International Junior Ranger Camp – Our Young Rangers’ view from Estonia
Two intrepid Young Rangers from the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) embarked on a trip of a lifetime to Estonia in July to take part in the International Junior Ranger Camp. See the full news article here.
Ross’ International Junior Ranger Camp Diary
Day One- The Song Festival:
Once in Tallinn we were greeted by the hosts, one woman in modern clothes and another in traditional Estonian dress. As soon as all of the teams had arrived, we headed out to a waiting coach to take us into the centre of the capital to explore the parks, see the monuments and, later, the Song Festival. The Presidential Summer residence and the Kadriorg Palace looked stunning in the glorious summer light, almost giving the city a sense of grander.
Once we had been shown the city, we made our way to the Song Festival to see some renowned folk choirs. Once inside, the sheer mass of people was overwhelming, so many patriotic Estonians coming to celebrate their beloved country with one another. The music, though a new experience for me, was absolutely fantastic. At seven o’clock sharp we all met up outside the festival and made our way by coach to Lahemaa National Park, our new home for the coming week. Once back we were given time to unpack and then we had dinner. About an hour after dinner we went on a walk down to the beach and some of us went swimming. Surprisingly the water was reasonably warm.
Day Two- An Introduction:
After a hearty breakfast, we all sat down in the beautiful outdoors to be introduced to the park. There were representatives from Europark and The Environmental Board, including their Deputy Director. After this we were given our t-shirts. We then preceded to get to know each other better, participating in games and other activities.
Following lunch, we all boarded a coach and went to do hiking in the forest. The first thing I noticed was the particular abundance of blueberries. They were everywhere; every available surface was covered in the little bushes, all full of ripe berries just waiting to be picked. We were shown a tree that was used by a bear to mark its territory. Gashes and scratches covered the lover portion of the trunk. Once we finished the hike, we headed straight to dinner. This was followed by a couple of the park’s presentations. The presentations were fantastic and the food that followed was even better!
Day Three- Is that a bike?
An early wake up call to go birdwatching seemed an odd idea to me to begin with but once I was out there it was fantastic. We saw woodpeckers, redstarts and finches. Although it was rather chilly, everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the event. A welcome breakfast followed in which we were informed that we would be cycling to a museum for the day. I use the term cycling loosely as the bike was more of a scooter with larger wheels and brakes. I’m sure a group of fifty odd people looked perfectly normal as we left the lodgings for the museum! Once we arrived at the museum, in a delightful village called Kasmu, we were split into two groups. I was in the group that would be shown around the museum first. It was full of interesting relics from when the villagers there had travelled all over the world, some even to the Americas I was told. Once we had finished our tour of the museum, we swapped with the other group and headed outside. On a pebbly windswept shore, we were shown some beautiful flowers before being taken inland to the forest where some orchids could be found (and of course more delicious blueberries).
Following this we proceeded to make our way back to our lodgings. This was quickly followed by dinner and then yet more fantastic park presentations. A campfire was then lit and songs were sung before we made our way to bed.
Day Four- Sailing and Bog Swimming:
Another wonderful breakfast started yet another fantastic day. Again, the group was split in two; seal watching to go on one coach and headed off, whereas those that had chosen sailing had to walk to the village and then get a separate coach.
We went to an abandoned Soviet naval base – there was a derelict ship on one of the old docks and remnants of the dock buildings all around. The walls had some interesting graffiti on them. The sailing was in little racing dinghies and paddle boards – I was with a Dutch ranger – we had a lot of fun and ended up in the water and learned how to right a capsized dinghy.
An evening walk in the Viru Bog along boarded walkways with some people trying out bog swimming, ended another lovely day.
Day Five- Bats and Saunas:
Started the day with field work accompanied by an Anatolian Shepherd dog (huge) – collecting firewood and manually collecting hay from the fields. Before lunch we had time to play on massive swings which could take 6 people at once.
The afternoon was spent doing workshops – we did wood whittling and made sauna birch whisks. We then had time for some swimming and played more volleyball and had a sauna. After our evening meal we went out for a night walk looking for mammals – detected some bats. A late end to another busy day
Day Six- Brainstorms and Bonding:
In the morning we brainstormed our ideas about the biggest challenges to our global environment and brought ideas from our local areas. After lunch we walked back to the sea for swimming, volleyball, sleeping and generally having fun with all our new friends who by now, we knew quite well. We were all given a certificate and then had dinner. The highlight of today was the camp fire and with traditional music from local musicians and lots of singing from us.
Day Seven- Goodbyes:
The first group to leave camp were the Italians who had to get up at 3am – we were lucky and could pack and leave at a more social able time. A sad goodbye to Laheema and all our new friends – and a straightforward journey home. What a great week – Thank you to all at the Mendip Hills AONB who made this happen for me.
James’ International Junior Ranger Camp Diary
When we turned up in Estonia we were met by the Estonian Committee – they were very friendly. That is where we have greeted the rest of the Junior Rangers and the Mentors. After we arrived and met everyone we went on a bus ride to Kadriorg Park where we learned about some of the history and culture of Estonia. Also I saw the president of Estonia’s house that wasn’t in use. After that we ended up going to the Laulupidu – a song and dance festival, which is the biggest festival in Estonia that happens every 5 years. It is a singing and dancing festival and it is special as nearly all of Estonia go to it as it symbolises when they became independent and when they became separate from the Soviet Union as they ‘sang their way to independence’. The Estonians think of themselves as ‘the people of the forest’ as mostly all of Estonia is covered in trees and the people of Estonia love to go hiking in this scenic landscape. After we finished, we headed to the camp for the week, which was in Lahemaa National Park. After tea, I enjoyed going out and trying the slightly warm Baltic Sea. We went to bed at midnight.
In the morning we all got our t-shirts and that is where we met Estonia’s Director of the Environmental Board and others from the Europarc Federation. I found it interesting to learn about what they have done and what they would like to do in the future. After the presentation finished there were some games that we did to get to know each other. For example, we had to create a fact file of images about ourselves, but leave out the name and they had to guess who was who. Once that was finished we got our proper first taste of the Estonian landscape which is mostly covered by pine trees and more pine trees – lots and lots of trees, which was beautiful.
We all had to get up at 6 am to go bird watching, so we learned what types of birds are native to Estonia and the surrounding area. Breakfast at 8 am. This was something different – it was like a bike and scooter in one! We rode for 6km to Käsmu which is where the Viking museum was. When we arrived we split into two groups to learn about the nature that inhabits the area and to go around the museum, learning about the history and what else that happened around the coast.
This was the time when we could choose what we wanted to do – either to go sailing and other activities or go seal watching. At Hara Harbour, if you picked sailing you would be split into 3 groups: paddle boarding, sailing, and on a speedboat. In the seal-watching group, they saw 2 pups. After everyone finished we all met up at the place where we went sailing. Hara Harbour was not a normal harbour – it was an abandoned submarine base, where we learned about what it was used for and the history of it as it became abandoned in the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed. Later on in the evening, we went on a hike to Viru bog where some people dared to go swimming!
Today we worked at a local piece of land, which allowed us to learn about some of the agricultural methods of Estonia. We split into different groups again, different groups did different jobs – my group got chosen to do fence work reattaching and repairing broken parts of it. Once finished, we had lunch and then had handy craft workshops making three different things – carving a butter knife, painting objects on wood and making birch whisks for the sauna. The birch whisks that we made were then used in a sauna, which we got it to 100 °C and which was relaxing. When we were all nice and relaxed we went to do bat watching and saw one or two.
This was, unfortunately, the last proper day with everyone as people would be leaving early (3 am!) and some at 9 pm on the last day. So we started at a café, where we discussed topics that we all agreed on like global warming and plastics. We spent 2 hours by the sea playing volleyball, swimming and sunbathing – relaxing after an intensive week. Then was the conclusion certificates saying thank you to everyone! They brought traditional folk music and taught us songs and interesting dances. This is where we all said goodbye to one another and partied with lots of food.