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

Volunteer Blog: Falling in love with reindeer

How it all started

I have been a reindeer adopter for 10 years and it all started because my brother adopted the lovely Topi as a Xmas present for my sister-in-law. On reading the wonderful welcome pack, I decided I needed to visit the herd. So, the following summer found me up in the Cairngorms on a fantastic trek leading the great Grunter. I was hooked!

The lovely Topi in 2012. When Helen first adopted him.
Grunter looking very handsome in 2013.

Over the years I’ve visited 2 or 3 times a year- thoroughly enjoyable each time. Not only were the reindeer and the setting up in the Cairngorms superb but so were the dedicated group of people who ensure the safety and care of these wonderful creatures. I had promised myself that the first thing I would do when I retired was volunteer at the Reindeer Centre to see behind the scenes and play all be it a small part in this venture.

My first volunteer week

So being accepted September 2019 saw my promise fulfilled – a whole week with the reindeer and of course these wonderful herders. As well as being so very excited, I was a bit apprehensive – not doing the right thing, being more of a hindrance than help. However, I was made so welcome and my help much appreciated no matter what that I soon relaxed. I knew from my own work that supporting volunteers is quite a commitment so all praise to the great team of herders one and all.

Spending twice a day up in the hills was just all I had hoped it would be – don’t think I have the words to do it justice. Getting to share my enthusiasm for the herd and the work done to support them was a privilege. Over the week I learned so much from each of the herders that I grew in confidence in talking to the visitors.

By the end of the week I had developed a whole range of skills – cleaning wellies and scooping poo high on the list! I was also fitter though that may seem ridiculous as I stumbled, fell and broke my wrist (yes, I am THAT volunteer!!) I have high praise for the health services in Aviemore and the care and concern of the herders. Not daunted although I couldn’t sadly go up the hills for the rest of my week, I was able to chat to people who visited the paddocks, make lots of cups of tea and help out in the office (at least I hope it was viewed as help!) I also mastered the art of washing wellies with one hand!

The pandemic put a hold on another opportunity to volunteer – yes, I was going to be welcomed back!

May 2022 – the return

May 2022 was my next chance for a week for all things reindeer. I deliberately wanted to be part of the calving season as my September 2019 stint saw the start of the rut. The May week was a wet one – I don’t think I got out of the wet weather gear and grew to bless wellies. No matter the weather it is always worthwhile going up the hills. The scenery is stunning and atmospheric and of course the welcome from the reindeer makes it all complete.

Marple and Vienna’s calves on a soggy day!

As there had been over a 2-year gap to my volunteering, although I had been a visitor when I could, I was a bit concerned that I would have forgotten everything. No worries, it came rushing back with updates and new things filling the gaps. It was like meeting a new herd as a whole new group of reindeer had been born and grown up as well as saying goodbye to some favourites.

It was a wonderful experience to see the new born. The mothers were very protective initially keeping their distance from us with their calves. When the time was right they joined us with the wee calf at their heels. I think the oldest calves were about 3 or 4 weeks old and to see them also grow in confidence over the week to where they tentatively came up to check you out was quite a privilege. At one point I was “helping” with temperature checks and watching the protective behaviour of the mothers whether new hands or experienced was quite something – and very noisy in a small space! Honking like geese was my comment!

Soon after Helen’s help checking temperatures and making sure the calves and their mothers were healthy, they were put out into the mountains to free range.

My skill set also grew. No welly washing is required anymore but I added making up the feed – good cardiovascular workout. If it was possible to make this week even more special I was lucky enough to be at the Centre on the actual day of the 70th anniversary of reindeer arriving at Cairngorm. Cake was very welcome coming down off the hills. I think visitors also enjoyed the extra surprise of treats at the Centre as well!

Fiona and Lotti food mixing – now one of Helen’s skills too!
70th Anniversary Hill Trip – Helen can be seen clutching the white handfeed bag!

As in 2019 it was sad to say goodbye when the week ended. For a long time afterwards looking at the clock I would be thinking “they’ll be going up on the hill visit” On a lovely day weatherwise I just wanted to be there. The place and experiences get under your skin.

