The whole herd in one day

It’s not often we see all of our reindeer in one day but on this occasion in February myself and Lotti between our two sites here on Cairngorm and Glenlivet we saw all of the reindeer.

It started with a trip to our enclosure. Over the February half term we have decided that due to how busy the area is and the disturbance form people and dogs for our reindeer free ranging that for the two weeks of half term that we would take a small herd into our enclosure to guarantee Hill Trips, rather than take a group of visitors a 40 minute walk out into the mountains only for the reindeer to have been chased away by hikers with dogs. We figured our female reindeer, who predominantly free range most of the year, it would be a small price for them to pay for two weeks. So Lotti and I headed up first thing for their morning feed and check. While we were up there the free ranging herd of cows and calves had also made their way in for an easy feed so that was all the reindeer on Cairngorm checked by 9.30am… We must be good herders 😉

Pavlova here on Cairngorm.

Once we came off the hill we had to do some vehicle swapping with our farm over at Glenlivet so Lotti and I headed over there to do just that. When we arrived they were busy splitting some red deer who were being relocated so Tilly suggested that we headed up onto the hill with a few bags of feed to see if we could find the reindeer on their winter grazing. Like Cairngorm, the reindeer on our Glenlivet site range the mountains which has particular good lichen heath, lichen being a reindeers favourite food!

Firstly, we wrapped up warm. One difference between Glenlivet and Cairngorm is we can access the hill by quad bike on Glenlivet whereas everything is done on foot here on Cairngorm. When walking we keep warm but when we’re on a quad bike it gets pretty chilly. So the two of us looked like Michelin Men… or Women! We arrived at the top of the track and immediately greeted by 20-30 reindeer. We gave the others a call the best we could in the high winds then I left Lotti to give the calves some preferential feeding while I went on a bit further on the quad to see if I could locate some more.

The herd out free roaming on our 2nd site.
Cottage and Silk.
Flax.
Jenga.
Vienna.

I gave a good call and from various different directions came a few reindeer here and a few reindeer there eventually equating to them all. I was most delighted to see Sunny of course. He was the hand reared male reindeer from 2022 and I definitely have a soft spot for him. He still comes over when I shout ‘calf, calf’! Winnie and Alba our two hand reared female calves form 2023 were delighted to see us… I say us, they were delighted to see the food!

Adzuki and Sherlock.

So all in all, Lotti and I saw the whole herd that day which does happen now and again but it is rare.

Fiona

Sherlock’s Antlers

Sherlock in September 2022.

Despite spending the last 40+ years devoting my life to the Cairngorm Reindeer I am still fascinated by the annual cycle of reindeer growing their new velvet antlers, then stripping the velvet to reveal hard bony antlers and finally casting their antlers and growing a new set next year.

It is an amazing process, hugely demanding on their resources, but very beneficial to the individual whether they are males competing for females in the rut or females and young males competing for food in the winter.

The older mature males grow the most impressive antlers and for them the process of growing their new velvet antlers begins before the end of the winter and continues until they strip the velvet from the antlers around the middle of August, in preparation for the rutting season. The bigger the antlers the more likely they are to ‘win’ a fight and so claim a harem of females, so big antlers are important.

Sherlock – 8th of April 2023.
Sherlock – 9th of May 2023.
Sherlock – 6th of June 2023.

One of our main breeding bulls Sherlock showed all the signs of growing a pretty big set of antlers last year and by the autumn he didn’t disappoint us. Luckily for us he is a real gentleman among reindeer and although he sported these great weapons on his head, he was never aggressive towards us and we could still safely go in beside him and his breeding females on a daily basis to feed and check them all.

Sherlock – 29th of August 2023 – stripping the velvet.
Sherlock in the rut with Bordeaux in front of him on the 2nd of October 2023.

But their glory doesn’t last long and having spent 5 ½ months growing their antlers the breeding males are the first to cast their antlers at the end of the rut and before the winter sets in. So only about 10-12 weeks of glory with big hard antlers to fight with!

