.
The morning was great. We queued up to see Father Christmas and meet the reindeer. Once that had finished we all went outside to wave goodbye to Father Christmas as he left. That’s when Tilly pulled me up and sat me on the sleigh next to Father Christmas. I was one very lucky little girl. One very spectacular Christmas with memories I cherish.

Christmas in Aviemore!

Our first Christmas Event seeing the Reindeer was over in Scarborough. I can’t remember much of it but I remember being on my dads shoulders with my mum next to him with my little brother in the pushchair. We looked over the wall at the back of the Boyes store and saw the reindeer getting ready for the parade. I can’t remember who was there and what we did after. But I remember loving every moment of it. I have so many happy memories, and so much to tell! It’s like I’m telling my life through the reindeer. I remember in about 2007 we went to Tilly’s farm for our first farm visit. It was amazing! I loved seeing all the animals and what made the day for me was Tilly allowed me to ride on the back of the quad bike… I can tell you now – I did not get off it till the end of the visit! It also brings back a sad memory as it’s the last time we saw our adopted reindeer Biscuit before he sadly passed away.

The reindeer have brought so many good things my way. Aviemore is my favourite place to visit. During lockdown I have dreamed about being up there and when I’m not having a good day, I think of the happy memories and I instantly smile. I have made so many good friendships from the holidays I have had up in Aviemore and not just through the reindeer… but if I went into detail about all those lovely people you’d never hear the end of it! I am holding on to hope that I get to go up to Aviemore in October and share the memories and introduce my partner and his daughter to the staff at the Reindeer Centre and share the reindeer experience with them. Two years too long and I miss the place dearly!

Feeding Crowdie in 2018

Now I can’t remember when I started volunteering for the Reindeer Centre but I can not thank the staff there enough. My confidence would not be half as good as it is today if it wasn’t for experiences they offered me and the memories I made with them.

First time I helped out at a reindeer event at Christmas time was at Stockeld Park in Wetherby. They were there for a Saturday and Sunday. We went to see them on Saturday and I’m pretty sure it was Fiona and Heather. My face lit up the moment Fiona asked me to help. I couldn’t wait. I remember having the biggest grin on my face as I walked round at the back of the sleigh. I also remember being very nervous and scared when people asked me questions about reindeer! But as time went on my knowledge grew ( I am pretty sure if there were an exam about reindeer I’d get 100%). I can remember that weekend well. I was asked if I would like to go back and help them on them on the Sunday and of course I said yes! However… the morning of the Sunday I was representing my school at Stonefall Cemetery, laying red roses down on the graves of our fallen soldiers as it was Remembrance Sunday. So I ended up doing the reindeer parade in my school uniform!

Hamish pulling the sleigh, and Moose accompanying me at the back!

When I tell you, the first time I worked two full days with the reindeer in Scotland one year, it was a downpour of rain, gale-force winds and hailstones… it’s no lie! But it did not put me off! I loved every moment of it. I was scared at first and being so young I can remember not knowing much of what to say or do. But that was just the beginning… After that every holiday I went on I volunteered for two of the days we were up there during the week. It was usually an October we went so the weather was not always the best. But it
never put me off. I just threw on my waterproofs and wellies and got on with it!

Beth will be back for another blog later in the year with more of her story about why the reindeer herd mean so much to her 😀

A day at the farm

Whilst I’m normally based over at the main visitor centre in Glenmore, with the current chaotic situation I’m spending a lot more of my time at our second base, the hill farm at Glenlivet. The Smiths have farmed there since 1990, specializing in native breeds such as Belted Galloway cattle, Soay sheep and Wild boar crosses, plus of course extra summer hill grazing for our lovely reindeer herd. I thought I’d give all of you wonderful folk a snapshot of one of my typical days at the farm…

7.15am: Up bright and early, it’s a glorious sunny day outside. Breakfast, pack my lunch (leftovers from last night, win!) and plenty of snacks, just like the reindeer my appetite is never satisfied!

Nice way to start the day…

7.55am: Out of the house to head over to the farm. It’s about a 35 minute drive for me, and at the moment it’s rare for me to pass more than a couple of cars. Not a bad commute!

