At the end of November 2021 the UK was battered by Storm Arwen. It hit us on a very busy weekend with various teams heading off on Christmas tour – Fiona wrote a blog about that which can be found here. We’ve now had many more storms and lots of snowfall this winter, but I thought that I would share some photos of the reindeer and reindeer herders in the snow taken during the first major wintery weekend of the season…
So last week the whole country had a bit of a blustery time with Storm Arwen crossing our paths. When we clocked mid week it was on its way we started putting plans in action for how to run one of our busiest weekends of the season with 6 teams of handlers and reindeer out and about on tour as far south as Oldham and as far north as Portree on Skye. And not to mention the day to day runnings at the Reindeer Centre itself.
Firstly Banchory, near Aberdeen was due to have an event on the Friday night. But very sensibly made the decision two days before their event to postpone until the following week. Luckily weekdays for us aren’t so busy so we could accommodate with little fuss.
Next I had to think about my own team. Joe and I were heading to Yorkshire on Friday ready for events in the north of England on the Saturday and Sunday. Usually I’d get my reindeer off the hill that morning and hit the road but with the snow and wind forecast to come in mid-late morning I brought my team off the hill the day before, they then spent the night in the paddocks here at the Centre and we got away in good time, getting down country safe and sound.
Another team were spending the night at our farm base in Central Scotland ready for Milngavie the next day. When they’d usually leave late afternoon with only a two hour drive in normal conditions they also got away once their reindeer were off the hill on Friday morning. Our Perth event team were meant to go down Saturday morning but opted to also stay at our Central Scotland farm base as well… and it’s a good job they did because the snow came in thick and fast!!! The final three teams were all leaving from home on Saturday morning to get to Oban, Skye and Tain so just made sure they gave themselves plenty of time.
The Oban team had to divert via Inverness due to closed roads but got there in time to visit a care home prior to their event which was a great hit amongst the residents bringing lots of Christmas cheer to those who couldn’t come and see the reindeer parade. A long day for the Skye team but they have a day off on Sunday to recover. And Tain had a superstar in their team… Holy Moley made an appearance and that went down very well indeed!
Also in Tain, were Hamish and LX who pulled the sleigh with Ruth leading them. During the parade the team got an mention over the microphone, the man announced that Hamish and Alex were pulling the sleigh! Now this to all us herders was rather funny as of course Hamish and Alex are also the names of two of my family members. Alex is my brother and his son is Hamish… So we all had a good chuckle imagining those two pulling the sleigh instead of the reindeer!
So, Saturday for the reindeer teams all went well despite the harsh wintery conditions. Although my parade in Oldham was cancelled we still managed to do a small arrival with Santa and sleigh and the folk of Oldham welcomed us with open arms for the 24th year visiting the Spindles Shopping Centre.
That was the news from all of us out and about on tour so I can’t properly relay the stories from home and the running of the Reindeer Centre. I know the hill trips had to be cancelled due to the hill road being closed as the mountain was storm-bound. Instead the herders trooped together and did paddock talks throughout the day hoping the disappointment wasn’t too much for those missing out on the hill trips… Though to be completely honest if there was a hill trip in those conditions you wouldn’t be able to hear, see or take much in as the wild winds and snow conditions would have been too epic! Some of the herders still had to go up onto the mountain to feed and check the reindeer but actually doing this in these conditions just reminds us how incredible these animals are. They have the most amazing coats to cope with such low temperatures. Facing the wind means they get amazing ice masks covering their foreheads and ice covering their antlers… It looks very cool! Hopefully for those of you who missed the hill trip will get another chance sometime soon, it was very unfortunate but we are at the mercy of the weather gods and when they call it off there is little we can do about it. The main thing is everyone stays safe in these conditions, the reindeer will be here for a long time and certainly ready for your return!
As everyone knows all too well, these are worrying and testing times for all and my heart goes out to anyone reading my blog. With the latest ‘call to arms’ by the government we really must all help to slow the spread of the coronavirus that is sweeping the world.
Nobody is immune from this, young or old, but some people will sadly be more susceptible to the symptoms and it is these people that our thoughts need to be with as their lives depend on all of us acting sensibly and not selfishly.
But we must all stay positive and work our way through the crisis and although this is only a part analogy I would like to think, for myself anyway, that we will ‘weather the storm’ like a reindeer.
In blizzard conditions reindeer just hunker down. Face the wind to keep their hair flat, trapping air in their coat and so helping to not lose heat. Reindeer will then lie and wait for the storm to pass. For us all these testing times will eventually pass and in the meantime we must all ‘hunker down’.
Interestingly although reindeer are a strongly herding animal, gregarious like people they do have a social distance that they like to maintain whether they are lying down or up grazing. They don’t ‘huddle like penguins’ but they enjoy each others company at a distance. So maybe think of the reindeer when you are out and about, keep your distance (at least 2 metres) and this too will help to slow down the transmission of the virus.
As many of you know when we name the calves born each year we choose a theme and the name of each calf (there are exceptions!) has an association with that theme. The association is sometimes quite tenuous but that makes it all the more fun and challenging to match a name to a reindeer!
2012 was an exciting year, with the Olympics in London, the Queens Silver Jubilee and indeed our own silver anniversary. May 2012 was 60 years since the reindeer were successfully brought back to Scotland, by Swedish reindeer herder, Mikel Utsi. So with that in mind we thought 2012 and 60 years would make a good theme for the calves born. Olympic, Gloriana, Duke and LX are some of our reindeer who were born that year.
One of the male calves born that year, was born with a wonky nose, which made him look slightly different from the rest. In 2012, Boris Johnson was the Mayor of London and oversaw the Olympics so we called our funny looking reindeer Boris!
To this day Boris still looks different to the other ‘straight nosed’ reindeer, indeed at a Christmas event a couple of years ago in Huntly, a young lad was heard to say, “That reindeer has got a nose like a banana!” Now I’m not saying Boris Johnson has a squint nose, but he does seem to like to look ‘different’.
Anyway I hope my wee story about ‘Boris the wonky nosed reindeer’ has put a smile on your faces and maybe even our Prime Minister’s face during these dreadful times.
Maybe this Christmas we could be singing Boris the Wonky-nosed reindeer had a very funny nose, instead of Rudolph with his red, shiny nose!
As you may know reindeer herding isn’t quite as simple as it may first appear, one very common question we are faced with is, is reindeer herding all you do? We’re a wee team here with five core staff and we literally do everything between us which can be quite entertaining when we’re performing office duties. I (Abby) vaguely attempt to keep advertising under control and routinely receive calls for the advertising department (i.e me) who, when they’re told I’m ‘up on the hill’, are often quite bemused.
When a visitor tells us “You have the best job in the world!” our minds fleetingly head in the direction of the not-so-nice mountain weather as unfortunately it isn’t always sunny here (shocking right?). We have some quite epic storms in the Cairngorms and there’s been many a day where it’s icy, sleeting and gusting upwards of 80mph up where the reindeer are. These are some of those days you question reindeer herding and your dedication to having wet socks but it can be epically cool to be out and see the reindeer in these conditions. However, I do have to say I enjoy pretty much enjoy all of it (maybe not all the office work but it must be done!) and it’s super rewarding seeing people absolutely loving life with the reindeer!
Another reindeer herding problem specifically at this time of year is bringing the reindeer in for the visit. If you’ve visited us in spring you’ll know all the reindeer are entirely free-range on the Cairngorms and we have to tempt them in from ridges and corries every morning. In early spring the reindeer metabolism is still in ‘winter mode’ and the girls are beginning to feel and look increasingly pregnant too so they can be more than reluctant to come in in the mornings. Our method of extraction is walking part way out to the darlings if they’re in sight and then calling them in – if they stick a hoof up at us we walk out, catch a dominant female and lead her in on a head collar and the rest of the herd often oblige. To avoid suspicion it’s key to always have food to give them as the calls we use are always reinforced by food and these girls are wily – if you call them over without food one day they’re likely to disappear on you the next!
Obviously all these trips up and down mountainsides to fetch and move reindeer means we cover a lot of ground which is ace! We get some great views, see awesome wildlife, get quite soggy a lot of the time but on the whole it’s pretty fun getting to romp around in the hills for work. However there’s one big downer for us herders and that’s the sheer amount of rubbish we pick up/find plastered over the national park. Seriously, take your wrappers home folk! As we tell all of our visitors we live in the only area of the UK with a sub-arctic habitat – it’s special – finding litter definitely makes it less so, as well as meaning we find odd things in our work jacket pockets when we’ve been good citizens and picked up other people’s rubbish!
This brings me onto my final trial of reindeer herding… doing your office work on a sunny day. I know many people are cooped up daily at a desk but us reindeer herders get a bit antsy if we don’t have at least an hour of outside time and on a sunny day it can literally be a fight to the death to go and paint as many things as we can find here at the Centre! This does however mean at some point we have to be tied to an office chair and get on with it!
Our last and certainly most crushing issue is our unending addiction to tea and cake… it’s a sure fire way to make each and every day epic! Us herders never turn a healthy cake down!