The tree of life – the enchanting oak of Paavola

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

The paradise of Ramsholmen

Article by Johanna Suomela

For years, at the time when the wood anemones are in perfect bloom, I have travelled to my cottage passing the Town of Ekenäs and the grove paradise of Ramsholmen. I have always dreamed of stopping by the grove to marvel the breath-taking beauty it offers in the spring. I am happy, though, that I have not done it in passing, because Ramsholmen deserves a proper and unhurried visit.

The 55-hectare forest park of Ramsholmen is made of three adjacent areas: the cape of Hagen and the islands of Ramsholmen and Högholmen. A wide bridge leads from Hagen to the island of Ramsholmen. In Högholmen, there is a narrower and longer bridge. Going along the beautiful bridge over the cane grass-adorned river bed, we embark on a trip to see how spring in the grove paradise looks like.

Getting warmed up in Hagen

I have my trusted travel companion Jetsu with me. He is a Labrador retriever and he’s fond of everything outdoor. He is on a lead, because we are in a nature preservation area.

In the unlikely event that some dog-owner does not remember this, there is a sign to remind them that it is mandatory to have pets on a lead. Having pets secured ensures the nesting peace of birds and protects other wildlife as well. We had to pose by the sign for the first photograph.

To guide the travellers, there is also a signpost by the wide gravel road of Hagen, nicely covered in moss.

Today, we are walking with our senses open. We stop, look, listen and sniff. Both of us. Although the small town of Ekenäs is only a stone’s throw away, suddenly it feels that we are in a different world altogether.

It is so quiet and peaceful that you could almost hear things growing. Only birdsong breaks the silence. A bird expert could probably name all the singers, but I recognize only a few.

Ramsholmen is still ahead, but I am already in total awe. They’re everywhere – the wood anemones – as far as the eye can see! These are the provincial flowers of Uusimaa.

The grove paradise of Ramsholmen makes my head spin way before we even reach the actual place.

In addition to the wood anemones, Hagen has two old villas, built in the 19th century. The other villa, painted yellow, is located at the southern tip of Hagen. If we kept walking along the southern shore of Hagen towards the east, we would reach the camping ground of Ekenäs.

If we wanted to stay overnight, the Tammisaari Camping ground would be the closest possible site for setting up a tent, because camping is not allowed in Ramsholmen.

The island of Ramsholmen is also accessible

After a short and easy hike, we come to the bridge that leads to Ramsholmen.

I cross the sturdy bridge with my canine buddy. The paths on the island of Ramsholmen are smooth, wide and hard-surfaced.

This place grows greener and greener by the day. It allows access for almost any type of unmotorized vehicle; a pram, wheelchair or a bicycle for instance.

We see many people of all types and ages: there are people with children enjoying nature; single people exercising with their headphones on, people listening only birds, and people with dogs.

What connects all of them is nature. They have come here to feel better and to reduce stress, and what would be a greater place than this green oasis!

I would have no problem of spending the whole day and enjoying life here; the nature of Ramsholmen is so unique. I could sit down on a bench for rest, or go for a picnic. There’s also a beach in case it gets hot or if I want to go for a swim.

Are you really hungry, but didn’t bring any lunch with you? No problem, because the beautiful centre of the Town of Ekenäs is only a little more than a kilometre away. There you can find all necessary services.

Enchanting little bloomers of Ramsholmen

The wood anemone and other beautiful flowers in the grove bloom early in the spring just before the trees come into leaf. This happens because there’s plenty of light to reach the forest floor. When the trees are in full leaf, the amount of light on the ground is reduced.

I suddenly hear a low buzz. Where does it come from? Looking up, I can see where: many hardwood trees of the grove bloom before they come into leaf, and numerous busy bumblebees are doing the best they can to pollinate as many flowers as possible. Those chubby little friends are keeping busy!

Ramsholmen is renowned for its wood anemone. But there’s more.

Along the numerous paths and trails in Ramsholmen, there are wooden posts with numbers on them. By following the numbers, you can spot at least these trees and plants: wych elm (Ulmus glabra), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), black alder (Alnus glutinosa), mountain currant (Ribes alpinum), red-berried elder (Sambucus racemosa), bird cherry (Prunus padus), fly honeysuckle (Lonicera xylosteum), European larch (Larix decidua), English oak (Quercus robur); the highest elm in Finland by the dance hall, white elm (Ulmus laevis), hazel (Corylus avellana), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), small-leaved linden (Tilia cordata) and rowan (Sorbus aucuparia).

One of the other tree species that’s found plenty in the grove is the Norway maple (Acer platanoides). It too blooms early in spring.

Looking back down towards the ground, I see some yellow wood anemones (Anemone ranunculoides) in the midst of the white ones. I have rarely seen the yellow species, perhaps this is the first time ever that I have come across them?

With white wood anemones, Ramsholmen is also sporting the yellow ones.

Suddenly, I see blue everywhere.

Although the fumewort (Corydalis solida) is one of the first flowers to have started blooming, they are still looking so beautiful!

Even after the anemones have stopped blooming, the grove doesn’t rest. The paradise grove is teeming with life. A group of other plants is waiting for their turn, such as herb paris (Paris quadrifolia) and the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).

When the ostrich fern begins to flaunt its feathers, Ramsholmen starts to resemble a lush jungle. That I would like to see. So I have to come back in the summer.

The leaves of herb paris are working their way up through the anemones.
The ostrich fern is fluffing its feathers ready for summer.

The lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is too almost ready to spring up. In a matter of days, it will be spreading all over the place, both physically and in scent.

It seems, though, that the bird cherry will take the first place in the competition of which plant smells the strongest. It will most likely be the first one to pop open its inflorescence.

The bird cherry is about to bloom as well.

A rank outsider takes the race of bloomers in the early spring. The first runner-up will be the Norway maple. I don’t remember ever looking the inflorescence of the ash tree so close. Oh my goodness the beauty of it!

The inflorescence of the ash is as pretty as a pearl.
The hazel has done most of its pollinating.

Högholmen is a wilderness-like natural sanctuary a stone’s throw away from Ramsholmen

Whereas the island of Ramsholmen is easy to walk on, the neighbouring wild Högholmen is a different story altogether.

A beautiful, long and narrow bridge is leading to Högholmen. Someone has left two bicycles waiting by the bridge. That is a smart thing to do, because Högholmen is no place for bikes. The narrow, in some places root-covered paths, are unforgiving and would turn to mud when it’s wet.

We decide to take our trip counter-clockwise around Högholmen. The path is leading to the jungle-like grove.

The wooden causeways suggest that this place must be quite wet when it’s raining. Along the way, there’s also a small bridge to cross.

After the wild grove, the path begins to go upwards, and more and more coniferous trees appear. Finding their way through the rocky ground, the roots of the trees have made the trail very uneven.

A rare gem: a single-room apartment with all the amenities?

We are admiring the view on the cliffs of the southwestern tip of Högholmen.

On the cliffs, there are many dead trees still standing upright. If we were to stay longer, this would be a perfect place for watching the sunset.

There are many black marks on the cliff. That means that someone has made a fire here, which is not allowed. It should be remembered that making an open fire is not a so-called everyman’s right. Campfires are only allowed on designated campfire sites. Other than that, you will always need the landowner’s permission.

The ornate dead tree of Högholmen

On the southeastern slope of Högholmen, the coniferous trees give way to deciduous ones once again, and the trail becomes easier to tread. The only exception is a fallen dead tree that cuts the path.

Fallen trees have their own and important function in the ecosystem and in preserving the biodiversity. Trees offer hiding places for insects and food for birds.

There are benches in Högholmen, too. Although just simple plank ones, as you would expect to see in a place like this, they still offer good resting places.

Sit down for a while and look around to catch the fleeting spring.

You could also study the little leaves of the rowan, or the modest inflorescence of the mountain currant. Or explore the lilies of the valley which grow so abundant that you could find them with your eyes closed – so strong is their scent.

Rowan
Mountain currant (Ribes Alpinum)

On our way back to Ramsholmen’s side, we stop and log a geocache by a bridge crossing Blindsund. The cache seems to require some serious maintenance.

While we were having an adventure in Högholmen, the sun had gone hiding behind a curtain of clouds. It is the night before May Day (also called Walpurgis Night) and many people have arrived in Ramsholmen to celebrate the event.

We spot a yellow dance hall still in use during the summer months, and the forlorn remains of a summer theatre that was built over a hundred years ago. Nature is slowly claiming the land back, and trees are growing between the rows of benches.

On the side of the wide main trail, there lies a weird-looking rotten tree. How would that seem through child’s eyes? A dinosaur, crocodile or perhaps something else?

We have explored Ramsholmen back and forth and over again. My sport watch has tracked almost seven kilometres. Could have been lot less if we’d been just taking a straight route.

What does spring in the centre of Ekenäs look like?

Spring evening at the centre of Ekenäs might look interesting. Actually, on our detour we get an unforeseen bonus: Sargent’s cherry (Prunus sargentii) is blooming pink like crazy next to the former town hall which is also brightly coloured yellow.

The old town hall of Ekenäs is beautiful. Although the sign for tourist information still exists on the corner of the building, the actual information point is elsewhere. It is located 120 metres from here in a pretty red wooden house, in the same place where the EKTA Museum is.

The current town hall is handsome, too. It used to be an old psychiatric hospital, and the town spent 8 million Euros to make it the new administrative centre. Only the facade reminds us of the bygone era; everything else is new.

The sargent’s cherry is one of our most beautiful ornamental trees.
The Ekenäs Nature Centre in the north harbour is waiting for the summer. Some early bird has already come to queue up.
The traditional summer restaurant Knipan in the harbour is built on top of stilts.

The old centre of Ekenäs is idyllic. Too bad that the EKTA Museum on the Kustaa Vaasa street has already closed. Had it been open, I could have asked the tourist information agent for some tips for my next visit.

Next time, I will walk through the oldest pedestrian street in Finland, the Kuninkaankatu Street. After doing some window-shopping on the small boutiques, I will head to the narrow alleys of the Old Town that was founded in the 16th century. Many of the narrow alleys running between idyllic wooden houses have been named after artisans.

After having walked through the Hansikkaantekijänkatu (glovemaker) street and Satulasepänkatu (saddlemaker) street, I will eat a tasty and unhurried lunch, taking in the atmosphere of this lovely little town with all my senses. Then, it is time to head out to Ramsholmen to see how it looks, smells and sounds like in summer.

I am thinking how privileged we are to have four seasons, and how our nature is so diverse. And most of all, how each one of us can enjoy it freely.

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

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Ekenäs Old Town

This is what it’s like to walk through the winter forest trails in Koli national park

Deep in the forests of Eastern Finland, there lies a peaceful and unspoiled place. Here, one can find snow that goes knee deep and frozen trees that tower all around. It is totally quiet here, and it is possible to be in harmony with nature while walking through these woods.

This place is Koli National park, and last winter I was lucky enough to explore this snowy realm. I have put together a 12-photo album of this adventure as I make my way to the Ukko-Koli, where one can see one of the most spectacular views in all of Finland. The hiking trail is the forest walk which can be taken from the Koli village (Kolinkylä) to the lookout at Ukko-Koli, overlooking lake Pielinen.

The first thing I was greeted with was fluffy snow peacefully adorning the branches of the many trees. Old spruces and birches grow in these protected forests.

I was sinking knee-deep into the snow with every step, but it made for a more memorable adventure.

There is no better place to be mindful of the surroundings and enjoy the delicacy of nature. Koli has inspired artists for centuries.

A lonely sign could be found along the hiking trail, guiding the way through these mysterious white forests.

‘The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.’ – John Muir

Walking through these peaceful landscapes was indeed very calming and relaxing for the mind.

The walk is also about the little things, such as the fresh cold air.

With every passing minute on the walk, the views get better and better. Even a ski area can be found here.

Then, at last, I reached the summit, where the iconic ‘National view of Finland’ can be found. It was an unforgettable sight. The lake Pielinen lies ice-covered in the distance, as misty clouds cast their shroud over some of the frozen pine woods.

Once, long ago, great glaciers shaped these landscapes. Back then, the land was permanently frozen under glacial ice caps which didn’t melt for thousands of years.

Some of the greatest trees can be found here. They span from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts in what is known as the Main Taiga, the world’s largest ecosystem.

On the way back down, I found a traditional cozy winter cottage with its gates lying open in welcome.

And finally back again at my homely accommodation, Kolin Ryynänen, a traditional wooden lodge.

Above the busiest motorway in Finland is a hauntingly beautiful secret – the backwoods of Karnaistenkorpi

An unexpected journey awaits those who come to this place. A fairy-tale forest exists above a section of the National Road 1, running from Helsinki to City of Turku.

Karnaistenkorpi has a well-marked nature and story trail and lean-tos by the ponds. The trails look like figure 8, and you can choose whichever distance you wish to hike. There are two starting points for the trails that are equipped with outdoor toilets. They are marked in this map under the name “Paikoitus”. The address of the parking area is Suoniementaival 30, Lohja.