8.30am: Arrive at the farm and make a plan for the day. The morning is usually spent feeding the animals. I load up the quad bike, a lifesaver when lugging heavy feed up hilly fields!

9am: First stop, the pigs. We have a mix of Wild boar and Tamworth, also known as “Iron Age” pigs. They get fed first because if you leave them too late they make a pretty big effort to break out and come and find the food themselves! When I first met the pigs years ago, I was a little daunted as they charge up and down grunting and slathering ready to eat, but actually they’re pretty well behaved and haven’t attempted to nibble on me yet!

Next up are some of the Soay sheep and Red deer. Soays are quite wild in nature, a lot more skittish than most sheep you’ll meet, which also means they’re hardy and self-sufficient, rarely needing any assistance lambing or seeking much shelter from the weather. But they do enjoy some extra feed! The red deer are very different from the reindeer, much livelier and jumpier, but come charging after the quad in expectation! Their antlers are growing at an insane rate – every time I see them they seem to be a few inches bigger…

10am: After reloading the quad with more feed, it’s up the hill to check on the reindeer. Throughout spring we have the male reindeer in what we call the “French” enclosure, as it’s where we initially housed our reindeer who joined us from France in 1995 (original hey?!). There is a large shed which is handy for providing shade and also for handling the reindeer for vaccinations etc, and the enclosure extends right up onto the hillside, providing natural grazing.

Roman decides I’m being too slow to put the feed out…
Trough of feed = happy reindeer

The reindeer have pretty good body clocks and are ready and waiting, and cheerfully come in to eat their food from the troughs round the shed. This gives us an opportunity to check everyone looks happy and healthy – we’re already into tick season, and these biting pests can make our reindeer poorly. Today though, everyone is fine, so after chatting to everyone and admiring their lovely antlers, also growing fast though nowhere near as large as the ones on the red deer, it’s back down the hill.

Dr Seuss showing off his new antler growth
Spartan has a good set coming along
Strudel
Stenoa looking… handsome?!
Young Sherlock
Beastie, Jonas and Matto
Houdini, Origami and Bovril enjoying lunch
Atlantic
Atlantic’s older brother, Hamish
Bingo
Old lad Bourbon
Another of our old boys, Moose
Olympic
Young bull Pratchett
Svalbard

11.30am: Powered by a good cup of coffee (essential!) and a snack, my next job is mixing up a big batch of reindeer feed. We have worked out a good combination which is perfect as a supplement to the natural grazing our reindeer have on the hills. They do love their feed, it helps them put on body condition in the summer and maintain condition through winter, and means they’re pleased to see us every day – in the same way that I like to see people who have a habit of bringing me cake! We use a repurposed cement mixer to do the hard work for us, and bag it ready for the next few days of feeding the herd.

Mixing feed

1pm: Lunch! Working outdoors makes you hungry, a great excuse to eat plenty of food! (I think I just take after the reindeer…).

1.45pm: I hitch up the snacker trailer to the back of the quad and fill it with feed for the Belted Galloway herd. The cattle were in fields in the glen, across the river, so getting there involves a bit of hopping on and off the quad to open and close gates. Once there, I run out the feed in a line and count the cattle to check they’re all present. It’s calving season and the new calves look incredibly fresh and clean, like they’ve just been through the wash!

The Belties are delighted to go anywhere for food.
Look at them go!
Dolly the Highland cow, and a beltie calf

3pm: The rest of the afternoon is taken up with odds and ends, sorting out a delivery of burgers and sausages into the appropriate freezers ready for sale, packing firewood into storage, and folding up tarpaulins… there is never a shortage of things to do on a farm, even when I can’t drive a tractor!

5pm: Homeward bound. I’m tired after being on my feet for most of the day, but I’m so grateful that I can spend my time like this – I’m appreciative of how lucky I am to be out in the country, working with animals and able to pretty much forget what is going on across our planet. The reindeer, cattle and sheep have no idea that our lives have changed so much in the past couple of months – they are still living life as normal and expect us to feed and care for them as normal. It’s a welcome break from the news and social media updates which can be pretty worrying at present. Whilst you may not be able to escape to a remote hill farm, I hope you can find your own escape if you’re finding things hard, whether that is in a good book, taking a new route for your daily exercise, or deciding to turn off your laptop and phone for a day. Take care all!

Andi