Spartan, who is a couple of years older than Sherlock was first to cast his antlers in the middle of November so I knew it wouldn’t be long before Sherlock was antlerless too. Two weeks later and off came one of Sherlock’s antlers making him very lopsided! Then a couple more days and the other one had fallen.

So now we are in 2024 and Sherlock, who was so dominant in the autumn, has been at the bottom of the pecking order over the winter.

Sherlock with no antlers in January 2024.
Sherlock just beginning to grow his antlers on the 28th February 2024.
Sherlock on the left on the with his lovely velvet antlers growing well, still free roaming in the hills – 30th of March 2024.
It’s in the genes! Sherlock’s mum, Caddis, grew very large antlers for a female.

Tilly

Characters

Visitors often ask how on earth we tell apart the 150-strong herd of reindeer. Whilst there is variation in colour, markings and antler shape, one of the biggest distinguishing features is actually character. Just like people, reindeer come in every shade of cheeky, shy, friendly, stand-offish, bolshy, greedy, intelligent, daft… I thought I might mention a few stand out character types, past and present!

Overexcited Labrador

Aztec leading the herd – look at that expectant face

Step up, Aztec! Always the first to be involved, always wanting to “help”, very friendly, lovable, and not a manner to be seen if there is a mere sniff of food… Fun, but a bit of a liability.

Also falling into this category: Kipling, Bumble, Eco

The Thinker

Olmec paying careful consideration to all potential outcomes

Reserved and steady, not always the easiest to catch but utterly dependable when out on tour. Olmec, I’m looking at you.

Also applies to: Dragonfly

TV Diva

HM with her adoring fan Lotti

Introducing the one and only Holy Moley… who knows full well that she basically had her own TV documentary and hence feels that every visitor is there to see her and her alone.

Also: Dr Seuss appears to feel that his minor starring role in the same show entitles him to extra food portions every single day too.

Sweet as Pie, Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly

Sweet Diamond, with Hopper in the background

Beautiful light-coloured Diamond has to be one of the gentlest souls in the herd. She walks with a slight limp after an injury back in her younger days, which of course means we all (needlessly) slip her extra bits of feed. 

Also: Amber, Esme, Sunflower

Loyal and True

Okapi in her usual position – right in the footsteps of the herder

Certain reindeer can always be relied upon when we’re moving the free-range herd – they’ll be near the front, they willingly have a headcollar put on, they trustingly plod behind you whilst the rest of the herd debate whether your bribe is worth coming for. Okapi, you’re the star here.

Also: Olympic

The Boy Band Pin-Up

Sherlock, admired by all!

Sherlock has to be one of the most impressive looking reindeer in the herd today, and he also knows how to work it. Some reindeer naturally prick their ears for a photo, and seem to offer their best side!

Also: Elvis, of whom there was never a bad photo taken!

Grumpy Old Men (and Women)

That look in Pony’s eye which was the precursor to antlers being aimed at you! We were always grateful when she cast her antlers each year, though she would then resort to using her front feet!

Bond may only be 5 years old, but he definitely ticks every box for “grouchy” – you only need to look at him and he rolls his eyes at the thought that you might try to interact with him. Likewise, walking too near Lace or Turtle is likely to extract a swing of the antlers and a snap of the mouth as a warning.  Turtle is Pony’s daughter, who was perhaps the grumpiest reindeer we’ve ever had in the herd, so it’s definitely inherited!

Also: Addja once implanted his antlers into my leg when in a bad mood, only to cast one, which definitely didn’t make him any more cheery (though it did make me chuckle at the instant karma).

Big Friendly Giant

Scrabble, our very own BFG!

