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
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