“We worked hard to get a balance of content across Finland, Sweden and Norway and to try and incorporate a range of experience and voices.”
For our Scandinavia supplement in the September 2018 issue of The Great Outdoors, we asked Mark Waring – our resident expert on Scandinavian backpacking and hiking – to be our Guest Editor. This interview with Mark provides an insight into his own outdoor experience in Norway, Sweden and Finland, as well as the editorial process of putting a magazine together.

Please introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

“Hi, I’m Mark Waring. I’m a forty-something father of two living in the glorious Sussex weald. Workwise, I am a solicitor of some years who spent the first part of his career as a corporate lawyer. Despite being very well paid I felt trapped, quite literally, and ‘downsized’ to work elsewhere in the law. This was a move which gave me a lot more flexibility and control over my life and it enabled me to do things I wanted to do such as learn languages, join the Army Reserve and best of all spend a lot more time out in the hills. One thing I did was move to Scandinavia for a while with my Swedish wife where I immersed myself in the opportunities these lands provide for outdoor life. I was hooked and since then I’ve travelled the moors, mountains and forests of Finland, Sweden and Norway by foot, snowshoe and pack raft.
“I have a consuming passion for the Arctic and boreal and now complete several overseas trips a year as well as keeping things ticking over by plenty of time in Scotland. I’ve been lucky enough to write a bit for TGO magazine over the years and have had features published on northern wanderings in Scandinavia, Canada and Svalbard.

“I also have a relationship with a number of UK outdoor companies including Pacerpole, Trekkertent and particularly Páramo for whom I have been one of their field testers for a while now. They consider that their kit gets a heavy duty outing with me so I try not to disappoint them! That’s a fascinating process to be involved in, taking out prototype designs and giving them a good hard wearing before my return and then the post-trip debrief in which I feed into the final stages of product development.”

How did you find the experience of guest editing the Scandinavia Outdoors supplement? Any new insights into the process of creating an outdoor magazine?

“A very interesting opportunity. I’ve been writing for TGO for almost ten years so am familiar with feature writing and how that can develop when you work with the editor. Being on the other side though was a different experience and I really appreciate the stages, complexity and challenges in trying to put a magazine together, one that the editorial team face on a monthly basis. Being guest editor though really enabled me to set the direction of this supplement and I worked closely with the TGO Editor Emily in defining what we wanted to do and then who we wanted to assist us in reaching that outcome.
“It was exciting pulling together diverse contributions and then linking them all together. The process was fairly fluid too and I enjoyed the final editorial process as we rushed to our print deadline. I’ll add that despite being very familiar with the supplement through the editorial process and its evolving digital manifestation it was something to see the final printed copy. There is something very tangible about the print format and the supplement looked great in hard copy.”

Do you have a favourite piece in the supplement?

“A difficult question to answer! We worked hard to get a balance of content across Finland, Sweden and Norway and to try and incorporate a range of experience and voices. I was pleased though with two new names to the pages of TGO. Firstly, it was important to hear from James Boulter who took himself out to Scandinavia some years ago, inspired a number of others to follow (literally in some of the routes he took) and has really started to explore some of its far-flung recesses. I particularly wanted James in as he provides a great example of someone who made the step change from the UK hills and has a lot to say that may help others to do the same.
“Secondly: the awesome Jaakko Heikka, whom I met in Svalbard a few years ago. Jaakko professionally guides many an expedition all over the north, is the complete outdoors man (he was out building a house in the woods by hand when we interviewed him!) and yet exhibits characteristic Finnish modesty. I was so pleased to hear from him as he explained the many delights of Finland, not least its fantastic open wilderness hut system.”

Anything you wish we could have included but didn’t have room for?

“A few more things certainly. If we had covered winter we could have had an entirely separate supplement. There is a lot to learn in looking after yourself and living out when temperatures are in the very low minuses. I am going through that process myself (and still just about retain undamaged hands and feet!).
“I would have though perhaps liked something to explain the Sami and their place in the wildernesses of Scandinavia, which is absolutely central. I think it’s important before you go there to understand a little about them and the fact that these amazing landscapes are actually both a homeland and workplace for the Sami and you should tread lightly as a consequence.”

You’ve been backpacking in Norway, Sweden and Finland for many years. Do you have a favourite area to visit, and if so, why?

“What I really like in Scandinavia is where forest meets fell. We have so little of that in the UK, just glimpses in places like Glen Feshie or Glen Lui. In Scandinavia there are some incredible old-growth forests with trees hundreds of years old that embrace lakes as well as march their way up rocky fell sides. I particularly love ‘Gränslandet’ (‘the Borderlands’) which includes Swedish Rogen and Norwegian Femundsmarka. It’s an incredible place, almost enchanting, and you could spend weeks exploring this land of rare animals, ancient trees, rocky fells and countless lakes.

What can you tell us about your next trip?

“It’s not too far away now. I consider autumn the season to get out and hike in Scandinavia. Vätsäri in Finland and Pasvik in Norway are my destination, two incredible wildernesses that nestle in north-east Lapland right up against the Russian border. I’ve started to packraft and after a successful tour down the Kaitum in Swedish Lapland in June I am back in the raft for part of this trip and then on foot as I cross into Norway. I’ll peer into Russia too (I’m learning Russia and have plans to head to Russian Lapland at some point) before heading back to Finland and a beer and a shower after a fortnight out. It’s an unsupported tour and I have to be self-sufficient for all of it, potentially carrying some weight. The plus is a massive unspoilt wilderness and as it is autumn, northern lights time!

“After that it’s ten days in December in the Cairngorms which is as close to Scandinavia as you can get without leaving the UK. I adore the Scottish Highlands but particularly love the Cairngorms. It echoes Scandinavia in so many ways, from its flora and fauna (not least the reindeer introduced by the Sami, Mikel Utsi) and its history (this is where Norwegian commandos trained during the Second World War). My winter season will start there with that ten-dayer – I’ll be enjoying the delights of winter, living well in a heated ‘hot tent’, and I am planning some bothy nights and camps with friends.”

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to backpacking in Scandinavia, what would it be?

“Just go, it’s incredibly easy and cheap to get there. I can fly to Norway for less than the cost of a train to the Lakes. If you’re new the network of trails and huts will support you as you grow in experience. If you’re ready to walk off-trail sharpen up your navigation as the spaces are so much bigger and be ready to carry packs that can support you for many days so you can really get out into it. Again, just go!”
All images © Mark Waring
Mark Waring blogs at One Swedish Summer. You can read his latest work for TGO in our Scandinavia Supplement, included in our September 2018 issue.