In commercial partnership with Visit Raseborg

I had been eagerly looking forward to my paddling trip in Billnäs cultural landscape. The morning arrived very cold, and my car windows were covered by frost. Luckily, the weather forecast promised us a beautiful day with sunny intervals. I started my drive towards the Billnäs ironworks where I was going to meet my guide Gustaf Ahlroos, more familiarly known as Gutte. Gutte organizes, e.g., paddling and biking trips around the Billnäs area.

Mustio starting point on the map

Billnäs finishing point on the map

The length of the paddling route is about 20 km.

There are no rapids on this stretch of the Mustio river making the route a perfect fit for touring kayaks and inexperienced paddlers not familiar with rapids.

Usually the paddling trips start from Mustio, but we decided to leave my car at the finishing point of the route in Billnäs and head to the starting point by Gutte’s car. I took a scenic route to Billnäs, but still arrived there a bit early. So I had a little time on my hands, and I wandered around the Billnäs Ironworks and got to know its history. At the same time, I was curious about getting to the river already. Unfortunately, the fall colors had already faded, and stormy winds had left the trees bare.

But the river looked inviting. There is something so charming in fall season. The skies are gray, the weather is foggy, the air is filled with earthy smells – it’s always so beguiling. Seasons bring changes to river environment as does the river flow. As we were able to witness, heavy rainfalls result in increased river flow and higher water level. The fast flowing river may also speed up your paddling.

We set out to paddle on kayaks that Gutte had rented in Mustio. If you are not in a hurry, go check out the magnificent Mustio manor. The manor is situated only a few hundred meters from the starting point. But we had to get going, because the sun sets quite early in the fall. The paddling route to Billnäs is more or less 20 kilometers, so it’s a decent muscle workout at the same time. I have paddled quite a lot, but I’m not really used to kayaks, so this trip was also a learning experience for me.

Gustaf ”Gutte” Ahlroos

Gutte is a nature-loving guy and a versatile entrepreneur who works in the Billnäs area. Gutte’s company Lyfte hires out kayaks and mountain bikes and organizes guided tours like this paddling trip on Mustio river. It is also possible to experience a combined biking and paddling tour.

Gutte is also a Certified Mental Trainer as well as a Personal Trainer. He is also currently studying to be a hiking guide.

Read more about paddling and biking in Billnäs on Gutte’s Facebook pages.

This paddling route is perfect, if you have never done any kayaking and want to practice it safely with an experienced guide. The first three kilometers are pretty easy. The river flow is relatively slow, and the stretch is largely sheltered from the wind. During the first three kilometers, you will have time to get used to kayaking and practice different paddling techniques.

Just as I started to get the hang of some basic techniques, we passed by the small Junkarsborg island with ancient castle ruins. The castle dates back to the 12th century, the late Iron Age, and has presumably also been inhabited by Vikings. Tradition has it that the castle was first called Raseborg, and that name was later on passed to The Raseborg Castle in Snappertuna. My family is related to the former Lord of The Raseborg Castle, and that is why it was quite special for me to be paddling in the area connected to my family’s heritage.

There is a strong current near Junkarsborg, and there are also quite a few big rocks. So pay attention at this point!

After Junkersborg, we paddled over Lake Päsarträsket, after which the river meandered through the fields for several kilometers. Gutte told me that in the summertime herding cows come to the river bank to stare at the paddlers passing by, and it is not unheard of that a curious gray heron starts to follow a group of paddlers. The river banks offered us a shelter from the wind, so it was easy to paddle for a while, but as we approached the Kyrksjön lake, a brisk wind started to blow.

Gutte told us that this part of the route is often very windy, and that there may be big waves, even though the lake is shallow.

There are many suitable places to stop for a picnic along the route, but we decided to enjoy our packed lunch before starting to cross the lake. Gutte also kindly made us a cup of coffee, but just as we started to eat, it began to rain. The weather forecast proved not be accurate, but that’s just typical… Fortunately, we had these waterproof drysuits on, so the rain didn’t really bother us. When getting ready for a paddling trip, you should always pack a rainproof jacket with you, even when there is no rain in the forecasts.

Next we paddled over the lake and arrived at the city center of Karjaa. After a short stretch of urban paddling, the rain really picked up and it started to get dark as well. But we were right on schedule and our route was coming to an end – we made it to Billnäs just before dark.

At dusk the Billnäs Ironworks looked just absolutely beautiful. The quacking ducks welcomed us back to the same bridge where I had been admiring the scenery before the start of our little paddling trip. Luckily we were dressed appropriately for the weather and didn’t get cold. On the contrary, I was a little hot when we paddled upwind. We also took several short breaks.

I have been paddling my packraft in many places from wilderness to urban environments. I was pleasantly surprised by this route, as it was truly atmospheric with rich cultural landscape. It was nice to paddle in a kayak on a river like this at a moderately brisk pace. We were a little late, but I can only imagine the landscape with fall foliage in all its glory. We decided to come back with my wife and next time take the combined biking and paddling tour and top off the day by eating in the Billnäs restaurant.

Read also:

An impressive cycling route in Raseborg: Presenting the 46-kilometre long Front Line Route

One of the most beautiful hiking areas in Raseborg hides among the reed beds and hazel groves – hiking on the trails of lake Lepinjärvi at dawn

The Antskog Ironworks in Raasepori – a historical idyll by the river

Culture & cardio – experience the Embankment route from the capital region to Fiskars on a train and bike

In commercial partnership with Visit Raseborg

The sea always offers a sense of timelessness , and islands are a great place for adventure. Ekenäs Archipelago National Park is a genuine treasure trove, with sheltered harbors offering a safety net for seafarers. And the island of Jussarö, where mining used to be carried out, is the ideal place for reflecting on deep social questions. The summer sun glimmers on the gentle waves as the salty wind ushers the traveler onward.

In a way, Ekenäs Archipelago National Park is very easy to get to. All that’s needed is the means of navigating the waters (or ice!). The national park can be reached in summer by boat, canoe, kayak, sailboard, and even by swimming, and in winter on skis or skates whenever it’s safe to travel on the ice. Seasoned travelers should make sure their schedule is overly tight, or getting around from island to island may feel like too tough a task.

For those who have less time and do not have their own means of travel, I highly recommend a guided tour, as it makes it possible to focus fully on admiring the splendid nature of the archipelago and on enjoying a snack. A day trip to the archipelago is a wonderful escape into what seems like another world entirely.

We set off from Ekenäs pier around nine in the morning. The sun is already shining by then, and the fairly calm sea is inviting. Our captain and guide Matti Piirainen pilots a small boat for six people, and has a lot to tell about all the destinations and the nature and history of the area. At one time in history, it seems like Ekenäs could grow into a large cluster for islanders, as Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna of Russia – formerly Princess Dagmar of Denmark – and her fleet of ships visited the area for leisure. A reminder of this part of the area’s history is Dagmar’s Spring, a popular sight that winds its way down to the sea at Källviken. Due to the sheltered nature of the archipelago, large fleets set sail instead for more open waters, and thus Hanko and Helsinki developed into more favored destinations. We pass Dagmar’s Spring and a whole host of inviting little sandy beaches, and continue further eastward to the island of Älgö.

A guide who knows the area well will always make sure that the boat docks only in an area subject to permission. When visiting Ekenäs Archipelago National Park, it is important to remember that the park was established to protect nature, and that the Finnish ‘everyman’s right’ to pick berries and mushrooms freely do not apply within the national park. For instance, some islands have a prohibition against landing for part of the year, while in others landing is prohibited all year round. In addition, there are certain water areas where marine traffic is not allowed at all. Visitors to national parks should not forget that they are guests in the wild, and should conduct themselves accordingly and with respect for nature. Before they set out, they should read the rules and regulations for visits to national parks on the website of Metsähallitus, the national environmental services organization. The guide will ensure that the visit is conducted responsibly. The first stop will be the island of Rödjan, south of Älgö, the largest island in the national park.

Rödjan (above) is a former fishing village – and in a way it still is, as Micke Röberg takes care of the parcels of land and the pier, and smokes his catches of fish. The service structures in Rödjan are freely available to visitors to the national park. In the area you will find a nature trail, a dry closet (that is, a toilet containing no water), and a campsite a little further from the beach. Unfortunately, the beach sauna burned down recently, so there is no chance of a sauna.

Micke’s catch on the day of our visit is the usual kind, largely perch – but also one flounder, the first in a long time! We talk with him about how the sea and the Ekenäs archipelago have changed. Micke has been fishing and has been living in the area for several decades, and says the changes taking place in the region are most visible in the water. The rocks are resistant to change within a human lifetime, but the changes in the underwater world are clearly noticeable.

“At one time, it was quite common to catch anywhere between 100 and 200 flounder a week. I used to smoke a lot of them. Nowadays, the flounder catch for the whole summer is about a hundred.”

According to Röberg, the waters are also becoming cloudier all the time. On the other hand, changes related to emissions from the large factories on the shores of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland are also noticeable, and fortunately they are for the better now.

With our guide, Matti, we also talk about the birds of the archipelago during the day. Cormorants in particular are a source of lively debate, as their habitat and presence in the area has had a marked effect on the habitat of the population in a short time. Matti also advises birdwatching visitors to be on the lookout for an osprey’s nest in the crown of a particular pine tree.

Ekenäs Archipelago National Park was established in 1989, and it annual visitor numbers are about average for Finland’s marine and lakeland national parks.  Whereas there were just short of 5,000 visitors to Bothnian Bay National Park in 2020 and almost 100,000 visitors to Bothnian Sea National Park, Ekenäs Archipelago National Park drew an estimated 58,000 visitors that year. Visitor numbers have not been astronomical, as those who travel in the area are largely boaters and paddlers. According to Matti, however, there have been increasing numbers of birdwatchers to national parks, and some choose Ekenäs Archipelago National Park as their final park of the birdwatching season. On Matti’s guided tours, these park achievements and birthdays have been celebrated, and he has also taken experts on expeditions to see shipwrecks in the area.

When in the archipelago, one can’t always be certain when they’re in the national park and when not. In some places visitors can find themselves in the nature reserve, other times on private land. Responsible hiking also means knowing the waters you are travelling through, and choosing your landing location according to the permitted places. Overnight stays in Ekenäs Archipelago National Park are only allowed in marked places. As there are only a few of these, they should be carefully chosen in advance. Naturally, in the event of an emergency boats may be forced to come to land in other places – as is well known, the sea can be an unpredictable environment. But with good preparation, and if need be an overnight stay with respect for nature, every hiker can contribute to ensuring that the Baltic ringed seal can continue to raise its head amid the waves.

After leaving Rödjan, the landscape gradually changes. The inner archipelago gives way to the mid-archipelago, from where we eventually end up in the outer archipelago. The pearl of the intermediate archipelago is unquestionably Modermagan, meaning ‘mother’s lap’, a natural harbor with a charming lagoon-like, rock-walled route into it. Matti steers the boat to land under the welcoming pine, and we jump off onto the rocks.

The services at Modermagan are relaxingly simple: a fireplace, a place to safely light a fire, an outdoor toilet, tent site and information board. Mother Nature’s offerings, by contrast, are abundant: a peculiar, almost fairytale water pond, the wind-blown cliffs towards the outer archipelago, the wonderfully wind-curved pines, and the view from the rocks over the magnificent embrace of the bay. One could stay and admire the open sea all day were it not for the summer heat, which soon forces a retreat into the shade. An amusing little detail that Matti points out is a telephone pole on the southern rocks of Modermagan. There used to be a phone there at one time, and on occasion it would ring. The only telephone coverage among the nearby islands was there. The phoneless telephone pole is now a convenient perch for mew gulls.

After leaving Modermagan, the open sea beckons. There is only a gentle breeze, so the journey goes smoothly, ‘like treading on asphalt.’ At Modermagan we saw the Jussarö lighthouse far off in the distance. It was in fact built on a separate islet southwest of Jussarö. We make a detour to admire the beautiful idyllic former archipelago village, which is now privately owned and apparently serves as a summer resort.

Up ahead is the main destination for our day trip – Jussarö island. Perhaps some advance knowledge of the island and its history has an effect on our perceptions of it, but even the name itself has a metallic ring to it.

In the port of Västerviken, however, the atmosphere is quite relaxed as holidaymakers and excursion boaters enjoy a peaceful afternoon by the new pier. Right next to the guest boat pier is an outdoor toilet, an information board, a swimming area, a sauna – and even a café! There is also a water point on wall. The water is safe to drink, as the seawater is desalinated and purified by reverse osmosis. It’s worth keeping in mind that this is the only water point in the national park. This is a little reminder that hikers planning their excursion to Ekenäs Archipelago National Park should prepare at least as carefully as hikers in Lapland, if not even more so. The limited number of services and the requirement for a good deal of self-sufficiency tend to reduce the number of visitors, thus making this national park a rather peaceful and unknown destination, one that offers more than its fair share of adventure. After all, Ekenäs Archipelago National Park is not a place you’re ever going to come across by accident.

With our guide, we get a peek into Kullakoja, a small red building that is the only building remaining from the old pilot village of the early 19th century. It has been renovated by Metsähallitus. The building has a strong sense of atmosphere about it, but is not open to visitors. Half of Jussarö island is part of the national park, and there walking is permitted only on the marked paths. This restriction is absolute and always in force. All services and camping facilities are in the eastern half of the island, which there are less restrictions. On the nature trail, hikers can immerse themselves in the nature of the archipelago as calmly as their heart desires. But the serenity comes to a startling end when you set eyes on the ugly spectacle on the other side of Jussarö.

On the open zone of the eastern side of the island is a historically significant former iron mine, and the heavily pock-marked landscape is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Faced with such a sight, the viewer’s imagination may well be tempted to run wild, evoking stark, even brutal images from video games and movies. 

Summer nature could not be more beautiful when the sea glimmers in the sun, a deep contrast with the man-made scar on Jussarö.

In the deciduous forest, above the trees, runs an old, partially ruined wooden railroad track. This is the route on which the enriched iron was hauled to the loading dock in the northern part of the island. A light metal fence encloses the barracks buildings that in bygone days provided accommodation for the miners. Only very few of the windows still have intact glass, and there are plenty of bullet holes in many of the walls. The Finnish armed forced apparently used the buildings in their exercises. We walk through the horror movie-like scene with the guide, and I have to admit I’m happy it’s a sunny summer day. If we were here during an autumn storm, the combined effect of these unsettling surroundings and a runaway imagination might well be too much for the nerves.

Ahead of us is what was called the iron yard. There is a tall tower-like building on the left, and a fairly large, gray barracks-type building on the right. An open gravel pitch. We could almost be in the Texas Wild West of the movies; all that’s missing is the tumbleweed. Moving on, we can hear the sound of the crickets in the grass. And further ahead is another tower-like building and the skeleton of a house, with no walls left standing. This is a pretty mind-boggling sight. These are not the scenes you’d expect in a national park.

But on the other hand, perhaps we should just accept it.

After all, denying or forgetting the past is of far less value than remembering and learning from it. In all its harshness, it’s nonetheless probably a good thing that these remnants of buildings are still here. As monuments. According to Matti, the iron mine was in operation for an amazingly short time – only seven years! He also tells us of the day-to-day life and activities on the island and its connections. Digging for iron under the sea turned out to be unprofitable, and so came to a rather swift end. The world changed. Now those who some to Jussarö are mostly boaters at their leisure, a far cry from the miners or conscripts who came to labor here. But even in a transformed world, it’s still the same island.

Behind another tall mining building is a sandy hill, and we get to try something that’s close to a pleasant reminder of physics classes in our high school days. The guide gives us small magnets for finding iron-bearing stones and rocks in the ground. And we find them! An awful lot of them, in fact. We also come across a few of what seem to be old shotgun pellets, or what’s left of them (pardon my ignorance in this area). There are plenty of ferrous rocks and sand. So much, we’re told, that in the past the compasses of many ships, which worked with old, unrepairable mechanisms, were led astray near Jussarö, making navigation difficult. On the seabed to the southeast and south of the island are several shipwrecks.

Hiekkamäki leads us directly to the sea to one of Finland’s most remarkable beaches – the aptly named Iron Beach. The dark tone of the beach meets the magnificently glistening summertime Baltic Sea, and the cliffs that frame the area make the place almost magical. On a nearby cliff stands an observation tower, with a direct view south over the sea.

There is also a nature trail to the west of Iron Beach. it does not run through the national park, but instead leads to the cliffs to enjoy the seaside sun. Along the path, Matti gives us a few tips about other rocky or sandy beaches along the trail that are good spots for swimming. We can feel the heat radiating from the rocks, and the salty sea breeze ruffling our hair. It’s just fantastic to be by the open sea. And we have been blessed with such great weather: as beautiful as the nature around these parts is now, in the winter it can be ferociously stormy.

Jussarö gives you much to think about. An abandoned iron mine, old broken-down former railroad tracks in the middle of the forest, a tranquil beautiful archipelago meadow, the majestic sea and beautiful cliffs… You can’t take it all in at once. Even for people who now the archipelago well, Jussarö is still a world apart. There is just something so… video game-like about this island.

On the way back to Ekenäs, there is still plenty of sunshine to savor. As we speed away, we pass islands and islets to the right and to the left of us – many of them nameless, and highly varied. A start to dream of a kayaking trip through the watery maze of this sheltered archipelago. As the home port comes into view, the feeling is slightly unreal. The sea and the archipelago are a wilderness of their own kind, and promise adventure to those who visit. It’s nothing short of breathtaking what a massive contrast there is from the islands criss-crossed with small paths to the asphalt of the mainland. And despite the contrast, the distance between these two worlds as the crow flies is not even that great. Perhaps it is the ‘absence of society’ that makes archipelagos and wilderness so different, relaxing and natural.

And all the treasures that are hidden in those islands.

Read more

Matti’s website

Visitraseborg.com/EkenasArchipelagoNationalPark

An impressive cycling route in Raseborg: Presenting the 46-kilometre long Front Line Route

One of the most beautiful hiking areas in Raseborg hides among the reed beds and hazel groves – hiking on the trails of lake Lepinjärvi at dawn

The Antskog Ironworks in Raasepori – a historical idyll by the river

Culture & cardio – experience the Embankment route from the capital region to Fiskars on a train and bike

In commercial partnership with Visit Raseborg

Article by Johanna Suomela

The Antskog Ironworks is a scenic and historical site few people know about in Raasepori, only about an hour’s drive from Helsinki. The picturesque ironworks reveals its beauty to an adventurer who appreciates its history and approaches the idyll discreetly and with respect for its nature that differs from other ironworks villages. 

The early evening atmosphere in Antskog in late June is magical. I have arrived in a seemingly sleepy, beautiful little village. The mass of clouds drifts by, almost touching the treetops, but the worst threat of rain has already passed.

I know that the only permitted parking spot is at the Antskog plaza. I have to check my navigator to make sure that I am indeed in the right place. Yes, I am at the plaza, at Harabackantie 3. I have never visited such a tiny plaza before, but a village community of 120 permanent residents hardly needs a Senate Square.

The plaza is recognizable by the yellow house standing on the corner – a former diner and shop – and an information board titled “Antskog as a copperworks” describing the history of the copperworks. When you see them in front of you, you know you have parked legally. Parking anywhere else is prohibited, especially in front of the old volunteer fire brigade building, as that is the turning area for the bus, and every square meter is needed.

The peacefully slumbering Antskog Ironworks is surrounded by a fence sealed with locked gates. Trespassing beyond the fence is not allowed, as the area is entirely under the control of its owner, Mako Ltd.

Fortunately, small glimpses of the buildings in the historical factory area, now used as warehouses, can be seen from permitted routes. Through my camera, I take a peek at a past world filled with our industrial history that lies beyond the fence.

The long and meandering history of the Antskog Ironworks

The Antskog Ironworks is the oldest and smallest of the ironworks in Pohja. The German-born merchant from Turku, Jacob Wolle, is considered to be the founder of the Antskog Ironworks. In history books, Antskog and Wolle are linked from the year 1630 onwards, so that year is considered to be the founding year of the Antskog Ironworks. 

As an ironworks, Antskog competed with Fiskars, which was founded much later (not until 1649!). In the end, Fiskars had a better location traffic-wise closer to the sea and triumphed.

When the furnace was still operational in 1650, the village had 80 inhabitants who were considered adults. People serving Antskog at that time included a master of the furnace, a pot caster, two pistolsmiths, a precision smith and a wheelsmith, several hammersmiths, a master builder as well as colliers and charcoal burners. 

The first church was built in Antskog in 1665. The ironworks parish was dissolved after population dwindled in the 1770’s, and the Antskog church was moved to the Koski Ironworks in Perniö, where it mostly retains its features from the Antskog era, although it is no longer in use.

All that remains of the church now in Antskog are the church site and the sign pointing to it.  At times when the undergrowth is more barren, the plinth of the church is visible. After June, the plinth is probably covered by Amazon-like vegetation.

As centuries passed, the ore used at the ironworks varied, as did the end products. From the present-day perspective, one of the most important owners was pharmacist John Jacob Julin from Turku. To facilitate access for ore barges from the nearby Malmberget mine, Julin built a sluice in Antskog in 1824. Julin himself believed the sluice to be the first one in Finland, and had his assumption carved into a rock next to the sluice, even though the honor of building the first sluice probably belongs to Henrik Johan Kreij, owner of the Mustio Ironworks, who is said to have built two sluices in the Mustionjoki river as early as 1745.

The copperworks closed down in 1880. Earlier in 1875, pharmacist Julin’s eldest son Emil Lindsay von Julin had been forced to hand his factory over to his debtors, but he also received a managerial position in the Fiskars Aktiebolaget company that was founded in 1883.

Industrial operation continued in Antskog, however. In 1839, John Jacob Julin had received a permit for founding a baize factory and a felting facility and dyeworks alongside the ironworks. The stone building of the baize factory was completed in 1841, and was rented by various entrepreneurs until 1849. When there was an attempt to sell the factories here in 1879, they included a small wool spinning mill, weaving mill and dyeworks in addition to the copperworks and mill. There was even a tricot production plant in Antskog before the turn of the century.

In 1900, the old baize factory was destroyed in a fire. The Antskog Klädesfabrik Ltd, founded two years later, built a large group of industrial buildings on the same site. The factory specialized in the manufacturing of baize, slipper, ulster and suit fabrics and employed over 100 people during the early years of the 20th century. The operation of the factory that provided a livelihood for the entire village ended in a surprising bankruptcy in 1959. In 1960, ownership of the area was transferred to its current owner, Mako Ltd, through a compulsory auction.

(This is an adaptation of the long and meandering history of the Antskog Ironworks. You can read the full long history at the Antskog Ironworks web site here.)

The Antskog Ironworks village today

Today, Antskog is filled with peace and quiet. The ironworks sleeps; nothing is being manufactured inside its factory buildings anymore.

The Anskunjoki river flows languidly through the fenced factory area. The sound of running water reaches my ears from somewhere, but I see no steps down to the water.

Although all manufacturing has ended, there is still a solidness about the old buildings. The abandoned factory buildings are reminiscent of past times, the history of Finnish industry.

The serene, unbroken surface of the Anskunjoki river paints beautiful images; even the slight blemishes created by the ravages of time do not disturb the full picture.

The grass isn’t growing wildly; the paths are clearly visible. The white fences look as if they had just been painted. Somebody is looking after this industrial-archaeological environment.

Even though Antskog and Fiskars are located next to each other, Antskog is worlds apart from Fiskars that waits for tourists with open arms a few kilometers away.

There are no shops here, nor artisans’ workshops with inviting open doors.

Antskog is meant to be enjoyed as is – raw, without sugarcoating to make it more tempting. There are no temptations here for loosening the strings of one’s purse, but plenty of peace and atmosphere.

The Antskog summer idyll is located on Slussintie

To get to the start of Slussintie, I cross the concrete road that runs through the village.

The speed limit is low, but it’s still a good idea to look both ways. Many of those driving by here seem to be in a hurry to get to Fiskars.

The former workers’ homes on Slussintie have developed into a paradise for summer residents. The rental apartments are modest, with outhouses at the back of the yard. Bathing takes place in the sauna, and a swim in the river feels refreshing. 

These affordable rental apartments are rarely available, and even when they are, they are rented under the counter. Marketing takes place through the grapevine. There are approximately one hundred lucky summer residents.

The houses have seen plenty of time and life, and they all have names. Plevna, Onnela, Fiskars I & II, Pomola.

The residents have their own little piers by the river.

The river sauna gets plenty of visitors. Women are cooling off with towels around themselves and their hair, and children are wading in the quietly flowing water. 

For a moment, I imagine that I have fallen into a historical, cosmic wormhole and travelled at least 80 years back in time. The number of children playing outside is beyond my comprehension. They really are swimming and running around, as they should in the summer. Outside! Even in the evening! People here are enjoying the summer and every single warm day. 

I wait for a good while before I’m able take out my camera. The surface of the river has barely settled as new swimmers enter the water.

Even the laundry/mangling room on the bank of Anskunjoki looks rather idyllic.

The nature in Antskog is particularly sensitive 

The opposite bank of Slussintie at Keskiportti is wilderness-like. The magnificent trees are reflected on the mirror of the water. Somewhere in the cover of the trees, a blackbird is singing its prettiest serenade. The water flows here from the Seljänalanen lake above, from which a waterway through a narrow canal also leads to the Määrjärvi lake. 

Here in the Pohja-Kisko uplands, especially in these river valleys, the nature is lush and diverse. There are many clear-watered, wilderness-like lakes here that have been spared from the construction of cabins and agricultural runoff, on whose shores smooth cliffs rise sharply towards the sky.

In 2017, the Pohja-Kisko lake uplands were included among the one hundred pearls of nature named by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation. In the nature of Raasepori, one may spot the red-throated diver, which is rare in Uusimaa. The area is also the habitat of the black-throated diver, whooper swan, crane, eagle owl and Eurasian pygmy owl. Even a playful otter might be found in the brooks of the lake uplands. 

There is a large population of white-tailed deer. Moving quietly and downwind, one may even encounter moose, lynxes, bears and wolves. In the swamps, one may hear the wood grouse and black grouse, and there are large numbers of bats and dragonflies.

There are several conservation and Natura areas in the vicinity of Antskog. In order to keep their sensitive nature as untouched as possible, no routes have been built in them. The nearest marked routes are close by, however. There is a tree species path of about two kilometers in length in the Fiskars ironworks area that introduces as many as 23 different species of trees. The four-kilometer Rissla forest path leads through beautiful scenery to the Rissla waterfall and the structures of the old power plant. For those who enjoy cycling, the Fiskars Ironworks offers a total of 60 kilometers of marked and maintained mountain biking routes!

The Antskog idyll has even appeared in a movie

Slussintie winds along the riverbank; my steps are taking me towards the “slussi”, or the sluice.

While walking leisurely, one can constantly see eye candy along Slussintie: flowers, artistic and warmly humorous still lifes, summer residences for winged friends; the washing lines on the opposite bank and even the chair where the happy washer probably has time to wait for their laundry to dry. 

The Slussintie summer idyll looks straight out of Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books! I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Emil i Lönneberga himself came running down the hill with his cap tilted, or Pippi Longstocking rode past me on her spotted horse.

No wonder the Antskog riverbank has even appeared in a movie. The adaptation of Eeva Joenpelto’s novel Vetää kaikista ovista was filmed here, and the Antskog workers’ hall can also be seen in the movie.

Nature is flourishing here. This landscape is a safe haven for many buzzing insects.

Members of the Antskog village society have received an honorable mention for their work for the preservation of the diversity of nature. Through its own example, Antskog proves that looking after the natural environment of one’s own village doesn’t necessarily require large resources, but good will and active hands willing to take action.

The Antskog village society has also made its own village plan for the development of their village. They want Antskog to be a vigorous village community in a pleasant environment, and they want to offer the people of Antskog diverse opportunities for exercise that keep people healthy.

The active Antskog village society organizes an annual summer fest, collective voluntary work, summer exhibitions, summer café activity and concerts. At the heart of these activities is the diligently restored cozy workers’ hall situated at the end of Harabackantie.

The Antskog sluice

After a few hundred yards of walking, I arrive at the historical sluice. 

The Antskog sluice was constructed in 1824 by Johan Jacob Julin, who was in charge of the refining of copper from the Orijärvi mine. Transporting ore to the foundries in Koski and Antskog was extremely laborious, especially during the winter with heavy snow. Julin solved the logistical problems by constructing a waterway from Orijärvi to Antskog, which had a connection to the Gulf of Finland through a series of small lakes. Julin’s solution was successful, as transportation costs were halved thanks to the sluices. 

The Antskog sluice became less important in 1830, when copper refining was concentrated at the Koski foundry. The Antskog sluice remained in use until 1908, when the actual sluice gates were dismantled.

The remaining reminders of history are the rusty sluice structure and the text “First sluice in Finland, J.Julin 1824” carved in stone. As mentioned before, the sluice wasn’t actually the first, but who would doubt information that has been carved in stone?

Slussintie ends at the beautiful Mikkola beach

Slussintie ends at a beautiful beach. The Mikkola beach is the villagers’ bathing beach. Littering and keeping dogs loose is understandably prohibited, as is camping. 

A smart guest always respects the rules of the house and never wants a bad mood for themselves, let alone to upset the permanent residents. During the COVID year, we’ve all read about sites getting damaged during the nature tourism boom and careless hikers who disregard the rules and leave trash behind. As smart and considerate nature lovers, we don’t want to be part of that group, do we?

Evening images at Anskunjoki river

As I walk back towards the plaza, I still wonder about the children splashing about in the river. 

The sign warning about playing children at the start of Slussintie should indeed be taken seriously instead of barreling down the road towards the sluice by car.

I admire the beautiful reflections on the surface of the river as the lens of the camera catches some boys on an evening kayaking trip.

Luukas Huppunen and Niilo Alander are enjoying the soft atmosphere of a summer evening in Antskog in the best possible way – on the water.

Villa Taika offers surprises and unique bed & breakfast accommodation

I quickly visit the Manibacka hill, a little ways from the center of Antskog towards Fiskars. Here, a real surprise awaits a hiker in need of accommodation. Raisa Kaipainen and Torsten Rüger have renovated an old schoolhouse into a unique bed & breakfast that almost certainly has no equal in Finland.

Immediately at the front door my thoughts fly towards southeast Asia. The dark wood used in interior design and the turquoise color of the common rooms act as a virtual ticket to foreign lands.

As I peek inside the comfortable accommodation rooms, nothing reminds me of an old schoolhouse. Each of the eight rooms is unique and individually decorated. 

In addition to the beautiful rooms, guests at Villa Taika also get to enjoy the serenity of the surrounding nature and a lovingly prepared vegetarian breakfast. A fountain bubbles in the large garden, and a large, wood-heated sauna is available for course groups on order.

Villa Taika is a memorable and cozy base for an explorer who values the beauty of the nature of Antskog. Rowboats are available for rent for those wishing to go out on the river, and those wishing to visit Fiskars can borrow a bicycle. By car, the drive to Fiskars is five minutes. Other sites to experience in Raasepori are also close by. The Billnäs Ironworks and Mustio Manor are only 15 kilometers away, and the distance to Tammisaari is 35 kilometers.

There are as many as five lakes as well as a conservation area within walking distance from Villa Taika. The bathing beach of the clear and strictly protected Simijärvi lake is only 200 meters away.

He who has happiness…

…should hide it, says an old Finnish proverb. After my time spent in Antskog, I can also easily understand those villagers who would prefer to keep this idyll entirely hidden. If there are no services for tourists and entrepreneurs in the village who would benefit from visitors, many may fear that their peace will be disturbed without any benefit for the community.

Antskog is unlikely to become a destination for the masses as long as the old industrial area lies slumbering behind locked gates, but for those who value peace and the beauty of nature and walk their own paths, Antskog is the perfect choice. Here, small parties and groups of co-workers will find not only the magical accommodations of Villa Taika, but also an opportunity for customized, guided adventures in nature.  The local company KD-Adventure organizes tourist services for lovers of kayaking, climbing, riding and tour skating. A survival course tailored to the group’s wishes or an evening of firewalking are also possible, as are outdoor cooking classes for gourmands who want to learn to cook on an open fire. Perhaps you’d like to learn how to cook a salmon on a fire or how to prepare an epic dish of rosvopaisti

A summer café has operated at the Antskog workers’ hall every summer during the summer fest and exhibition. This year, the summer fest will be held on July 31, and the summer exhibition will probably take place at the same time. If you are around in these parts in late July, you can find the Antskog workers’ hall at Harabackantie 30.

If the summer café is open, please support the active village society by having a relaxed cup of coffee, for instance. While doing so, you will also see the fabulously restored workers’ hall, and while enjoying your coffee, you can ponder on what a fine piece of the history of industrialization in Finland the Antskog Ironworks is.

Read more

Visit Raseborg

In commercial partnership with Visit Raseborg

Billnäs is a significant part of Finland’s industrial history. The beautiful ironworks milieu may still be experiencing a moment of peace from a bigger tourist rush, but the village is coming to life thanks to the hard work of the ironworks’ new owner. In 2019, we cycled over the old Ratavalli train tracks, now open to the public, from Fiskars to Billnäs and enjoyed both the stunning Mustionjoki scenery and the impressive history of the ironworks.

Route length: 20km

Riding time around 2h

Destination on the map

Starting point and end point on the map

Easy route, some hills

One beautiful day in the early summer, we found ourselves unloading our slightly too tightly-packed bicycles from the trunk of our car on the outskirts of the village of Fiskars. We’d spent the previous day gathering our strength on the endless beaches of Hanko, and our minds, thirsting for action, were already racing through our route for the day.

For our home base, we chose Fiskars, from where we would cycle towards Billnäs on the Ratavalli, which was opened in 2019 as a footpath. The Ratavalli, named after the old train track base it runs on, starts at the Karjaa sports park and ends in Fiskars, and it’s an excellent route for travelers wanting to cycle. The trip can also be made without a car if you start in Karjaa, as you can bring your bike there by train from Helsinki.

The fields and farms are criss-crossed by numerous roads, mainly gravel, so you can pick your own path with relative freedom. The plan was to take a slightly different route back from Billnäs to Fiskars.

Taking the Ratavalli to Billnäs

You can find the Ratavalli route on Google Maps under the name Skuruntie, departing from the Fiskarsintie road that approaches Fiskars from the south, on the south side of the village center. We travel the first few kilometers around the shore of lake Borgbyträsket, which belongs to the drainage basin of Fiskarsinjoki river. Leaving the happy cows behind, we push onward on the peaceful gravel road on the first bike trip of the summer. We stop next to a wall of rock on the south side of the lake when my spouse shouts at me from behind. I only see a gray blur of the snake slithering by my feet. The viper slips away quickly in search of a calmer place to warm its poikilothermous body.

We roll on southward on the tracks, passing the Tallbacka village, until we cross the Turuntie road. Our initial plan was to cycle through Åminnefors village, but we realize around the bridge crossing Mustionjoki river that the Ratavalli passes Åminnefors on the north. If we wanted to stop at the only ironworks still in industrial use, we should have left the Ratavalli route and continued along Mustionjoki river towards the village center. Oh well, there’s always next time. We continue on our way towards Billnäs, where we have a date with guide Matti Piirainen, based in Tammisaari.

We arrive in the center of Billnäs and leave our bikes on the old railyard, bordered by the old dispatch center under repairs. This building was used for dispatching the ironworks’ products all around Finland and the world. Soon we are approached by the guide, Matti, who will guide us through the history of the area.

Billnäs, 1880

History of the Pohja ironworks 101

The Pohja ironworks were first formed in the early 17th century, and are as a whole part of Finland’s national landscape, a collection of 27 sites that proudly represent the country’s culture, history and nature. The ironworks are a significant part of Finland’s tradition of industrial history.

There are altogether five old ironworks in Länsi-Uusimaa: The Pohja ironworks, consisting of Antskog, Fiskars and Billnäs, as well as Mustio and Fagervik. They’re all located within 30 kilometers of each other and all have differing natures and histories. Antskog is very quiet and less of a tourist attraction, Fiskars is a village of artisans, and Mustio is the oldest of the ironworks, characterized by Mustio castle and the large manor park. Fagervik in Inkoo is noted by the Finnish Heritage Agency as “the most complete and representative ironworks of the pre-industrial era”, and it, too, is well within reach of a cyclist looking to visit the Länsi-Uusimaa ironworks.

The Billnäs ironworks was founded in 1641 under Swedish rule. Sweden’s own ironworks had shaved down the forests surrounding them, so the decision was made to build new ironworks in Uusimaa, known in Swedish as Nyland. The location of the ironworks was based on three key needs: a harbor for the logistics chain, a river to power the ironworks, and forest as a source of charcoal to burn. Billnäs manufactured various tools, from nails to ax heads, later moving on to office furniture – which is where many Finns know the name from today.

We start our walking tour from the gate of the ironworks. Attention is quickly drawn to the initials and dates on the ends of the houses. The wrought iron initials signify the period each building is from.

Billnäs was founded in 1641 by former customs officer Carl Billsten, who later passed on the title of ironworks tycoon to his son. During the Isoviha period of the Great Northern War, the ironworks was destroyed almost completely, after which the company was purchased by the Hising brothers. The Hisinger family ruled over the ironworks for a few hundred years, until they were acquired by Fiskars in the 1920s. Understandably, the buildings mostly carry the Hisinger initials.

We walk by the store of a tourism entrepreneur, sporting new, shiny city bikes at the front. In addition to Billnäs, there are bicycle rentals in Karjaa, Fiskars and Tammisaari. Thanks to this, you can cycle between the ironworks without much pre-planning or acquiring a bike beforehand. The entrepreneur also operates a workshop and a flea market in the same space, which will be neighbored by a canoe and bike rental in the future.

Matti Piirainen arranges boat trips in the Tammisaari archipelago national park and works as a guide in both the nature of Tammisaari and historic environments like the Fiskars and Billnäs ironworks. Matti has completed the Suomen Latu wilderness guide course. He has guided wilderness trips in Utsjoki, Lapland, and since expanded his repertoire. He started the boat tours about 10 years ago, and he has a rental boat driver’s license. Learn more on Matti’s website.

We continue walking towards the banks of the Mustionjoki river. A thrush nightingale is singing on the branch of a deciduous tree and the bright June light is casting sharp shadows all around us. Soon we’re standing on a wooden bridge over Mustionjoki on the east side of the dam.

Mustionjoki river is also suited for canoeing and kayaking. Right on the south side of the Peltokoski power plant, by the side of the Salontie road, is a boat launching place. There are no dams on the way, and aside from one small rapid, you can boat down the river for around 20 kilometers all the way to Billnäs. You can take your canoe out of the river before the Billnäs dam. As for renting, you can find rentals such as Melontatehdas, known in Swedish as Paddlingsfabriken, in the area.

Before the hydroelectric dam, a new pontoon bridge takes us to the newly-built fish ladder. We’ll hear more about them later from the ironworks’ current owner, Olli Muurainen. The ironworks creates an impressive view from the north side of the river, the factory chimney standing out against a nearly cloudless sky. We pass by the oldest houses in the village, smith’s residences from the 18th century painted in red ochre. The workers lived in these wooden houses painted with red earth pigment, charming from a modern viewpoint. Clerks lived in slightly larger stone houses.

The ironworks’ development

The ownership of the key buildings was transferred from Fiskars to the municipality of Pohja in the 1980s. In 2008, the municipality sold them to entrepreneur Olli Muurainen, who’s been renovating the area since. We meet Olli on the terrace of the soon-to-open summer restaurant, on the bank of Mustionjoki river. He tells us about the toil it’s taken to renovate the ironworks.

Now, after a gap of 10 years, the ironworks is open to individual customers once more. A hotel has been built in the ironworks’ old head office, offering 22 tastefully decorated rooms, some of which are located in the neighboring former design office. The ironworks also offers an unparalleled setting for meetings, events and celebrations such as weddings. As a pandemic specialty, the ironworks has offered remote work packages.

In addition to the current restaurant serving hotel guests and conference-goers, an outdoor summer restaurant will be opened this year and in the future, there will be shops in the old dispatch center, which is currently under renovations. Throughout July, there’s a Sunday market in the area.

The renovation of the protected buildings has been going on for years, and the work is now roughly at its halfway point. The forested area has been cleared heavily to better match the original landscape. 300 cherry trees have been planted in the area along with North-American maples and oaks, which are expected to sport stunning fall colors. The ironworks is celebrating its 380th anniversary in 2021, and the celebrations will be surrounded by gorgeous colors in both the summer and the fall.

Last year, fish ladders were opened as a bypass for the Billnäs and Åminnefors hydroelectric dams. Billnäs has a so-called vertical slot fish ladder, where fish swim from rung to rung and can rest in the pools along the way. The fishways are opened around May Day and closed in November, following the annual cycle of migratory fish. The brand new pontoon bridge along the opposite bank leads to a viewing spot for the fish climbing their ladder. Later, the bridge will allow for passage over Mustionjoki river.

Back to Fiskars

Now it’s time to return to Fiskars. Leaving the red-brick chimney behind, we continue northwest on our bikes, through the Billnäs tree nursery and past the gorgeous Billnäs ironworks manor designed by Lars Sonck. We ride along the Turuntie road for a while before turning back onto smaller roads at the Påminne skiing center.

Following the Lillforsintie, we make our way to the Brunkom waterfront road, which we follow for a few kilometers to the Brunkomintie road. We cycle along the edge of a field for a while, until we get to the Gästerbyntie intersection, surrounded by forest. After that it’s a straight shot to Fiskars along the Gästerbyntie road, sand billowing behind our bikes. We ride fast into the village downhill, stopping conveniently in front of Cafe Pesula. Leaving our bikes to lean against each other, we enjoy some well-deserved apple soda on the sunny yard.

On this hot summer day, the impressive history of the ironworks feels both distant and tangible at the same time. The structural change facing the ironworks has pushed them to reinvent themselves. Fortunately, their locations are beautiful without exception, and the charming ironworks milieus are an inviting destination for travelers. They’re anything but historical curiosities.

Text and photos: Mika Puskala

Learn more

Visitraseborg.com/Billnas

An impressive cycling route in Raseborg: Presenting the 46-kilometre long Front Line Route

One of the most beautiful hiking areas in Raseborg hides among the reed beds and hazel groves – hiking on the trails of lake Lepinjärvi at dawn

The Antskog Ironworks in Raasepori – a historical idyll by the river

Culture & cardio – experience the Embankment route from the capital region to Fiskars on a train and bike

In commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Situated in Eastern Finland, the national landscape of Koli with its mystical hills has attracted travellers for millenia. Visitors mainly come to admire the three most distinctive summits: Ukko-Koli, Akka-Koli and Paha-Koli, from which open out breathtaking views over one of Finland’s largest lakes, Pielinen. But how many have truly explored the area, probed the deepest caves and climbed the highest lookouts? Below are 6 hiking tips for those who want to get to know the region more deeply and intimately.

