T’WAS the weekend before Christmas and Santa’s horned helpers have landed in Wearside to sprinkle some festive magic.
Reindeer have returned to Mowbray Park in Sunderland for a pit-stop before their biggest night of the year.
Monopoly, Hornet, Barack and calf Byron, seven months, will be at the city centre park until Monday where visitors can visit them for free.
When they’re not busy with festive duties, the reindeer live as part of Britain’s only free-ranging herd in the Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland.
Herders Abby Saunders and Ryan Ward are on hand each day from 10am to 8pm to answer people’s questions about the animals.
“The reindeer do about five to ten events each a year,” explained Abby.
“They’re such magical creatures. Children’s eyes light up when they see them. They believe in the magic and always ask where Rudolph is.
“People can pet them if the animal comes up to them, but they don’t like their face or horns being touched. We get carrots thrown in too, but they don’t have the top teeth to be able to chew them.”
She added: “They’re lovely animals to work with, very relaxed.
“It’s great to work with Britain’s only free range herd. Reindeer would have once been indigenous, but went extinct in Britain 800 to 1,000 years ago due to factors such as loss of habitat.
“This herd was reintroduced in 1992 and has been here ever since. There’s about 150 in the herd altogether.”
Gnu, the runaway reindeer who famously made a bid for freedom from Mowbray Park in 2010, is still part of the herd.
“Gnu’s very cheeky,” said Abby. “He still does events, but we have to keep an eye on him as he can be quite flighty.”
The reindeer residence is one of many seasonal activities taking place during Christmas in Sunderland’s Festive Finale weekend.
Other festive fun includes the Grand Central Santa Train, which will operate within the city centre from Park Lane, and The Festive Films event, which sees Christmas films being screened at a heated outdoor cinema in Mowbray Park.