During the Great Northern Winter, when the nights are extremely long and tedious it is very, very easy for people to become couch-potatoes, particularly teenagers. But it can also be a time to encourage couch-potatoes to go outside more often when as days start to get longer after Christmas.
It’s not just good enough to point out that there is an outside world to venture into, you need something inspiring, and here are two gifts that go together perfectly:
Along with Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones, MacGyver has become a symbol of a type of person, usually someone who is ingenious and a lateral thinker (someone who thinks ‘outside the box’). There are seven seasons of MacGyver available on DVD, but the one you will want to gift to someone (unless they already have it) is the First Season, comprising 22 globetrotting adventures features heists, rescues, near-misses and amazing stunts. Amazingly, this TV series has barely aged whatsoever, looking shiny and new, and you would almost believe it was filmed recently, but set in the mid-1980s. The heroics take place in all sorts of situations and habitats, and in all cases MacGyver uses his ingenuity and knowledge of science and engineering to produce incredible effects, and, amazingly all are said to genuinely possible, although not all the steps involved in the more dangerous creations are revealed, for obvious reasons. High ideals and adventure from a man carrying only, at most, a Swiss Army Knife and things he finds along the way, depending on the situation.
So that takes care of the inspiration: now for the practical outdoor bit, which requires a small multiplex knife/multi-tool. Swiss Army Knives are perfect pocket knives, being big enough without being too big, and legal to carry in most countries where they are extremely popular with scouts, hikers and backpackers. The model pictured is the Victorinox Timekeeper. The model mostly used by MacGyver is the Victorinox Tinker (not to be confused with the Deluxe Tinker), although the almost identical Spartan model was used in many episodes, the difference being only that the Tinker has a Phillips head screwdriver where the Spartan has a corkscrew. The Tinker retails at about €15 which is roughly £12 sterling or $17, although it’s hard to tell exactly with the current fluctuation in global currencies. There are many less expensive Swiss Army-like penknives. Just remember that the more functions one of these knives has, the thicker it is and the harder to hold comfortably. Naturalists will probably find the Farmer model, made by Victorinox, the most useful of all.
This double gift should suit boys and men aged 12 to 50 (although I suspect a lot of women would like these too: just not quite so much), and will probably be all the more popular given that a blockbuster MacGyver movie is already in the early stages of production.
If you are visiting Wicklow with the intention of watching wildlife, and visiting habitats, then here is some advice that will help make things easier. In my opinion the most useful items you can bring with you are as follows:
The advantage of a messenger bag is it leaves your hands free and can be dipped into quickly, without having to be first removed (as in the case of a back-pack). The messenger bag only needs to be light and preferably with some degree of water-resistance, allowing you to keep your more precious items dry, and carry a sandwich if you intend going out for a few hours. It also allows you to carry a light jacket and a hat in case of rain or a sudden drop in temperature.
For your camera you will ideally have a seperate pouch. Unless you are specifically on a photographic expedition in the pay of National Geographic, for roaming around the countryside a compact superzoom camera will be more than ideal. Any camera is good, but a small superzoom will let you take good long distance and close-up macros too, while not being heavy to carry, or, in the worst case scenario, expensive to replace in the case of an outdoors accident. Always keep the strap wrapped around your wrist! These cameras are superb pieces of equipment: they allow you to record nature without harming it, and to examine it in minute detail, and so are a terrific replacement for the old magnifying glass or botanical lens.
Mobile phones are virtually vital pieces of equipment to take out in the field: they allow you to stay safely in contact
with the outside world in the event of an accident, or getting lost. This doesn’t happen very often in Wicklow, but anyone can wander off the beaten track and sprain an ankle, or fall on a mountainside, or encounter someone in distress in the sea on a lonely stretch of coatline, so always carry your mobile phone and keep it charged. Many of the newer ones have GPS and compass applications so you can navigate with them, allow people to follow your route as you make it, or allow you to keep track of the night sky, even if it’s hidden behind a veil of cloud. Also, mobile phones almost always have built-in cameras, so yours can be a useful back-up to your main camera.
A small penknife is also an extremely useful tool to carry. In Ireland it is technically illegal to carry any sort of knife of any kind in any public place, but in practice there is a concept of “reasonable use” and the Gardaí (our police force) use their discretion. For a great many people a knife of some sort will be a necessary tool of their trade. Similarly, it is normal to expect back-packers, tourists, birdwatchers, anglers and hunters to carry knives for outdoor purposes. There is no doubt a penknife is a vital tool to have in the countryside, but do not carry one when visiting bars or nightclubs.
A good tough notebook is one of the most useful item of all you should carry in the countryside. For the naturalist and archaeologist they are a must-have, and for the average tourist they are incredibly useful, to say the least. The best kinds are usually found for sale in art-supply shops, and can be a little expensive. However, they can survive submersion in water, and take a beating without losing pages. Those with unlined pages are best, such as the Windsor Newton journal pictured.
A crushable hat can be either rolled up, or have its crown flattened. In my opinion the second type is better (some hats allow you to do both), as a rigid brim will protect the face from sun and much more importantly, driving rain or hail stones, which often accompany thunderstorms in even the hottest weather of summer. Coats with hoods are not as good, as they don’t adequately protect the face, and limits your field of view, often causing the wearer to face into the hood if he/she attempts to look over his/her shoulder. The advantage of a brimmed hat is that the brim protects the face, head and neck, and will even protect your camera, allowing you to take photos in inclement weather. And there’s no need to wear it everywhere, as it can be easily kept in the messenger bag. A draw string to prevent it blowing away might be useful in cliff or hill areas. A water-resistant outdoor hat is ideal.
One of the commonest plants in Wicklow is Gorse (Ulex europaeus), also known as furze or whin. Gorse is a beautiful and large bush, growing in dense thickets, and producing gently fragrant yellow blossoms. But it is also extremely spiny and easily punctures clothing and skin. The average person will not find any need to wander through gorse thickets, but because of this reason these areas are incredible havens for wildlife, so the wildlife tourist will want to wear clothes that allow him or her to move as painlessly as possible off the beaten track in order to encounter the more remarkable wildlife. Archaeology tourists will also find many ancient walls, buildings and artefacts lie hidden beneath gorse…the bushes take advantage of manmade structures under the soil to anchor themselves. If you see an archaeological structure marked on a map it will almost invariably be surrounded by or covered in gorse, although there will also normally be an unofficial path through the bushes.
If you are an archaeologist you might be tempted to take a waterproof plastic-shelled padded jacket: if you are a wildlife enthusiast don’t even think of it. These jackets will mostly keep the spines off, but are extremely noisy and will alert wild animal to your presence long before you get near them. Volunteers on wildlife studies are usually banned from wearing such coats, even in heavy rain, as they make far too much noise. But even so, gorse needles will eventually puncture such coats.
Although not nearly as waterproof, and a bit heavier, a cotton military-type tunic will protect you from gorse needles and allow the careful naturalist to move silently along paths through gorse thickets. Most also have good secure button-fasten pockets and epaulettes that reinforce and take some of the strain off the shoulders, and allow a messenger bag strap to be held securely over the shoulder. They can be treated to make them more water-resistant, but even this will be worn off by exposure to gorse over a period of time. But these are the best choice for the naturalist.