Hannah Barbey and her family share their real life arctic adventure with us and how they put their Mountain Warehouse gear to good use!
If you had asked me where I would like to travel when I was nearly six, I would have answered instantly: Lapland. I made plenty of make-believe visits, though, arriving at Santa’s hometown in a sledge pulled by huskies, snugly wrapped in a white fur cape, the perfect attire for a fairytale adventurer. I would stay in an igloo, skate on frozen lakes, feed the reindeer… and then return home to my Wiltshire home for supper.
30 years later, I now have a little girl who is nearly six. But for my daughter, Beatrice, and her three-year-old brother, Xavier, Lapland isn’t an imaginary destination – it’s a real place which we visited this winter. Huskies and a sledge weren’t feasible transport for this 4700 mile round-trip through the Nordic countries. Instead, my husband Stéphane drove us to the Arctic Circle in a Bailey motorhome, packed with everything a family needs for 6 weeks on the road, including a sizeable stash of Mountain Warehouse’s warmest winter clothing.
But what does an ordinary family in an ordinary motorhome need to wear on an extraordinary arctic adventure? Given the seriously sub-zero temperatures, guaranteed snow and frozen lakes, plus hopes to ski and sled, we had to make sure we weren’t going to get cold, wet, or ill. Since Mountain Warehouse don’t make the white fur capes of my childhood fairytale dreams, we chose an all-in-one snowsuit (the gap-proof option) for our three-year-old, and thick hooded down jackets and fleece-lined snow trousers for the rest of us. We all took a lot of thermal long johns and vests, and sturdy lined snowboots.
With an entire overhead locker of miscellaneous hats, scarves and mittens, we had the kit ready but would we know how to use it? Scandinavians are famous for getting outside in all weather, so we asked Norwegian friends for wisdom on dressing children for the cold. This is what they advised:
Mostly, we stuck to these tips but the times we cut corners we (and the children) regretted it. Whether sledding around the campsite or frozen river in Luleå in Sweden, sliding down the slopes in Haukelifjell, Norway, or kicksledding around our friends’ street in Finland, our Mountain Warehouse kit was put to good use every single day. We even made a small igloo and enjoyed cramming in, although with all the extra padding there was only enough room for three of us at a time!
The most spectacular part of our dream journey was the 24 hours we spent by a frozen Arctic lake, wild-camping in the motorhome as temperatures plummeted to -27 degrees C.
Just before we embarked on this, we joined Theo Turner, a former UK Marine Commando now running the bespoke tour service Wild About Lapland, by the frozen river in Rovaniemi, Finland. As well as teaching us an infallible trick to light a fire using birch bark (which lights even when wet due to the high oil content), and suggesting the spectacular Lake Olkkavaara as our wild-camping spot, Theo gave us some sound advice for keeping warm.
“The most important thing,” he revealed, “is your feet. If your feet are warm, the rest of you will be fine.” In order to keep your blood circulating freely, Theo encourages buying boots one or two sizes too big so there’s enough space to wriggle your toes easily, while wearing either a Merino base sock or ski sock, and then another woollen sock on top of that. I was glad to have accidentally ordered my boots a size too big, although the arctic expert himself wears boots 3 sizes too big to accommodate three pairs of Merino socks with wriggle-room to spare at -30 degrees or below!
Following Theo’s guidance, we spent several hours the next day on or around Lake Olkkavaara without being beaten by the cold, even though it was about -25 degrees. From the second we stepped out of the warmth of the motorhome our breath was taken away, first by the icy air and then by the elegant beauty of the lake bathed in an ever-shifting warm pink, orange and golden light. Watching the sunrise and sunset over the lake within a couple of hours of each other, and playing in the sparkling snow with the children was exhilarating – better than I could have imagined. We merrily made snow angels, planted tracks in the snow, chased shadows, and pretended to skate and fish on the lake. After building a fire in a traditional wooden Finnish laavu (wilderness hut), mince pies from home warmed us up from the inside out. As darkness settled over the lake we re-packed all our gear into the motorhome and headed south, back over the Arctic Circle and towards Sweden, our minds buzzing with memories from our 24 hour arctic challenge.
Temperatures back home in Wiltshire are hardly arctic but we’re still getting outside in our Mountain Warehouse gear every day. We may have swapped frozen lakes for muddy farm puddles and snow drifts for a frosty garden but our Arctic Adventure lives on in the imaginations of our children who are still playing make-believe Lapland, just like their mother, 30 years before.