Meet the real Ru­dolf

With sleigh bells ring­ing in her ears, Emma Hughes heads north to Scot­land, where she dis­cov­ers that rein­deer aren’t just for Christmas

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

At this time of year, you have to go look­ing for them. Set­ting off up the hill in a con­voy of cars, you bump slowly along a moun­tain road, watch­ing as the Cairn­gorms fade in and out of view be­hind the fog. then, you’re given the sig­nal to switch off your en­gine— the rest of the jour­ney has to be made on foot, over rough, icy and fre­quently snow­cov­ered ground. the wind, which can get up to 70mph, nearly lifts you off your feet and the cold gets right into your bones. No mat­ter how many items of cloth­ing you’re wear­ing, it al­most cer­tainly won’t be enough.

then, sud­denly, you glimpse some­thing. A set of antlers, tak­ing shape at the edge of the mist, like a mi­rage—then an­other and an­other. As they ap­proach, you hear the pat pat pat of dozens of hooves on turf. this is Bri­tain’s only wild herd of rein­deer and Christmas is their peak sea­son.

‘Yes, it is a bit hec­tic at the mo­ment,’ ad­mits Andi Probert, one of the Cairn­gorm Rein­deer Cen­tre’s herders, with mas­ter­ful un­der­state­ment. ‘We ap­proach this time of year with a cer­tain amount of trep­i­da­tion, but it’s a lot of fun, too.’

For the past six years, Andi has been tend­ing to the 150-odd an­i­mals in the herd, which roam freely across 10,000 moun­tain­side acres. Ev­ery day, at 11am (and af­ter lunch too, dur­ing the sum­mer months), she

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