A shorter trail of about 3.5 kilometres is available starting from the parking area next to the Kisakallio Sports Institute. The trail goes around two ponds and lean-tos and comes back to the starting point. This trail is suitable for families and for those who wish to take things easy.

The story trail begins also from this parking area. One of the many things that may come to you as a surprise is the silence. Although the motorway is close, it runs inside the bedrock which effectively blocks out the sounds of traffic. Nature is also quite special here: beauty everywhere and forest as from a fairy-tale. Soft green mosses and towering spruce trees make you feel you’re safe here.

The story trail runs clockwise. It rapidly leads to the shore of a small pond. The bank is a little marshy. When we visited the place, the winter was on its way, and the pond was partly frozen. However, the sun was still warming us up nicely. We smelled smoke coming from somewhere and understood that there must be a lean-to nearby.

Beautiful Labrador tea was growing by the pond. Labrador tea is a common plant on marshy areas, and when you rub the leaves of the plant on your fingers, the scent gets stronger. This is what Finland smells like.

When we got to the lean-to, fire was going, and a father was teaching his son some wilderness skills. We sat down with them. We had picked up some delicacies from a bakery on our way to Karnaistenkorpi, and we also had a small coffee pot with us. As we were hungry, a lunch break was in order.

There is a wood shed near the lean-to, and the firewood is available for use. The firewood was a little damp, so I chopped it into smaller pieces to make it burn better.

The lean-to is located on a very picturesque spot on top of a cliff by the Ahvenanlampi Pond. You need to step off the story trail a little to find the lean-to, but it’s still an easy task.

We found a handy gridiron at the lean-to. We put our paninis on the gridiron to warm them up over the fire, and the water for the coffee boiled in no time. Our little outdoor lunch by the fire was perfect!

The father and his son went on with their hike. We stayed to enjoy our coffee in almost complete silence. You wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t know, but the biggest motorway in Finland runs right below this lean-to!

We also continued our own journey along the story trail. There are 21 control points with information boards along the trail to offer lots of interesting information about local nature. The information boards are in Finnish.

We made good way, and soon were at the lean-to at Sorvalampi Pond. This lean-to is also located on a pretty spot on top of a cliff. Both lean-tos (this and the previous one) are equipped with outdoor toilets and firewood sheds.

Autumn days are not very long, and the dusk was already setting in. We stayed on for a little while longer to look at the last lights of the evening.

The ancient rocks of the region are covered in grooves that almost look like runes. Green mosses and lichens grow on the rocks which makes them look fairytailish.

The trail runs on wooden causeways in many parts. Beautiful cliffs surround the trail on both sides. The causeways have recently been fixed so they are in good shape as the rest of the trail structures.

Darkness fell gradually further and further into the forest. Luckily, we didn’t have much distance to cover anymore, so we just enjoyed the beautiful backwoods as long as there was light.

My imagination got wings when the darkness settled in. In the dark everything looks different.

Oh, I wish the trees could talk! These majestic spruce trees are way over a hundred years old. They have witnessed the cycle of life in the forest. Their roots are strongly embedded in the ground, and they are not easily moved.

Eventually, we had to leave these fairy-tale forests behind. We got into our car and drove home, but we will be back again someday – so magical was this place! Maybe next time we will sleep in the lean-to and listen what secrets the old spruce trees might share with us in the night.

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

The Ice Age sculpted the spectacular Lohjanharju Esker and made it the top destination for modern-day backpackers

In Lohja, less than an hour drive from Helsinki, rises the majestic Lohjanharju Esker. It is the perfect location to enjoy what nature has to offer. It’s right by the city, and the trails are easy.

Several marked outdoor trails criss-cross the Lohjanharju Esker. Their lengths are from 1 to 6.5 kilometres, and they are accessible with prams as well. Amongst these wide trails there are many smaller ones that will lead the traveller to the mystic forests and to the land of the fairies. Although the esker is a fascinating destination all year round, in winter the trails will become skiing tracks where walking is prohibited.

A natural starting point for a trip to the esker is by the Neidonkeidas Swimming Hall (Address: Runokatu 1). If you come from the centre of Lohja, it is recommended that you take the path that starts from the Kasarminkatu Street, goes up the hill and joins the other trails running parallel to the slope. If you come by car, you can leave it at the parking lot of the swimming hall. There is a stairway beside the swimming hall leading down to the trail.