1. Räsävaara observation tower – climb above the treetops

“The information sign says that a great Finnish master once painted in this spot. When you move your gaze beyond the sign, you understand why. I would have painted too if I had been him. ”

From the Räsävaara Tower, which rises more than 300 meters above sea level, you can marvel at the panoramic view. The summit of Ukko-Koli can be seen in the southeast and Paalasmaa, the highest island of Finland’s inland waters, in the northwest. The deeply Finnish soul landscape is everywhere: endless forests in different shades of green, shimmering blue water and hills that, in the distance, look hazy blue.

Read more: nationalparks.fi/kolinp/sights

Photo: Jussi Judin / Retkipaikka

2. Koli’s Devil’s Church – Do you dare to ask the devil a question?

What unites the famous Finnish painter of the Golden Age, Eero Järnefelt and the devil? Both are connected to Koli’s Pirunkirkko, otherwise known as the Devil’s Church. The Devil’s Church is a cave hidden in the woods on the shore of Lake Pielinen, which demands a little daring from its visitors. There are many places in Finland that share the same name, but of all the Devil’s Churches, this is probably the most famous. Access to the cave requires diving into a narrow rock cavity. The place has an eerie atmosphere as do the stories surrounding it. It is said that he who dares to peek into the darkness corners of the cave can have a conversation with the devil himself.

Read more: nationalparks.fi/kolinp/sights

Photo: Terhi Ilosaari / Retkipaikka

3. Kolvananuuro – a harsh reminder of the ice age in the form of a gorge

A challenging, rocky hike with big changes in elevation best describes the five kilometre circular route of the Kolvananuuro gorge. However, the demanding nature of the Murroslaakso trail is likely to be forgotten while admiring the rugged slopes and unique vegetation. The route is marked by orange circles and there is also a campfire spot on the way, so make sure to bring a snack.

See photos: Retkipaikka.fi/Kolvananuuro

Read more: viakarelia.fi/kolvananuuro-nature-reserve/

4. Kolinuuro – an unforgettable lesson in Finland’s geological history

On the 3.5 kilometre circular route that starts from the yard of Koli’s Nature Centre, Ukko, you can find geological wonders which are more than half as old as the earth itself. Did you know that in the landscapes of Koli you can see traces of ancient deserts, glaciers, oceans and mountain ranges? Here you are walking on soil that is the oldest in Finland and amongst the oldest in the world. Along the trail, you can admire the mystical candle spruces and landscapes from Paha- and Ukko-Koli as well as Pieni-Koli towards the mighty Lake Pielinen. The nature trail information boards are in Finnish, English and Russian.

See photos: Retkipaikka.fi/Kolinuuro

Read more: nationalparks.fi/kolinp/trails/

5. The Mined Gate – a gully that transports you into another world

“The place was dumbfounding. Hidden down below was a glimpse of paradise – a light green glow of moss and moist air. Just as you thought you had seen everything, something else came into view. ”

Porttilouhi, The Mined Gate, is a large gully that forms its own fantastical world in the middle of the forest, taking the visitor by surprise. At the bottom of the gully formed by two vertical rock walls are mossy rocks and a beautiful creek. According to stories, folk healers and witches practiced here. On a dim, or rainy day, this is especially easy to believe, for the atmosphere of the gorge becomes particularly intense and mysterious. If you’re not used to walking in the woods, you might want to ask someone local to join you as a guide.

The Mined Gate can be reached along the UKK hiking route. However, you can also drive close to the spot along forest roads.

Read more: juuka.fi/the-mined-gate/

Photo: Jussi Judin / Retkipaikka

6. Juua’s ‘Demon’s Churn’

The most enchanting aspect of the Devil’s Churn gorge, Pirunkirnu in Finnish, is the fairytale atmosphere of the old forest that surrounds it. After following an inviting forest path amongst spruces. the ground suddenly falls away into a chasm so deep that the tops of the trees growing at its bottom can’t reach over the edge. The gorge is decorated according to the forest lover’s taste: there are thick moss carpets, hanging decorations of beard-lichen and a vast amount of other vegetation tucked in between the sturdy rock walls. The air, atmosphere and soundscape at the bottom of the gorge are as if from another world. It is said that the whole Demon’s Churn is a place born of mystical forces. The terrain is demanding, so great care should be taken here. Going with a local guide is recommended, especially if you’re new to hiking.

Read more: juuka.fi/the-demons-churn/

Photo: Antti Huttunen / Retkipaikka

Need more ideas?

If you can’t decide which destination to choose, you can search for more inspiration from VisitKarelia’s website.

Make sure to also check our Koli National Park page and also Metsähallitus’ information pages on Koli before heading out on an excursion!

Article by Terhi Ilosaari and Jonna Saari, Translation: Becky Hastings

In cooperation with Cursor

Article by Mari Valtonen

The Salpa Line bike route is located in southeastern Finland, in the province of Kymenlaakso, near the Russian border and close to the Finnish section of the Europe-wide EuroVelo13 or Iron Curtain Trail. The Iron Curtain Trail (9950 km in total) introduces European history from a time when the continent was forcefully divided into east and west, and the general atmosphere was tense. In Finland, which miraculously defended against the Russia goliath while maintaining its independence, you should definitely take a small detour to experience the 72 km long Salpa Line bike route.

Distance: 72 km
Duration: 2 days
Destination on map
Difficulty: Easy route

The Salpa Line is a fortress line built in defense of Finland’s eastern border, the structures of which are still clearly visible in Finnish forests. The Salpa Line is even one of the best preserved fortress lines in the whole of Europe built during the Second World War, reaching all the way to Lapland from the southern coast of Finland, and many of the most spectacular and powerful structures are located in Kymenlaakso. The Salpa Line reaches an impressive total length of 1,200 kilometers and was built between 1940 and 1941, and 1944.

Kymenlaakso has two Salpa Line themed museums – one in Miehikkälä, and the other in Virolahti. Both are located along the EuroVelo13 and the Salpa Line bike routes. These museums shed light on the background of this impressive structure and are definitely worth a visit. EuroVelo13 travelers can easily start the Salpa Line bike route from either location.

However, the route is not only suitable for those interested in military history. You can also enjoy a lot of beautiful and extensive Finnish nature with its beautiful forests and idyllic farming landscapes. I set out to find out what the Salpa Line bike route has to offer. Join me!

The warm fall weather and the fine fall colors ensured that the cycling season in southern Finland continued into October. The Salpa Line bike route was a great choice for enjoying the northeastern European fall weather for a couple of days’ bike ride.

You can start your trip from anywhere on the route, but you can easily park your car in the parking areas of the Miehikkälä Salpa Line Museum or the Bunker Museum in Virolahti (the distance between these sites is about 20 km). On the last day of September, I started from the Bunker Museum. The museum is only open on Fri–Sat in the fall, so I started my journey straight away since the museum was closed.

The Salpa Linja bike route is not marked on the terrain, but I had uploaded Cursor’s map to my Google Drive, where I could easily track my journey with the phone’s GPS data. The route travels partly along a hiking route called Salpa Trail, but those sections were often marked as mountain bike sections, so I most often chose the dirt road route. A third asphalt option was also indicated on some points.

Here we go!

After driving west on Vaalimaantie for a while, the route turned southeast onto Vahtivuorentie. The dirt road was in good condition, although bumpy. First there were warnings about horses on the road and then about snowmobiles, but I didn’t see anyone. After some recently planted forest, the road dived into a coniferous forest. According to the map, the first dugouts – troop-protecting structures used in the war – should be located near the Vahtivuori campfire site, where I parked my bike on the side of the road and continued walking up the path.

There were insanely big blueberries everywhere! In Finland, you can pick natural berries, thanks to the so called everyman’s rights, so I tasted the northern superfood with a smile on my face. However, the berries were already quite tasteless at this time of year, so I didn’t regret leaving my bucket at home.
Next, my attention was drawn to some really large boulders. Could they be man-made parts of the Salpa Line, or natural obstacles, I wondered. I found the cooking shelter on top of the hill, but the trees prevented a wider view of the surrounding landscape. I decided to use my Trangia to make coffee with apple pie before I went looking for the dugouts.

After studying the map, I realized that I should have been right next to the dugouts, but I didn’t see anything. Military history isn’t exactly my area of expertise. I wonder what I was supposed to be looking for. I had read beforehand that most of the dugouts are not maintained, with potentially dangerous drops and sharp iron structures so it was a bit terrifying trying to find them alone. I’ve never been to the army, so even in that sense, I had no idea how the dugouts could’ve been built into the terrain. I understood that the map made it difficult to determine the exact location of the dugouts and probably the GPS signal on the phone displayed my location incorrectly. I was beginning to wonder whether I would find any bunkers on the whole trip.

Amazing boulders! Or tank barriers after all?

I had read that there should be a cave and a nature stage near the fire site. I went down the path and followed some signs. I noticed that there were better signs on the opposite side, and discovered the first winding trenches and the opening of the first bunker No 82. After continuing ahead, I came across another much cozier lean-to called Rinnelaavu, and found the rock cliff I was looking for, with its railings. Next to the railing there was a path down and a view opened up to the nature stage: What a great venue with stands can be found below the cliff! The barrier rocks have been mined from the cliff, and this can be seen in its the vertical shape. The place is so impressive that it would be great to watch a show there sometime!

The nature stage looks rugged!

There was a concrete doorway next to the stage, and after a while, and after I got my headlamp working, I had the courage to enter through the door. Inside I discovered a large cave carved into the rock and there appeared to be a smaller room at the back. Water fell from the ceiling. The bunker seemed so strong that I dared to continue through the second door. There was an embrasure on the right side of the second door, and on the left you could see the small room that I had noticed earlier. There were no furniture. After leaving the cave, the air felt warm and I felt relieved – I made it! I realized that it takes a lot of courage to enter such structures on my own. I decided that this would be enough for now, and that the structures that I would explore next would be at the Harju Learning Center.

The road lead to an idyllic field opening and a row of tank barriers erected on the Ravijoki river banks. Later, the barrier line continued along my route in many places and I can only imagine how much work it has taken to build it with the tools of that time! At this point, the tank barriers were inside the pasture, and after a while a resting flock of sheep appeared.

Tank barriers as sheep pasture

Next, I climbed to the courtyard of the Harju Learning Center, where I saw many beautiful old buildings. The students had just finished their school day. The summer café Kiessi seems to operate there but it was already unfortunately closed for the year. The Kiessi Museum was on the opposite side and the door was open. Inside I found a collection of horse-drawn vehicles and some information about the history of the Harju manor.

The Harju milieu

From the Harju courtyard, the journey continued along a birch alley until we turned left onto Museotie. A great view opened up to the Harju manor. The route continued along the side of the road and alternated between idyllic well-maintained countryside and different types of forests. Huge boulders could be seen here and there. Grasshoppers were still chirping along the road, and there were still flowers such as bluebells, tansies, thistles and sow thistles. Summer was in the air!

The old kilometer markers guided me towards Virojoki, where I had planned to have a little lunch break.

After the village center, my journey continued on a bike road next to Vaalimaantie for a short while before the last bit of road turning to Miehikkälä. A couple of sphere-shaped dugouts were marked on the route map along Mattilantie, which I decided to visit. I found the dugouts relatively easily when I followed the path in the forest. But I didn’t enter because they seemed to be in bad condition. Also, there were some homes nearby so you had to be careful not to walk into anyone’s yard.

Soon I spotted a sphere-shaped dugout right by the side of the road on the left side! The camouflage of the dugout – the moss that covered it – was destroyed, so the round dome was clearly visible. Unfortunately, the location by the side of the road meant that the dugout was full of trash bags and I didn’t bother to go inside. According to the Finnish trekking etiquette, you should always take your trash to the nearest trash can and take them with you if there are no trash cans on site. Nothing should be left behind.

Balded sphere-shaped dugout

Based on the map, the next attraction was the Kotolankoski rapids of Vaalimaanjoki, which was a very pretty place. It would have been a much better place for a break than the place I had chosen. After the rapids, the road turned into a dirt road and passed through the village of Kotola. Kotolankoski is worth a break!

The evening was getting darker, and I had to maintain a decent speed so that I could get to my accommodation near the center of Miehikkälä. Indeed, around September and October, you have to consider the fact that it starts to get dark around 7 p.m. Finally, I spotted the village of Miehikkälä!

Vaalimaanjoki river

According to the instructions, the accommodation was next to the church. In the tenant’s yard, the village blacksmith’s cabin was a separate two-person accommodation building with a kitchenette, toilet and shower. Perfect accommodation for such a one-night bike ride.

It is also possible to plan the route so that you stay in a tent at one of the lean-to or campfire sites along the route. These are located in the western part of the route, so in that case you should start from the Salpa Line Museum in Miehikkälä. I had originally thought about bringing a tent, but I couldn’t fit the gear on the bike so I decided to book accommodation. Based on the route map, there seem to be accommodation options in several places, so there is room for choice.

The dahlias were in bloom outside, on October 1st!

After breakfast, I started towards the Salpa Line Museum, which was only three kilometers from the center of Miehikkälä. I decided to take a shortcut along Taavetintie and skip going round Myllylampi, marked on the route map. The trip started uphill and I felt the 40 km cycling from the previous day.
After climbing into the museum courtyard, I marveled at the silence and indeed: it was October 1st and the museum was no longer open during weekdays! This was my own mistake, since I hadn’t considered it would be October. From the window I could see that staff were there and after knocking on the door they were kind enough to give me a map of the outdoor areas and permission to tour places that were not locked.

I had thought that I could safely visit the museum’s refurbished dugouts, but this seems like the perfect excuse to revisit southeast Finland some other time.

That’s how impressed I am with the Salpa Line fortifications. In sunny weather, I toured the trenches, visited the aerial surveillance tower, and marveled at the tank barriers and cannons. I was thinking how all of it would have worked if the enemy had approached Taavetintie. Could they have stopped it? The tour took so much time that I decided to use my Trangia to cook lunch at the museum’s campfire site.

From the museum, the route turned to Rakolantie and an exceptionally enjoyable part of the journey started! The road was a smooth dirt road and it meandered in stunning pine forest, among sturdy and gloomy spruce trees, and occasionally through idyllic field areas. When cycling, you felt like you were following a trail of historical events. I wonder if the people who built the Salpa Line are still alive. Have they felt proud to build such large fortifications? The concrete dugouts are in relatively good condition, as the Finnish Defense Forces partially maintained them until the 1980s.

No worries when cycling through boreal forests!

On this stretch, many parts of the route merged with the Salpa Trail. I had read in the guide that there was something worth seeing in Jermula, and I decided to visit, even based on the name alone, to see what I would find in the direction of the sign.

There was a sign to the dugouts on the way there, but I kept going all the way to the back where I found a parking area. A road continued to the right, and there I first found a tipi-like hut, then a Jermula cottage used by war veterans, and a lean-to. There were concrete figures at the campsite: a couple and a dog, but I didn’t see anyone else. There was also a well in the yard and a long jetty at the beach. I was startled when a heron took off just a few meters from the beach!

When I came back, I went to the parking area to find dugout 310/443. I just took a sneak peek, because once again I was terrified to go in alone. There was even an information board near the door. As I cycled back to the route, I noticed an embrasure disguised with rocks on the slope and climbed to see it. I was beginning to know how to look for the fortifications in the terrain!

The fall colors were beautiful and bright, as the sun shined in summerlike fashion. The grain fields were all already harvested – fortunately, because winter is approaching. After turning to Vuolteentie, the route crossed another beautiful little river, the Turanjoki.

From the Salpa Line Museum onwards, the cycling route sometimes merges with the Salpa Trail for long distances. There were also beautiful, short forest parts on Vuolteentie, and there were even dugouts right next to the road. The shore of Pyyhinlampi would’ve been a great spot for a break, but after studying the terrain map, I found that going there would have meant uphills both ways, so I decided to postpone the coffee break. Today’s part had more hills anyway, and I was feeling it in my legs.

After this, there would have been a short mountain bike trail to the left, which traveled along the unfinished cave of Soikonvuori, and I had read it was beautiful. I decided that I might not dare go into the cave alone, and I decided to skip it on this trip. After the forest section, the route passed through the idyllic village of Mässelinmäki.

The barn is camouflaged too!

Shortly before the highway underpass, there was a concrete dugout 153 on the edge of the forest opening, which looked so firm that I ventured to go inside. The embrasure pointed directly at the highway. I thought that during the war there had been few roads in the area where the enemy could have progressed inland, and all of them had spots where they could be cut off if necessary. Now there’s a huge highway to Russia! But that is how it should be: neighboring countries peacefully trade with each other and live their own lives.

The embrasure in this dugout points right in the direction of the highway

According to the map, there was supposed to be a lean-to right after the highway underpass, where I decided to take the last coffee break. I read on the information boards that a bunker had been blown up to make space for the highway. The Salpalaavu lean-to turned out to be a brand new lean-to placed right next to the concrete bunker! The sun was already setting behind the woods when I made the coffee and ate the last piece of apple pie.

There seemed to be a large parking area nearby and signs to the Bunker Museum, which was only 2.5 km away. The last part of the route was brand new asphalt road, which must have been built when the highway was completed. There would also have been a mountain bike section going alongside the Salpa Trail, which would probably have been nicer, but on my bike and load it wouldn’t have been a good idea.

The Salpalaavu lean-to is located right next to the dugout

The two days passed pleasantly when admiring the landscapes of southeastern Finland painted bright by the fall colors, and exploring the Salpa Line. The Salpa Line bike route can be recommended for tour cyclists, and you don’t have to be a military history enthusiast to go on the route. The route requires a bit of an adventure attitude, as it is not marked on the terrain and you need to read a map. Only a small part of the Salpa Line fortifications are marked and it might take some time to find them. Safety issues should also be taken into account. Most of the dugouts have not been refurbished, so they are accessed at your own risk.

Bring a good headlight (and spare lamp) with you. I highly recommend going with a friend, as going alone increases risks, and it took a lot of courage to explore the dugouts on my own, at least for me. Of course, during the summer or on weekends there are certainly more travelers in the area than during the off-season and on workdays. If you enjoy your own peace, then I recommend going on workdays.

In addition, it is advisable to check the opening hours of the museums in advance, as they definitely provide added value and information for the trip. For me, at least, the closed museums bothered me so much that I have to visit the area again in the future!

Read more:

EuroVelo 13 – Iron Curtain Trail, Visit Kotka–Hamina

Salpa Line Museum

The Salpa Line Trail

The article has been created for the Bizcycle project / Southeast Finland-Russia CBC program. The program is funded by the European Union, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Finland.

Kökar is a tiny municipality in Åland. It has only about 240 inhabitants. To get to Kökar one has to take a ferry either from Långnäs (main island) or Galtby (Korpo). The journey in both cases takes about 2,5 hours.

I spend 24 hours on this beautiful island surrounded by the waves of the Baltic Sea.

Here’s what I saw.

Above: Heathers are purple, junipers are green – and the sea is blue. In Kökar this is a very typical view.

Above: It was a beautiful summer day so we went for a morning hike to this beautiful hidden place.

Above: A grass snake came to say hello. Grass snakes are completely harmless.

Above: We found this beautiful secret lagoon and went for a swim.

Above: This is what I saw underwater. There were lots of jellyfish but they are harmless.

Above: There are also forests in Kökar.

Above: Look at those colors!

Above: We also went to see what the local flea market looked like. It’s not everyday you find a seafront flea market.

Above: Buildings in Kökar are typically red and quite small. Looks really nice.

Above: Local dog admiring the sunset.

Useful links for you who wish to visit Kökar:

Ferry timetables and fares

Ålandstrafiken: Kökar

Visit Åland

Article by Kukka Kyrö

A gentle giant lies next to the centre of Lohja, an hour’s drive from Helsinki. Lake Lohjanjärvi is the largest lake in southern Finland. A maze of numerous islands and coves offers places to explore for several days. The lake is the heart of the city of Lohja, and as such, efforts have been taken to ensure accessibility for as many people as possible. If you are a water person, you can hire an accessible fishing boat with a fishing guide or rent a canoe or a kayak or even a paddleboard.

📌 Lohjanjärvi on a map

Kayaking adventure on Lake Lohjanjärvi

The air is fresh and soft after rain. I am getting my red kayak ready at the equipment depot of Aquapro Suomi, a few kilometres from the centre of Lohja. I fix the kayaking route map to the net on top of my kayak, and secure a water bottle next to it. It is Saturday morning. The city is still sleeping while I get inside the kayak, put the spray deck in place and set off to the lake. My kayak glides effortlessly on the dark water. Even the lake seems to be still asleep, hardly managing to make even small waves. Following the shoreline, I paddle towards the city centre, admiring how green the beach vegetation is now in May.

Nature of the shores and islands of Lake Lohjanjärvi is marvellous. Temperate climate and calcareous soil make the plants grow exceptionally well and versatile. For example, different species of orchids and hardwood trees thrive here. The largest island of the lake is Lohjansaari, the home of the famous Oak of Paavola, which has deservedly received a title “The most beautiful tree in Finland”.