One of the tallest, heftiest reindeer in the herd, Scrabble was a bit of a liability in his youth as he was just so keen to meet everyone, and somewhat unaware of his sheer size. It almost seemed that his bum was so far away from his brain that he couldn’t keep track of the children he was wiping out as he turned around… Now he’s an old fella so a bit steadier, but just as friendly and enormous!

Also: Comet

Don’t Mess With…

Brie acting like butter wouldn’t melt… until she disagrees with the program

Brie may look little and cute, but her first instinct if she doesn’t like something is to beat it/them with her antlers, and whilst she both she and her antlers may be small, she is ANGRY. As Mel once found out when leading Brie, and Brie decided she did NOT want to be there…

Also: Spy. If Spy has calved, it usually takes about four herders, all hiding behind gates/fences to move her where we want her to be.

Andi

Well hello boys!

In the autumn, we move all of our entire males (apart from the 2 or 3 lucky chosen breeding bulls) over to our hill farm, away from the females and out of trouble for the duration of the breeding season. With no hint of love on the air, this keeps them calmer and easier to manage, though they still enjoy play-fighting. By December the rut is over and our breeding bulls have also joined them, so there is a slight vibe of an all-boys hangout. As Tilly is caring for these fellas every day, and she is less up on her social media, I thought I’d take the opportunity to grab some photos for you all this week when I was over at the hill farm.

Boys hanging out chilling in the sunshine on the hill
Tub heading over to see what’s up
Spartan is a picture of relaxation! Pure white yearling 99, and Cornetto are closest to camera.
Jester and Scoop resting up for winter
Yearling males 99, Kulfi, Cornetto and Zoom
The bulls spend a lot of time practicing their tussling skills – here’s a friendly bout between 99 and Zoom
2-year-old Akubra looks a bit sleepy for tussling just now!
2 year old Cowboy (centre) is certainly in charge of yearlings Calippo (left) and Iskrem (right)
Too close Calippo!
Pure white 99
The more mature bulls have already cast their antlers. Spartan and Sherlock are now getting a rest from carrying all that weight on their heads!
Look at that big fuzzy nose! Mr Morse.
Mr Whippy is the biggest of the yearlings
Like some of the other young bulls, Zap has broken parts of his antlers. He’ll grow back a full set next year after casting this set, a completely natural process.
Sunny, who we hand-reared last year. He’s grown into a very handsome fella.
Big Morse and young Kulfi enjoying the winter sun.

Andi

A Family Affair

I thought I’d write a bit about the family trees of our herd for this week’s blog, since they work a little differently from a ‘standard’ human family tree. Those of you who have been adopting an individual reindeer within our herd for a while will probably have received a family tree at some point, as we send them out with adoption packs in even years of sponsorship (2nd, 4th, 6th etc) normally. I say ‘will probably have received’ however, as the Swedish born reindeer in our herd obviously don’t have them, and if you’ve only ever adopted the herd as a whole then you’ll not have seen one before.

We record the lineage of the reindeer born here in the herd, stretching back to the original ones imported from Sweden in the 50s, through the maternal line only (on the trees at least – of course we record the father of each calf on our database to keep track of their genetics). More dimensions than a sheet of A4 can offer would be required for anything more than the maternal line in this form however. Let’s look at a sample of a tree (apologies, you’ll probably have to zoom in to see it properly):

(no, I didn’t mean to scan in a leaf as well as the tree…)

This tree (above) is the one currently in use for the living descendants of female reindeer Russia (highlighted in red), born in 2005. As an example, you would receive this particular tree if you adopt Morse – you can see that he is the second of four calves for his mum Torch, herself the first of three offspring for Pavlova. Pavlova’s mum was Russia, Russia’s mum was Cherry, and so on. This goes right the way back to Vilda at the top, one of the reindeer brought over to Scotland in the 3rd consignment to join the growing herd, back in 1954. This particular family tree currently stands at 10 generations in the maternal line. In reality it’s actually more than that, as Morse himself is a breeding bull with multiple offspring, but let’s just stick to the maternal line and not confuse matters!

