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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!

The Photographic Playground of Pohjois-Karjala – Outokumpu

Living in North Karelia has had many great benefits for me, including the wonderful nature and the great photographic opportunities it provides. I’ve spent most of my time in Outokumpu and it’s surrounding areas, cycling around and taking pictures. From colourful farmlands to forests that look like they’ve been pulled straight out of a fairytale book, North Karelia has a lot to offer.

jason-tiilikainen-the-old-mine

Here are a few pictures that I’ve taken from and around the Outokumpu area.

jason-tiilikainen

Pictured above is the old copper mine in Outokumpu, a place where my great-grandfather used to work. These days it’s a local attraction, and during the summer months it opens for tours and other activities. Kumpurock, a rock music festival, is also held at the old mine annually, bringing in artists from all over Finland.

jason-tiilikainen-outokumpu-barn

An old barn in Outokumpu’s countryside. It’s fun just to cycle around and soak in the sights and sounds. Lot’s of old buildings hide in the farmlands, and it’s nice to find them because they can sometimes appear as if they have a story to tell.

jason-tiilikainen-sunset-in-outokumpu

A sunset over some forest in Outokumpu.

jason-tiilikainen-beach-outokumpu

Above: Sandy beaches are also easily reachable, only a few minutes drive from the center of town. Camping areas are also available and have been placed in some interesting locations.

jason-tiilikainen-forest-outokumpu

Forests in Outokumpu are vibrant at certain points in the year, and walking through them can often be a pleasure to experience.

Next time you’re driving from Kuopio to Joensuu or vice versa, pop into Outokumpu and check out the old mine. It has a lot of history, and can be quite interesting to see in person.

Map. Address of the old mine: Kaivosmiehenpolku 2, 83500 Outokumpu.

Oulanka is one of the most magical national parks in Europe – don’t miss these 5 amazing places on your visit

This is one of the most magical national parks in Europe! This is what Daily Mail just publicly declared, and we totally agree. Oulanka National Park is known for its rapids, steep gorges, suspension bridges, and rare plants. The comprehensive and clearly marked selection of trails within the Park provides even a budding hiker with a safe way to enjoy the magnificent scenery of a real wilderness and the “almost” Siberian vibe to it. The Park is located in northern Finland, and it borders with Russia in the east.

Here are five great places you simply must not miss in Oulanka National Park!

1. The edge of the world: Oulanka Canyon

jyrava-4

Be careful! As you step on the edge of Oulanka Canyon, you’re in for a real surprise. You walk through a beautiful Lapland forest to discover that land literally rips up before you: the free fall down the Canyon is long, and at the bottom there is a roaring river. However, you do not have to be an action hero to get to see this startling place. The 6-kilometre-long Kanjonin kurkkaus (Oulanka Canyon Trail) is accessible and clearly marked – follow it, and you will safely get to admire the immemorial giant gorge.

2. Bridge adventure: Taivalköngäs

Do you enjoy the atmosphere of the wild and the roar of rapids? If so, then Taivalköngäs is the right place for you! Its lovely wooden suspension bridges provide you with the chance to admire and listen to the rabid turmoil of the water right from above. There is a small island in the middle of Taivasköngäs that with its tall trees and tentacle-like roots looks like a magical forest. The marked forest trail leading to Taivalköngäs is almost 10 kilometres long. Once arrived, it is possible to make a fire and stay overnight in a wilderness hut managed by Finland’s State Forest Enterprise.

3. In the heart of the wild: Ristikallio Cliff

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Standing on the edge of the imposing Ristikallio, it is easy to feel the infinite peace of the wilderness. The cliff that rises incredibly steeply from the river is like nature’s own viewing platform in the middle of the wild dominated by water, forest, and hills. No traffic noise travels up to Ristikallio, for it is a several kilometres’ walk from the nearest road. On your way you can admire
the unique forest nature of Oulanka National Park. Pay attention to even the smallest forest flowers and plants – if you look up close, you can see the delicate beauty of the north.

4. A giant waterfall: Jyrävänkoski

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The powerful buzz of Jyrävänkoski Rapid can be heard far away. The sound dominates the whole landscape. With free falls up to 9 metres, Jyrävä is one of Finland’s tallest waterfalls. A trail named Pieni Karhunkierros, with a total length of 12 kilometres, leads up to the waterfall. Along the trail you will also get to admire other graceful rapids, enjoy beautiful forests, and cross suspension bridges. Along the way, there are also a number of campfire places.

5. A strange island: Rupakivi

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A truly odd island stands out in the middle of Savinajoki River. Rupakivi is a several metres high
stone pillar, nature’s own skyscraper in the middle of the stream. A white sandy beach spreads out at the feet of the rock whose top is dotted with small growing trees. Rupakivi is the kind of place you could easily think of as the home of a fairy! A marked path leads to the rock that is best seen from the steep stairs. You cannot get close to the rock but the view is fantastic from the riverbank, as well.

+1: Remember this when you arrive in Oulanka!

The best time to visit is the time of autumn foliage when nature glows and there are less mosquitoes. Oulanka National Park has several well marked trails, and leaving them is not a good idea. Oulanka is a wilderness area where nature dictates the rules. Always prepare your hike carefully. Mobile phone coverage may not always be possible along the path. You should always carry a map with you, and please do not overestimate your physical condition – the Park’s rugged reliefs require a good level of fitness. In summer, please remember to protect yourself from mosquitoes. Valuable advice, instructions and tips for successful hikes are available at Oulanka Visitor Centre.

Here’s more information in English!

Translated by: Mikko Solja

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.

Can you believe? This is how 15 minutes in a forest affects you!

There is such strong magic in Finnish forests that one may not even believe it. The forest is like open arms; ready to embrace you without judging, to give power and support. It caresses you with its beauty, sounds and smells, and it feels good on your skin, too.

Only 15 minutes in a forest make you a better person. It makes you feel alive.

Stepping into a forest is like walking through a gate. You leave all the fuss, busy life and smooth asphalted roads behind, to be greeted with peace and fragrant nature.

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Those who believe in research will have no option but to believe this. Among others, the Natural Resources Institute Finland has found out that even a short visit to a forest makes people feel better – it relieves stress and increases sense of vitality.

A trail persuades you to adventure deeper into the heart of the forest. Step by step, hurry and duties in everyday life are forgotten. Now, there is no need to perform, no need to always try and be perfect. You can be just the way you are – just be there.

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The body begins to rest. Breathing becomes easier and deeper at the same time. You start to feel better and stronger with every inhalation.

The harmony of scents is ineffable. It may even feel like you’re actually breathing for the first time in your life.

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The air in the forest smells good. It may smell like damp moss, rain, wet tree trunks, flowers, and needle-covered path.

It may smell like a tree stump that is already creating new life, or even snow, frost, and softwood.

According to a research, just five hours per month in a forest will greatly improve our mental health. What about, say, five hours per week, then?

However, not many of us need researches to believe just how good it is for us to spend time in the woods. We Finns are lucky – we can go and enjoy the forests almost any time and any place. We have learned and grown into thinking that the forest is good for us.

The light of the forest plays with shadows and colours between the trees. It may be warm or cold, gloomy or bright, yet seen with one’s heart at ease, it is always safe, familiar, and beautiful.

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When you explore the little wonders and details in the forest with devotion, you lose sense of time. The forest is a world where time doesn’t matter.

The forest takes care of us, and it also raises our children. It has a preventive effect on allergies, for it makes us stronger through spreading good bacteria. We only get them if we habitually go into nature, starting from an early age.

The effect of near nature on us can be huge at best. The forest may help develop an interest and love for all living things. It is worth introducing even the youngest child to nature and biodiversity, only to see, perhaps, how she will get endlessly excited about birds, butterflies, or bugs, for instance.

If we have a chance to grow surrounded by nature from an early age, it will leave an unerasable, good mark on us for the rest of our lives.

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It feels safe to be among tree trunks. The forest is a safe haven, a place to rest. Fewer thoughts come to your mind, and the hustle and bustle in your head quiet down. It is easy to enjoy even little things and distinguish between what is important and what is not.

The eyes can finally rest, too: the gaze is not tormented by bright lights, shiny surfaces, nor by man-made constructions. You can give your eyes rest by looking far into the woods or tree tops.

Nature is impeccably beautiful in all the chaos mastered by Mother Earth.

Plump tussocks of moss invite you to touch them, and so do tree trunks, rocks, and everything else you encounter along the trail. Sink your hand into the moss and feel the fresh, scented earth. Push your ear to the trunk of a dead pine tree, and you will hear greater wisdom than even the wisest human can ever offer you.

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The forest helps us remember who we are and where we come from.

It cures us through all our senses. Our eyes can rest and enjoy the beauty of nature; our ears can have a moment of silence and concentrate on the sweet sounds of nature; we can feel the nature with our hands, feet, or even with our cheekbones; in our noses, we feel the unbelievable scents of the earth, trees, water, and rocks, that so vividly change with the weather and seasons.

We may put sweet and tasty berries in the mouth, just like other animals, big and small alike.

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In the woods, you may head down to the waterfront. Listen to the ripple and feel what it smells like and what it tells you.

How beautiful is the sound of water! It may be a lively forest brook, a pond, maybe a lake, or a mighty river. It is a different world that lives right next to you and gives your mind a chance to rest and become stronger.

Wonder what lives and goes on beneath the surface of water? The gurgle and brisk stream create a feeling of wholeness – you could stare at the stream for ever.

The water smells fresh and lively. It is full of energy that you can easily absorb. That’s why spending time at a waterfront always feels so good.

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You are never alone in the forest. Never. There are many kinds of wanderers: big, small, winged, furry, fluttery, and crawling.

Near tree tops, there might be a flock of tits playing and chit chatting, or there might be a Siberian jay trying to talk to you.

It is said that a Siberian jay must always be greeted, for the bird might be your guide in the woods.

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Glance down, beneath mushrooms, into cavities between rocks, at tree roots.

Examine even smallest animals always with due respect, for we are all equal. Every beetle, snail and frog is a valuable and irreplaceable part of the forest.

The forest caresses and regenerates everyone who steps into its embrace – even those who do not care about it at all.

Yet those who do care and love it will gain more than anyone.