After paddling for a few kilometres, I land ashore the Hevossaari Island, on a small sheltered cove. There’s a lean-to, and a strange birch tree, also leaning over the water. The cove has a shallow, sandy bottom, which makes coming ashore easy even for an inexperienced paddler.

Hevossaari lean-to

I am soaking my feet in the cool water. The water glimmers invitingly in the rays of sun shining through the clouds. Too bad that I didn’t take my swimming suit with me. It would have been so nice to go for a little swim.

Lake Lohjanjärvi is a large and reasonably deep lake, so it warms up slowly. However, by July at the latest, it will be crowded by swimmers. Although the water in the lake is dark due to humus, it is still clean and safe to swim. However, sometimes in the summer, there might be blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in the water. Then it’s not advisable to go swimming, because some of the cyanobacteria are toxic. If you are unsure if it’s safe to go in the water, please ask Lohja travel service centre.

From the Hevossaari island, my journey continues along an inlet called Ämmänperse which roughly translates as “Old Woman’s Arse”. What a name! For some bizarre reason, Finns have given many places names which will not be printable here. Cane-grass around my kayak is high. As I paddle along the passage, a single mallard appears beside my kayak, guiding me away from its territory.

In the early summer, nature of the lake is especially sensitive. Birds are starting to nest, and some of the fastest ones already have their hatchlings. Nesting places should be left alone completely at this time of the year. When you are planning to go ashore, try to use places that are intended for campers and have a campfire site, trails and an outdoor toilet, if possible. Nature likes it.

Finland has unique so-called everyman’s rights. They ensure that everyone can enjoy nature, but in addition to the rights, the hiker also has obligations to cause no harm to animals, plants and nature in general.

My next stage is the Kaurassaari Island about 1 kilometre away from here. It also has a lean-to which paddlers and such can use. The lean-tos of Hevossaari and Kaurassaari Islands are owned by the city of Lohja. They have campfire sites for which the city delivers firewood for the summer. Making fire is allowed only at these designated sites, and if the forest fire warning is in effect, you can’t make a fire even at these sites.

Making coffee in a pot and roasting sausages by the fire are age-old camping traditions for Finns. Some believe that it’s not camping if there’s no fire. If you want to ensure that you’ll be able to make a fire, consider bringing your own firewood, because at popular campfire sites the firewood sometimes runs out. Please note that you can’t take any kind of fallen trees to make a fire. Although it might seem logical that there’s no harm taking dead wood, dead wood still has an important role in maintaining biodiversity: many rare species in the forest are totally dependent on rotten and decaying wood.

My trip continues with a little stroll in the vicinity of the lean-to in Kaurassaari Island. Old spruce trees creak in the wind, when I walk to the western beach of the island. There, the mighty Lake Lohjanjärvi opens up. So far, the islands have sheltered me from the winds as I have paddled on my route, and my kayak has faced only moderate waves. Now, I can see whitecaps rise everywhere on the vast open section of the lake called Isoselkä.

As the name suggests, Isoselkä is the largest open water of Lake Lohjanjärvi. On Isoselkä, lies the deepest point in the lake. Called a cryptodepression, the deepest point is 23 metres below sea level, all the way to a depth of 55 metres. For a lake, that kind of depth is admirable. I wonder what kinds of fish lurk beneath the waves. Are the biggest fish there, in the deep dark of Isoselkä?

In Lake Lohjanjärvi, there are over 30 species of fish. Especially sander – or pike-perch – is a coveted fish for many fishers, but also perch and pike are common. The biggest sander caught from the lake so far holds a story that seems pretty far-fetched, but it’s true. The sander was about 15 years old, a little over 1 metre long and weighed about 12 kilograms when it met its match in the form of a fishing boat. The boat collided with the fish, and the collision was so hard that the fishermen thought they’d hit a sunken log. The event has been documented for example in a Finnish daily newspaper Ilta-Sanomat.

As I gaze towards Isoselkä, I see dark clouds building up. Rain is coming, so I get back to the lean-to to eat my lunch and start packing up my kayak. Wind is picking up, and the rain clouds are looming ever closer, so I decide to turn my kayak back towards the place where I started from.

Dark clouds follow me as I paddle briskly back. Ripples swell up to bigger waves, but I am glad that the wind is blowing from behind, giving me much needed assistance. The sky is almost black and blue when I arrive. First drops of rain fall on me as I pull my kayak ashore. As soon as I have started driving back home, it begins to pour. Nature gives me another demonstration of its strength. First, peaceful and serene as ever, and now – completely different.

Tips to experience Lake Lohjanjärvi by water

Canoe and kayak rental: The website is mainly in Finnish, but they also provide service in English. The equipment depot is located a few kilometres away from the Lohja bus station.

Fishing trips: TheraFish. They arrange trips for first-timers and more advanced fishers as well. The Day offline trip takes you fishing on the lake and hiking in the coastal forests. TheraFish is specialized in arranging accessible fishing trips, and they have seats for wheelchair users on the boat.

Stand-up paddleboard rental: Cafe Aurlahti, located by the Lohja city centre. For a more “uplifting” experience, try the flyboard!

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

Article by Tomi Pohja

Have you ever heard of the word Yggdrasil? If you have read fantasy books, delved into old Scandinavian mythology or maybe seen the movie Avatar, you would have come across references to a large and mysterious “tree of life” in one form or another. Then you may have wondered if those kinds of trees really exist. They do.

📌 Parking area for the oak of Paavola: Pietiläntie 23, Lohja

Growing in Lohja, the oak of Paavola reaches for the sky, spreading her branches over a large area and taking the spectator to a place known only from fairy tales and fantasies. I have been visiting the oak at least once a year, because I can’t get enough of it. I have lost count of how many times I’ve made the journey to see the fabled tree. This is one of those times.

Estimates say that the ancient oak is over 300 years old. It grows in Lohjansaari Island, about an hour’s drive from the centre of Helsinki. Driving to the island is an experience in itself, and visiting the site where the tree is, only adds to it. Green landscapes follow one another, and time goes fast by.

We turn from Hankoniementie to Lohjansaarentie. After some old railway tracks by the roadside, the road is lined by countless fields and orchards. Then we move on to Jalassaari Island and after that we cross the bridge to Lohjansaari Island. We can feel that we’re getting close to the oak of Paavola.

There is a boat launching site by the bridge of Lohjansaari Island.

Along the way to the island we have been transported to another world. The sounds of traffic or the city don’t carry here. Instead, the air is filled with the song of at least half a dozen different birds. At this time of the year, the symphony of natural sounds is almost overwhelming.

Soon after crossing the bridge to Lohjansaari, we see the first signs pointing to the oak of Paavola. There’s a nature trail of about 1 kilometre leading from the parking area to the oak. Some might mistake a huge oak growing by the parking area for the oak of Paavola, but that’s not “The” oak. The one and only oak of Paavola is growing deeper in the forest.

Parking is free, and so far there has been room for cars every time I have visited the oak. This time I can see few other cars as well.

On the other side of the parking area, there is an old school of Lohjansaari. It was founded in 1898, and the last classes were held in 2014. In 2018, a café called Ö Cafe was established on the premises. Currently, it’s open on weekends and during the summer. During our visit, however, the café was closed.

If you are planning to come here for a coffee, please check for the opening hours. Please also note that the schoolyard is private property, so if you have no business there, don’t trespass.

The nature trail starting from the parking area goes up to the cliff in front of the school. Already during the first few metres, you get a glimpse of the diverse vegetation that exists on the island. Smaller oaks are also growing in intervals along the path.

Stopping for a while to admire the beautiful colours of the red campion.

After the cliff, the path goes deeper into the deciduous forest, giving us some relief from the heat of a sunny day. Oaks, linden (lime) trees and hazels surround us when we walk on the path, having no worry of getting lost off the trail.

There are also 15 information boards along the trail with facts on the flora and nature of the region. If you take plenty of time to stop on each checkpoint, you’ll get the most of it. Unfortunately, the information is provided in Finnish only.

The 8th information checkpoint says that cones and nuts are important food for many animals.
There are several nesting boxes in the trees, and many birds are indeed nesting, by the sheer sound of them.

A little before the oak of Paavola, the trail turns into a wooden causeway. This is one of my favourite legs along the trail, since I’ve always found wooden causeways somehow intriguing. I feel like rolling on without effort.

On the left, the dense grove of oaks, lindens and hazels gives way to birch trees for a while. This place is at its best in the summer, when the shades of green mix with white, providing a simple but beautiful colour palette.

Eventually, the causeway ends and the path splits in two branches. One of them leads to the oak of Paavola, and the other to the last leg of the nature trail. We are obviously taking the one to the oak.

The path branches off towards the oak of Paavola and to the final section of the nature trail.

When the deciduous forest finally gives way entirely to spruces, we know that we are close to our destination. A little while ago, we saw lilies of the valley and ferns, but there is also a lot of wood horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) around the oak. We haven’t even noticed that we are walking faster now. The oak is clearly pulling us towards it.

I clearly remember how I felt when I first saw the oak of Paavola. At first, I couldn’t believe that it was true. Then, I acknowledged that the tree was actually there and started measuring the height, breadth and girth of it with my eyes. Still, everything about the tree defied belief. Finally, I was so mesmerized by it that I didn’t want to leave its presence at all.

If I remember correctly, this is the sixth time already I’ve been here. However, I still feel the same as on the first time. Standing in the middle of a clearing, on top of a mound, the oak is one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen.

The oak has been so popular that to protect its delicate trunk, roots and other vegetation beneath it, causeways and a fence has been built. According to some estimates, the oak of Paavola is over 300 years old. Some oaks can live up to a thousand years when they are left alone. This tree is protected by law as a natural monument. Moving on the area is restricted, and climbing the tree is strictly forbidden. You must also stay on the paths. Littering and firemaking is also prohibited.

It is not exactly sure how old the oak is, but it is old nonetheless – and beautiful.

The oak of Paavola is so huge that it seems to defy laws of nature. Its limbs reach as far as 10 metres from the main trunk, and its height is about 12 metres. One of the most prominent features is its girth: almost 5 metres. The roots of the tree are in many places visible above ground. By the looks of it, the tree must have been a place of worship during the centuries. However, it’s only a speculation.

There’s something unreal about the moss-covered limbs overhead and the rays of light shining through.

We spend a while in its splendour. Then, it’s time to get back to the crossroads of the nature trail. The oak has nourished our hearts and minds.

After the crossroads, the trail continues as beautiful as before. We slow down to enjoy the atmosphere and wildlife as long as possible.

The scenery changes completely after a few hundred metres. Here is the fruit orchard Fruticetum. The path turns to the right, running alongside the orchard fence for a while until it goes back into the forest. In addition to the birdsong and fantastic flora, the smells feel almost tangible. Air here feels really clean.

