I am a student nurse from Wales, UK studying on an exchange program in Oulu University Hospital Finland and also teach outdoor education including wilderness survival and bushcraft skills. Whilst over in Finland, I wanted to travel, particularly into the outback areas and hopefully meet some like-minded people over here, so into the internet search engine I plugged ‘bushcraft finland/sweden’ and eventually turned up a guy based in Northern Sweden! Checking him out, I realised he was also on the Bush craft forum, so I emailed him asking if he fancied meeting a ‘like-minded person’; never expecting a reply, I left it. However, a few days later, there it was, an email from Kevin, and so internet action began and I fixed dates up to go across to meet the family in Nattavarraby, unsure of what exactly I was going to find and/or do when I got there!
My journey went from Oulu by train to Kemi, then bus to Tornio (Finnish boarder), hop across the bridge into Haparander (Swedish boarder), then bus to Hakkas
where Kevin’s partner picked me up where we drove through beautiful scenery not so dissimilar to that of the Boreal forests of Northern Canada and Alaskan tundra. The whole journey took almost 12 hours of travelling. My accommodation was in a cabin surrounded by spruce, birch and pine trees with reindeer moss and lingonberry tufts growing, birds singing and full daylight at night; a moose hide was airing drying on the old barn, whilst cut moose antler was sat on the cabin steps having obviously been used for making tools etc by the man himself. It was beautiful and tranquil and I could understand why someone wanted to live out here.
The following day, I was taken up to the local meeting place (Byastagan) where local women were making a speciality flat bread – delicious, so we purchased some although I would have quite happily sat and eaten it all with blueberry and lingonberry jam alongside (where was the jam!!!). We then headed up to the old school where visitors stay in log cabins – warm, bathroom facilities, tv and internet, all for 50 euros per night equates to a bargain! You certainly would not get that in the UK in surroundings of peaceful tranquility and enclosed by old forests over-looking the local village of Nattavarraby!
We then collect stuff to make birch bark container’s and headed back down to Kevin’s cabin and his house where I set to work making my pot. I have made these before out of Cherry bark and Ash, however, I found the birch easy to work with and it was nice to use sinew.
Later that day, we went to Gallivare, the local town where there is a Sami craft shop selling some of Kevin’s work he has done. The town is part of the Iron Ore Mine which is the major employer, along with the local Hospital for these town’s people, some of which are Sami folk. On the way back, we passed reindeer and moose
with a lot of deforestation occurring; whilst the evening saw me re-inacting my youth by herding reindeer into a compound ready for tagging – an activity that is not really open for outsiders let alone women to be involved in!
Saturday saw us all heading out to the cabin in the middle of nowhere – and it really is miles from anything, but sat by a lake
surrounded by swamp marshes, pine, birch, spruce, juniper, lingon bushes. Moose, bear and other animals live here and their prints show it along with their poo; here I finished my birch pot, adding lichens for traditional decoration.
Nattavarraby is beautiful, an island surrounded by a single river which breaks and re-joins downstream. It is inhabited by both Swedish people traditional Sami.
There is much wildlife including beaver,
hare (white in the winter), reindeer, moose, many different birds and flora and fauna; a walk out into the back yard or through the forest with Kevin and he tells you every bird call or plant and its uses traditional uses. If you want to learn to make fire, cook over an open fire, make your own plates, kusa, spatula, spoon, bowels, weave baskets, learn wildlife, see beaver, moose, bear or reindeer, or learn about plants etc, this is the place to come as he has an amazing amount of knowledge and his love of allowing and wanting you to learn and experience this is immense. Kevin is patient, with a heart of gold and will always try to bring the best out in everything and everyone he meets; the person or people he is with he wants them to experience the best he and they can achieve and this will be done together. He also is fluent in Swedish. However, behind all of this in Kevin, is a good partner, and that is what he has.
I truly encourage anyone to visit Nattavarraby and to stay with the family – you will receive a very warm welcome and nothing is ever too hard for them for to do for you. If I can travel 12 hours on a student budget then I challenge those of you who have never been to Nattavarraby to go there, and those of you who have said you will, to go there as well. A place you will want to revisit again and again and a man who has a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight.