REINDEER saved from the pot to become pets are set to spend their first Christmas in their new home.
George Richardson travelled from his garden centre at Cold Hesledon, near Seaham, to the Arctic Circle to bring back reindeer to boost his established herd.
Now the 12 newcomers have settled into their new surroundings and joined the 11 he already had to bring Christmas joy to schools, community groups and celebrations.
George and co-driver Daniel Morris headed to Gothenberg by ferry from Lincolnshire, through Sweden, across Finland and then to northern Norway on their mission.
Among the animals they collected was a rare pure white bull named Gabba, which means white reindeer, regarded as magical to the Sami herders native to Norway.
While Gabba has become a star attraction, George also saved five late season calves which would have been killed by their herders because they would have starved in the harsh winter conditions in Norway.
George, who has loved reindeer since his childhood and has had his own for around four years, brought over the animals after befriending Sami reindeer herders who keep huge numbers of the beasts for meat.
Rules in Norway state husbandry of the animals is a legally protected livelihood of the indigenous people.
However, as George was taking them out of the country, he has been able to overcome the rule, making the trip of a lifetime to gather his new reindeer.
George said: “To see 14,000 reindeer moving across a mountainside was quite magnificent.
“It was unbelievable to see them cross a major road and, all of a sudden, there were blue lights as an ambulance tried to get through and there was no way in the world it was going to.
“Reindeer are quite silent but when they’re moving in a herd, there’s a low rumble and grunt, and it was absolutely magic.”
The new additions mean George, wife Tracey and Daniel, have claimed the title of largest reindeer herd in the North of England, with the Christmas activities fitting in well with the lull in the breeding programme.
In recent weeks members of the herd have visited schools in Hetton, the Alan Shearer Centre, which offers respite care and activities for people with disabilities and sensory impairments, and Army barracks in Harrogate. George said: “It’s been bonkers.A lot of kids, let alone adults, have never seen them and like having their photos taken with them.
“All they have to compare them to is what they’ve seen on television and they’re a lot smaller than people think they will be.
“They really seem to affect people and we had one woman who was crying because she felt so emotional, the kids are just hyper and a lot of people didn’t know they were real and thought they were mythical.”