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5 things you didn’t know about Lapland

What do you know about Lapland? You’ve probably heard about Santa Claus, maybe you’ve even met him when you were little. And all his reindeer of course – they live in Lapland. In winter there is lots of snow and beautiful northern lights, yes. But what more do you know?

I want to tell you about Lapland the way I know it, the way I love it. Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about Lapland!

1. Reindeer like to hang out on roads in summer

When travelling in real Lapland it’s almost certain that you see reindeer at some point. In summer there are lots of mosquitos, so reindeer want to enjoy a bit of summer breeze that keeps the mosquitos away. That’s why they spend quite a lot of time on open places like roads. When driving, be cautious: these animals often don’t know how to give way to cars.

When you see reindeer on road, you probably want to take a photo. Make sure that you stop your car only on a good, visible spot. Do not park around a corner – there might be a bus or a truck coming behind you!

2. Summer in Lapland quite often feels like a real summer

Summers in Lapland are not very long, but they are stunningly beautiful. The sun is above the horizon 24/7 and the flowers are blooming like crazy. When the sun shines, it can get really warm, which in Lapland usually means something between 20 and 25 degrees celcius. There are lots of lakes and rivers – enjoy the Finnish everyman’s right and go for a swim!

3. Driving in Lapland is a blast

In Lapland there are endless roads and small villages in every direction. Many tourists come here by car, but if you need to take a plane to get here, I recommend you rent a car. That way you can enjoy Lapland’s traffic-free roads and amazing views on your own without having to be an expert hiker. However, remember to fill the tank often enough: it can be a 100km drive to the next gas station!

This is what you see when driving by Teno river in Utsjoki.

4. You can fish with a fishing rod almost everywhere

Thanks to everyman’s right in Finland, everyone is allowed to fish almost everywhere using a fishing rod. You don’t need any permissions, all you need is a fishing rod, some worms and a place to fish. Worms are usually sold in markets and gas stations. When choosing a place to fish, just make sure you’re not on somebody’s yard. You have an endless list of places to choose from: Lapland if full of lakes and rivers!

If fishing even with a simple fishing rod is prohibited for some reason in some specific lake or pond, there is a plaque on the spot that tells you not to fish.

5. People still offer gifts to ancient holy places

In Lapland there are many natural formations that have been concidered as holy. There are many holy fells, but also rocks, trees and ponds. A holy natural formation like this is often called a seita. They have been offered gifts like fish heads and reindeer horn bits to keep them happy, so that they would provide the giftgiver with hunting of fishing luck. Many of these places still receive gifts, like coins.

Taatsin seita in Kittilä is one of the best-known holy rock formations in Lapland.

Sky-Sailing above the Lakeland

I’ve always been afraid of heights. So, when a friend asked me if I would like to fly in a hot air balloon, I immediately said yes. I wanted to face my fears and have an unforgettable experience. Right after that I tried to forget what I just had promised.

After a few weeks it was time to face the fears. First the pilot gave us a short presentation of what was to come. Then he released a helium balloon to show the local wind direction, and decided the route in such a way that we would avoid the nearby great lakes. It would be a shame if the wind calmed over a big lake and the balloon would run out of gas.

The take off place was an old sports field 12 kilometers away. The first thing to do was preparing the basket. Then the hot air balloon was spread on the ground. First it was filled with cold air and when it was full, the pilot started to heat the air with a gas burner.

Soon the balloon was high in the air and the basket scarcely touched the ground. It was time to climb aboard. Now I was nervous, but just for a moment. Soon the balloon was high in the air and instead of thrill my mind was ecstatic.

Landscape was truly beautiful in the light of the setting summer sun. There was a green carpet of forests as far as it was possible to see.

Here and there I could see a blue lake shining like a jewel, hills rising and fields glowing in all shades of green.

The air was calm because the balloon had the same speed as the wind. It was absolutely quiet. The silence was broken only by our conversation, and occasionally the sound of the burner. The only sound from the ground was dogs barking.

Above a lake the pilot dropped the balloon as low as possible, and we could see our reflection on the calm water. The sight was unreal, beautiful and memorable. It was good moment to enjoy a glass of a sparkling wine. Then we rose again and travelled smoothly forward.

After an hour it was time to start preparing for the landing. As the balloon goes to the wind, landing takes place in a suitable open area. The balloon touched some treetops and finally it hit the ground with a small bump. The flight was successfully passed. This time fortune favored, because we hit the ground only 300 meters away from the planned spot. Such accuracy is very unusual.

We helped to pack the balloon, after which each of us received a diploma and a testimony to commemorate the memorable experience. It was not scary at all to be in the air. I had seen and experienced familiar landscapes in a completely different way than ever before. That was just great!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?
Astonishingly wonderful 8 hectare park full of rhododendrons

When?

Usually the best time is two first weeks of June

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

MIDNIGHT SUN FILM FESTIVAL @ SODANKYLÄ (Welcome To Finland #4)

One of the best festivals in Finland must be Midnight Sun Film Festival held in Sodankylä, Lapland a week before midsummer. We migrate there like lemmings to enjoy nightless nights and overdoses of movies.

By Timo Wilderness.

MORE WTF:
WTF#1 NORTHERN LIGHTS
WTF#2 NATIONAL PARK NUUKSIO
WTF#3 FINNISH WINTER COTTAGE

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The Salpa Line – The Final Barrier

The Salpa Line is the largest construction project in Finland’s history. It was created as a deterrent, so that the enemy wouldn’t dare attack. The Finns suspected that the Soviet Union, not satisfied with the territorial gains they had made during the Winter War (1939–1940), would plan another invasion.

Built at the beginning of the 1940s in preparation for another war, The Salpa Line spans more than 1000km along Finland’s eastern border. It contains a total of 728 field fortifications either made from concrete or excavated from rock. Sweden provided assistance in the construction, both financially and in the form of manpower.

The line’s southern part was the most strongly fortified. The Salpa Line can be explored by following the South-East Salpa trail, which is a 50km one-way hiking route in Virolahti and Miehikkälä. There are points of interest suitable for everyone: formal museums, accessible roadside features as well as more hidden fortifications for the adventurous traveller, found off the beaten path.

For those interested in military history, the Salpa trail is an endless treasure trove. Along the trail are 13 picnic and overnight spots as well as 4 reservable saunas. A mountain bike is the ideal mode of transport for this route.

For the trail, wear good footwear and bring a powerful lamp, preferably two. The bunkers can be dangerous and dark places. There might be water on the floor or ice, even in the summer. The walls often have iron fixings and there can be metal rods poking down from the roof. Sewer lids might also be missing and some wooden structures may be rotten. Explore the bunkers at your own risk!

Almost all of The Salpa Line’s 25 caves are unfinished. They were intended to be accommodation dugouts for soldiers and regimental aid stations, where men injured in battle had their worst wounds dressed before sending them away from the front line for further treatment. With each step you can sense the past all around you.

5 points of interest on the Salpa line.

  1. Ventovuori area, Virolahti

The Salpa line’s best offering for the independent traveller. In a small area you will find three cave systems, a dugout and a petrol filling station. Map.

  1. Anti-tank barrier fence (dragon’s teeth)

Hundreds of miles long, this barrier, normally made from concrete blocks, is made with large blocks of excavated natural rock stacked several rows deep. For each rock, a hole was dug half a metre deep, leaving the rest of the rock poking out one metre above the ground. The fence can be seen in the yard of Virolahti’s bunker museum. Map

  1. Pääkaupunginkallio – The Capital’s Rock

A 14 metre high and 50 metre long vertical rock wall, from which stone was quarried for building materials. Map

  1. Klamila cannon batteries

The round cannon battery is a thought-provoking sight. This was the firing position for a 152/45 C -type gun. Ammunition stores, as well as accommodation facilities are located at its periphery. Map

  1. The Salpa Line Museum

There are many trails in the area, along which you can explore the history and construction of The Salpa Line. There’s an exhibition inside the museum as well as a short film. Other things to see include a wooden aircraft control tower and one of the better known tanks from the Second World War, the T-34. Map

5 CAVE SYSTEMS

  1. Salmenkylä tunnel, Hamina

A 20-metre-long cave, which is almost completely in its original condition. The floor is concrete and the furnaces and smoke ducts are made from moulded bricks. Map

  1. Lusikkovuori cave, Lappeenranta

The largest cave on the Salpa line is located in Lusikkovuori and was made by 400 men. In winter, icicles of up to one metre in height grow upward from the ground. The cave is open by request and can also be booked for private events and concerts. You can inquire about guided tours from Hilkka Suoanttila, tel. 040 565 4462. Map

Kuva: Jukka Siiskonen

Photo: Jukka Siiskonen / willimiehen jäljillä

  1. Vahtivuori cave

Vahtivuori cave is 32 meters long and meant for 80 persons. On the side of the accommodation tunnel is a machine gun chamber, and on top of the rock is a hemispherical lookout shelter. Map.

  1. Soikonvuori cave

The unfinished accommodation tunnel was excavated from the rock along with a dugout for two machine gun positions, where the walls and floors are covered in stearin and at one end stands a large wooden cross. It turns out that every year, a candlelit evening service is organised here.  Map

  1. Pallokorsu

A furnished round dugout, with pure white walls. It feels like being inside an eggshell. In the corner there is a small stove. and most of the space is taken up by a two-storey wooden gun carriage. Map

Things to note before a trip here

A wide range of guided day trips are organised on the Salpa Line. Services are provided by K-linnoiteretket and Korsumatkat Bunker Tours. In addition to these, a Salpa line hike is organised each year, where a small group of 10-15 participants can explore the terrain under the leadership of a trained guide.

If just walking or cycling along the Salpa trail, wear clothing appropriate for the weather and bring a packed lunch. In the summer be prepared for mosquitoes and other bugs, as well as vipers that might be found in the thickets.

In the dugouts there is no lighting. Entrances are generally low and thresholds high. Large chunks of rock can fall from cave walls and ceilings  and there may be other things hanging down, such as barbed wire. For photographing in dingy spaces a tripod and separate flash could be useful.

Some sites are on private land, in which case you should be aware of and remember Finnish Everyman’s Right.

The Salpa Line fortifications are protected under the Antiquities Law and their alteration, concealment, excavation or any form of deformation or vandalism is prohibited without the permission of the National Heritage Board.

The world ‘Salpa’, means ‘locking bolt’. The fortification line was intended to be the ‘lock’ on Finland’s defence, the final barrier if the Russian’s would have continued west. However The Salpa Line never had to receive a war, as they didn’t make it that far.

Historical sources used for this article were the work ‘Matkalla Salpalinjalle’ and leaflets from the museum.

Article by Harri Leino. Photos by Harri Leino, Virpi Bordi and Janne Lumikanta. Translated by Becky Hastings.

At the edge of the sky

Volunteering in a National Park, in addition to hard work, contains some serious hiking.

On our second week in August 2016 we came to Pallas, so an opportunity to finally scale the Taivaskero Fell arose. On our last visit here we had to skip it due to extreme conditions. Taivaskero is the tallest one in the chain of fells, towering at 807 meters above sea level.

The weather was spectacular by the time our shift ended at 3 o’clock so after a tasty communal work meal we took on the fell. The sun was already pretty low and we witnessed a wonderful halo phenomenon on our way up.

The path to Taivaskero starts from the courtyard of Pallas Hotel with a “light” 4 kilometer ascend. You’ll come across an intersection with a sign post and from there it’s about a kilometer of rocky uphill. I wouldn’t recommend the route to anyone with bad feet. On your way and once you get there, remember to look back every once in a while. The top of Taivaskero is broad and wide so there are plenty of different landscapes available. On the highest point you’ll find a pile of rocks with a plaque commemorating the lighting of the Olympic torch in 1952. They had to replace it due to skiers damaging it when trying to scrape snow and ice off to get a clear view of the plaque.

Taivaskero is also known for its ferocious winds. So even if you don’t feel a breeze at the hotel, practice extreme caution once you get all the way up.

The path goes along the Laukkukero fell and continues down the ski-lift trail. The view is incredible the whole way down.

On a clear day you can see into amazing distances and the light preceeding the sunset looks mezmerising. The opposing skyline was all in pastel colors.

On our hike we noticed a hang glider up in the sky. They were up there for the entire time. I bet the view was even more stunning from their perspective.

The return toward the hotel is a steep path down but about half way there we turned left at a”To the hotel” sign. We followed a small path serpenting down the hill. The almost ghost-like woods we walked through took us right to the backyard of the hotel.

If you’re ever around Pallas or on the Hetta-Pallas hike, be sure to take the extra mile to see Taivaskero. It really is worth it.

//Anne

In August through September of 2016 we were volunteering at Pallas-Ylläs National Park. We applied a new coat of paint to several huts and other buildings, first in Hetta’s Pyhäkero and later around the vicinity of Pallaskota. Everything involving this particular experience can be found under the tag National Park Volunteers. That and The earlier adventure aka our first Lapland hike can be found here.

This article was originally published on Likelygonehiking.com.

Sunbathing on Red Sand

Punainenhiekka (The Red Sand) is a long beach at the Southern edge of Pallasjärvi Lake. Like the name suggests, the sand is red in color, making it stand out from the rest of the paler beaches along what is often referred to as The Sea of Lapland.

It’s a popular beach but as you’d imagine, late August (and especially after the Rauli storm), isn’t exactly sunbathing season.

I was even wearing a beanie. The beach was beautiful and the howing wind felt refreshing, though. I must be a little daft, preferring Autumn weather over hot Summer days.

The place was made for chasing Auroras, with the fells lining up in the distance. But a creeping feeling of an uncoming cold kept us from pitching our tent. Don’t worry, we did witness those radiant masterpieces later, on Monday and at the lawn of our accommodation.

At the wilderness hut near the beach we ran into a group of women busy having a photoshoot inside. HandMadeInRaattama, they were called. So we prepared our food outside.

After they were done interviewing and taking photos, it was our turn to take ours. The hut was adorable! Plenty of room and you couldn’t ask for a better view. There’s also a firepit on the beach and it’s only half a kilometer away from the road.

//Anne

In August through September of 2016 we were volunteering at Pallas-Ylläs National Park. We applied a new coat of paint to several huts and other buildings, first in Hetta’s Pyhäkero and later around the vicinity of Pallaskota. Everything involving this particular experience can be found under the tag National Park Volunteers. That and The earlier adventure aka our first Lapland hike can be found here.

This article was originally published on Likelygonehiking.com.

Pirttisaari – a wonderful hiding place in Porvoo’s archipelago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6670253  E 413851

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

Cycling in Porvoo’s National Urban Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A GLIMPSE OF MAGIC IN THE HEART OF HOSSA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wheelchair access to the shore of Huosilampi lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huosilampi’s disabled access shelter

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

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

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

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

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

The trail’s starting point is here on the map

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

Translated by Becky Hastings.