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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.