Vilda in 1955, aged 2 years old. The ancestor of many, many members of our herd!

But again A4 paper has it’s limitations, and as Russia’s mum Cherry (highlighted green on the tree above) was such a productive breeding female then this tree has had to be split into multiple ones once all her calves started calving themselves and we ran out of space. So Cherry’s descendants are now on three separate trees, the top halves of which are all identical until Cherry and her nine calves, but then different below. So Cherry’s daughter Cello (highlighted red below) went on to lots of descendants mainly via her daughter Fonn, who are on this tree:

…whilst another daughter, Tjakko (highlighted red below), was also very productive, as seen on this version of the tree:

This explains why sometimes we chat away about a relative of your reindeer in your adoption letter – who doesn’t seem to exist on the tree you’ve also received in your pack. We haven’t made them up – they’re just on an adjacent branch of their tree that you don’t have!

At times we get a family line that effectively runs out of breeding females – a so-called ‘dead line’. Not the nicest of names perhaps, but it is what is says on the tin… Tjakko’s tree, above, is an example of this – the only living female still remaining on it is Ibex, now too old to breed, so this tree will never change. As a result in this situation we stop sending the trees out to adopters once they’ve received it in it’s final state, as there’s no point receiving it again and again with no additions. Ibex does actually have descendants but they are on yet another permutation of this tree, showing her offspring and those of Bumble.

Within the animal world, there is quite a ‘flexible’, shall we say, approach to age and generations, in comparison to humans at least. We tend to breed our female reindeer up to the age of around 12 or 13, but usually only with a bull aged 3-5. This is because we castrate our male reindeer at this age, but females are never castrated as there’s no need for us to do so. Reindeer calve first (usually) at age 3, so a 3 year old bull could be three generations younger than some of his ladies, if he has a 12 year old cow in his harem. Questionable, in the human world anyway, but no reindeer eyebrows are raised. 

5 year old bull Sherlock during this year’s rut, with his older ladies (left to right) Feta (10), Jenga (12) and Torch (11).

The shortest family tree I can find is that of Okapi, consisting of only 8 generations in total including Vilda back in 1954. But again this is a family that has calved itself into a breeding cul-de-sac, as it were, with no new additions since 2013. In contrast, the most generations in a tree is 13, with two year old Sombrero and yearling Solero the most recent of the generations.

Okapi’s family tree (she has outlived both of her calves).

I thought that as a final part to this blog – and a way of getting some photos of actual reindeer into it – here’s some photo evidence of the 8 generations of Okapi’s tree. Vilda we’ve seen already, and I can’t actually find a photo of Sarah. We will no doubt have one in the albums, but we’ve only digitised up to the early 60s so far so I don’t have one to hand… But then comes Eidart, who was apparently the first reindeer that herd owner Tilly ever met, when she arrived here in 1981:

Eidart, with one of her calves

Eidart’s final calf was Trout, who held the joint record for oldest ever member of the herd (aged 18) for many years, until 19 year old Lilac stole her crown.

Trout in her latter years

Trout was an extremely productive female, with 11 calves to her name, the final one being Amber:

Amber

…whose first calf was Esme….

Esme

…the mother of Okapi.

Okapi

And finally – the end of the line – came Oka. Sadly she died before producing any offspring herself, effectively bringing this line of reindeer to an abrupt end.

Oka

So there you have it, a bit of info about our family trees. So should you get one in your next adoption pack, you can think about all those reindeer who came before your lovely adoptee.