Adopters Weekend

So it was with great pleasure I visited again in October for the Adopters Weekend. The 5-month gap had brought much change to the calves I had seen in May and it was like starting again getting to know them. It was great to see the adults again – hello Beanie always reliable to arrive to greet us particularly when food was involved! It was great day (it didn’t rain!) talking all things reindeer and Tilly’s evening talk humorous and informative was a great way to end the day. Sad again to say goodbye, however there are the Xmas events to look forward to.

The calves in October- a big change since Helen last saw them in May.
Beanie, being Beanie! The face lots of people witness as the handfeed bags appear!

I can’t believe 10 years have passed since I read that welcome pack – thank you, big brother! Here’s to the next 10 and beyond.

Helen Adair

Hannah’s Volunteer Blog

It started with a Hill Trip. Back in February 2018 my partner took me on a surprise trip to Aviemore and beyond, little did I know that this would result in a lifelong love of reindeer, two volunteering sessions and 3 adoptees!

Hannah’s very first HillTrip!

I have always been an animal person so my partner knew that this would be a winner, but I was completely amazed by these beautiful creatures to the point where I rather embarrassingly burst into tears as we reached the crest of the hill and saw the herd grazing in the snow. Naturally we put the herders through two hours in the cold asking questions and generally staring in awe, and it took only the time between walking back down the hill and into the shop to get my volunteering application at the ready and adopt the lovely Anster!

Hannah and Anster in August 2019.
Hannah during her first volunteering stint in 2019.

My first volunteering week was back in August 2019, I turned up super excited to help and I was welcomed with open arms by everyone at Reindeer House. Being the height of the summer holidays, it was hill trips galore and I couldn’t have been happier to throw myself into being a volunteer reindeer herder and guide. I was a little nervous though – what if a visitor had a question I couldn’t answer? It’s amazing though how little a problem that was, with the herders being so lovely, answering my many, many questions and giving me the chance to be as hands on as possible both on the hill in the mornings and down at reindeer house. Suddenly I could hold my own with the questions and was even trusted with a wee bit of the talking by the end of the week. My time on the hill was amazing for many reasons, but especially as I got some great quality time with my adoptee, who was always first in line for a hand feed! I reached the last day so sad to leave (and with another two adoptees as I couldn’t choose between them) but ready to return a year later… Or so I thought!

For reasons I’m sure we all remember well, my 2020 return was unable to go ahead, and continued to be pushed back until finally, I was in the clear to return to Reindeer House in July 2022!

It was lovely to see the friendly faces of the herders again, but this time with a new addition – who should I see coming round the corner, but a tiny calf climbing into the feed bags! I was told all about the lovely Sunny and I couldn’t help but feel that my timing had worked out quite well after all!

Sunny on the 5th of July in Reindeer House.

Being a returning volunteer allowed me to crack on a little quicker and more confidently which meant that I got even more quality reindeer time! I spent most mornings up on the hill first thing, checking the herd, putting out the feed, checking temperatures and training on the harness. I couldn’t quite believe my luck and the ever-wonderful team helped to guide me along every step of the way.

Hannah hand feeding Kiruna and Sherlock in July 2022.

I was especially lucky to be a part of Sunny’s first ventures into ‘big school’ aka joining all of the boys together for the hill trips. He settled in amazingly well and after a small telling off from some of the yearlings has seemed to find his place among them. Being a volunteer meant that I not only got to spend the hill trips with Sunny, I also got to enjoy walking him to and from the hill, hand rearing (to a lovely chorus of ‘awhhhh’s’ from the visitors) and watching his progress from the beginning to the end of the week.

Sunny travelling up to the hill in the back of the reindeer van.

Though of course Sunny is not only the main event. I threw myself back into my mission to ID as many reindeer as possible on the hill trips and while I’m a huge ways away from the pros, both times I couldn’t believe how quickly you can catch on to the quirks and personalities among the herd that can help you to tell them apart. I have to say though, between lots of new additions to the herd in my three year gap and the transition to summer and winter coats it was a whole lot more of a challenge this time!

