IoS/Bradt travel-writing competition: Cold discomfort in Finnish Lapland

In her award-winning story, Cal Flyn describes the harsh realities of breaking in fjord horses above the Arctic Circle

The waiting room of an accident and emergency department is as good a place as any to do a spot of sightseeing.

Here in Ivalo hospital, in the far north of Finland, the staff, patients and interior décor provide a great insight into the minutiae of Arctic life. Men in heavy furs nurse arms in improvised splints. Sami women dangle infants in tiny balaclavas over their knees, as snow melts and puddles around their feet.

On the wall a colourful display of fishing flies is revealed, on closer inspection, to be a collection of foreign objects removed from patients. "Broken fishhook, pulled from eye," translates Satu. "Rusted nail found deep in flesh."

It's a lively place to hang out, but you really need a good reason to get past the doorman.

Myself, I am bent and perhaps broken. I have been trampled by a horse; stiff in the neck, sore in the back and bruised in the buttock.

It's as good a reason as any. Strong, blond Finns – with shoulders wide as Atlas's – nod almost approvingly as I hobble through their midst, supported on both sides and dressed in dirty salopettes. I have joined the club.

Finally. I've been in Lapland for four months now, working for my keep at a place where they mush with huskies and sled with the native fjord horses. It's a tough life on the edge of the world, in conditions so cold that the tears will freeze to your cheeks as they fall.

I've been finding it hard to keep up with the sheer machismo of it all. Guns? I can't fire them. Axes? Can't chop a thing. I don't ski, I don't hunt, I don't fish.

But horses: horses I can do. I thought it would be my way in, my one useful skill. I'd train willful Wilma, the stroppy fjord filly, to pull the sleigh, and that would be my in into Lappish society.

And so it has proven, although not quite in the way I was hoping. When you train a horse, they call it "breaking in". In this case, Wilma was breaking me.

It happened so quickly, I didn't feel pain until I found myself lying limp in the deep snow. One second we were calmly backing her between the traces, buckling the harness, stepping her forwards; the next was a tangle of limbs and yelling and the rushing and crushing of hooves.

Wilma panicked, I was told during the long and painful drive to the nearest hospital.

She bolted forwards, trying to shake off the sled, but as it was tied on tightly it kept up a close pursuit. I pulled at her bridle but only managed to swing her around to face me, before she knocked me to the ground and galloped over my body, pulling the sleigh across me for good measure.

Fjord horses may be short in stature, but they are strong. And heavy – half a tonne, at least.

When Wilma had finally torn off the sleigh and stopped – just short of the frozen lake, thank god, thank god, thank god – my friends ran back to check on me.

"I'm fine," I said, trying to sound casual. I was not fine. But I could roll over, very slowly. And, with a great deal of help, I could stand. I'd left a cartoonish imprint of my body in the drift, arms flung high, a snow angel in distress. But where my waist should be, deep tracks from the hooves and the sled.

"You were lucky to fall in the deep snow," said Erki, my Finnish boss, as I limped away. "The ice on the drive, here. It is hard as concrete. It is only inches away. Your insides, they would be very crushed."

After a three-hour wait at the hospital, the doctor agrees. There is blood in my urine, he says: my kidneys are bruised. But it could be worse. On the balance of horror, as Erki would put it, I have come out very well.

I return to the waiting room to await my prescription. Two men are pulling on heavy layers, ski masks and camouflage-print snowmobile jackets. They nod at me, almost in recognition.

The winner

Cal Flyn was named as the winner of the 2013 Independent on Sunday/Bradt Travel-Writing Competition at an awards ceremony on Monday at Stanfords travel bookshop in Covent Garden, London.

Cal is a freelance writer and reporter from the Highlands of Scotland. She spent last winter in Finnish Lapland, 300 kilometres into the Arctic Circle, training huskies and learning to mush. As part of her work she regularly encountered the local Sami people who continue to make their livelihoods from reindeer herding. She received the top prize for her story "In Deep Snow" (printed above). Cal's story was selected by a panel of judges from The Independent on Sunday and Bradt Travel Guides, and the prize was presented by Hilary Bradt and Simon Calder, travel correspondent at The Independent. Her prize was a week-long trip for two to Istria, provided by the Croatian National Tourist Office and the Istria Tourist Board (croatia.hr).

The winner of the unpublished category was Lauren Hatch, a copywriter who lives in Brighton. Her piece "The Chase", about pursuing a bag thief through the streets of Hue, in Vietnam, won her a place on any Travellers' Tales writing weekend over the next 12 months.

Bradt Writing Workshop

For those interested in learning about the art and craft of travel writing, there are still a few places left on Bradt's annual travel-writing workshop, taking place on 22 September. The panel of experts includes Jonathan Lorie, director of Travellers' Tales, and The Independent and The Independent on Sunday's travel editor Ben Ross, who will be offering tips on how to get your pieces published (see bradtguides.com/travelwritingseminar).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor