A new home for our blogs


We now have a new website courtesy of the wonderful Andi and it will also become the home of our blog posts. All of our old blogs have already been moved across to the new website.
As of this Friday all future blog posts will appear at www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk/blog/ so this page will no longer be used.

So, what does happen at the Reindeer Centre in January?


We are now once again open to the public, hooray! Each year the Reindeer Centre shuts its doors for about 5 weeks from the end of the Christmas holidays to February half term.


8th of January and we are CLOSED! Re-opening on the 10th of February!

This begs the question what do the reindeer and herders do for these weeks of the year! Well, some herders choose to head off on exotic travels to Australia, others choose to take time off to be with their families. Others remain hard at work clearing up after a busy Christmas season and preparing for a busy year ahead… albeit with some fantastic flexi-time, for example finishing work a wee bit early to make the most of some good weather by running up our local hill (thanks Fiona!).


View from the top of Meall a’ Bhuachaille in the late afternoon!

As for the reindeer it’s the time of year when the whole herd heads for the hills, free-ranging for the first few months of the year. Some we still see on an almost daily basis, others weekly, and others not for several months! This winter has been great for the herd; cold, snowy and the usual huge abundance of lichen to keep them going.

Each day, if the weather allows, we usually go up and check on some of the herd…



Reindeer House dogs Tiree and Sookie are ready to head up the hill and search for the cows and calves.




Reindeer Herder Chris spies for the reindeer from the ski car park, with the rain and patches of snow it’s sometimes pretty difficult…


Have you found them yet?!


And we’re off to check on the herd and give them a wee bit of extra food!

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Found them! We like to make sure the calves get a wee bit of extra feed. It’s a tough job!


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How many reindeer calves can stick their head in one bag?


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We also ‘need’ to check the calves are nice and friendly ready for when we re-open!
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Counting the cows and calves to see who is about


When we’re not out on the hill we have a big list (mostly left by the herders who went to Australia!) to try to complete, such as repairing boardwalk, repainting the floor of the Exhibition, checking first aid kits, oiling the Christmas harnesses, re-packing Christmas kit boxes etc etc…


Chris has been scrubbing and re-labelling our wellies, ready for our first visitors to make them mucky!


Morna sorting out the Christmas kit boxes ready for November!

 Meanwhile there are always the adoption packs to make up, reindeer food to mix, Wild Farm Cottage bookings to take, plus emails and phone calls to deal with. On top of all this Captain Christmas herself, Fiona, has been incredibly busy organising Christmas 2018!

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Ruth completing the daily diary after a busy day in January


Olly writing letters for our adopters

 Now we’ve got the place ship-shape and all the herders and reindeer have had some time off, we are refreshed and delighted to be open again and hope to see you soon on a Hill Trip or in the Paddocks!



Reindeer Herder Dave is raring to go!

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A busy Hill Trip on opening weekend

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Addax and Bumble enjoyed the extra food given on the Hill Trip!


Big boots to fill


We are all sad to see a beloved member of the Cairngorm Reindeer family moving on to their next step in life. With Morna leaving we have the opportunity to welcome a new member, Chris. He has some big boots to fill, but so far he seems capable!

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Morna was always our most fabulous Herder.

When asked what are your favourite memories of being here? Morna replied with “not sure, ask me in a year. That is when you can look back and focus on the really nice memories” Morna recalled one occasion early on in her time here of a hill trip she assisted Imogen on (another previous reindeer herder); “it was a hill trip on the free range and this particular time, just as we were walking out we saw the Reindeer up on plantation hill, just about to go out of sight”. This is a hill between Cairn Lochan na Beinne and Sron a’cha-no that rises behind Lochan na Beinne (Kidney lochen) at 721m. Morna had to race ahead of the tour, up the hill trying to tempt the Reindeer back down to our visitors. Unfortunately, she could not manage to persuade the reindeer to follow as they were off doing their own thing. Though she came back Reindeer-less the group were “amazed at the speed she run up the hill in the snow” and “took much delight in watching” which made Morna very happy with this hill trip.

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Morna picking some nettles to make a scrumptious nettle soup for tea with Topi watching.

What Morna likes most about looking back at her time here, is that she had a “good memory of every place. Whether being in the shop, office, kitchen, paddocks, or up on the hill such as jumping in Black loch. Those memories are shared with friend, visitors, and reindeer”.

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Morna and her favourite reindeer, Hopper, gazing over the beautiful snowy landscape.