Saying this, it was an absolute treat to see how the boys I had got to know so well in my first week had grown and how quickly I recognised them. In 2019, Bond had no antlers and was trying to find his place among his pals in the paddock, now he has a beautiful set and looks like a fully fledged reindeer, Sherlock now has the biggest antlers I have ever seen, many of them now have calves – so much can change in a few years and it’s good to know that while I was cooped up in my flat, the reindeer were still out on the hills living their best lives!

While it’s an amazing experience for anyone, I can honestly say that volunteering not once but twice (so far…) was easily the best decision I ever made, and it is no exaggeration to say it has been life changing. Seeing the team care so diligently for these beautiful animals and how passionate knowledgeable they all are about them and their environment is beyond inspiring. In my other life as a teacher, I returned from my first stint determined to build my students appreciation for the outdoors, for animals, for their world, gained my forest schools qualification and taken steps to bring animals nature to the children and vice versa. It was something I always cared about, but seeing what the herd have achieved gave me the push that I needed to start making these goals a reality. Sharing my experiences, photos and other things I’ve picked up along the way with the children in class has also given me a fair bit of clout in the classroom too – I’ve never had so many reindeer themed Christmas and end of year gifts!

Hannah and Sunny – July 2022.

I feel so lucky to have had these opportunities with the herd and the wonderful help everyone in the team to give me the most magical of experiences. I can’t wait to head back up the hills again – just maybe without the three year wait this time…

Hannah

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 2: April 2022

Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.

This is the second installment of Emm’s blog. Read part one by clicking here.

Dogs

It was my first time meeting Reindeer House’s new Border Collie puppy called Fraoch. It was also my first time meeting Ben H’s dog called Dug and Amy’s dog.

One evening after work, me, Sheena, Amy and Innis took the dogs on a walk. With Elsie and Ginger (Sheena’s dogs), Fraoch and Amy’s dog we walked up the hill on the track and we walked down through a forest near Meall a’Bhuachaille just behind Reindeer House.  It was a lovely special walk.

Elsie, Ginger, Dug and Tiree.

Reindeer

Sherlock was growing his antlers so fast when I was there. It was so amazing how much they had grown since I had arrived. It was one of the fastest antler growth the herd has ever seen and could be on par with Crann who had the biggest ever set of antlers in the herd.

Emm hand feeding Sherlock.

Some of the reindeer were losing antlers at this time of year. Lulu lost an antler when she was in the paddocks. In the hill enclosure, Cannellini was eating from a pile of food. Sambar came over to Cannellini and kicked her hoof at him to say it was her food now. But when she kicked her hoof, it hit Cannellini’s antler and it came off. It was the first time I had ever seen a reindeer’s antler being kicked off. Fava lost an antler in the forest paddock where the paddock reindeer sleep at night down at the centre. Me and Amy went on a mission to find it and managed to find it near the stream when poo picking!

Emm being mobbed by Dr Seuss, Sherlock and Butter.

Reindeer Herding

In the hill enclosure, there are different areas used to separate the reindeer. Sometimes the reindeer are in the bottom corridor in the day and in the east enclosure at night. One morning, me and Hen moved the hill enclosure reindeer from the east enclosure part to the bottom corridor part. It is really lovely as we get to call them and they come running down as they know it is breakfast time. I led them through with my food bag whilst Hen pushed them from the back. Then we fed them and counted them. Most mornings, I got to go up and help move them and give them their breakfast.

One afternoon, me and Lotti moved the hill enclosure reindeer from the bottom corridor to the east enclosure. I led them through with my food bag whilst Lotti pushed them from the back. We fed them and counted them. Most afternoons after the hill visit, we move them and give them their tea which I helped with most of the time. It was so lovely to spend some time quietly with the reindeer. On one afternoon visit, after we spent some time with the reindeer and visitors in the bottom corridor, Ruth and me moved the reindeer whilst the visitors were there and the visitors came along and watched us give the reindeer their tea.

Ruth, Dr Seuss and Emm.

One morning, the free-rangers had split into 2 groups a bigger group and smaller group. The next day, after the hill visit in the afternoon, Andi went in search of the smaller group of free-rangers and found them. She managed to get the smaller group of reindeer to follow her and she managed to join the 2 groups together so the free-rangers were all together once again.

Tilly’s Farm

On my last day, Olly and me went to Tilly’s farm where we met Tilly. The Reindeer Centre has a base there. We went in ‘Brenda’ (the livestock truck). We took Cannellini, Butter, Fava, Dr Seuss, Celt, Kiruna and Spartan to the farm. We filled up bags of dark grains (a by-product from the whisky industry used for animal feed) from a massive funnel in one of the barns as the Reindeer Centre needed some more bags of dark grains and got some more lichen from the shed as the reindeer needed more lichen. We loaded Brenda with the dark grains and lichen. We moved the reindeer to the other reindeer at the farm, they followed me and Tilly on the quad bike which Tilly was driving and Olly herded them from the back. We checked all the reindeer at the farm temperatures and injected them if they had a high temperature.  We put some Spot-On on to protect them from ticks.  I helped with holding the reindeer. Legume had a really high temperature so we separated him and Jelly from the rest of the reindeer in the shed and gave them some lichen so Tilly could keep an eye on them. Jelly was there to keep Legume company.  We picked out 2 reindeer to take back to the Reindeer Centre who were Frost and Olmec. I led Frost and Olly led Olmec to Brenda. The older male reindeer were free-ranging on the hills by the farm so I didn’t see them. Tilly, me and Olly went on the quad bike which Tilly was driving and Tilly took us to see the pigs, wild boars and piglets which was great fun. Tilly and Olly fed them. We also saw the red deer and the Belted Galloway cows. We also saw the Soay sheep with their lambs and Tilly fed them. Eventually we took Frost and Olmec back to the Reindeer Centre in Brenda.

Emm leading Frost.

Opening the Gate onto the Free-range

When we got back from the farm, we did a paddock reindeer swap. Frost and Olmec went into the paddocks and Me and Amy took Lulu and Gazelle up to the hill enclosure and I led them both. That morning, my herder friends went to the hill enclosure and they split all the pregnant females off from the non-pregnant reindeer ready for calving. The non-pregnant reindeer went into the top corridor in the hill enclosure ready to go out on the free-range.  Me and Amy took Gazelle and Lulu into the top corridor with the others and Amy opened the gate on to the free-range. When the reindeer were ready, they would go out on to the free-range. Ben H had realised that Roule had lost an antler that morning in the bottom corridor when splitting the reindeer up, so Amy and me went and had a look for it which Amy found.

Emm with Lulu and Gazelle.

Other Exciting Things I Did

On Easter Sunday, the Easter Bunny had put mini eggs all around Reindeer House which was very exciting. I kept finding mini eggs.

I helped restock the shop. I put price labels on the photo frames for the shop.

I talked to visitors in the paddocks and I identified a reindeer for one of its adopters.

Me, Mum and Dad went out with my herder friends and Sookie for a meal at the Pine Marten Bar which was really lovely and I really enjoyed it.  I once again had such a fantastic 10 days with my lovely friends, all the animals and of course the reindeer.

I am so looking forward to my next trip in October 2022 !!!!

Emm

Volunteer Blog: Oct-Nov 2021

Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.

I was last with the reindeer in October/November 2021 for 10 days. It was so brilliant seeing all the reindeer, herders and dogs again. I hadn’t seen them since October 2020 due to Covid. I thought I would tell you what I did when I was with them over this time.

Emm and Dr Seuss.

When I was up in October 2020, they were bringing in parts for the new Utsi’s bridge into the valley by helicopter. So this time I was excited to see the new Utsi’s bridge. I got to see the new completed bridge and go over it lots of times. It is wider than the old bridge and has steps either side and the reindeer go over it quite well. Another change is that on the walk to the reindeer with the hill trips, we don’t stop at the bridge anymore.

Being up at this time of year, I get to see the bulls with their girls. It was nearing the end of the rut. In one part of the hill enclosure, there was Poirot and his girls and in another part of the hill enclosure was Spartan and his girls. When you go and feed the bulls with their girls, you have to be careful as the bulls can be territorial and protective of their girls. With Poirot and his girls, we put the food out first and then let them in to the part of the enclosure where the food was where they will spend the day or night. Spartan and his girls were in a part of the enclosure called Silver Mount a big hill in the hill enclosure. A lot of reindeer have their calves on Silver Mount and it was my first time seeing a bull with their girls over in Silver Mount.  We had to walk a little way across the hill enclosure to Silver Mount with your bags of feed.

Poirot – safely on the other side of a fence!

It was my 1st time being there when the rut has finished. Poirot and Spartan came off the hill and went back to the farm. All the reindeer in the hill enclosure got separated into 2 groups; one group was castrated males and  the other group were females. A few females had their 6 month old calves with them too. Some females hadn’t seen each other in a long time, so there was a lot of clashing antlers and charging around to sort out the new pecking order. Kipling even had lost an antler in a tussle. It was the first time I had seen the females being feisty with each other. The next day, some of the females were released onto the free range.

Holy Moley at the front, with some calves and ‘Christmas Reindeer’ in the background.

It was also the 1st time for me having a bull in the paddocks as Morse was in there as he jumped a fence and had hurt himself so they had pulled him out of the rut and were keeping an eye on him in the paddocks. When he was better, he went back to the farm.  

Morse in the Paddocks, along with Cowboy and Jimmy.

Another thing being up this time of year is that walking calves and Christmas sleigh training happens. It is very exciting. We have to look out for dogs as the reindeer are scared of dogs as they think they are wolves. We walked the calves (2 at a time) with 2 adult reindeer.  The adult reindeer are the role models for the calves and are a calming influence on them. I looked for lichen lollipops along the way to give the calves which they enjoyed. People sometimes came over to us to say hello. Handling the calves at this age gets them used to people and used to being handled.

Emm holding on to the calves during a sleigh training session in Glenmore, Trilby closest to the camera.

Before we start Christmas sleigh training, we get the reindeer warmed up by walking them and running with them along the path. In the training, the experienced reindeer are buddied up with inexperienced reindeer at the front of the sleigh or the back of the sleigh. There are 2 reindeer pulling the sleigh at the front and 4 reindeer (2 are calves) are at the back of the sleigh. The experienced reindeer are training the inexperienced ones. The Christmas reindeer are usually the castrated boys. Sometimes people come over to watch and this is also good experience for the calves. It is lovely to see the calves having bell harness on for the first time.

Sleigh training – Anster and Houdini at the front.

Sometimes the reindeer and the sleigh go in the road. We have to have hi-vis bibs on. It is funny to see the people’s faces in the cars as they drive past the reindeer and the sleigh. They look very surprised and excited.

Ruth with Olmec and Aztec.

The reindeer go around the UK in November and December. There are lots of teams and they do Christmas events, garden centres and Christmas parades.

When the calves come off the hill to go into the paddocks to have their walks and to do Christmas sleigh training, it is the first time they get separated from their mum and wear a headcollar. They are fed lichen from a bucket whilst someone puts the headcollar on. The mums comes off the hill with them into the paddocks and then the mums goes back into the lorry to go back up the hill leaving the calves in the paddocks. They are normally separated for a few days. It was the 1st time I had seen the calves come off the hill with their mums.

The calves have their shiny new ear tags put in at this time of year. I saw Andi put Cowboy’s and Jimmy’s ear tags in.

When I was up this time 2 people got married up on the hill surrounded by the reindeer which was lovely. Olly made sure the reindeer behaved themselves although I heard that Holy Moley stuck her antler up the bride’s dress !!!!!

I also helped out in the office. I helped pack Christmas cards, stuck the information onto the photos which went with the October newsletter, put the October newsletters and information photos in the envelopes, made up the 1st year adoption packs and packed up the adoption gifts for each adoption pack. It really helps the herders when they do the adoptions of the reindeer.

A busy office! From L-R: Emm, Lisette, Lotti, Ben B and Olly.

I also helped do the feed mixing making up the reindeer feed. We do the feed mixing in a big cement mixer. We mix lots of ingredients together by measuring them out in buckets and then putting them in the mixer. The ingredients we use are barley, sugar beet, ewe and lamb mix, dark grains and haymix. We also put calcium powder in and oil to help mix the calcium powder in. We use lots of reindeer feed this time of year as there is lots of reindeer up on the hill as it is the rutting season. Feed mixing happens every 1 – 2 days this time of year as it runs out quickly.

I also led reindeer up the hill which came from the farm or when we switch the reindeer around from the paddocks. When you lead a reindeer, it is different from leading a horse. You wrap the rope around your hand and mustn’t let go even if the reindeer pulls. When you walk the reindeer should be behind you or at the side of you but mustn’t try to get past or pull you. We must look out for dogs as well as we are on a path. 

Stenoa having a snooze after a Hill Trip.

When I was there, it was Hen’s birthday. I went to Reindeer House for Hen’s birthday meal. It was a really good night with very yummy food and really good company. There were 7 dogs and when we sang Happy Birthday to Hen, the dogs sung too by howling and barking. Lol.

I am so looking forward to my next trips in 2022 !!!!

Emm and one of her adopted reindeer, Scully.

Emm

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 😀

Experiencing the Four Seasons (Part Two)

Emm volunteers with us several times a year usually, and has been doing so for years now. Here’s her story of working in the summer and autumn seasons! Her recent blog about the winter and spring can be found here.

Summer

In summer I have been up in both July and August. The visitors are meeting the male reindeer in the hill enclosure. The female reindeer and the calves are free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains.

The reindeer’s antlers have done the majority of their growth and the velvet is getting ready to strip away at the end of August. The reindeer are looking smart in their dark summer coats.

Dr Seuss and Pratchett in the hill enclosure

The weather can be hot in the summer. The flies bother the reindeer by flying noisily around them, sometimes the reindeer rush around to try to get away from the flies which tend to sit on their antlers as they can sense the blood supply in their growing antlers. We spray the reindeer’s antlers with citronella spray to protect them from the flies. Midges are also a problem in the summer for both reindeer and humans.

Monopoly in his summer coat

In one part of the enclosure, the reindeer have access to a shed for shade. One time when we got up there with the visitors, the reindeer were nowhere in sight. All 41 of them had gone into the small shed. The shed doesn’t look like it can fit 41 reindeer in but it is does, it is like a Doctor Who’s Tardis. One Hill Trip, I was herding them out of the shed, I realised that I hadn’t seen Blue – I found him in a small part of the shed asleep. Blue, who was deaf, didn’t hear his reindeer friends move on. The reason Blue was deaf is because he was leucistic (pure white with blue eyes). Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation.  Leucistic reindeer are camouflaged in the snow.

Selfie with Glenshee, back in 2016

There are three Hill Trips a day (during the week) in the hill enclosure and last year we did ‘Summer Fun’ in the Paddocks which involved feeling the weight of antlers, feeling the weight of a feed sack, Paddock reindeer talks and much more fun (N.B. This will return in 2021!). Reindeer House is busier as the seasonal summer staff are working as there is a lot going on with three Hill Trips a day and Summer Fun in the Paddocks.

One of the jobs in the summer is to water the garden as it is hot.

Last July, Olympic would stand by the gate like he was guarding it and wouldn’t let visitors out of hill enclosure. I kept having to go over to him and move him on.

Olympic

Autumn

In the Autumn, I normally come in October half term. The scenery is changing with leaves changing colour and leaves falling off the trees.

The reindeer’s winter coat is growing and most of the velvet has stripped off revealing the hard bone antler underneath.

It is the rutting and breeding season. Normally in different areas of the hill enclosure there is a bull with his girls. My two favourite breeding bulls are Houdini and Kota as they have massive magnificent antlers. When we feed the breeding bulls with their girls we have to be careful as they can be protective over their girls. We don’t take the visitors in with the bulls and their girls.

Breeding bull Kota

We do one Hill Trip a day in the hill enclosure. Normally in the afternoons we do sleigh training with the ‘Christmas reindeer’. We put the harnesses on them and harness them up to the sleigh. The reindeer pull the sleigh around Glenmore (where the Reindeer Centre is based). They even go on the road. It is so funny to see people’s faces when they drive past reindeer pulling a sleigh.

Sleigh training

We also get to handle the calves to get them used to people. We sometimes take them on a walk around Glenmore in the morning.

Calves Athens and Helsinki in October 2019

I am busy learning the calves names and if I hadn’t been up in May, I am learning which calf belongs to who and meeting all of them. The calves are also getting their new ear tags.

One year, I was lucky enough to help out at a early Christmas parade at the very start of November which was very special. It was at The Cairngorm Mountain. We wore red Christmas jumpers and woolly hats with reindeer on them. The reindeer team were Mo, Spike, Sooty, Aonach and calves Morse and Poirot. Mo and Spike pulled the sleigh with Santa in it. It was so wet and so windy. The wind was 60 miles per hour. Santa was holding his hat on in the sleigh. Not many people turned up. We had to tie things on to the pen railings otherwise they would have flown away.

Holding Mo and Spike after the parade

One of the other jobs in the autumn is to sweep up the leaves. At 4 o’clock it is starting to get dark. So we put the Paddock light on in the Paddocks so the visitors can still see the reindeer. When we put the reindeer to ‘bed’ in the woods and give them their tea, I normally put my head torch on.

My 2 Favourite Seasons

I have two favourite seasons which are autumn and spring.

Sleigh training with Slioch and North

In the autumn, I love doing the Christmas sleigh training, helping the calves get used to being handled, learning the calves names and seeing the reindeer with their newly formed antlers.

With the cows and calves

In the spring, I love seeing the newly born calves, seeing the reindeer being mums and hearing the grunts between mum and calf.

Emm

 

Experiencing the Four Seasons (Part One)

Emm is one of our regular volunteers, and has sent us this lovely blog. Here’s part one, with another part to come later in the summer!

With my adopted reindeer, Mo

Over the years volunteering for the reindeer herd, I have experienced the different seasons. I decided to write a blog about it.

Winter

In the winter, I normally come up over New Year in the Christmas Holidays. The Reindeer Centre is very busy as people want to see reindeer after Christmas. The last time I was up over New Year which was this year 2020, we had at least 80 people queuing outside the door before we opened 10 o’clock. There is normally one Hill Trip a day. We had to do two trips a day because there were so many people and two trips-worth was selling out by about 10:30am.

In the hill enclosure the visitors are meeting both male and female reindeer. Most of the male reindeer in there are the ‘Christmas reindeer’ which have been to Christmas events and parades in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The reindeer are looking lovely in their winter coat and most of the reindeer have got antlers.

Fly and her grown-up son Anster

The weather is cold so my thermal hat, gloves and coat keeps me nice and warm. It is getting dark just before 5 o’clock so when we put the reindeer to bed and give them their tea, I normally put my head torch on.

Pony and her calf Poirot in winter ’18-’19

Frost

The Reindeer Centre is closed on New Years Day, so I get a day off to explore the area with my mum and dad. This year on New Years Day we went on a long walk to explore An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch) and the Ryvoan Bothy. It was really nice and everyone we passed wished us a Happy New Year. On the way back, we walked down hill on the path behind the Reindeer Centre and I saw beautiful views of Glenmore and Loch Morlich.

Ibex posing for a selfie!

The Reindeer Centre is getting ready to close for a month and the reindeer are getting ready to go free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains and the Cromdale Hills.

I help take the Christmas decorations down.

Spring

In the spring, I normally come up in April in the Easter Holidays or May or both.

April

Normally in April there is a Hill Trip once a day onto the free-range where some of the reindeer are free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains. The hill enclosure is not normally in use. Every morning some of us go out to find the herd to give them their breakfast and to bring them down to a suitable place where we can do the Hill Trip as they are normally high up. It is a special feeling when you are leading the reindeer down to a suitable place for the trip. One time, I got to see the reindeer leap over a stream which I hadn’t seen before. They leapt over the stream well and they were very springy. That was spectacular to watch. It is magical and special seeing the herd on the free-range knowing they can go where ever they want with no fences stopping them. Reindeer can swim.

After one trip on the flats nelow the ski centre , the reindeer started to move towards the road heading for Windy Ridge which meant they were going to cross the road. Me and Dave parked by the road and he started calling them which they responded to. I stopped the traffic and was the “lollipop lady” in the middle of the road whilst the reindeer crossed and went onto Windy Ridge. Dave was leading them high up there. I went to find the stragglers who were coming up the hill in the ski car park and got them safely onto the ridge.

Most reindeer have lost their antlers and have started to grow new ones. Some reindeer have lost their antlers when I have been there. One year, I found Hopscotch’s antler in the Paddocks wood. The reindeer’s coats are very pale as the sun light over the winter has bleached them. The reindeer are hard to identify as most of them have no antlers and their unique markings have faded. The reindeer antlers are one of the key parts to identify a reindeer as each reindeer has their own unique antler shape. It is like their fingerprint.

Some of the female reindeer are heavily pregnant and their tummies look big. It is amazing to think there is a baby reindeer calf growing.

It is normally the time that the reindeer herders start to reseed the grass in the Paddocks. Sometimes I am in charge to move the sprinkler around the Paddocks. One April, Roman kept coming to the sprinkler and drinking from it or just stood by it like if he was cooling himself down. He even came to drink from the hose.

One April, I did the gardening in the Paddocks and Fergus (who was hand reared) kept following me around and kept kicking my bag thinking there was food inside.

With Ochil and Bumble in April 2018

The only time I have seen the reindeer in snow was in April 2018. I have never seen so much snow in my life. The snow was so deep. It was magical and special seeing them in the snow in their natural environment. It was such an exciting time. It was like being in Narnia.

The snow is not a problem for reindeer. The reindeer are at their happiest in the snow. It is their natural environment and their bodies are made for the it.

It was so special seeing their natural behaviours. Seeing them walking in a line one behind the other to save energy. Seeing them dig in the snow with their big splayed hooves to find heather and mosses to eat. The reindeer seemed more excited to see us with the feed sacks as it is an easy meal for them as they will have to work hard digging in the snow to find food. Following their hoof prints in the snow was very exciting.

Austen

At the Reindeer Centre, we had to shovel the snow to makes paths as it was very deep and put out grit. Before the Hill Trip, we put down grit on some of the icy parts. We offered people walking poles to help with walking in the snow and it was so lovely seeing visitors helping one another. Walking down hill, we had to dig our heels into the ground to stop us from sliding down the hill.

The frozen tarns and puddles looked spectacular. It was my first time seeing skiers skiing in the mountains.

In May, it’s calving time. I get to see the reindeer being mums to their calves which is lovely and special to see. The calves are so cute and adorable. I get to see the reindeer being more vocal as the mums and the calves grunt to each other to communicate. It is a lovely and special time.

Ibex and Clouseau in May 2018

I was very lucky to be up when the twins called Starsky and Hutch were calves. The Reindeer Centre had a lot of interest as a reindeer having twins surviving is a rare thing. There was only one other case in the world of reindeer twins surviving birth which was in Finland. In Finland, they took the reindeer twins away from their mum to hand rear them. Starsky and Hutch stayed with their mum Lulu and Lulu gave them as much milk as she could. We topped up the milk by bottle feeding them. It was special bottle feeding them but they are unfortunately no longer with us.

Bottle-feeding Starsky in the woods beside the Paddocks

The reindeer are continuing growing their antlers which are covered by velvet. The reindeer have scruffy coats as they are getting rid of their winter coat. Big clumps of fur come out of their winter coat.

There are two Hill Trips a day and they are in the hill enclosure.

Emm

There’ll be more from Emm in a future week, when she’ll tell us what she gets up to while volunteering in the summer and autumn seasons!