Before we get back to the parking area, we spot a dead old oak – impressive as well.

Instead of getting back home, we head to the beach. We have packed our swimsuits and some lunch with us. The heat of the day and almost cloudless sky demand a dip into the clear waters of Lake Lohjanjärvi.

We turn right from the parking area, which is the opposite direction where we came from. The signs by the roadside tell us that it’s about 2 kilometres to the beach. After a while, we see another sign saying that there’s only 1 kilometre left. Eventually, the road ends on an iron bar and to a small, unmarked parking area. We leave our car in the shade of the trees and continue on foot down the gravel road towards the beach. There are also few other swimmers enjoying the hot summer day.

Dipping into the lake in water which is nice and warm, crowns the day already filled with experiences. Fording on the sandy bottom was nice, and swimming was easy. There is also an outdoor toilet and information board on the beach. On the board, you can see how clean the water is and when the water samples were taken.

We packed up our things and headed home. Any trip to Lohjansaari Island is different each time, but always as rewarding. The oak of Paavola is an exceptionally beautiful tree with enormous presence in itself, but the total experience with the lake scenery and nature trail is always more than the sum of its parts.

In addition to the oak, there’s a lot more to see and visit, like the café Ö Cafe, the apple wine farm Alitalon omenaviinitila, the old estate of Martinpiha and the antiquities and green room Antiikki ja viherhuone Elegans. This makes sure that when you’re planning for a trip to the oak of Paavola, you can see much more!

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

Article by Johanna Suomela

Want to get deep in your thoughts and go to a mystic forest? To another world where place and time lose their meaning? Wish to fill your ears with birdsong, sound of the waves and the silent rustle of aspen leaves? Is the green of the hazel bushes and mosses easy on your eyes? Want to taste some natural spring water or maybe descent deep underground? Then come to Lohja! We have all this, and we are close!

In the Lohjanjärvi Lake, the cape Karkalinniemi is a long and slender stretch of land extending southwest. The easiest way to get there is by car. If you are driving from Helsinki, the Turku motorway will carry you smoothly part of the journey.

Even the trip to the nature reserve is an experience. A little gravel road takes you through the cultural landscape, where small farms, meadows, fields and rolling hills alternate. By the roadside, there’s a sign that indicates the end of a public road (“Yleinen tie päättyy”). Don’t worry, though, just take a right turn towards the Karkali strict nature reserve.

It’s early June. A fearless deer is grazing by the road and wonders who is coming here.

It has been an exceptionally warm day for this time of the year: plus 23 C. The heat lingers in the evening, as does the light. A blooming rowan tree welcomes the fried of nature. There’s no-one else around, so we are apparently the only visitors here at the moment.

Nature reserves are normally entirely protected, and they are not publicly open. However, Karkalinniemi makes a difference. You can come to this paradise of hazel groves, if you remember to stay on the designated paths.

Picking berries and mushrooms is not allowed in Karkali, and everyman’s rights are not in force. Making fires, camping and mountain biking is also forbidden. If you want to go swimming, that will be possible only at the designated beach. Please don’t pick any plants or flowers, either.

This paradise welcomes anyone willing to obey the rules of Karkali. It is clear there’s absolutely no littering, too. Please take every piece of trash back with you when you leave. Litter-free backpacking is a must for every self- and nature-respecting person everywhere. Be a smart hiker and leave only footprints behind!

After a hard work day, Karkali provides us a dose of natural green medicine. The strict nature reserve of Karkali is definitely a place worth visiting, as it is one of the finest grove regions in Southern Finland. It is fresh and green everywhere. My restless mind relaxes, and I can almost feel my stress levels going down.

We begin our journey from the right side of the parking lot, and our intention is to walk around the cape counter-clockwise. We have two dogs with us, both of them on a leash. Pets must be kept on a leash at all times in nature reserves and national parks.

Stopping for a drink at the spring

We come across a wooden causeway right at the start of our walk. We have to stop almost immediately at a spring that lies just by the path. The spring is guarded by a tall spruce and surrounded by stones.

Even though there are some needles in the water, I just have to take out my wooden cup from my backpack and taste the water!

I take some water in the cup. The water is completely clear and odourless. It also tastes fresh, and nothing else. It is quite exceptional that in Finland, we can drink good-quality water straight from a spring whereas in many places even tap water is not clean enough for consumption!

The nature trail of Hanski-Hakki, the long beach route – or both?

The size of the Karkali nature reserve is 100 hectares. Protected in 1964, the reserve hosts lush hazel groves, wild moss-covered spruce forests and old pine trees growing on rocky cliffs.

The nature reserve has enjoyed over five decades of peace since the last residents left the place. Most of the evidence of humans is all but covered by nature. Only few stones remain to remind us of the three houses called crofts that used to be here. Old fields and meadows are now forests. The last and final loggings took place in 1950.

The length of the Hanski-Hakki nature trail is over 2 kilometres. Along the cone-marked trail, there are illustrated information boards with interesting facts about nature and animals of the reserve. There are roots and rocks on the paths so they are not accessible, even though the elevation differences are moderate. The path crosses itself a couple of times, and if you have small children who might get easily tired, you can shorten your hike down to half a kilometre.

Along the Hanski-Hakki trail, on the southern edge of the cape, there is a mooring site and a beach. On protected areas, both mooring and swimming are allowed only at the designated sites to protect fragile nature.

Dramatic-looking tree giants are lying down along the longer trail.

On nature reserves and conservation areas, windfall trees can stay where they are. If the tree falls across the path, only a piece of it is cut off to allow passage. Large trees host life even when they are fallen: they provide shelter and food for insects and for birds eating those insects.

The longer trail is marked in yellow on the trees.

In some places, the path branches and might lead the hiker on smaller false paths. If you have a smartphone app with a terrain map or if you can use the map with a mobile browser, that helps you stay on the right route.

The longer western route provides many lovely views to Lake Lohjanjärvi.

Lush groves and high beach cliffs alternate along the route.

The furthermost leg of the long route also takes the hiker to the wetlands.

There are tables for eating packed lunch. One of the tables is located on a meadow in the middle of the nature park. The meadow is kept clear by regularly scything the grass. You can smell the summer in the meadow and see how versatile the flowering is.

On the edge of the meadow, sheltered under the trees, you can sit down and relax on a bench. Although the lilies of the valley surround us with their beauty and smell, we can’t stay for longer but have to get on our way.

We get back to our car, and drive about three kilometres back to the direction where we came from. There’s only one parking area by the road to the nature park. A sign that leaves no room for doubt, points us to the trail that leads to the Torhola cave.

On the opposite side of the parking area, there’s a sign that says “Torholan luola, Torhola grotta”. I think that it deserves to be called a grotto, and not just a “cave”. We head out on the nature trail and remember that this is area is also protected.

The underground realm of Torhola – the largest limestone grotto in Finland

When you arrive at the grotto, you will know. An information board shows you to stop, and on the bench beside it, you can muster your courage or just rest. Impressive moss-covered oak trees stand behind the information board.

We don’t have any other special equipment with us other than a head lamp and rugged shoes. Normally, in places like this, you should have a helmet and clothes that withstand dirt and crawling. Caves also have tight places and passages so that you shouldn’t wear clothes that have hoods and loose pockets that could get snagged. Before you descent into the cave, please remember that you are doing so at your own responsibility.

I am hoping that the grotto of Torhola is so large that even without special gear we can manage, if we are careful. I am a little excited. To be honest, I am a lot excited. I have never been inside a cave? Will it be cramped? Will it be scary?

At this point, you will have no idea what’s waiting downstairs.

We descent into the grotto through the opening on the left. We are now in the “vestibule” or in an antechamber of the Torhola grotto. The grotto consists of three chambers of which this is the first one. I am so excited. What will we find further ahead?
My head lamp illuminates the massive rock walls of the grotto. My goodness what a place! I shout out spontaneously: WOW! This place is so cool and big!

I was expecting a lot smaller and tighter place, but this is awesome and spacious.

It’s also not as scary as I would have thought – actually I want to go deeper.

First impression of the grotto makes me speechless – or makes me want to shout!
No bats in sight, but a spider has her web stretched out for catching lunch.
The hall of Torhola is spacious and the ceiling is high.

We descent further down into the so-called hall, which is the second chamber in the grotto. The walls glimmer in the light what we have brought with us.

The grotto of Torhola is the largest limestone cave in Finland. Water flowing through the cracks in the rock has slowly dissolved the limestone away and formed the cave. It is believed that most of the formation of the limestone grotto has taken place during the last 3000 years. Today, the grotto is not growing in size, as no water flows through the cave anymore. Even it has just rained in Lohja, the floor of the cave remains dry.

The total length of the grotto is 31 metres. Breadth of the cave varies from 1 metre to 6 metres depending on the chamber, and the height from 1 metre to 4 metres.

Glimmering walls of the hall of Torhola grotto.

This place doesn’t feel cramped as the ceiling is high. It is damp, though, and cooler than in the forest outside.

We look around in wonder, and focus our eyes on the furthest corner on the left. If we’d want to make this even more exciting (and had a coverall and a helmet, maybe also gloves) we could go deeper still, into the basement of Torhola. The basement is the third chamber in the grotto. However, we decide that we have seen enough for our first time as cave explorers.

Now I know what it feels to sink into the underground, literally.

Actually, it’s not all that bad.

Outside, the sun has already set. It is time to get back above ground.

There is a big boulder between the vestibule and the hall, but for a person with normal health and sure feet will handle the obstacle quiet easily. Using hands helps.

A steep ascent from the hall to the vestibule.
With good and rugged shoes or boots, climbing up is no big deal.
You can see that even in the vestibule one can stand straight.

When I get to the vestibule, my camera lens fogs up. The air outside is much warmer than the air inside the cave.
After visiting the grotto, we decide to do the whole nature trail. So, we descent steeply towards the shore.

A sturdy rail makes the descent to the shore of Lake Lohjanjärvi safer.

The summer evening is warm and calm, and the sun is setting.

Glancing to the lake past handsome black alders, we enjoy a complete silence. Not a soul is afoot, not even the elusive and endangered elaterid called Pseudanostirus globicollis, found only in the region of the grotto.

We continue walking clockwise on the nature trail through a sloping grove, where white and wych elms grow – among other attractive hardwood species

The end of the nature trail in the reserve rises upwards, but only moderately, being much easier than the one with the guard rails.

We are back on the road and the parking area. My heart is pumping rapidly, but in a good way – I feel invigorated!

It is quite something that we can experience this kind of adventure less than an hour’s drive from the capital!

Life’s little adventures don’t necessarily take an entire day, because there’s a lot of light available in the summer.

More information and links:

There are wooden causeways along the trail, and in some parts the terrain is rocky, so unfortunately it’s not suitable for baby carriages.

Visitlohja.fi

Karkali Strict Nature Reserve

Torhola Cave

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti