Must see! The Secret Jewel in the Crown of Helsinki – Rhododendron Park of Haaga

If you are in Helsinki in the beginning of June, you really need to go to Haaga. Or if we are honest, it is worth to come and watch from a distance.  Rhododendron park of Haaga is just unbelievable.

I still remember when I found this place for the first time. When approaching the park I felt a pleasant scent that kept intensifying with each step.  When I was in the park, I thought: “People do not believe that in Finland we could have such parks”.

I closed my eyes and opened them again. It was like another world. I do not remember ever seeing anything like it. The place was filled by so much beauty that I was overwhelmed. In every direction my eyes could see huge rhododendron bushes blooming all at the same time.

The park was built when the University of Helsinki plant breeding science department crossed rhododendron varieties in the 1970s.  Now the place is a secret jewel in the crown of Helsinki. The park is also internationally unique. As many as eight acres of the area has nowadays nearly 3,000 rhododendron species. Beside rhododendrons, there are a whole bunch of azaleas in the park. Most of the bushes is 2–5 meters high.

You really need to see this park. Pictures show just a small part of the beauty when coniferous forest greenery is painted with new purple, white and pink shades.

If you want to experience all this, you need to have a perfect timing. Rhododendrons bloom for a short time, usually in the first two weeks of June.

You can on a criss-crossing the park paths and boardwalks through the rhohos and have a close view. The park also has viewing platforms from which you can admire the floral splendor also from above.

What?
Astonishingly wonderful 8 hectare park full of rhododendrons

When?

Usually the best time is two first weeks of June

Where?
Laajasuontie 37. 200 meters from Huopalahti station between the roads Paatsamatie and Eliel Saarisen tie.

Pirttisaari – a wonderful hiding place in Porvoo’s archipelago

Pirttisaari (Cabin Island), which belongs to the western part of Porvoo’s archipelago is known by few, but even fewer have probably noticed that it’s a sweet little spot for an excursion into nature. Given that it is an island we’re talking about, a little more effort is required to go and spend a day by the sea here, but it’s definitely worth it.

I was a little nervous about how things would work out with the boat timetables, as only the departure times were listed on the noticeboard belonging to Pörtö Line, the ferry operating between Kalkkiranta (the departure point on the mainland) and Pirttisaari, not the arrival times. However, I decided to chance it at the harbour with my backpack and climbed on board the ferry behind the other passengers. Most people, judging by the amount of stuff they had with them, seemed to be going for longer than just a day, probably to summer cottages. Only a few looked like they were, like me, on a day trip.

As a mainlander, I was already enthusiastic about the sea voyage itself – a rare treat! A few travellers had settled below deck to shelter from the wind, but most of us sat outside happily enjoying the sunny crossing. From the deck you could see charming cottage islands, rocky islets dominated by birds and open high seas. The water was almost mirror calm and it then occurred to me, that the conditions would have been perfect for kayaking. Oh well, not this time.

On the way to Pirttisaari, the ferry stopped first at the tiny island of Tredjeholmen to drop off some passengers, and then made a quick stop at Bodö, the next island, to deliver the mail. I double-checked with the ferry’s friendly staff where I should get off and was told not until Pirttisaari’s old school pier, where I would also get picked up in the afternoon.

About an hour after our departure from the mainland we arrived at Pirttisaari’s old school pier. The ferry emptied of passengers, the majority of whom then decanted into their own, smaller, boats. I was clearly the only one, who had come for a daytrip. At the end of the pier was a coherent map, but I had a map in my pocket that I had printed from the internet just in case. If you don’t have any kind of map with you, it’s probably a good idea to take a picture of the one at the pier using, for example, your phone, so that you can check the route and sights when you’re on the move.

After the pier, I came into the yard of the former school building but kept going straight ahead. On the red ochre wall of the building was a small sign: Till friluftsområdet / Recreational area – turn right! The former school with its gardens is private, but you can cross through the yard to get to and from the pier. However, hanging around the yard without permission is not allowed.

When exploring the island, it’s good to be respectful of islanders and their privacy and leave places tidy when you leave. Remember, when visiting any place outdoors, you should always follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

I started walking down the path, narrower than a cart track, towards the crossroads. From there I had to decide, will I go to Svartviken first or head straight towards Lerviken, both of which have a maintained and stocked campfire area. I strolled slowly along the easy path, inspecting what was on either side of it. Foxgloves on one side, with their colours blazing, were probably fugitives from the garden.

Juicy-looking blueberries cast their fruity glances in my direction, and I just couldn’t resist… It wasn’t long until my mouth was completely blue. What a delicious start to the trip… But someone else could pick that cep, as I didn’t have my mushroom knife with me.

The name Pirttisaari, meaning ‘Cabin Island’, had already led me to believe that on the island there would be at least one cabin. There were actually several, many painted with red ochre, which fit perfectly with the picturesque archipelago landscape. The island has been inhabited since the 1700s and there are still permanent year-round residents, even though you would think that with the long boat trip from the mainland, people would just come to spend the summer here in their cottages.

You won’t come across any cars on the island. The biggest vehicle that you might encounter on the narrow path is a quad bike. Among other things, these are probably used to transport firewood to the campfire spots for visitors of the island. The only other sounds of motors rumbling are really only heard from the sea, unless someone’s cutting wood with a chainsaw.

In many recreational areas route markers are made with paint dots on trees, but not on Pirttisaari. When I arrived at the first crossroads after the schoolyard, there were wooden signs waiting for me. Svartviken to the left and Lerviken to the right and the toilet. I chose Lerviken first, because I suspected that there might be more to see.

The small road leading to Lerviken went through a primeval forest, where some bugs were probably feasting on the decaying wood that had been left to lie there and rot in peace. A bright green moss carpet covered the forest floor and I stopped a number of times to admire the colours, light and shadows in amongst the majestic spruces.

Random songbirds performed their solos every now and then. My own footsteps were the loudest distraction, but fortunately only a faint one.

The trail led me over the top of a bare rock, alongside a former pasture and then continued through coniferous forests before the next signs with maps, from which I could see that I was already close to the beach and a defence tower. The tower is locked so don’t anticipate climbing up to get a better view, but don’t worry: the Gulf of Finland archipelago landscapes open up spectacularly from the top of the rocks.

I scrambled up onto the handsome looking rocks next to the army tower, along a path of sorts, but then I went my own way. What a view! If only I had brought my binoculars with me. I could see islets and islands near and far. On one island in the distance I could clearly make out the column of a lighthouse. Moomin Papa’s lighthouse, Söderskär, which is located in Porvoo’s outer archipelago. You can even go and visit Södeskar on a number of different ferries or boat cruises.

I jumped forward from the rocks and noticed a graying wooden cross. The cross has been erected in memory of the fisherman’s son Isak Lilleberg. Isak sailed to the outer island in 1838 to collect his sheep, but was surprised by a storm and drowned on the way. On the back of the wooden cross you can still kind of make out his house mark of four arrows.

I took a moment to sit on the rock to savour the euphoria of looking at an open sea view in laid-back warm weather. These landscapes really do make the spirit soar. It was fun to explore the rocks. By the shore, their rugged features had been softened over time, caressed by the waves; any grooves in them had been pretty much smoothed by the water.

In several places little towers had been made from piled up stones, a reasonable task for a hot day on this kind of island.

I then got up and continued my journey towards the campfire and picnic spot. One family was enjoying the sunny rocks by the cove and I heard from the screams of a the children, that the water was a little fresh. I went to the small headland and then leapt across the stones, aiming towards the sailing ships gliding in the sea. Someone had made a short crescent shaped wall out of beach stones to pass the time, but what for? Maybe it was a play den.

Hunger was starting to make my stomach rumble. Thankfully Lerviken’s campfire spot was already pretty close.

I was expecting a simple campfire ring, but Lerviken surprised me with a super smart shelter with glass walls on one side! The previous picnicker left the fire place soon after I arrived, so I got to sit and enjoy my thermos of tea and my sandwiches in peace, while starting at the open seascape behind the rocks. It was a good idea to build a wind shelter, that you can see through, when the views are as beautiful as this.

On the wall of the shelter were some barcodes which you could scan with your smartphone, if you owned one, and load material telling you about wonders on the island and most importantly, a list of 10 things that you should do before you leave the island. I took my phone out immediately (thankfully there was plenty of charge left in the battery) and browsed the tasks. Yes, I’d already seen those things… and yes, I had already heard those sounds, I had climbed to a high point on the island. But wait a minute, this looked like a fun task…

The task that caught my attention, was to ‘discover your inner artist and make a work of art for the island out of materials provided by nature’. So I admit that this wasn’t exactly original, but it was fun to spend a moment finding different kinds of stones and make a cairn on the coastal rocks. The next visitors could then do whatever they wished with these sculptures. My ecological work of art followed the given instructions of not leaving a permanent mark on or causing damage to the island.

As I left the campfire area, I passed a leftover from the war: a pretty well camouflaged bunker in the side of the rock. There’s no point in trying to get inside there either, as it’s forbidden to enter army buildings without permission. I returned to the path that I arrived on back to the familiar crossroads and followed the sign to the island’s other side, Svartiken.

From Lerviken to Svartiken is a distance of about 1.6km, so you shouldn’t get exhausted, especially as the terrain is nice and even. So I curved from the straight path slightly to the side, as with this kind of short distance on a small area near the seashore there’s no risk of getting lost. But I also still had my map safely in my pocket. I followed the cart track from Svartiken slightly to the right and, still on the small path, through the forest, ending up in a charming bay between Marraudden and Mellanudden. This side of the island looked so different with all its lush greenery!

I then came back on myself and turned onto the little road going to Svartiken. It’s good to keep your eyes wide open by Svartiken, because even though there aren’t that many options offered to the walker, the wooden signs are small. If you arrive on the island via Svartiken, the route to Lerviken is clearer, but coming from Lerviken there are a couple of crossroads which can confuse the traveller.

At Svartiken there is a boat jetty, where there were a number of boats parked. The secluded, rocky inlet is a great place to stop for the night if you wish to, as there is a maintained campfire place with firewood and a tidy outhouse. I would recommend Lerviken however as the number one location for daytrippers, where you can enjoy the open landscape/scenery and sheltered campfire place. Svartiken is designed more for boaters.

Then I looked at the clock – it was time to head back to the old school pier to wait for the ferry and my ride back to the mainland.

The ferry arrived at the jetty around 2pm and about a dozen passengers boarded. Sitting on the deck of M/S Pörtö in the afternoon sun in the middle of the glistening sea, I sighed, thinking to myself that Finland does indeed have a gloriously beautiful archipelago and it’s an amazing thing that even an ordinary landlubber like me can go and enjoy it just by using the ferry. And this trip didn’t even cost that much, for the ferry crossing to Pirttisaari’s old school pier and back is free!

Directions and parking: Kalkkiranta beach can be reached by bus from both Porvoo and Helsinki (about 1hr30 from Central Station). From both directions you will need to change buses at Söderkulla, which is about 7km from Kalkkiranta where you catch the ferry, and the times coincide with ferry departure times. Please see Helsinki’s Journey Planner for routes and times from Helsinki. The ferry journey from Kalkkiranta on the mainland to Pirttisaari is about one hour.

If you come via car, you can use Kalkkiranta’s free parking area, but if it’s full you have to find a parking spot by the side of the road. For bicycles, there’s plenty of room near the beach and you can buy ice-cream and other snacks from Kalkkiranta’s kiosk.

ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6670253  E 413851

Map (Lerviksudden, Pirttisaari)  ETRS-TM35FIN -tasokoordinaatit N 6670253  E 413851

Cycling in Porvoo’s National Urban Park

Porvoo is one of Finland’s best loved national landscapes, with its red wooden riverside storehouses and pastel-coloured buildings belonging to the old town, its river valley and its National Urban Park.

National Urban Parks are an assembly of natural spaces, agricultural landscapes and built areas of cultural significance in and around the urban environment. Porvoo’s Urban National Park is made up of the historical town itself, ancient relics, nature conservation areas as well as parks and recreational areas used by urban residents. Altogether this forms about 1,112 hectares.

While writing this I discovered that Urban National Parks can also be found in seven other cities around Finland: Forssa, Hanko, Heinola, Hämeenlinna, Kotka, Pori and Turku.

My own National Urban Park exploration began on board a Jopo bike courtesy of VisitPorvoo, which can be rented from under Mannerheiminkatu bridge. I set off just as the bells of Porvoo’s handsome cathedral struck ten o’clock, as if someone had fired a starting shot for a race. Weaving through tourists enthusiastically taking pictures with their smartphones, I peddled through the cobbled streets, over the bridge and then onto the bicycle lane alongside Porvoo river.

I had boldly chosen a gearless bicycle, having concluded that I would be riding mainly on flat terrain. Riding on a Jopo also felt reassuringly nostalgic and like a laid back way to travel on a sunny day.

Having decided on Haikkoo Manor as my destination and point for turning back, I peddled along Porvoo’s western bank. The city’s old and new centres were left behind on the opposite shore, as I continued my journey south alongside relatively new apartments.

From my bike saddle, I observed boats laying idle in the harbour as well as gliding along the water. Canada geese were resting on the river bank as I passed The Art Factory, where Visit Porvoo’s travel info is based and from where you can pick up a cycling and outdoors map. I spotted its #URBCULT- area, in which school kids had been nurturing vegetables planted in containers made from old pallets. There was even sauna on offer there in celebration of summer!

After the cycle path had curved round into Kokonniemi, I stopped for a moment to admire a some street art on the wall of the pumping station, inspired by the famous Japanese print The Great Wave of Kanagawa. On my right the coniferous hill of Kokonniemi rose up steeply.

Soon I came across a maintained park area with a campfire pit – a great place for a picnic. One couple had set up their picnic chairs on the lawn of the river bank, but the two campfire sites made out of concrete well rings are a much better way to cook your sausages than using disposable barbecues. I do advise taking your own firewood though, as I didn’t notice any provided by the city.

The features of this park at the tip of Kokonniemi are charming, with a delicately carved yellow pavilion (unfortunately somewhat vandalised), as well as a magnificent straight avenue of linden trees, which leads from it to the beach. This would be a lovely spot for a summer cafe.

Looking at the pavilion and the view, images of old, black and white domestic movies started to play my mind: a manor house romance; a couple in love walking along the linden tree avenue in the summer dusk, a violin playing softly in the background… The park’s construction began in 1891, which was an acknowledgement of the location’s beauty and elegance.

After admiring the park, I cycled ahead on a gravel cycle path and started to crave ice-cream. Looking at the map I noticed, with relief, that nearby was Kokonniemi’s campground, which would be sure to have some. I broke into a little sweat cycling up hill, but at least I had earned my ice-cream.

I took this opportunity to inspect the map further. I noticed as I left the camping area, that the rocks of Kokonniemi were gleaming at me from the other side – another place to go and explore.

Approaching Uddas, the view opened out along with river’s mouth, which stretched out on my left. The reedbed continued as far as the eye could see and the sea could barely be spotted behind all the greenery. The cycle path continued to be even and easy until I reached Uddas, where there was a small uphill before rolling into the forest. I made a little stop again: the raspberries on the side of the cycle path looked too good to resist.

Out and about were other cyclists, joggers and a few walkers. It was especially pleasing to see one particular couple: the lady was jogging while the gentleman accompanied her in an electric wheelchair. It was great to see that this route in the middle of nature was accessible, for all to enjoy. When I came to the field, I chose the path on the coast and and started to look out for a cycle path on the right. Somewhere the path had to rise up to a vantage point.

Then I came to a small beach, where a couple of families where sunbathing, and noticed that a path branched out from the cycle path uphill to Tornberget, next to a granite column, with a mysterious engraving of the number 60 on it. I parked my bike on the side of the coastal path and clambered up the gently rising trail in hope of finding the vantage point.

The forest path was a joy to walk, with the leaves shimmering in the sun. Without the drone of cars anywhere nearby, it was completely quiet except for a bird fluttering and chirping in a nearby tree. Further up, I came across a fitness route which had stretching apparatus on the side of it. I turned past it onto the path that led to the left. And then again to the left, on the coastal side.

With my mouth blue from Tornberget’s juicy berries, I walked onto the almost bare rocks and was presented with a fantastic view towards Porvoo River. This was the moment to sit down and dig out my sandwich and water bottle. I did slightly regret not filling up my tea flask that morning, but that was quickly forgotten. It did me a world of good watching the shimmering water, boats occasionally floating by and a few fluffy clouds in the blue sky.

Back on my bike, after peddling a few metres; I noticed another path leading upwards after the rock walls of Tornberget. The path seemed to promise another fine view, but I decided that my next scenic stop would be a vantage point further along.

As I passed the shore of Hamari, I took a peek at cute, old houses which the local sawmill workers had built for themselves. At some point Hamari used to have its own harbour and docking station. If I hadn’t already had a snack break, I would have stopped at the beach cafe, but instead I looked for the route to the Lennätinkallio nature conservation area. The area’s forests have been left alone to grow in peace since 1961, when the nature conservation area was established.

I cycled along the park road and then to Haavikkotie road which shot me out onto the the fitness trail. I left my bicycle parked on the edge of the forest and picked up the first path going up on the left and decided to aim as high as possible, sure I would find the vantage point around there somewhere. I scrambled for a little while on the pine dominated rocky hill and wondered where to go, but then took the widest path into the spruce forest. From there I found the vantage point with it’s small lookout tower.

At the lookout tower there’s a picnic table. You can compare the view with the image of it that hangs on the side of the tower, by the internationally known painter Albert Edelfelt. Some kids turned up from the straightest path from Lennätinvuori clutching their mobile phones. I suspect they were not there for the view, like I was. Probably on a Pokemon mission.

Because the tower is low, you don’t see over the tops of the trees as far as Porvoo’s centre. The view is mainly of forest and the open water of Haikkoo on the horizon.

I descended on the occasionally very rocky path that led down from the observation tower and back onto the fitness trail, peering at the forest view. The light dappled onto the dazzling, beautiful moss, the trees and on the scattered boulders. I let out a sigh.

After that I peddled towards Haikkoo on the nearest cycle path. However, I didn’t stop immediately at the Manor House and Spa, but continued by journey downhill, it was only 600 metres from the crossroads to Albert Edelfelt’s studio museum. Almost immediately I spotted a sign on the right hand side of the road. It indicated that a pond featured in Edelfelt’s painting was on the right hand side of the fitness trail. Naturally, I turned down it and continued cycling the forest route towards this other art subject.

The marked fitness trail was primarily for skiers and walkers, but it was also easy to cycle. The good signage to Haikkoo’s pond was a bonus. I parked my bicycle on the side of the fitness trail and walked on the bumpy and partially damp path towards the edge of the forest pond.

Haikkoo’s forest pond was charming with its waterlilies, which blossomed joyfully as they did in the painting itself. A large print of the painting was also on display in situ, which enabled comparison of Edelfelt’s version with the live view. I wondered if he carried his drawing and painting materials to the place himself or if he had an assistant. Did the models have to shiver in the pond for long?

I returned to my bicycle and rode along the fitness route back to the nearest residential area and from there to the crossroads, where I reached Edelfelt’s path which led to Albert Edelfelt’s studio, which now serves as a museum. An engraving on a rock in the garden confirms that Edelfelt (1854-1905) worked here for 24 summers.

Albert Edelfelt had been so fond of Haikkoo’s nature and landscape that in 1880 he bought himself an old estate manager’s house, and in a few years had a studio built for himself with windows in the roof. There were excellent views of Haikkoo’s open water from the house. The trees on the plot have obviously kept growing since then, but right on the shore you can still see the landscape.

In the garden of the studio, I noticed a few pictures of Edelfelt’s works and before going into the museum, I walked down the path towards the shore. More photos of paintings! This was a really nice outdoor exhibition and it was interesting being in the exact locations where the paintings were painted.

Down by the water, there was a table on a wooden bench. If you happened to have a print of Edelfelt’s Haikkoo painting with you, you could sit and observe what had changed in the landscape.

I popped a few wild blueberries into my mouth and stopped at the museum, where a guide was talking about Edelfelt’s life, the paintings on display (which were duplicates) and the artefacts, fluently in different languages. Then it was time to head back.

I peddled and at times had to push the Jopo bike up hill. Then, sweating, I turned right into the courtyard of Hotel Haikko Manor and Spa. It was very grand. However, the pond with a fountain near the parking area softened my heart – it looked somewhat unruly in the middle of this manicured milieu. My bike waited in the parking area, as I took a short stroll in the gorgeous grounds of Haikko Manor, where lawns and flowerbeds lived in harmony with frisbee-golf baskets.

InHotel Haikko Manor and Spa there’s a cafe where daytrippers can go and have a sweet or salty snack, you don’t have to be an overnight guest.

I returned to my bike, passing a white Rolls Royce, and then cycled back along the same way that I came, following the wonderful waterside route back to Porvoo, where I returned my rented vehicle to Mannerheim street under the bridge. A shorter route would also have been possible, but why take a short cut if you don’t need to? As I cycled I thought that you could quite easily do this day trip from the centre of Porvoo to Haikko just by walking.

Porvoo’s National City park is a great outdoor destination because it’s easy to hike there on your own, on short or longer routes, and keep within a stone’s throw from cafes if you wish. Or you can rent a bicycle and explore a wider area. When I saw the stand-up paddlers I immediately felt like paddling along Porvoo river.

I can honestly say, that one day is nowhere near enough to explore the National Urban Park that spreads out across both sides of Porvoo’s river. To help you plan your trip, there is some excellent material available. You could start with the ready thought-out themed routes (find the downloadable PDF maps here) and pick up a pocket-sized leaflet with you about the park or a free cycling and outdoor map from the Visit Porvoo visitor office which is in the Art Factory on the river’s western bank.

For those interested in art, there’s a leaflet available that tells you about areas connected to Albert Edelfelt. You can depart from wherever you like, follow the suggested routes or go off and create your own mini adventure!

The author stayed at Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast, courtesy of Porvoo’s travel office VisitPorvoo.fi

Tornberget on the map.
Edelfelt’s studio and museum on the map. Address: Edelfeltinpolku 3, 06400 Porvoo.

A GLIMPSE OF MAGIC IN THE HEART OF HOSSA

The quiet patter of rain didn’t put us off trying the 3km nature trail at the heart of Hossa. We had already been treated with a couple of days of sunshine, so a bit of rain felt quite pleasant. Being active outdoors can make you pretty warm, and nothing is more refreshing than raindrops on your forehead.

The nature trail, which winds around Huosilampi lake as well as a smaller unnamed pond, is clearly marked and departs from Hossa Visitor Centre’s courtyard. The first portion of the trail is wheelchair accessible.

The first sight on the path left me and my partner feeling rather puzzled. Was it an enclosure to keep people out, or was the fence there so that the lichen couldn’t stray?

To clarify, this kind of enclosure is usually known as a ‘kirnu’ (‘churn’ in English), a fenced area in the centre of the main corral, into which reindeer that roam in the wild are herded during the reindeer round up, something which happens twice a year. The ‘kirnu’ is usually where the main action happens, where individuals are caught and put into separate pens according to whether they will go slaughter, be castrated, go on to breed, be sold and so on. However, the ‘kirnu’ usually has a gate which you can open easily. There was nothing like that here.

Thankfully we were on a nature trail, which meant that there was an information board to offer immediate relief to our confusion. The spot in question was a test area, where they were studying how quickly lichen grows, when it isn’t being eaten. So the fence was to keep reindeer out rather than lichen in,  which was a slightly more logical answer than our earlier speculation.

Our reindeer herding dog seemed to be of the opinion that there were too few reindeer around, and was eager to continue the journey, when we finally finished reading the sign.

Wheelchair access to the shore of Huosilampi lake

Soon after the start of the trail, we reached the shore of Huosilampi. Along the route, a pier had also been made wheelchair accessible. It is really admirable that access has been provided, for all to enjoy the clear waters of Hossa. When Hossa officially becomes a National Park in 2017, it is said that accessible infrastructure will be developed even further.

Along the shore there was also a campfire area which included benches with backrests, as well as a table in the shelter that a wheelchair could easily fit around.

Someone could be heard fishing on the opposite shore. Our route continued in that direction. For a while, the wide, accessible trail hugged the edge of the lake and then crossed beautiful swamplands.

The route then narrowed into a regular path as we dove into the woods, where the elevation differences were noticeably greater.

Soon after, a swamp opened out to our right. Is it just me, or are swamps especially beautiful in the rain? Their colour saturation seems more intense against the contrast of the dark sky.

A little further along we got to admire the dark back of Huosiusjärvi lake from a high slope. There was also a bench, where you could sit and rest. The nature trail shouldn’t include any dramatically steep climbs or tricky downhills, but you can still manage to break a sweat. You won’t find flat, even ground in ridge terrain.

We were approaching the ridge of Huosiharju, the trail slanting towards its eastern end. The path snaked clearly through the ground and was well-marked, making it easy to follow. No-one crossed our paths throughout the whole journey.

The nameless pond along the trail was dark turquoise even in the rain. Might it have been a kettle hole formed by a lump of ice melting at the end of the ice age? The nature trail’s information board confirmed my suspicions.

Kettle holes (bowl-shaped depressions in the land) and ridges, which tell us of the ice age’s powerful influence, have a strong presence in Hossa. But they are so big, noble and soft in form, that nature’s rage during the ice age no longer really comes across. Instead everything is beautiful, gentle and quiet. The turquoise waters of the kettle holes, the soft lichen on the ridges and the carpet of low-lying forest shrubbery invite the soul and eyes to relax.

This aside, nature’s strong will can be seen in the fallen trees, some of which looked like they had experienced quite a violent fate.

We wandered around the forest between the kettle hole pond and Huosilampi lake in a figure of eight trying to guess where the route continued. Straight? No, it continued to the south of Huosilampi.

Soon we reached a road. There was a tourist in a caravan in the carpark. From the carpark, steps led down to the lake shore, by which we found a campfire spot with a woodshed. On the other side of the water on the forest slope a reindeer rustled.

The clear surface of Huosilampi was trying to tell us, that the rain was weakening. Only small individual drops tickled the surface of the pond.

Walking around a small bay I saw tree trunks resting beneath the surface of the water. They were as beautiful as they were eerie.

During the whole trip we only met one other person, a man fishing. I asked if any fish were biting, but the man asked for more time saying that he had only just arrived.

Huosilampi’s disabled access shelter

Around the corner we came across a picnic area so large that you could arrange a wedding there. But it was empty. In front of it was a disabled access jetty. At the water’s edge there was a table for gutting fish.

Soon we were back at the Visitor Centre, where the carpark was filled with the smart-looking motorhomes belonging to French and Germans. It’s wonderful that foreigners have also found Hossa.

The nature trail is a great sampler of what Hossa is all about: clear turquoise waters, forests that are bright and full of rich colour, straight trees and round shapes. This is why it’s a great choice for those, who are for whatever reason only passing through and don’t have enough time to enjoy Hossa more extensively.

Also, thanks to its accessible sections, even wheelchair users can fully enjoy the beauty of its waters, the colourful marshes and the atmosphere of the campfire with ease.

After our own tour, we retreated to the cottage at Hossan Lumo that Suomussalmi region had kindly offered us, to dry off and rest for a moment.

The trail’s starting point is here on the map

This article is part of series about Hossa, carried out in collaboration with the municipality of Suomussalmi.

Translated by Becky Hastings.

An evening stroll in Porvoo’s national urban park

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Porvoo is the old town with is it’s pretty wooden and stone houses. However, a stone’s throw away from the narrow cobblestone streets, you can take a relaxing evening walk surrounded by nature. Looking at the city’s outdoor map, I noticed that I would end up under a kilometre away from Porvoo’s bus station, which is still very close to downtown.

Those who wish to break a sweat can opt for the longer route (it extends from Old Porvoo 10km South and 8km East), but I was more interested in exploring what the immediate landscapes had to offer.

I could have been lazy and chosen the even path from Porvoo’s riverside towards the south, from either side of the river. But I’ve always been drawn to looking at views from higher up,  so I walked over the bridge on the west bank and soon found an inviting path up to Näsi Hill.  It was still brimming with nature’s edible offerings, so I popped blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries in my mouth from the side of the path. Long live berry season and Everyman’s Rights.

From under the pine trees opened out a beautiful view of the evening sun illuminating Old Porvoo with its cathedral and the riverside houses reflected in the stilly calm Porvoo river. I wondered, what this landscape looks like in autumn, when the green of the trees has given way to yellow and other autumnal colours…

I walked from the slopes of Näsi hill onto the next path heading south and stopped every now and then to peer through the trees down to Porvoo river. Soon red warehouse buildings flashed between the pine branches. It was from this slope that Albert Edelfelt composed and drafted his painting, ‘View from Porvoo’s Näsi Hill’, the draft of which can be found at the Ateneum. The final painting lives at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

A little way along from the vantage point that was marked on the map, I could see almost all of Porvoo’s new city centre. I have to admit, it doesn’t quite have the same appeal as Old Porvoo’s vista. And so I turned back, towards the top of Näsi hill, where Näsi’s rock was waiting for me. There was something celebratory about this boulder hurled here by the ice age, especially while the sun’s rays hit it so gloriously. From behind this impressive rock, the buildings of Näsi manor’s courtyard revealed themselves.

My attention was next drawn to a beautiful yellow building, whose semicircular terrace would have had me stopping for evening tea, if there was such a thing on offer. Unfortunately there wasn’t, so Honkala (Furunäs) was quiet this evening. But it would have been nice to sit down and enjoy the view of the urban park…. The scenic restaurant’s history dates back to the beginning of the 1900s, when it was known by the name of Turisthyddan.

So then what? Just a few hundred metres away was a cemetery, where you could find, for example, Johan Ludvig Runeberg and his wife Fredrika’s grave, but I wanted to enjoy the evening sun’s final rays nearer the river. So down I went.

The forest trail descended behind Honkala from Näsi hill down to the side of Old Helsinki Road. Cars rarely passed on the road anymore and the tourist coaches had already left  the parking lot, which was by the bridge.

As I walked to the bridge, I stumbled across some living history. A few men and women were dressed in clothes from the 1800s. The travellers in their handsome clothes were not just on an ordinary evening walk, they were returning from a general rehearsal of a play about the 1809 Porvoo state elections.

On my return to the Old Porvoo side, immediately after the bridge, I turned into the street on the left heading towards Porvoo’s riverside. The silence of the river was arresting. Not one boat was on the move and there weren’t even any birds swimming around. Where were the kayakers, on such a perfect evening  for floating slowly down the river?

A few tourists sat along the riverbank and some locals crossed my path on their evening walk, with dogs and without. Behind the untamed reedbeds glimmered the national landscape, which included the manicured riverbank lawn with it’s flowerbeds, as well as Näsi hill from where I had just come.

On the other side of Porvoo river, I could make out the wooden railway station. Groomed park avenues with their silver willows are part of the more ‘park’- like  elements of the National Urban Park, and I could have continued my journey on this route beyond the river, but from here you can’t see Maari’s wetlands so well. Besides, a neat park avenue feels a little too tame for me, so I decided to deviate towards a slightly wilder looking path.

And so I ended up in the midst of a hefty army of stinging nettles on either side of the path… I honestly didn’t even notice at first,  as I was so entranced by the light in front, filling my vision with gold. These spinach substitutes shouldn’t, however, be ignored. They are, after all, excellent wild herbs that can be used in all kinds of dishes. So I hadn’t just come to Maari’s wetlands, but also a wild herb garden!

The path led me to a narrow, grey arched bridge, which took me closer to Linnamäki (Castle hill). The landscape in Maari’s bay has changed considerably over the centuries. In the 1100s, the bay was part of Porvoo river and served as a natural harbour. You wouldn’t necessarily guess that now, as the bay is fast becoming overgrown, a result of the land rising and also of nutrients and silt accumulating in in the river.

It’s hard to imagine what this looked like when Porvoo city was still young and had a tiny population. In the middle ages, you may also have come across a foreigner shopping in these parts. They could have been, for example, from Estonia. Smaller vessels were able to travel right up to here via Porvoo river, but larger sailing vessels had to be left further away from the river’s mouth.

The velvety surface of chocolate brown cattails were tempting to touch and you could smell the meadowsweet aroma in the warm humidity of the evening. A number of different wildflowers dotted the side of the path, as I continued forward, enraptured again by the view that opened out onto the cathedral. I wish I had a plant expert with me who could identify some of the rarer species amongst all this greenness.

I didn’t take the most direct route up to Linnamäki, but decided to take a small detour around to the left. The meadowsweet meadow was vast. Behind the pole fence I noticed a drinking trough. Could there be some landscaping sheep behind the fence? If there were, they had hidden themselves successfully somewhere amongst the meadowsweet and were lazily neglecting their summer work, for the meadow looked so untrodden.

While looking at the pole fence and  this kind of landscape, time somehow stood still. Such a sweet summer evening, fragrances floating in the air, dusk approaching: just as if I was in the countryside. You wouldn’t believe that here we were only about a kilometre from the centre of Porvoo.

However, I still had one climb left to do, and that was Linnamäki. The trees seemed to grow so densely, that I wasn’t sure would if there be much of a view, but hopefully something worth seeing anyway, A St John’s Cross (a looped square symbol) on the side of the path signalled something promising, that I was reaching a historical place.

Linnamäki (Castle Hill) has been part of forming Porvoo’s name. The city’s Swedish name, ‘Borgå’, means castle river. Now there wouldn’t be a castle river without a castle, which, in the middle ages, would have been right on top of this hill. Porvoo was so important by then that it was the third town to receive city status along with city rights in Finland in 1380, after Turku and Ulvila.

After the trail I still had to climb some steps and cross the moat, but I was already in what would have been the castle area in ancient times. You can sit on the narrow wooden bench here  to think deep thoughts, catch your breath or imagine what this all used to look like.

Views from the top of Linnamäki are limited; You can get a better view slightly lower down, on the slope facing downtown. Once upon a time the trees had been sparse enough for Albert Edelfelt to paint his work ‘From Linnamäki’, which, depicted Porvoo as seen from this point. The work is on show at Haiko Manor in the yellow lounge.

On Linnamäki it’s difficult to let your imagination run wild and immerse yourself in some kind of a castle romance, as there isn’t even a trace of the wooden log structures that once stood here in the middle ages. I walked around the location of the castle and wondered what had been in that pit. How high had the log castle been, what kind of equipment did it have, how many people lived there… History says, that there had already been a building here in Viking times (800-900s), but an official castle was built at a later date for defence. Reportedly the log castle itself was only in use for a few decades.

Before I left, I stopped and looked at the view again. This hill was smiling! The shallow pit formed its own kind of dimple. It was as if it too was enjoying the evening.

The most exciting thing on Linnamäki was this funny moat, which you could cross from both sides along a wooden bridge. I wonder if at the time a drawbridge or two went over it. Linnamäki is currently in such a wildly natural state, that it feels like only a matter of time until bushes and trees will sprout from the moat, foresting the landscape completely. In Linnamäki’s surroundings, around the smaller hill Pikkulinnamäki, a burial ground dating back to the Roman iron age had been found, as well as bronze jewellery. Linnamäki and its ancient monuments form a fine part of the National Urban Park.

Feeling content, I returned to the cathedral and back to Old Porvoo. My small outing around the park had been an atmospheric and leisurely end to the evening.

Porvoo’s National Urban Park: Maps and route advice

Map (Näsi’s rock)   ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6696091  E 425865

Map (Linnamäki) ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6696682  E 425741

The writer stayed at  Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast courtesy of VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.

Sikosaari’s birdwatching tower and nature trail in Porvoo

Sikosaari (Pig Island) is situated in Porvoo river’s estuary, just over two kilometres from the centre of Porvoo. In the past, it has served urban dwellers as forestry land and pasture. The island is a part of Porvoo’s National Urban Park, which comprises a variety of significant historical areas and natural sites. The 1.5 kilometre nature path and a birdwatching tower can be found in the northeastern part of the island. Sikosaari’s name (Pig Island) isn’t as poetic as, say, Sulosaari (Grace Island), but don’t let that bother you. You won’t meet any pigs there either.

I did a cycling trip using the Jopo bike that Visit Porvoo provided. The beautiful winding route alongside Porvoo river takes you to the island on an easy, even path, and as you get closer to the island, the wetlands appear to continue as far as the eye can see. In the middle of the reeds there are only a few, narrow channels, along which you can travel by boat or canoe. The reedbeds would soon become overgrown if selected waterways were not kept open by humans.

I parked my bike for a moment, but only managed to spot a couple of flapping ducks having their evening swim. So much for birdwatching on this trip…

The raised road leading to the island delivered me to my destination effortlessly. But soon I had to brake, as the sign for the birdwatching tower indicated right. I parked my bike on the side of the road and started walking on the even path that crossed the coastal grove. Meadowsweet flowers wafted their scent in the air, raspberries jumped into my mouth with a little assistance, and there were only a moderate number of mosquitoes.

Sikosaari birdwatching tower is one of the highest in Porvoo, so I knew I would be able to see far. A few cables had been secured to the corners of the tower, probably to secure it in strong winds. I looked down to the duckboards leading to the tower and noticed a watery patch. Had I crossed on that partially submerged plank, my trainers would have gotten soaked.

As birdwatching towers tend to be by water, it would be sensible to take rubber boots in wetter weather. I hadn’t really thought about this, as it had been sunny and dry for many days. I removed my shoes on the rock and carried them with me as I took on a refreshing footbath on the way to the tower. Besides being cold, the water didn’t really feel like anything.

I climbed to the third level barefoot. From the birdwatching tower you can see clearly towards the centre of Porvoo, with Ruskis bird tower on the opposite shore, and Ekudden’s birdwatching tower near it, towards Stensböle. There is plenty of room here for birds to nest, as the movement of humans is limited in such dense reedbeds.

I wonder what this looked like 400-500 years ago? The reedbed was probably much smaller and the gulf’s waterways wider for boats, considering the land has also risen out of the sea since then.

Sikosaari belonged to the City of Porvoo as far back as the year 1602. In 1550, at the same time as Helsinki was founded, our then ruler, the Swedish King Gustav Vasa discontinued Porvoo’s city status. It had been founded in 1380 and was at that time Finland’s third oldest city. However in 1602, Porvoo got its city rights back from King Charles IX who, in the same year, donated land from Sikosaari to the city to complement an earlier donation from 1546.

After the tour of the birdwatching tower I hopped onto my bike and cycled a little further on the path. Sikosaari’s nature trail appeared only a couple of hundred metres along, so I parked my bike again. The wooden signposts for the trail have deteriorated over time, but the trail’s information board was in perfect condition with not so much as a smear.

On the departure point’s info board you can study Sikosaari’s history and familiarise yourself the nature trail in advance, with the help of the more detailed route map. The island’s forests have suffered extensive logging, but the situation was calmed by defining a protection zone around the coast. According to the info board the current woodland has been able to grow in peace for around 80 years. The nature trail’s history goes back to 1985 and from it you can explore forest as well as coastal ecology.

So into the woods! I was welcomed into the coniferous forest with the whine of a few mosquitoes, but they didn’t bother me as long as I kept moving… only when I came to a standstill. Alongside the nature trail, I spotted excellent looking mushroom and berry picking areas. There were plentiful wild blueberries on these clumps. However I didn’t investigate mushrooms any further. A mushroom trip is its own thing, which you need to be prepared for not only with a mushroom knife, but with more time.

Around the nature trail there were plenty of rocks in the shade of the fir trees. The grey granite gradually started to disappear under a green blanket. All kinds of different mosses grow on rocks along with who knows what else. Some delicate plants or even a tree could use a mossy boulder as a growing bed. On one rock, ferns grew out of its head like a coquettish hat decoration.

Another rock had a very rough, pockmarked surface. Even the colour of the stone was not just grey, but reddish hues could also be seen. This kind of rapakivi granite has been extracted since the beginning of the 1900s when Sikosaari was a quarry site, providing building materials for the urban dweller and his streets.

Sikosaari has been an abundant resource for many kinds of activities. The island’s clay was used in brick-construction, forests provided fuel and construction wood (until it was necessary to restrict logging), a pilot station was set up in 1802 and the island’s western part has served as a dock since the 1850s.

I walked forward on the path, full of the most awesome colourful moss carpet and arrived at some smooth rocks. Because the island doesn’t have a fire place or other picnic spots with benches and a table, this dry rock was a good place to enjoy a snack.

Close to the rocky ridge I noticed a small but somewhat whimsical ‘cave’. It was made from big slabs quarried from the erratic boulder, forming a cavity easily accessed by humans. Could I be bothered to crawl in there? I couldn’t resist the temptation, so in I wriggled… In such a heavy duty shelter provided by nature you could at least protect yourself from a rain shower (I can’t guarantee that water wouldn’t flow in from the larger rock above) or otherwise, take a nap! For kids this is a brilliant hiding place.

The nature trail soon curved away from coastal waters. The beach was already shimmering behind the spruces. If in some parts the path is easy to walk, you might want to be careful in the stony parts. Tree roots can also surprise you as they snake across the path.

At the beginning of the trail, I expected a kilometre and a half to take around an hour.  But it’s worth noting that a nature trail is not a place to rush. There are separate jogging paths for that. A slower pace can give you more time to enjoy nature, in which case the path’s stones help you to focus on the moment.

Descending the trail I thought of stories and tales, for the rocks around me were so extraordinarily beautiful. Daylight turning into evening light didn’t bother me at all, just brought its own sweet atmosphere.

Soon there were even larger erratic boulders dotting the mossbed in front of me. I took my seatpad from my backpack and sat down with my back against a rock wall. Some considerable rocky relics have been left here since the ice age, most likely not pushed here by giants, as was once believed. At the same time I remembered one trip to Jyväskylä’s Muurasalo, where I found even bigger but similar rocks in amongst Lake Päijänne’s coastal landscape. Similar greetings from the ice age can be found all around Finland.

The path guided me next to the shore’s edge, where a promising sign was waiting: Bird Rock/Fågelsten. I wondered first if it was a birdshaped rock. Then I walked around the coastal Rowan trees and in front of me was a stone boulder that you could climb up via little wooden steps. The handrail made for the rock was in poor condition, but it didn’t matter, the rock wasn’t too high.

From bird rock you see Stensböle’s bay better than if you were standing on the ground, even though the terrain is flat. Abundant tall reeds dominate the landscape. So much so that the reed sea looks like it intends to slowly swallow the actual gulf. Near bird rock an information board can be found, revealing the life of reeds. It also helps with bird identification, if you happen to see any feathered friends in the landscape. Binoculars are always good to have with you on a trip around here, as with your bare eyes there is no way you’d be able to make out the differences in the birds and their feathery details.

A small section of the route was marked out on top of the water by duckboards. Duckboards through the reedbeds was a nice idea, but time had taken its toll on the poor planks. These structures from 2007 had been rendered useless in parts. From the direction of bird rock, you could only take a few steps on the boards before you came across ones so skewed that you could only attempt to tackle them the same way as you would parkour. I don’t recommend it.

I returned to dry land and followed the planks along the coast towards the south for a while. There the structures were intact enough, that I could walk a small part of the way through the reedbeds with dry feet. Duckboards are always subject to wet conditions as well as the people that walk upon them. In this case it seemed that ice caused the worst damage. In the meantime, it’s safer to do this part of the trip along the coast, until the duckboards are fixed.

After the duckboard section, the nature trail turned back towards the island interior and towards Sikosaari road. I walked on the path softened by spruce needles towards the evening sun, and enjoyed the silence of the summer evening, making out a few more large rocks from the slopes. I came upon a fork in the path, where there was no sign, so I ended up guessing which path to take. I followed my instinct and the right path turned out to the the right choice. Soon the path joined up with Sikosaari road and I walked towards the P sign following the dirt road on the right back to the trail’s departure point and towards my bike.

Along paths and small roads you can wander along a wider area of Sikosaari than just the nature trail. Since the island isn’t fully for recreational use, there are also a couple of farms, as well as private and holiday homes, you should keep your distance and leave the private areas in peace. The island’s southern part, the old forest south of the farmland, is a protected as a nature conservation area.

Sikosaari is a laid-back and easy to reach location for a day trip, especially suitable for families. There is no fire pit, but if you want to have a picnic on the island, it’s worth taking a thermos bottle, cold snacks and sitting pads.

Location: Sikosaari is located south of Porvoo’s town centre and from there the journey is just under 3km, so it’s easy and also recommended to take a trip by bike or on foot. The birdwatching tower and the nature trail start from Sikosaari road and there are signs on the side of the road. At the birdwatching tower is a modest opening, in which a couple of cars can fit. The nature trail departure point similarly has limited space for cars. The island has no bus connection.

Map – Sikosaari birdwatching tower ETRS-TM35FIN -tasokoordinaatit N 6693482  E 427396

Map – Sikosaari’s Nature Trail departure point ETRS-TM35FIN -tasokoordinaatit N 6693510  E 426960

Nature attractions a stone’s throw from Porvoo’s city centre (Map and guide)

The author’s accommodation Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast – bed and breakfast was provided by Porvoo’s travel office /VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.

The peaceful coast of Emäsalo: Varlaxudden, Porvoo

Do you long to cast your gaze out to the open sea? Then you should head to Varlaxudden, which is part of Porvoo’s archipelago and located just off the southern tip of Emäsalo. Emäsalo is a large island of around 34 square kilometres, slightly southwest of Porvoo, accessible via bridge. The Varlaxudden recreational area is 12 hectares, but I suspect that most visitors don’t stray far from the shoreline.

I started my daytrip by car, heading south down the Emäsalo Road from Porvoo almost all the way to the pilot station, where you can’t go without permission. Varlaxudden’s carpark was right by the road. Not far along path, there was a neat outhouse on the rocks and some firewood.

Several daytrippers were dotted around the coastal rocks enjoying the calm weather whilst sitting, standing, laying on beach towels or wading in shallow water. Smoke rose from the depth of the sheltered campfire site as well as from the hot coals of an open campfire place nearby. A gentleman assuming the role of sausage guard went to turn the hotdogs and at the same time seemed to be making sure that I didn’t mistakenly think that they were up for grabs. Oh why didn’t I take my own sausages with me!

A lovely view of the Gulf of Finland’s outer archipelago was visible from most of  Varlaxudden beach. A few sailboats glided lazily forward in the distance and I wondered if the taller vertical post on the horizon was a lighthouse. I should have thought to take binoculars with me.

I bounded along the beach to the left and wondered if I could manage a visit to a sweet-looking rocky headland called Fågelboet with dry feet. The promontory must have been  a former island, as the land has risen around Emäsalo approximately 5 metres in the last couple of thousand years. I decided to move from the edge of coastal waters to the forest side and see if I could find a path leading to Fågelboet.

Having found the forest path leading in the right direction, I then came across a mini camp by the trail.  It seems that Varlaxudden had attracted some overnight visitors as well as daytrippers and they had found the perfect spot for their three tents in the shade of pine trees. I stepped around the tent ropes and back onto the path.

It occurred to me that the campers might be paddlers, but no kayaks could be seen on the coastal rocks. It would be nice to do a kayaking trip here from around Hakasalo for example, to save carrying a kayak from the parking place to the beach along the forest path.  Alternatively, a little further north of Varlaxudden, from Edesviken to Vaarlahti, kayaks can effortlessly be launched into the water straight from the carpark and that trip could then be combined with a tour of Hakasalo and Varlaxudden by sea.

Varlaxudden belongs to areas managed by the association of Uusimaa recreation area (website only in Finnish and Swedish), for which you can use free mobile applications (Recreational Canoeing Map and Map) to explore them.

There didn’t appear to be any signs for Fågelboet along the coast, but after a short while on the forest trail I noticed that I was actually on a marked path. I stopped for a moment to observe a tiptoeing chaffinch, who seemed oblivious to my presence.

The route, which was marked by painted red dots, soon led me to a logged area and a warning sign which said ‘Private’. Thankfully, I had already reached the headland, so it didn’t matter, and I turned and headed towards the beach. I suspect that the owners of the summer cottage on the neighbouring headland probably didn’t want any random passers-by wandering onto their land.

The path from the beach to the Fågelboet’s rocky headland, which I feared might have been wet, was very short and my feet remained dry in trainers. Part of the path is marked with painted red dots on the trees and private areas are marked with warning signs.

The long slender violet wands of the speedwell flower swayed in the light wind and I stopped to observe a buzzing bee, looking for nectar. Life is full of small joys.

And what fine rocks!  It was definitely worth making the short journey here from the beach. I sat down contented, enjoying the view of the sea and its islands. Sitting on rocks is the perfect way to take in marine life with its birds and boats or no boats at all. The only camera you need is your brain. I decided that this would be a good place to eat my sandwich.

In the middle of Fågelboet is an area sheltered by pine trees. There are signs to remind us that making campfires is forbidden. Careless handling of fire can easily destroy all of the vegetation here, on this dry rock. You can make campfires at the designated campfire spots on the beach without risk of causing damage.

After my scenic snack break, I did another small tour of Fågelboet and finally came across some birds! From behind the protected cove flashed bright white and then a couple of sturdy orange beaks at the end of long necks appeared. A swan family with their large brood were swimming peacefully, the fluffy cygnets close to their parents. The mother as well as the father pushed their smooth long necks under water. Food-time.

I returned back to the coastal path and wondered if the path marked with red painted dots would have led inland. For a little while, I followed the other path back in the direction that I had came from, but then emerged via a blueberry clump back on to the original path that I had followed to Fågelboet. I was in no rush back to the car park, as the other side was still unexplored.

So I returned to the Varlaxudden campfire pit and turned my eyes to the right, the direction of the pilot station. The spectacular rocks drew me towards them like a magnet and I squeezed between two big boulders onto a narrow path that led towards the smooth rocks of Skvättan. If the way had been accessible via sandy beach, it would have been fun to wade to the rocks, but instead there were lots of slippery stones and I wouldn’t have managed the journey without slipping and falling into the water.

The path belonging to the recreational area’s western side began to fade away as it led me over smooth rocks, their soft forms created by the sea’s waves. Walking on these rocks you don’t even need a path. Again, you can think about all the things that were brought forth by the land rising. Over the course of thousands of years sea water has churned many metres above its current height and honed these particular rocks until they were unusually smooth.

These smooth rocks don’t belong to the official Varlaxudden recreational area, but to the state. No matter how much I would have liked to, you can’t go around Emäsalo’s southern tip by foot, as a fence gets in the way. The island’s southernmost point is part of the state’s pilot station and the protected area of the navy begins from there meaning that any other activity is limited. There are 18 of these protected areas altogether in the Gulf of Finland and the Archipelago Sea, which belong to the Finnish State.

With one final glance, it was then time to return to Porvoo. The beautiful seascape, gentle wind, sunshine and space to breathe let my thoughts soar. Varlaxudden is excellent for families taking a day trip or having a picnic, but is also perfect for visitors who just want to stop and be. You don’t have to clock up kilometres here. The area is also a good place to venture off the path to pick berries or mushrooms for example, as you’re never far from either the coast or the road, which means that finding your way back is easy.

Location and Directions:

Varlaxudden recreation area is about 25 kilometers from the centre of Porvoo on the most direct route. The Emäsalo Road, from Emäsalo’s northern tip to Varlaxudden’s car park (Address: Emäsalontie 1420), is about 15 kilometers long. The road is in good condition but it is narrow, so cyclists and motorists must take care to notice and leave room for each other. One can usually park their car with ease at Varlaxudden’s car park, except for on the busiest summer days.

You could also cycle to Varlaxudden or get the bus. The bus stop is on Emäsalo Road (Emäsalontie) just before the pilot station, but the bus service (Porvoo to Emäsalo) is available only from Monday to Friday, and even then is limited. If cycling or driving, you can stop for coffee and snacks at the friendly village shop in Bengstby, Emäsalontie 715, which is about halfway.

Map ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6675112  E 424294

The author stayed at Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast, courtesy of Porvoo’s travel office VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.

Ekkudden’s Enchanting Nature Trail, Porvoo

On Ekkudden’s nature trail you will encounter enchanting oak trees, linden tree landscapes, whispering spruce trees and a bird’s eye view of rustling reedbeds. The trail starts approximately 3 kilometres south of Porvoo’s town centre and is about one and half kilometres long. Although this distance sounds short, allow plenty of time for a trip down the path, as I ended up stopping constantly!

On reaching the field you come across the first information board. You can start your walk by reading about the Stensböle nature conservation area and the history of Stensböle farm in English, Swedish or Finnish. The area is currently owned by Swedish Literature Society. From here, a path that winds alongside a ditch, leads into the forest.

The Stensböle area, which belongs to the Natura 2000 Europe-wide nature conservation network, is around 1131 hectares, of which about half is water and reed beds. One thing in particular stands out from the story of Stensböle farm, and that is potato farming. Wentzel Frederik Rotkirch, who became familiar with the potato crop during the Pomeranian War (1757-62), started potato cultivation on the Stensböle farms (the potato, at the time, was unknown in Finland) and boiled potatoes became part of the festive table. Rotkirch distributed seed potatoes free of charge to locals and, for a while, sold potatoes locally. Eventually potato farming became more commonplace and Stensböle returned to cultivating them for personal use only.

I started to walk the nature trail counter-clockwise, turning right at the information board. The area is classified as a nationally important deciduous grove conservation area, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Everyday potatoes and worries are forgotten instantly as I look around me at the grove that oaks and linden trees have claimed as their own. Many broadleaf trees poked their branches out pretty high and the grove had a delightfully large number of trees of different ages, not just oaks and lindens, but also maples. Lilies of the valley have scattered themselves over a wide area here, so in spring there are plenty of white flowers.

A dark brown bird that I didn’t recognise rocked on the branch of a linden tree and then fluttered off on its way. I couldn’t keep myself on the path any longer and got momentarily sidetracked peering into the depths of hollow of a tree, among other things.

At the start of the path there had been warnings of decaying trees. And it was true, that some of the older, larger individuals looked like they wouldn’t remain upright forever. One had fallen, somewhat stylishly, over the path, creating a gateway. I admired how nice it looked… Of course, it did also occur to me that this leaning tree should be kept an eye on, particularly if walking the nature trail during a storm. A moment of bad fortune could have the wind send the tree crashing down onto the path.  

The grove is almost certainly going to be stunning with fresh green hues in spring, like it was now in the early evening. It was quite magnificent. Maybe even more impressive than in the middle of the day. There is plenty here for botanists to identify and with a some luck, butterfly watchers can catch a glimpse of a couple of more uncommon moths in the linden grove.

While walking the nature trail you shouldn’t just keep your attention on your feet and what’s in front of or to the side of you. Sometimes it’s worth stopping and looking back, as you might notice something completely different about the landscape. And look up! A joyous green network of twigs above your head against a blue and white sky can be a wonderful sight to behold.

I stepped out of the bright green of the grove and onto the beach, where a stylishly greying snag ruffled its branches. Vast reed beds imprinted the landscape and got me wondering if they might attempt to choke the coast and how long that would take. I sat down for a moment and let the sun warm me.

As I looked in the direction or central Porvoo, I could mainly see a green horizon with the exception of a few towers. To the south, Stensböle’s unbuilt shoreline continued, and on the opposite shore was Sikosaari (Pig Island), where there is also a nature path and a birdwatching tower. It’s amazing how close to the centre all of this is. The sound of cars doesn’t carry into these landscapes, and I haven’t even seen a single boat weaving through the midst of the reeds.

I got up and started walking towards the south on the nature path, weaving pleasantly between the trees, where I came across stonecrops, Scented Solomon’s Seal and harebells, to name but a few, on a rock under the watchful eyes of a couple of dead standing pines. The grove started to gradually get left behind and the terrain became coniferous, the territory of old spruce and pine trees. Soon after that was an obstacle: a spruce had fallen across the path. Hidden behind it was an information board about the black woodpecker. I walked around the dead spruce from the left.

The path came close to the border of the seashore, after following the moss-covered remains of a stone wall. From this we could conclude that these lands have been coastal meadows or pastures, but how long ago? In the spruce forest I came across the only other travellers on the path, a couple taking their evening walk.

The whole time, while keeping one eye on the rolling path, every now and then my nose picked up on something fresh and delicious to pop in my mouth, which is normal during berry season. At the same time I extended my neck to peer at mushrooms while passing by, even though I had no intention of picking them and taking them with me. This time it just wouldn’t have been possible for me to take my harvest all the way home. And then, just before the birdwatching tower, it found me!

A sturdy-stemmed cep basked in the sun and whispered ‘Take me! Eat me!’ Since the couple I had come across earlier had managed to get much further ahead, I couldn’t call out to them to take this cep away from a wormy fate. Mushrooms can’t really be reserved and collected on request, so I just hoped that the next walker would notice and pick it before it was too late. Or even that a squirrel would have the sense to go get it and stash it for winter.

After bidding farewell to the cep I was already at the Ekudden birdwatching tower, which was in great condition. I climbed up to look at the view and had to protect my eyes from the dazzling sun. Thankfully, I did have sunglasses with me. In the forest they’re not needed but in sunny spots protective shades might be necessary.

From the edge of the forest, the rustling reed beds opened out as far as the eye can see, even though the tower isn’t massively high. The wetlands are unbelievably extensive. When looking around from here, the first words that come to mind are not ‘city’ and ‘park’, but Stensböle is also a part of Porvoo’s National City Park, which includes diverse urban nature as well as built urban areas.

From Ekudden’s birdwatching tower, you can make out two other birdwatching towers with your bare eyes. On the opposite shore stands Sikosaari’s birdwatching tower and to the north, on the same shore as Ekudden, is Ruskis tower. From the towers one can conveniently observe many different types of winged beings outside of migration and nesting times.

Ruskis tower is close enough to the road for visitors other than nature lovers – this is evident from the marker pen scrawls on the tower walls. Ekudden’s tower has been spared from vandalism due to its sheltered location.

From the birdwatching tower the nature trail curved slightly inland. I hadn’t inspected the nature trail map closely in advance, so the sign ‘Big Oak’ came as a pleasant surprise. This oak doesn’t have a reverential clearing surrounding it (as with Paavola’s oak in Lohja) nor has it been allowed to grow into such a voluminous shape, but nevertheless, this too is a fine oak! Having seen some life, this oak had something satisfyingly mystical about it. Maybe the seductive early evening light sent my imagination flying into the world of tales and stories as I looked at the tree.

It would be nice to know what age this big oak is estimated to be. The tree has clearly been revered for a long time, as it has been preserved. Other oaks this large have not been found in this area.

After the big oak, a few largish rocks stood out from the surroundings – or large at least by Ekkudden’s standards – but otherwise it started to feel like the trail’s main highlights had been experienced. All that was remaining was a short, peaceful stroll. Should I still pick a couple of sprigs of wood sorrel from the side of the path?

Up to this point, many mini experiences had been packed into around a kilometre and a half. Along the Ekudden trail, in a relatively small area, Stensböle has a diverse range of different forest types, rocky coastal landscapes, opportunities for birdwatching, mushroom picking and berry picking as well as the option of taking a slower pace, allowing for more observation. The path was on even ground with virtually no changes in elevation, making it easy to walk. Occasionally you might need to watch carefully where you step as tree roots, for example, can always take you by surprise on a forest path.

When the path reached the side of the field, I was already near my earlier place of departure. The adjacent field had been a watery bay in the 1500s, which quite clearly shows the impact of the land rising. In the spruce forest, which had sparse undergrowth, trees that had fallen across the path had been sawn, but in the nature conservation area, wood had been allowed to rot in peace. The narrow duckboards also showed signs of decay… The ground wasn’t as wet here as in the swamp, but  overall, duckboards are useful even in these kinds of places to protect feet from getting wet. In dry weather you can walk alongside the planks.

Ekudden’s nature trail had something magical about it; the first part of the journey in the deciduous grove enchanted me completely.  More accustomed to walking in mixed forests, I especially enjoyed the green magic of the oaks and lindens, that gained more intensity from the evening sun. And what if I was in Ekudden on a misty spring morning or at the beginning of summer? I wasn’t surprised by the fact that when I got back it was around 7.30 in the evening. Looking around the carpark at that time, I saw one person leave to start their atmospheric evening walk along the nature trail.

Location/Directions: About 3 km south of Porvoo Bus Station, on Porvoo river’s eastern side, a reasonable cycling or walking distance from the centre of town. Ekudden’s nature trail starts next to the Tarkkinen playing field. The sandy field with its car park is at the address: Tarkkistentie 153 (Porvoo). You know you’ve come to the right place when you see a funny bear statue on the side of the playing field. The nature path map can be found on the playing field changing hut wall. The easiest way to the path is from next to the changing hut and from there to the playing field’s back left corner (looking at the car park), although the birdwatching tower signs point to the left of the changing hut, towards the field.

Please note. Mountain biking and driving of motorised vehicles as well as open fire are forbidden.

Map. ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinate system N 6693218  E 428788

The author’s accommodation Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast – bed and breakfast was provided by Porvoo’s travel office /VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.