All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride: How the BBC’s stunning Slow TV Christmas special was filmed

The feature-length documentary following Sami reindeer herders is now out on DVD - we talked to the camerawoman holding the reins

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Last Christmas Eve, BBC4 transported viewers to northernmost Norway for a Slow TV special: a two-hour sleigh ride through Karasjok.

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Filmed from the point of view of a reindeer herder, there was no commentary, music or presenter – just the crunching of snow, the tinkle of reindeer bells and the odd sighting of husky dogs.

It was hypnotic, utterly magical TV, but it wasn’t as relaxing to film as it is to watch – as we discovered when we tracked down camerawoman Justine Evans.


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So how far north were you?

We were about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle – as far as you can get in northern Norway without stepping into the sea. We used a postal and travel route that is still used by the Samis today, to give a little snapshot about what it’s like to travel along one of these routes and what you might see along the way.

And where were you personally?

Between the sleighs of two reindeer herders, Anne-Louise and Charlotta. We built this ridiculous wooden chair that we bolted onto my sleigh. Depending on how I was feeling, it got called either the throne or the electric chair – because at times I felt like I was being tortured! I was roped into that wearing a ski helmet in case I toppled over and then they dragged me around the Arctic.

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Camerawoman Justine Evans in her throne

Why so painful?

Two hours is a long time to cling onto a camera while trying to keep yourself stable on a very top-heavy sleigh. There were a couple of times when I got into excruciating body positions and other occasions when I nearly went over! 

Any other obstacles?

We only had a maximum of four hours of daylight so there was no leeway. The temperature got down to minus 20, which pushed the camera equipment to its limits. It could have been a lot colder; we were told that it was actually quite warm for that time of year!

How did you cope with the cold?

We had lots of charcoal handwarmers, which we stuffed in gloves and anywhere else that needed warming up. It was the hands that were the risk because I couldn’t put them in my pockets or move them for those two hours.

Batteries really suffer in those temperatures so we kept them warm in cases and our pockets. We ended up running the camera from a car battery because they’re much better in the cold – and conventional camera batteries just couldn’t keep running for that length of time. 


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Did you really film it all in one go?

We did the same journey for four days and just chose the best one. We did a little bit of stopping to change the camera angle.

People assume that all you have to do is sit on a sleigh and point your camera roughly in the right direction and all will be well. Actually it’s much harder than making a normal film where you can edit out all the dodgy and wobbly bits – a two-hour natural history film would normally use two years worth of footage. Whereas we had to shoot what we were going to use.  

How did you get on with the reindeers?

They were a lot more characterful than I thought they’d be. Calm but very inquisitive. Their herds are only semi-tame because they roam free for a lot of the year, but the ones that are pulling the sleigh are very tame.

In fact, there was one little one who was very confident – he was raised inside one of the reindeer herder’s houses because he was abandoned by his mother. He tried to eat all our equipment! The one pulling my sleigh kept looking around and staring, probably wondering what on earth I was doing. 

Where do the Sami herd their reindeers?

In the summer they take them on a traditional migratory path north and leave them there to graze for the whole of the summer season. Come the start of winter, they’ll heard them back across the plateaus towards where we were staying. That takes a couple of weeks and they stay in the traditional tents called ‘lavvu’ that you’ll see on our sleigh ride. But outside of that they now live in very comfortable houses.

They’re very passionate about their reindeer. Herding is in their blood. 

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Reindeer herder Anne-Louise Gaup whose family has been herding reindeer for centuries

All Aboard: The Sleigh Ride is released on DVD on Monday 21 November


Win a weekend break to Oslo

The prize includes return flights from London Gatwick to Oslo and two nights at the four star Thon Hotel Rosenkranz.

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