Tag Archives: Arctic

“A snow angel in distress”: the winning entry

Bradt-IoS competition win

I found out last week that my article “In Deep Snow” was the winner of the Independent on Sunday/Bradt travel writing award. It was published with a few of my photos in the Independent on Sunday’s travel section this weekend.

The theme this year was “A narrow escape”, which was interpreted very differently by all the shortlisted writers (including one who cleverly wrote about a trip on a narrow boat in the Norfolk broads). All of the shortlisted entries are available to read on the Bradt website here.

Full text of the article can be found on the Independent’s website here, or after the fold.

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“In Deep Snow” wins Bradt/Independent on Sunday travel writing competition

Wilma and Rapin

I am delighted to have won the Bradt/Independent on Sunday travel writing competition 2013, with my article “In Deep Snow” – a story of how an attempt to break a fjord horse to harness ended in disaster while I was living in Arctic Finland last winter. (Wilma, the offending horse, can be seen on the right in the image above).

My article will be published in the Independent on Sunday’s travel section this weekend – please pick up a copy if you can, and I will also post the cutting online on Monday.

The prize is a week-long trip for two to Istria, courtesy of the Croatian Tourist Board and a commission to write about it for the Independent on Sunday. I can’t wait.

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When is a Sami not a Sami?

New Statesman Sami observations article cutting

 

I have an article in this week’s New Statesman magazine, about the Sami people’s struggle for land rights.

While living in Enontekiö I regularly came across people from local Sami reindeer herding-families, and wrote about my experience at the autumn reindeer separation here.

It soon became clear that the fight for land rights – through the ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 – loomed large in local politics.

Local businesses, like my hosts Hetta Huskies and Cape Lapland, were worried that the Sami may decide to limit access to the wilderness if they took control of the land. Already use of reindeer grazing land by non-herders can be the source of some friction.

Sami families – rightly – maintained that they had a right to land that they had populated for centuries. But do some Samis have more rights than others?

Full text can be found on the New Statesman website here, or after the fold.

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The reindeer gathering

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Lapland is reindeer country. They roam free across this flat land, docile as cattle, standing in the roads or digging for lichen in the deep snow.

But they are not wild animals, or not entirely. Many are owned by the Sami people, the indigenous group once known as the Lapps, who live throughout Arctic Scandinavia and western Russia.

The reindeer herders are – or, for the most part, were – a semi-nomadic group, migrating north to the coast with their animals for the short Arctic summer, south to the forests over winter.

Modern life has not been kind to the Sami. Main roads and national borders have sprung up across centuries-old migration routes, while many of the traditional ways have become lost after generations of Sami children were sent to Finnish language boarding schools in the south – from which many never returned.

But Sami culture lives on. Recent government initiatives have pumped money into Sami-language education and cultural revival.

Here in Enontekio, the elderly Sami ladies can be spotted their embroidered smocks and bonnets in the supermarket, browsing the sweet selection. The Sami men, oozing testosterone, can be found in the only bar in town, or blearily winding their way home again on their snowmobiles.

Reindeer herding here is still very much a way of life. Although the majority of the Sami reindeer herders now keep a permanent home – a house, a car, a comfortable bed – life is still dictated by the changing seasons; the movement of the reindeer. Continue reading

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Ten things I’ve learnt from life in sub-zero conditions

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  • Below -20°C, the insides of your nostrils will crackle with frost and any hair left uncovered will gain a grey sheen, as though you have aged fifty years in a few minutes.
  • Below -30°C, nipping out the house for only a few seconds without jacket, hat and gloves becomes extremely uncomfortable. Cold metal feels like burning on contact, even through magic gloves. Eyelashes will clump with icy droplets.
  • Bowls of water will freeze solid in minutes, so to encourage the dogs to drink quickly we must mix meat or dry food into a watery ‘soup’ and feed it to them throughout the day.
  • Fingers and toes may be cold to the touch and throb, but it’s not until you have difficulty in touching thumb to pinky finger that you have to worry. Continue reading
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From London to Lapland

Location of Hetta, image via http://www.hettahuskies.com

Tonight I fly from London to Helsinki, the first leg in my journey to Enontekiö in the north-west corner of Finland, 300km inside the Arctic Circle.

But I’ve been preparing for this journey for a while. My weighty suitcase holds:

  • one down-filled Rab Neutrino jacket (800 fill, second hand)
  • one Primaloft inner jacket
  • four fleeces (one heavy, two mid-weight, one base layer)
  • three pairs fleece trousers (two leggings, one normal cut… i.e. I might not be too embarrassed to wear around the house)
  • 6+ base layer tops
  • 5+ thermal tights
  • four pairs salopettes (two of which are waterproof)
  • two polar buffs, one normal buff
  • one pair heavy-duty outdoor gloves, one pair waterproof mittens
  • one pair Polartech thermal liner gloves
  • 5+ pairs magic gloves
  • first aid kit
  • one under-helmet balaclava
  • one ‘Petzl tikka’ headlamp
  • two carabiner
  • one climbing knife
  • one pair fur-lined ‘mucker’ boots
  • two hats (one waterproof, one fleecy)
  • fleece sleeping bag liner
  • several pairs Merino wool four-season socks
  • camera kit, laptop
  • misc personal items, including a bottle of vodka and three Christmas puddings

Needless to stay I’ll be up all night guarding all this kit before the next leg of my journey (Helsinki to Kittilä) tomorrow morning – not least the Merino wool socks, which cost an extortionate £21 per pair. I’ll review all my kit in a couple of months, which may be useful for anyone planning a similar purchase.

On the bright side, I’ve been doing my research: Helsinki Vantaa is one of the most comfortable airports in the world to sleep in.

I’ll fly out too early to make use of Finnair’s four (4) saunas, but free wifi will be very handy for following the US elections as the results come in.

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