It’s a drizzly Thursday in November, and I’m surrounded by reindeer, baubles and the faint sound of Christmas carols. This can only mean one thing: Winter Wonderland is upon us!
Just hours before Woburn Forest kick-starts its very first Winter Wonderland season, the Village teams are hard at work making the finishing touches. Knee-high in Christmas decorations, I grab some time with the man behind it all – Brad Purnell – to ask him about the popular event and, of course, the Village VIPs, four reindeer.
“I’m well-versed in reindeer now,” says Brad. “The team and I spent an entire day learning ‘husbandry’, which covers the care of their hooves, welfare of the reindeer, how much to feed them and when to feed them. It was really interesting and a chance to learn about all the little nuances you need to know.
“For example, did you know reindeer naturally click? It’s a sign to let each other know they’re approaching and you’re a fellow reindeer. If they don’t click it means they see you as a threat.”
The four resident reindeer at Woburn Forest – two males, a mother and her 9-month-old child – are enjoying their new luxury surroundings of plush hay, plentiful food and covered sleeping area. “They have lots of hay for their comfort, rather than food. They live on a high-protein diet in the form of pellets.
“They don’t drink a lot of water, but they do make a mess from it! The reindeer see their reflection in the trough and think that it’s ice, so they hit it with their hoof to ‘break the ice’. Once they’re satisfied it’s broken, they’ll happily have a sip.”
As Brad shares his wisdom, I watch on as the reindeer perform this very thing – right on cue – mesmerised by how beautiful these Christmassy creatures are. With their velvety antlers, warm hazelnut eyes and sturdy hooves, no wonder Santa Claus counts them as such trusty companions!
To ensure they’re ready for Christmas, and comfortable in their new surroundings, there is a dedicated team looking after them at Woburn Forest. “We check the health of every reindeer in the morning,” says Brad. “They are very adaptable animals with habits. For example, they lie down at night and sleep as we do, and will routinely stretch each morning. If that doesn’t happen, we would monitor them to make sure they’re happy.”
Now the reindeer are in place, the team’s efforts are almost complete – a culmination of a project that began early in 2015. “Here at the Woodland Workshop we have an all-new team,” says Brad. “Kat, our Head Elf, is at the helm and has been recruiting fellow elves since June. This is the first time I’ve personally managed a full Winter Wonderland programme.”
As the afternoon sun sets, I wonder how he’s feeling and what he’s most looking forward to once Santa Claus arrives and takes a seat in his newly-built Woodland Workshop.
“We’re all excited to see the guests. I think there’s a little bit of nervousness around it, as it’s all new, but the biggest enjoyment for me will be the first couple of children coming through the Woodland Workshop, with big smiles on their faces.
“That’s when I know what we’ve done has ticked the box. That’s when I’ll know we’ve been successful.”