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This is what I saw as I walked 500 meters into a dark, silent, frozen forest

I live in a small village in the middle of Lapland. In fact, most people who live in Lapland live in small villages. That’s because there are almost no proper cities here at all, above the arctic circle.

And because there are no cities, there is no articifial light, but lots and lots of darkness in winter. But during this darkness, the sky can sometimes set on green and purple fire.

Last night I left home around 7 p.m. and walked into the forest next to our house. I had no headlamp or flashlight with me, as I knew that after a few minutes my eyes would get used to the darkness. There is a bit of snow on the ground, which helps to see the path. Also, the Moon started rising.

After having walked only about a 100 meters, I saw the first flames in the sky.

I sat down and looked at the auroras dancing above me.

In the dark forest full of pure silence, I could hear some soft and distant rustling. At first I thought it was the aurora making that noise, as they are known to make some weird sounds sometimes. But then, as I sat there thinking about it, I realized that what I actually heard was the nearby lake freezing. The temperature was well below zero.

I stood up and headed forward. I wanted to see the nearest swamp. And boy, was it beautiful.

I sat down again, this time next to a small pine on the edge of the forest. I didn’t want to walk on the swamp, as it might not be fully frozen yet. It was safer to stay on dry ground. I was wearing enough clothes so I didn’t feel cold at all, even though I was sitting in snow.

I could still hear the sound of the freezing lake. Then I heard a little snap behind me. I still don’t know what it was, but probably it was just a freezing tree. Trees can make popping sounds when it gets really cold. It’s such an interesting experience to walk into a dark forest in winter: you can even hear the trees.

I texted my husband that everything was ok and that I was be heading home now.

In a Finnish forest there’s really not much to be afraid of. Reindeer and moose are not dangerous, and wolves, wolverines and bears do not come anywhere near you. Most finns know this and that is why we love to spend time in forests, enjoying silence, pure air and sometimes also auroras.

The healing power of forests

Those suffering from noise and stress can find an escape in forests. It is proven that sylvan nature reduces stress and blood pressure. Finland offers an excellent opportunity for a change in lifestyle, and its path leads to the forest.

Only five per cent of Finland’s surface area is built. More than 70% of the surface area is forest and 10% water systems. No wonder that enjoying nature is great on a global scale in Finland: more than half of Finns visit summer houses regularly.

As much as 70% of the inhabitants of northern Finland annually visit the nation’s forests to trek or pick berries or mushrooms.

In principle, every Finn has access to a silent forest and a strip of shore where one can be in peace. Foreigners too have noticed this. Tourists seek a counterbalance to their everyday life in Finnish nature destinations. They want peace, quiet and opportunities for nature and aesthetic experiences.

This is difficult in the built urban environment. For example, as much as 75% of Europeans live in an urban environment. Tourists value original nature, clean environment and local culture.

“Aesthetic experiences and the relaxing effect of a green environment lift your mood and help recover from stress,” claims Professor Liisa Tyrväinen of Natural Resources Institute Finland.

Dr. Liisa Tyrväinen has long studied the significance of forests as a producer of well-being. Forests have a great effect on people as a mental, cultural and experiential environment.

Air pollution and exposure to noise, in this order, are the biggest environmental problems for human health according to WHO, the World Health Organisation.

Insufficient recovery from stress raises the blood pressure and increases the risk of diabetes.

Ms. Tyrväinen emphasises that particularly nature areas must be seen as a resource of health care for city dwellers. According to many studies, forests promote both physical and mental well-being.

Large nature areas muffle noise and improve air quality by removing dust and other impurities and by binding ozone and monoxide gases.

It is also proven that an outing in nature and just being there lift the mood. Forests have a great therapeutic significance.

On the basis of studies, one can influence one’s state of health by being and moving in a nature environment. Especially in one’s favourite spot in nature, it is possible to regulate one’s condition towards promoting health.

“According to studies, people experience stronger recovery from stress on pleasant exercise routes often situated in the forest and in larger outdoor exercise areas than in the street and outdoor spaces of city centres mentioned as favourite places.”

Blood pressure falls and  the organs recover in the forest

Tyrväinen’s research group has results measured with heart rate monitors and blood pressure meters on how quickly a nature environment and particularly the forest help recovery from stress.

The measurements and surveys were made with a test group of almost a hundred persons.

“The health benefits of a green environment are evident.

A stressed person recovers quickly in nature. Recovery in a green zone is apparent after just 15 minutes!”

“The results of joint studies made with the Japanese are indisputable. When people were taken into the forest, a decrease in blood pressure and pulse, a reduction in muscular tension and an increase in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system were observed in the measurement results.”

The parasympathetic nervous system is most active in rest. From the effect of a parasympathetic impulse, the heart rate slows down and respiratory frequency is reduced. Being in the forest has a similar effect on the organs as yoga or meditation. The Finnish forest is a retreat.

People felt more vigorous and even more creative after being in the forest. Liisa Tyrväinen emphasises the aesthetics of nature. Stress is particularly removed by the experience of nature, an unbuilt, beautiful scenery and silence.

Liisa Tyrväinen recommends consciously combining nature experiences and moving in nature with a holiday trip.

It helps recovery from the strains of everyday life. “One nature trip is not enough to heal, but it can be an impetus for a change in lifestyle.”

A nature trip to the Finnish forest offers a holistic health package. It includes multisensory nature experiences, a clean and beautiful environment, outings in nature, accommodation and sauna close to nature, silence and healthy forest products, such as berries, mushrooms, wild vegetables and game.

Article by Visit Finland / Ari Turunen

Nuuksio National Park Is a Spectacular Wilderness Area Right next to Helsinki

Nuuksio lake highland is very close to Helsinki, but its atmosphere is really far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Nuuksio is in many ways one of Finland’s most important nature sites. It is easy to get there by bus and there are plenty of fire places and marked trails in the area. In the forests and gorges of Nuuksio you cant get enough of nature. People have been in Nuuksio for thousands of years as the ancient rock paintings, like the one shaped like an elk by the lake Pitkäjärvi, let us understand.

A successful day trip starts casually from the door of a cabin, and after the memorable day in the nature the next best thing is to have a comfy bed and catch up with the fellow hikers. Check out Nuuksio’s cozy cottage options, where you can comfortably have a bigger party. Book your preferred cottage in advance online so you can focus on relaxing and enjoying the the wilder side of the Helsinki area.

Click here to find and book a cottage in Nuuksio

It is easy to get to Nuuksio by public transport

Different parts of Nuuksio national park are easy to reach from Helsinki. First, take a train S, U, L or E to get to Espoo.

  • If you want to visit the eastern or northern parts of Nuuksio national park, take the bus 245(A) from Espoo Centre. In the winter, the bus will take you to a place called Nuuksionpää. In the summer you’ll get a bit further, to Kattila. Both of these places are located in the national park area and are good places to start your hike in Nuuksio. This bus will also take you to the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia.
  • If you wish to see the southern part of Nuuksio, first take a train from Helsinki to Leppävaara in Espoo. Then take the bus 238 from Leppävaara to Siikaranta or Siikaniemi in Nuuksio.
  • To get to the western side of Nuuksio you can simply take a coach from Kamppi bus station in Helsinki. This coach will take you to Tervalampi, from where you need to walk about 2 kilometers to get to the national park. Find your bus here.

Nature Center Haltia is ready to guide you to the secrets of nature

In addition to Nuuksio, the Nature Center introduces you to the gems of Finnish nature. The building itself is a piece of architecture and definately worth of seeing and experiencing. Children are given a change to try how it feels to crowl into a fox’s or bear’s nest. There is also an unobstructed hiking trail next to Haltia where nature experiences are all accessible.

Haltia has a constantly something new to experience. For more information, visit the Visitor Center’s web site.

Trails in Nuuksio:

  • Nahkiaispolku, 2km: Natural restoration theme trail starting from the nature hut
  • Punarinnankierros, 2km: Easy trail that fits for the beginners starts from the nature hut of Haukkalampi.
  • Kaarniaispolku, 2,7km: Especially a versatile nature trails for school children starts from the end of road soidentaantie.
  • Haukankierros, 4km: trail with contrasting terrain leads to mighty sceneries. Starting from the nature hut of Haukkalampi.
  • Klassarinkierros, 4km: Circle trail by the surroundings of the bond Saarilampi starts from the road Valklammintie.
  • Korpin kierros, 8km: Great trail for the first time visitors in Nuuksio starts from the nature hut of Haukkalampi

Read more about Nuuksio in English here.

Photos by Antti Huttunen and Nella Himari.

Finland receives a unique gift for its 100th birthday: a beautiful nature reserve by the sea

Finland’s mysterious and pure nature is an enchanting experience. Fresh air, thousands of blue lakes and endless forests attract both foreigners and Finns themselves.

This year an independent Finland turns 100 years old. What to give for a birthday present to this amazing country that seems to have already everything?

The great Finnish company Fiskars, known for its design, gives Finland and all Finnish nature lovers a unique gift: a nature reserve about an hour’s drive from the capital Helsinki.

It is a scenic Dagmar’s spring park in the scenic seaside cove in Southern Finland, municipality of Raasepori. Around the spring, there are beautiful sandy and rocky shores of the Baltic Sea and a fairytale-like old Finnish forest with charming paths. Water in the spring itself is said to be the best water in the world.

The park of the Dagmar’s spring is so special that even Russian Emperor Maria Fjodorovna is told to have visited there. Fjodorovna was originally born as Danish princess Dagmar.

You may know Fiskars from the orange scissors known by the whole world. Fiskars manufactures many other home, garden and kitchen tools. In 2016-2017, Fiskars employees have restored the Dagmar’s spring area so that the beach offers the most amazing natural experience for both boaters and walkers, near and far. The gift is exactly what Finland is at the best: natural beauty, cleanliness and peace.

Fiskars hands over the Dagmar’s park for Finland and for finnish people for the next 100 years with a annual rent of EUR 1. The donation to Metsähallitus will take place on Wednesday 30 August 2017.

By this unique donation, the Dagmar’s spring and its surrounding area become a formal nature reserve. The area is important both for history and for its culture and nature. Now the area lasts for the future generations as well.

Sounds of silence

Lapland is known for its pure air, vast wilderness and the fact you can escape all noise. Enjoy silence. When is the last time you could let go and float into meditative mode surrounded by nothing but nature, hearing nothing but the wind and occasional bird? I am lucky to live in Lapland but actually sitting still in the forest doing nothing is something I hardly ever do. I did now.

Road to nowhere

I spread out my map on the kitchen table and had a good look. I didn’t get much wiser by looking at it, so I closed my eyes and placed a finger randomly on the map. Ok, looks just as good as anywhere, I shall go somewhere there!

I packed snowshoes and drove off. I already felt good and relaxed, as there were absolutely no expectations. I wasn’t really aiming anywhere particular, no mission, no time limits or anyone else to look after. I realised I often get a bit anxious because of all the planning and gearing up hiking and skiing trips include.

The random road I chose went on and on and on. I even woke up a reindeer who was standing still in the middle of the quiet road, head drooping. Lazily he moved out of the way. At some point I just pulled over, put on my snowshoes and headed straight into the woods.

Sounds of snow

The snow was deep and fluffy. Even with snowshoes on I was knee deep in there. On each step there was mute fluffy part on the top, and a crunchy layer underneath. The crunchiness was due to hardened snow, as a week ago temperatures rose temporarily as high as +2 C. Snow feels and sounds different every day, depending on temperature now and in the past couple of weeks.

I kept on snowshoeing until I needed a break to catch my breath.

The Sun was setting as it always is midwinter. The sky looked like a trend colour catalogue from the 80’s. Beautiful lavender, purple, pink, peach and yellow pastel shades. I had to close my eyes as the ridiculously beautiful sky was filling my head and blocking other senses.

Silence isn’t silent

I could only hear the beating of my heart. So loud! After few minutes my body had recovered and I could listen properly. Annoyingly the first sound I recognised was a snow mobile going fast somewhere in the distance, probably on a lake I had passed by car. Here, in the wilderness, in the arms of Mother Nature, a motorised vehicle. Quite a turn off.

Ok. I kept standing still, no hurry.

A crow.

Wind catching the tree tops, making some branches to drop their snow load on the ground.

Nothing.

Standing still surrounded by trees is very calming. They are just there, wanting nothing from you.

A dog barking far away few times.

A little bird calling shortly, probably Siberian tit.

I noticed my breathing became deeper and slower. Indoors it’s often short and shallow. It’s not something I normally would pay attention to. But now I have time to observe. I also remembered to be grateful for the pure air. In Muonio where I live in Lapland, the air is actually the purest of all Europe.

Nothing.

Wind in the tree tops again.

Me singing, noticing there was a cool echo.

BEEP of my phone, receiving a message.

..And the moment was ruined.

Back home all relaxed

Hiking alone has its advantages. You don’t have to fill the space by talking non stop. You can concentrate on being very quiet, thinking nothing at all. For me this works better than any meditation. Also, if it is longer than a day trip, you have to keep your phone off to save the battery! In the wilderness, further from the roads, there is no network anyway.

I think I’m going to do this again – just head somewhere with no expectations, just to breath, listen and be.

Photos by Joona Kivinen, from another trip as I didn’t want any cameras on my retreat of silence.

Beauty of the primeval forest warms the black winter: Haltiala forests, HELSINKI

It is raining outside and the weather is cold and dark. In Finland you can’t trust the weather, as on one day everything is white and full of snow and the next day it melts away. Sometimes it is difficult to find beauty from the pools of water in the streets, but it is there, when you just look around.

We went out, braving the weather, and found a true fairytale forest just near the city center.

Haltiala Forest Path is a three kilometers long marked path in the woods that you are able to follow by small pine cone signs that are set along the path. Haltiala Forest Path is a perfect trip you can walk easily through, as the terrain is easy to walk, with causeways and wide paths. Haltiala also has a longer, seven kilometers long path for the challenge seekers. To follow that path you must look out for yellow marks.

Haltiala Forest Path serves wonderful things to seek – long beautiful causeways, huge rocks from the ice age, dark primeval forest and the animals that are living along the path.

On a dark rainy day, you would think, that nature around you is closed and silent – but it is full of life. When you stop for a moment, you can hear birds singing and see small movement in the ground when animals run to their home nests. Raindrops fall and splatter to the ground and the wind blows through the trees. The rain brings out wonderful new details, colours and scents of nature.

On the path, you can also see the big rocks that have come to their places during the ice age. They can be almost 13 000 years old and were dragged to their current places when the icecap started to melt. They are a beautiful sight and strange things to see, as they feel completely out of context in the forest.

Walking in the forest, we started to wonder how amazing it is to stand in the middle of tall trees, on top of green moss, when we were just a while ago in the busy city.

The forest did not mind the rush of everyday life, let alone a change of weather. Therefore, we strayed from the path and sat down on a large tree trunk, listening to the forest around us. It was humming silently and suddenly our everyday worries and the constant chatter of the mind just faded away.

A black, rainy forest had left a peaceful yet exciting feeling – how beautiful nature is. In the middle of black winter you can find true beauty.

Haltiala on the map.

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.

The Magical Experience of Photographing Wild Bears in Eastern Finland

We’d been in the hide for around five hours, slowly watching the summer evening envelope the view before us: a still lake fringed by forest.

Bears in Finland

The lake had begun to steam as the sun began to set – the hot day cooling – and mayflies flickered in the golden brilliance.

Bears in Finland

“Bear!” Chris whispered.

I couldn’t see it a first, then a snout peeked from behind a tree, followed by the furry bulk of a bear as it emerged from the forest to the edge of the small lake.

Bears in Finland

It took a moment to find the bear through the lens on my camera, I’m not used to using a longer lens. I pressed the shutter button. The bear was ambling hesitantly towards the hide; it edged around the lake before reaching a stop and looking straight at us. I fired the shutter again.

All of a sudden the bear was alert, spooked. It turned and headed back towards the forest. I realised I’d been holding my breath!

The bear meandered around the curve of the lake and came to a stop, snuffling at the water’s edge.

Bears in Finland

The sun had just dipped behind the forest leaving a golden glow filtering through the trees and the night had taken on an ethereal light. A mist danced over the still lake.

Sniffing the air, the bear was reflected in the watery mirror; I couldn’t take my eyes off the magical scene.

A second later the bear vanished back into the forest yet the magical moment hung there for a second: did that really happen?

We were in a tiny wooden hide deep in the wilderness – just a few kilometres from the border with Russia – at Wild Brown Bear Centre, a company in Kuhmo, eastern Finland, specialising in wildlife photography of wild bears and other wild animals.

After the bear had vanished back into the forest nothing much happened for the rest of the evening except a brief appearance by a red fox. I curled up in the lower bunk of the hide and read a book for a while before drifting off into a light sleep.

Bears in Finland

An hour after midnight Chris woke me: “There’s another bear!”

I crawled sleepily out of the sleeping bag and perched onto the chair, squinting into the twilight, my eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness.

The bear was walking towards us, and he was big!

Bears in Finland

He strolled casually past the hide, so close we could hear him snuffle.

I remembered my camera was still set up and I fired a few sleepy shots. The settings were all wrong and the photographs were woefully underexposed. It didn’t matter: I won’t be forgetting this moment for a long time.

To be so near to a wild brown bear was thrilling: just a thin plywood wall stood between us and this majestic carnivore yet I felt perfectly safe.

I’m sure those bears wandered through my dreams that night, I slipped back into bed and the next thing I knew it was morning. Sunlight was streaming into the hide and the view beyond the window had transformed with the dawn.

Bears in Finland

It had been an unforgettable night, woven with moments so magical that they seemed improbable in the harsh light of day.

The moments were fleeting yet enchanted: a fantastic story rather than a wildlife spectacle.

A few days later, I was walking through the forest in a Patvinsuo national park late in the evening, the low sun burned through the boughs as I gathered blueberries. I wasn’t alone in these forests, somewhere deep in its heart were bears, I’d now seen them with my own eyes!

As well as the wildlife observation hides, The Wild Brown Bear Centre has accommodation, however we stayed in our camper on site for a small fee instead and had access to showers and sauna.

The bears are completely wild, they are encouraged to wander into the vicinity of the hides with tiny amounts of food left in photogenically strategic places.

Bears in Finland

As well as photographing bears, there is also the chance of seeing wolverine, wolves, and lynx.
Bears in Finland
We visited Wild Brown Bear as independent travellers, through our own choice and paid for the experience with our own money as part of an amazing two month road trip around Finland over the summer of 2016.

This story was originally posted on my own blog www.vagabondbaker.com, I have re-edited some of the text for this post.

Wild Brown Bear Oy: www.wildbrownbear.fi

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.

This man took some Lego into a forest – see what happened next!

Lauri Maijala is not what you would call an ordinary nature photographer. When he goes into a forest for a photo shoot, he takes something really surprising with him: Lego.

Lauri puts a lot of thought into every single shot. His photos tell a coherent story. You see, not only is Lauri a photographer, he’s also a storyteller.

It was Lauri’s son who first inspired him to tell a story by photographing Legos in the wilderness. Nowadays we can all admire his work on Instagram.

The first story Lauri wrote was called The Tale of Three Crystals. 

To learn more about these breathtaking Lego adventures in the Finnish nature, check out Lauri’s Facebook page Tales of the Woodland Realm.

Read here what Lauri tells about his Lego photography!