Hen

Photo Blog: October 2023

Here’s a selection of pics taken throughout the month, hopefully giving a snap shot of what we’ve been getting up to. It’s been full on with the rut taking place in the enclosure, our breeding bulls do now seem a bit less enthusiastic after a busy six weeks for them! We’ve also been bringing two calves at a time down to the Paddocks to halter train them. They usually spend around four days here in which we take them out on morning walks to get them used to seeing traffic, bikes, their own reflections in shiny windows and whatever else Glenmore can throw at us at 8am! Christmas sleigh training for our three year old Christmas Reindeer begins too. So far Adzuki, Haricot and Hemp have been trained and they’ve all been total pros. During the October holidays when our 11am Hill Trip sells out we’ve been putting on an afternoon Hill Trip too. Funnily enough, during the rain and wind of Storm Babet we did not require this attentional visit. But after the storm we’ve been treated to some gorgeous autumnal weather and the first decent snow on the hills of the season.

Amongst all of this we’ve also managed to get the October newsletter written, printed and sent out to our lovely adopters! Until it’s safely in the hands of our adopters I’ve left all calf names out of the blog.

2nd of October – Sherlock watching over Bordeaux whilst she eats her breakfast.
4th of October – Haricot puling the sleigh like a pro -his second time ever!
5th of October- Olympic looking very handsome pulling the sleigh with very special cargo on board – Tilly and her grand children!
7th of October – Fly looking very soggy on an incredibly wet day! She’s 16 and is now of of the oldest reindeer in our herd.
7th of October – Emm, our wonderful volunteer, is here brightening up even the wettest of days, alongside Holy Moley and calf.
10th of October – Druid, excellent at striking a pose!
12th of October – Cicero and Lupin vying for their moment in the blog.
13th of October – A morning at the farm to help Tilly feed the bulls. Here’s Busby, cheeky as ever!
18th of October – Checking in with some of the cows in Sherlock’s breeding group. Here we have Pumpkin, Torch and Pip.
19th of October – An incredibly wet Hill Trip. Gloriana and Borlotti closest to the camera with the herd behind, waiting for their lunch.
23rd of October – Blue skies!! Jenga, Sunflower and Feta posing beautifully.
24th of October – Borlotti and her cute calf with a big pile of breakfast.
26th of October – Ryvita, Sambar and Sika leading a lovely free range group of girls.

Ruth

Photo Blog: September 2023

I love September! The reindeer look super, we’re busy with free ranging reindeer, we name the calves and we start learning their individual personalities, plus the rut kicks off. Having said that, I planned a two week holiday in one of my favourite months – must remember not to do that again! So there is a big gap in the photos for this month’s blog, but I’ve made up for it by just sharing more from the same day.

Just a reminder – we don’t reveal the names of the calves online until our adopters receive their newsletter next month.

2nd of September- Sambar (in the background) and Okapi. Both now 15 years old and looking great for their age. This was taken on one of my reindeer retrieval missions.
3rd of September – Brie and her wee daughter. Back in the enclosure and both looking good after a summer free ranging.
4th of September -Mangetout looking beautiful on a lovely autumnal afternoon. Her daughter and her new sister (belonging to mum Dante) are the calves behind her.
19th of September (a) – After a TWO week holiday, I’m back to work and the first job is to split the reindeer for the rut. Exciting times! Here is Fiona putting some cows out on Silver Mount, an area within the hill enclosure.
19th of September (b) – Step two is to add the bull! Fiona and I took Sherlock for a walk to the enclosure. Here he is off to find his girls – a man on a mission!
19th of September (c) – Our other breeding bull is three year old Jelly. He looks a bit less sure about the situation compared to Sherlock but he quickly got the idea.
20th of September – Holy Moley and her calf behind. Holy Moley is delighted to be back in the enclosure after the summer in the hills. Here she is on the hunt for more hand feed.
21st of September – Sherlock with some of his girls – Bordeaux, Pip and Jenga.
22nd of September – Trying to get a nice pic of Mushy and Jenga but Bordeaux wants in on the action. Or maybe it’s the white bag under my arm.
22nd of September – Christmas Reindeer, Frost and Adzuki, looking handsome in the late afternoon sunshine.
26th of September – Emmental is the first to the feed bag on today’s Hill Trip.
26th of September – Girls out free ranging! These are some of our single ladies, either too young to breed or retired from breeding. From L to R: Vanilla, Sorbet, Diamond, Sambar, Lolly, Solero and Suidhe (sticking her tongue out!)
26th of September – Catching up with this old lady on the free range! Diamond is now 11 years old and looking super. She is stripping the velvet off her antlers.

Ruth

Reindeer Identification

What a lovely herd, but how do you learn all their names?

Reindeer identification is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of the work here at the Reindeer Centre. Of course there are a few individual reindeer that are very distinctive and easy to spot like Sherlock with those enormous antlers and Dr Suess with his with white nose. I’m also pretty confident telling apart the two white yearling males (99 and Mr Whippy) as long as they’re not too far away!

Sherlock is a very distinctive boy with big antlers.
Most visitors to the hill will be able to recognise Dr Seuss within a few mins of meeting him.

I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to try to get to know who’s who for the less obvious members of the herd. During the summer months while I’m here, the hill enclosure is home to a lovely smaller herd made up of some of the bulls. It’s a good time to try to learn a few reindeer while they’re part of a smaller group and I can see them most days.

The ear tags on the reindeer are colour coded depending on the year they are born, for example last years calves all have red ear tags (I was lucky enough to be volunteering the day they were tagged!). As a rule, I tend to look for any distinguishing features first like coat colour, markings, antler shape and size, and body size. After that, I’ll try to spot what colour the ear tag is. Some of the older reindeer are easier because there are fewer to choose from with that year’s colour ear tag.

Zoom showing off his red ear tag. But it’s his white face markings and cheeky character which give his identity away!

As well as the more obvious physical features, its been really helpful to speak to the other herders to get hints and tips on how they remember who’s who. For example, Sheena pointed out that Poirot’s antlers come out straight from his forehead like two fingers or the number “11” and his number is “211”. Isla told me how she remembers Arta’s name because the pattern on his nose looks like artwork and Mollie told me that Cicero has the biggest of the silvery coloured antlers.

Poirot having a snooze in the Paddocks. The unique shape of his left antler helps Fran identify him.

This week I learned that Merida, Dr. Suess’ mum, also has a lovely white face and I was able to spot my personal favourite, Beanie, thanks to her lovely speckly nose and the fact that she was with a group of two cows with their calves.

Merida on the left has a very distinctive white hourglass face markings. But who are the others?! Chickpea is in the middle and Solero on the right.

However, often, just when I get the hang of this ID game, things start to change. The boys summer coats don’t really last more that a few weeks it seems so no sooner was I was feeling very confident identifying Lupin and Kernel with their beautiful dark summer coats they’re both already growing their winter coats! We’re also bringing some of the girls into the enclosure which is adding ever more complexity to the task. My ID skills are definitely a work in progress and I’m loving taking every opportunity to watch the herd and learn who everybody is.

Lupin in his short dark summer coat at the end of June…
…2 months later at the end of August, Lupin is growing through his winter coat and is looking more silvery.
Fran helping to bring some more free ranging girls into the enclosure. Yet more names to learn!

Fran

Photo Blog: August 2023

August has been a fun month. The first half of the month was super busy with holiday makers but as Scottish schools went back the second half of the month got slightly quieter with visitors and we’ve been having lots of free range action which I love. Generally we start to see the free ranging females more as they come down in altitude as the weather gets cooler. Towards the end of the month we also start bringing in the mums and their calves back into the enclosure. They spend June through to August/early September out roaming the hills learning how to be little wild reindeer and enjoying all the best grazing, but when the autumn rolls around it’s time for them to learn what a feed bag is and in time, how to walk on a halter etc. The following photos are a small snapshot of what’s been occurring…

8th of August – Fab and her mum Juniper out on the free range. Juniper is currently the only reindeer in the herd who doesn’t grow antlers.
9th of August – Okapi out free ranging. I had her on a halter as she was my chosen ‘Judas reindeer’, helping me move a small herd of cows from one hillside to another.
11th of August – The herd in the enclosure relaxing in between Hill Trips.
12th of August – Sorbet, a yearling female, grazing between the big boys! Behind her is Dr Seuss and Morse, and she’s sandwiched between Spartan and Poirot.
14th of August – Joe feeding the herd in the enclosure their breakfast. Vanilla is the white reindeer at the back.
17th of August – The herd on the move in the beautiful late afternoon sunshine.
18th of August – After finding a few too many holes, Amy B and Cameron decide to replace the tonne bag that sits underneath the cement mixer where we mix the reindeer food. But which one to go for? Big dilemma to discuss in the office.
20th of August – Andi and a sea of velvet antlers. Dr Seuss and his distinctive white face at the front.
21st of August – After finding a bunch of cows and calves up on the Cas car park on her day off, I roped Fran in to helping me bring them in to the enclosure. Was a very fun and successful afternoon.
22nd of August – Another busy morning, bringing yet more cows and calves into the enclosure. Here’s Hopscotch and calf.
26th of August – Lupin looking incredibly handsome even on a soggy day.
27th of August – Lovely to have males, females and the calves all in the enclosure. The cow lying down is the lovely Marple and Sherlock is in the big bull in the background.
28th of August – Turtle back in the enclosure after a summer out. Both her and her calf are looking good.
29th of August – Another free range mission to go and retrieve this little cutie and her mum Pinto. They are both looking super and are now back in our hill enclosure for the autumn,
29th of August – Sherlock stripping his velvet. The next day we brought him down to the Paddocks.

Ruth

Volunteer Blog: My Journey to the Cairngorms

What started off looking for volunteering opportunities for my daughter, turned out to be an unexpected adventure of a lifetime.

I have been following the Reindeer herd for some time on Instagram, when I saw they were looking for volunteers to spend a week with the herders and learning all about reindeer.  So with enthusiasm I suggested this to my daughter, however on further inspection you had to be 18 and she wasn’t quite that age.  I woke up the following morning and had a thought… maybe this is something I should do?  After a very difficult 12 months, losing my mum only a few months earlier, this seemed like an opportunity for me to get away and press the reset button, some time alone, just for me.  We have our own campervan, Glenmore Campsite, a beautiful site next to Loch Morlich, is literally just across the road from Reindeer House– all the signs were pointing North and I couldn’t find a single reason not to apply.  Thankfully my application was accepted and at the end of May, I set off on my very own adventure. 

I packed up my van, said goodbye to my family and off I went, travelling from my home in Fife arriving at Glenmore on Sunday afternoon.  The weather was unseasonably warm and the forecast promising for the rest of the week. After setting up camp I headed out for a walk up to An Lochan Uaine (the green lochan), orientating myself to Reindeer House as I passed, sneaking a peak at exactly where I needed to report the following morning.    The lochan is a beautiful place and well worth a visit. 

An Lochan Uaine

After a fairly good sleep for the first night, I set off to work with my lunch packed and a stomach churning full of nerves.   I arrived for work at 8.00am, greeted by the loveliest bunch of smiley faces, for a Monday morning this was unusual in my experience!  My nerves quickly settled, I couldn’t have felt more welcomed.  I was shown around Reindeer House, everything seemed pretty relaxed but extremely well organised, everyone getting about their morning duties and routine.  There is an awful lot to do prior to greeting the first visitors of the day, the Centre opens at 10.00am and those first couple of hours each morning are vital to getting ready for the day ahead.  My first morning was spent around the Centre, meeting my first reindeer that were in the paddock: Sunny, Spartan and Bond plus the added bonus of two very young calves, Alba and Winnie. 

Getting familiar with the reindeer in the Paddocks.

My heart was stolen in that moment, and as the week progressed, I just fell more and more in love with these beautiful, quiet animals.  Lots to do around the paddock and the house, preparing the exhibition area for visitors, cleaning the paddock, making sure the reindeer were fed and have fresh water, and of course, the poo picking! Which believe it or not ended up being one of my favourite tasks… in the background there is a constant bustle of people going about their work.  There is a lot to do here are Reindeer House and you quickly feel part of the team. 

Lunchtime came and went and it was my turn to head out with the afternoon tour up the hill, I was both nervous and excited, not knowing what to expect.  Parking at the Sugar Bowl car park, from there it is a very pleasant 15/20 minute walk up to the hill enclosure.  The scenery is breathtaking and I imagine at any time of year, the view changing with the seasons, it is stunning.  This really is a special place. 

The beautiful scenery – Meall a’ Bhuachaille and the Ryvoan Pass in the background.

Arriving at the hill enclosure, I felt emotional seeing the reindeer in the herd for the first time.  You quickly learn so much about the reindeer and their life here in Scotland.  The Herders are full of knowledge and it is incredibly interesting listening to them talk about the herd.  These people really care about the reindeer, they care about their wellbeing first and foremost and this came across time and time again throughout the week. 

The herd busy grazing.

As the week progressed, I started to learn more and more and felt more confident in answering questions from visitors.  It felt good to be part of the team and as the days passed, I began to fall into a routine myself.  Daily trips up to the hill enclosure were a highlight, after the visitors left you were able to just have some time with the reindeer, and it was these quiet moments that will remain with me always.  Sitting on the side of a hill, the sun beating down, a beautiful big reindeer with velvety antlers just a few metres away – this is surely a magical place. 

Sherlock’s velvet antlers.

Each day more and more jobs to do.  The list is endless.  Next to the paddock is a small wood enclosure and I spent a lot of time there.  Picking out all the nettles and foxgloves, and as mentioned earlier, lots of reindeer poo!  But even here you get the most incredible view of the Corries, it feels like just for a moment the world has stopped spinning and you are the only person in the world.  It was a great place to find a little shade from the relentless heat, for Scotland this is rare and I don’t like to complain.

The view of the Northern Corries from the end of the woods – the area where the Paddock reindeer spend the night.

I was lucky enough to have a couple of afternoons to myself.  This gave me an opportunity to explore the area.  I walked up Meall a’ Bhuachaille where I was rewarded with spectacular views of the Cairngorm mountains.  I was also blessed with seeing an Adder on my way through Glenmore Forest, and a quick visit to a very bustling Aviemore reminded me that I enjoy the company of reindeer way more than I do people in busy places!  Returning home each evening to my campervan was also incredibly fun – cooking a nice meal for myself was a great way to wind down after a long day and the weather could not have been better.  I could definitely get used to this life!

I am not going to lie, the week was tough!  Some days felt harder than others, this is hard work and my body felt pretty shattered by the end of the week, but the rewards far outweigh a few aching muscles.  Before I came, I didn’t think of myself as a spiritual person, but what I found in those quiet moments alone, was some kind of wonderful.  I hope to return again next year, if they will have me.  Volunteering itself is extremely rewarding and something I think each and every one of us should try at least once in our lifetime.  Volunteering with reindeer included – what’s not to love!!  It was fantastic and memories I will treasure forever!  I learnt a lot about myself and I feel like I healed a lot too.  I know my mum was looking down on me smiling, she loved the reindeer and since returning home, I have found photos she took of the reindeer up on the hill from when she visited many, many years before.  A very special thing.

Thank you to each and every one of you guys at Reindeer House!  I have mentioned the reindeer A LOT, but without you guys caring for them and doing the job you do, this place wouldn’t be as special as it is.  So THANK YOU for being welcoming, for teaching me, for having me.  I cannot end this blog without a special shout out to Sunny – he will forever be in my heart, a very special yearling with a tender soul.

Sunny.
Rachel on top of Meall a’ Bhuachaille.

Rachel

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