Our new recruit to the Centre is Chris, though I say new when in fact he has been an adopter of Kola, Grunter, and now Bumble, for 20 years. He has also been a friend of the reindeer family since 2008 when Chris volunteered here for some work experience.

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Chris with the cows and calves.

Chris came to the rescue at Christmas when it was all hands on deck for us, keeping base under control whilst others were away touring the country. Even after the hectic time at Christmas he wasn’t scared off! Chris has now taken on the duties which Morna once carried out. He is also the current proud owner of the pink badge (which I’m not sure has been mentioned yet in the Reindeer blogging world, but there is talk of it becoming a blog). The pink badge is passed on from one herder to another if they thing you have gone beyond expectations in doing something.

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Not sure how to explain this one? Chris with a pick axe.

Like Morna, Chris gets just as enraged with the computer as she did and as I am currently writing this he is make some strange musical noises to himself, I think he will do very well here.

Chris hoped one day he would work here and now he is, and so is very excited to be as he has loved the reindeer for a long time. We all think he is a real joy to have around and is a hard worker and he “loves it here” and has already won over the hearts of the dogs though really the dogs have won his!

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Morna preparing Chris for his new duties.

So we come to the end of the blog but the beginning of Chris’ time here and we welcome him with open arms. Sadly we say a big GOODBYE to Morna and wish her good health and happiness wherever she goes next. I hope wherever she does go, they realise how lucky they are to have her.

Thank you for reading,

Oliver W.

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Ruth, Morna and Chris on top of Cairn Gorm back in November when he arrived with his travellers beard.

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Burns: Robert / Supper / Reindeer


Burns Suppers celebrate the life and work of the Scots poet Robert Burns. More commonly known as Burns Night the suppers take place on or around his birthday, 25th January and are effectively a second national day in Scotland. Here at Reindeer House we just love any excuse to get together and eat some fantastic food with some great company! For those of you that don’t know about the Burns Supper tradition here’s a brief overview of what we got up to last night at our Burns Supper, along with some tales of our reindeer named Burns, seeing as this is a reindeer blog after all!

Robert Burns 1759-1796. Photo from Wikimedia commons.

Robert Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway, Ayshire and lived until he was 37. He is known and celebrated worldwide for his poetry much of which was written in the Scots language or Scots dialect. Whilst many of his poems were of the Romanticism style he lived through a period of political repression. His work often reflected or commented upon this and some considered him to be a radical and revolutionary which perhaps helped give him such a huge following during and after his lifetime.

The poem and song “Auld Lang Syne” is sung all over the world on Hogmanay and is one of Rabbie Burns’ most famous works. Other well known work by him includes “Scots Wha Hae”, a patriotic song which became an unofficial national anthem for Scotland. It was written in the form of a speech from Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 where Scotland defeated England in Battle. Romantic work included (My Love is Like) “A Red, Red Rose” whilst “Tam o’ Shanter” and “To a Mouse” reflect on his upbringing as a tenant farmer. For us though at Reindeer House his “My Heart’s in the Highlands” seems most appropriate!

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains, high-cover’d with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green vallies below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
My heart’s in the Highlands.

If you needed further persuasion of Robert Burns’ stature then did you know he won a contest run by STV to be called “The Greatest Scot” of all time in 2009? It is a rather impressive feat to have beaten Mel Gibson (William Wallace) to the title don’t you think? Perhaps he was aided by some of his extremely impressive nicknames that make him sound more like a cross between a rap artist and a boxer:

– The Bard of Ayrshire

– The Ploughman Poet

– Or just plain Rabbie Burns


Here’s a photo of some of our cows and calves on the free range a couple of weeks ago for anyone desperate to get back onto reindeer!

Burns Suppers have been taking place for over two centuries with the evenings format barely changing over the years. There is usually a general welcome followed by the “Selkirk Grace”

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Supper usually then begins with a soup dish such as Scotch broth or Cullen skink before everyone stands for the “Piping” of the haggis (this is exactly how it sounds). We stand whilst the haggis is brought into the room by the cook whilst a piper plays a tune such as “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” written by Burns. Before you can eat the haggis though, you must first address it! “Address to a Haggis” is a poem written to a haggis with the opening line of Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face” (translated as Nice seeing your honest, chubby face). At last we can eat the haggis! Served with neeps (swede) and tatties (potatoes) our meal last night was delicious! The evening concludes with an often amusing “Toast to the Lassies” and a reply for the laddies before a vote of thanks is given and everyone stands to sing “Auld Lang Syne”.



Reindeer herders, spotted for once out of our scruffy clothes!

As you can see we had a fantastic evening, but back to the reindeer!

As well as giving us an excuse for a party at the end of January, Rabbie Burns is of particular importance to us because we have a reindeer named after him! This year our calves were named after authors, writers and poets so we obviously had to name one Burns. He has turned out to be one of the biggest, strongest and healthiest calves of the year. He is extremely tame and bold and quickly became quite a cheeky chappy. We have him marked down, along with Dr Seuss, as being one of the biggest characters of the next few year but hopefully neither of them will misbehave too much in the following years as young bulls like Fergus did.

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Burns, of the reindeer variety rather than his namesake Robert. Taken a few months ago he’s now substantially bigger!

When he came in off the free range in late summer with his mother Gazelle he had broken one of his antlers and it was growing over his face making it difficult for him to feed. We called out the vet who cut away the antler from his face and after a short while with a bandage in the shed he recovered well to become the strong healthy calf that he is. We are interested to see next year whether his antler will grow back in a more “normal” direction and shape or whether the pedicle from which the antler grows has been damaged and Burns will perhaps always grow one antler in a funny shape and direction.

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Fiona and Burns out on the free range this week showing off his forward growing antler.


The importance of reindeer to regions in the Arctic


Reindeer are an integral part of life in the far north. The cultures there rely on the animals for transport, food and skins.

Reindeer are the only animal suited to the cold that can provide the people living in the arctic regions with animal protein. They are raised for venison but almost all parts of the animals are used. The skin is an obvious, valuable and extremely useful product. The skins are used for clothing, rugs and numerous other everyday items. Reindeer are used as draft animals – transporting both people and freight from A to B.

Many of the people of the far north are nomadic. Families or groups migrate large distances to access seasonal pastures. Their reindeer graze and grow and then move on and the people who own them travel with them. Their possessions are on sleighs or directly on the backs of the reindeer. This blog will highlight some of the many arctic cultures and people, and discuss how these people live and especially how they care for, work with and use reindeer.


Reindeer harnessed for a demonstration of sleigh pulling. Photo taken during visit to Sweden in 2008.


During a cold winter in Sweden, reindeer historically provide the main means of survival. Photo taken during visit to Sweden in 2008.

Nenets herders of Russia travel up to 1000km seasonally to survive the challenges of life so far north. The Nenets form the largest group of people in Northern Russia totalling around 40,000 people, with some 700,000 reindeer. The Nenets eat reindeer meat and use the skin of the reindeer as clothing.


A warm jacket made of reindeer skin from the Nenets culture. Photo from Wikimedia commons.

The Chukchi people of Eastern Russia trade reindeer meat and skins with coastal people who provide whale fat and seal skins. The Chukchi people make their tents out of reindeer skins.

The Evenki people in China live with small numbers of reindeer who are milked and used for transport. The reindeer are highly prized and not slaughtered for meat. The antlers are taken and used in traditional Chinese Medicine.

Sami people are the indigenous people of Scandinavia and today live in the far northern areas of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Currently around 3000 people in this area are involved full time in nomadic reindeer herding. The Sami culture is famous for its connection to reindeer. The Sami people produce wonderful crafts and engravings often using reindeer antlers and skins.


Knives made by people from the Sami culture. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Reindeer herding is big business in the Arctic regions and without reindeer the survival of the people and their cultures would be in question. The Cairngorm Reindeer herd was of course established by a Sami reindeer herder. Mikel Utsi came from Swedish Lapland and brought his herding, reindeer husbandry skills and Sami culture with him to Scotland. These skills and culture continue and live on through us and our herding here in the Cairngorm National Park.


A reindeer pulling a sledge in Sweden. Photo taken during visit to Sweden in 2008.


Mikel Utsi with his reindeer – originally from Sweden – in our current hill enclosure in the 1960s.




Calling all deer..


Deer in general are fairly quiet animals, uttering little or no noise in their daily lives. However there are two quite vocal times of year, in the spring when female deer calve and in the autumn when the males are competing for the breeding females.

In spring time whether it is a Red deer hind, a Roe doe or Reindeer cow they will call softly to their young when they are looking for them. In May time when our reindeer calves are born the mothers can get quite agitated if their young calves are not right beside them, grunting incessantly to call them back. Red deer hinds ‘mew’ to their young calves and a Roe doe gives a low whistle when calling her young.

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A Red deer hind with her young. Photo from Wikipedia Commons

But the call of the rutting males can be quite different and is sometimes meant to warn off competing males and signal ‘how big and tough’ they are. At this time of year in the forests and glens of Scotland the red deer are in full rut and they make a fabulous bellowing noise rather similar to the roar of a lion. There have been scientific studies on the meaning of bellowing and it has been proven that the more times a stag roars at one session the more likely he is to be a successful breeding male.

Frontal view of red deer stag (Cervus elaphus) roaring during the rut, mouth open, in England

A Red deer stag bellowing. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

However Reindeer (and Caribou) do not bellow like red deer but instead ‘grunt’ rather like a female calling to her calf, but more ‘gutteral’. And the grunting only really takes place when a bull is chasing after a cow. It is not a loud noise and certainly is not a threatening call in the same way as the red deer bellowing.

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A tussel will often follow reindeer grunting, with the winner going on to breed with the females.

Roe buck, patrolling his territory will bark (like a dog) to challenge other bucks who dare to step a foot in his domain and Fallow bucks are different again, issuing a husky, rolling grunt in an attempt to attract the does and warn off other prospective males.

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A Roe deer buck with velvety antlers, just before the rut. Photo from Geograph.


The grunt of a Persian Fallow deer buck, to warn off competitors. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

The non-native Sika deer, which were introduced into GB at the turn of the last century, have a characteristic kind of whistle, which turns into a high-pitched scream during the rut.

Sika Deer Roe Deer Hirsch Wild Free Deer Red Deer

The more delicate looking of deer species in rutting season, a male Fallow deer. Photo from Max Pixel.

So there is a vast variation of noises from grunts to screams, even among the deer found here in Great Britain. So if you go out in the countryside at certain times in the year and hear something unusual, don’t take flight, it will probably be a female and young calf, or else a harmless male deer in full flow because it’s the rutting season..



Glenfeshie Girls


Every year when the cows and calves come off the high tops from the summer one group tend to head towards Glenfeshie, a part of the Cairngorms they aren’t meant to be. We have got good communications with the landowners and gamekeepers over there so they let us know and we head over in the mission to catch them. It is always the same culprits. To name a couple– Fern and Wapiti. You may remember a blog in October of Andi and I recovering Fern from Glenfeshie in the autumn so she must have gone straight back!


Glenfeshie, where the reindeer like to hang out. Photo from Geograph, labelled for reuse.

Alex is chief free range reindeer herder and knows the hills best over there so he headed out the first few times to catch up with them. Once he knew their location he set up a corral with a few gates in the aim to catch the naughty reindeer. This all happened over the Christmas and New Year period, they like to pick the busy times! Alex went out a few times and fed them which gets them used to the feed again and a bit easier to manage. In the group were three calves who weren’t yet trained so they were fairly timid and didn’t let Alex get very close. But then we got the phone call at Reindeer House from Alex that he had them all in… calves included. Ye-Ha!!!


It can be hard to spot reindeer on the hill at the best of times, but especially in these speckled snow conditions. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

So Chris and I got everything together and headed off in Brenda (this is the name of our wee livestock truck). Alex was going to start putting halters on them. When we arrived it materialised Alex wasn’t on his own. With Emily (his wife) and two month old son in toe the three of them had caught all the reindeer. Start them young! Being the holiday period the hills were pretty busy with people walking and there were a few dogs around so Emily was on people and dog duty while we walked the reindeer up to the livestock truck. Remember the calves are pretty wild and not halter trained so there was a lot of persuasion going on. Luckily all their mothers are halter trained so they were easy. So in two runs, we walked all 11 reindeer up to the livestock truck and loaded them.

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Fern – the Glenfeshie girl.

On route we phoned the Centre to get extra pairs of hands to lead them across to our enclosure where they have now been for a week. The calves are getting more and more bold everyday, eating the mixture and now joining in with our daily guided tours. It won’t take long for them to get pretty tame… the great thing about reindeer and thousands of years of domestication means working with humans comes second nature to them. We will halter train them over the next few weeks. Their names are Keats, Blyton and Harper to fit into our 2017 naming theme of poets and authors.


Parmesan and her big healthy female calf Blyton settling into the enclosure and getting used to people beinging food. And all watched closely by Morven (on the left)!


Out on the mountains


Hello again, this is Oliver the reindeer herder, and yet again I have been polietly asked to do a blog. I know that others are writing much more interesting blogs than I, but hey ho! This blog is about the weather (not a forecast of the week), and not just any weather, but the reindeer and my favourite weather….. The Snow!


Byron leading the herd through the snow.

I have now worked with the reindeer in all seasons and there’s no better season than the winter. For me it’s because you’re seeing them in their element, in the conditions they have evolved to live in.


A stunning sunset,  made all the more mysterious with sideways snow.

Even when the snow is coming sideways so thickly you can’t see two feet in front of you, and all you want to do is to go back and get a cup of tea, the reindeer look as if it’s just a dusting and go about their normal busness. The reindeer are so well insulated that they often get the snow lying on them (which makes them even harder to see). It shows just how hardy they are and to me, makes them look like some sort of ancient-ice-age-yeti-beast.



Bumble the ancient-ice-age-yeti-beast.

Just the other day we herded out the cows and calves on to the free-range (which is always the best part of the job). Who knows where they will go or what mischief they will get up to, out on the hills they are elusive, and I can see how they blend in like a chameleon. Sitting on the hill watching them is one of the most peaceful things I know.  They are so quiet that in a blizard you could walk within inches of them and not know that they are right next to you.

For the reindeer (and us herders) we hope this wonderful snow stays with us at least a little into the new year. But for everyone, from us and the reindeer, have a great one!


A different view of Christmas


I’ve been helping up at Reindeer House for a good few years now and, after moving back to England, have had to supplement my reindeer fix with helping at Christmas events near to home. I thought it might be interesting to put together a few thoughts and impressions gathered over the years.

I never cease to be fascinated at how people react to the reindeer. Yes, there are occasional doubters, but the herders are always happy to explain how the Cairngorm reindeer, with 1000s of years of domestication in their blood, and a familiarity with people and handling, seem quite happy to take a short trip away from their free-range life on the mountains.


At home on the mountain..


..to down in Bradford pulling a sleigh.

I remember Magnus at Carlisle Races one Christmas. The reindeer pen was set back from the track, but quite near to the large screen which displayed the action. His eyes were glued to the screen when a race was on, only pausing to follow the horses, his head slowly moving right to left, as they galloped past on the track. This cycle was repeated until a race finished.

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Not quite at a Christmas event, but this is Magnus when not glued to a TV screen.

I chuckle when I recall being on the M6 in the reindeer van one snowy year. As we drove past one of those huge illuminated signs, displaying the message ‘Is your vehicle ready for winter?’, I couldn’t help thinking of the six reindeer and sleigh in the back. Now THAT’s what I call being prepared!


Every time we drive past this sign it makes us smile (even through in Scotland they’re red deer…) .Picture from pixabay.

Some questions from the crowd become predictable (Which one’s Rudolf? Did they fly here? Where do they live?), but antlers (‘horns’) fascinate people. You do need to be sure, though, that no Santa-believing child is nearby when explaining why our Christmas reindeer have antlers. One year an antler broke off whilst the team were being harnessed up for the procession. There was a gasp from the onlooking crowd, followed by silence, then a solitary voice exclaiming ‘You’ve broken your reindeer!’. Cool thinking by the herders and a quick swap around saved the day.

Other questions have included: ‘What are they – donkeys?’. And often there are wide eyes and gasps of ‘But they are real! – and I don’t mean from children. It’s that magic, and the dawning realisation that reindeer are real creatures with very special needs, and not just props in a seasonal fairy tale, which make these encounters worthwhile.

Stressed I don't think so

Stressed? I don’t think so!

Then there are dogs… The places where I help out are very doggy orientated, and folk like to bring their pets along to the Christmas events – some even lifting them up to get a better view. I can only assume that many people think of their dog as a child substitute, and cannot understand that, to a reindeer, it’s a wolf. Most owners will back off quickly when this is politely pointed out, but it was hard to understand the one who tried to push his dog through the barriers so that he could take a photo of it with the reindeer.

Reindeer characters come and go, but this years star for me has to be Svalbard, who spent much of the event attempting to eat the artificial sleigh decorations. By the end of the day the wreath was part dismantled. I’m not convinced, though, that Alex’s suggestion of making them out of real holly to deter nibblers would go down too well with the herders who have to dress the sleigh.

Job done, time to head home to Cairngorms

Job done! Time for Svalbard and Byron to head home to Cairngorm..