It is one Sunday in December. I am standing on top of the esker. The ground is still free of snow, but the sky is covered in clouds. There’s still some light at noon. I can hear the noises carrying from the city, and I look around me. I have come here to investigate the tracks of the last Ice Age, and I wonder how the landscape looked back then, almost 10 000 years ago. I still hear the noise, but now it is different. Where a moment ago the rooftops of the city were, now are the swelling waves of the ancient Yoldia Sea.

Behind me, the glacier stretches further than the eye can see. The rivers that are born deep under the ice are transporting massive amounts of sand and gravel, which will slowly accumulate into a border moraine. That long mound runs hundreds of kilometres, following the edge of the glacier, and reaching from Hanko to Lohja and via Lahti, all the way to Eastern Finland.

This ancient landscape is clear in my mind when I start my journey on the trails of the esker. At first, the forest around me is open. Tall and robust pine trees reach up to the sky, and their tough bark spells dignity. I am walking the path downhill. I can spot colourful old wooden houses between the trees. Further away, there is the glimmering Lake Lohjanjärvi, spotted with small islands.

For a while, I follow the wide outdoor trail, but soon I choose a narrower path. At the bottom parts of the esker, dense spruce trees create a dusky effect.

As I go along, I notice the large rocks appearing here and there between the trees. Compared to these rocks, the trees are youngsters, albeit hundreds of years old themselves. These rocks are called erratics, and they are testament to the unimaginable forces which were at play during the Ice Age. Along its way, the moving ice sheet chipped off enormous boulders and carried them even hundreds of kilometres away.

I stop beside one of these boulders to stroke the moss growing on it. The moss is like goblin’s hair. With a little more imagination, I can discern a wrinkly face on the rock. Actually the wrinkles are a result of the Ice Age, too. Along with the larger rocks, the ice also carried smaller pebbles and stones that grinded on the larger ones and created these creases.

I walk alongside the esker for about 2 kilometres to the nature preservation area of Neitsytlinna to find a strange, tall mound. It is made of sand and moraine, but how, no-one has been able to tell. I climb up the steep slope and stop again to gaze at the scenery. The slope feels even steeper going down, and I almost lose my foothold. The mound is surrounded by erratics and smaller stones that have been honed smooth by the waves of the Yoldia Sea. Here is an ancient shore, now covered by forests, mosses and lichens. I feel like being at a geological art exhibit when I stand in the shadow of a giant, rugged boulder.

As I am ready to return, I will choose the paths higher up the esker. They will run in the open pinewood forests. I start to look for a suitable place to have my break. Can’t go backpacking without some lunch, can you! At the upper part of the esker, roughly halfway to the trail, there is a picnic table and a campfire site. I will not stay there, though, for I spot a fallen tree a short distance away. It is so inviting that I will sit on the trunk, take out my thermos, pour myself some tea and grab a sandwich.

It’s getting darker, when I return back to the place I started from, at the swimming hall. Today, the Sun didn’t favour me with his presence, but when the skies are clear, it is nice to time your trip to the esker so that you can come back just before the sunset. That way you can have the icing on your esker cake by looking at the breath-taking evening sky spreading above the lake.

Article and photos: Kukka Kyrö

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

See also:

The stunning Liessaari Island in Lohja

Visit Lohja

Evo recreational area’s Digitrail route: mobile phone app guides you on the trail and gives forest yoga instructions

Evo, a village in Häme only a couple of hour’s drive from Helsinki, is best known in Finland for its highly recommended recreational area as well as the country’s oldest forestry institute. This Digitrail route* helps us explore both.

I did however already have a guide of my own, as I managed to convince my father, who graduated from the institute almost 60 years ago, to join me. This meant that there was guaranteed to be a healthy dose of forest knowledge, my father’s hilarious (for him) stories from his student days as well as a brisk progression through landscapes which were straight out of a Finnish forest industry textbook.

The Digitrail routes start from the Evo Centre, which was built as part of the institute to serve as the approximately 5000 hectare state-owned recreational area’s information centre. The campus area was built in the middle of three lakes, on a narrow isthmus.

From the Digitrail app, we chose the middle route which followed the running track towards the west and was then made up of two consecutive loops, about seven kilometres in total. Part of the journey is out and back along the same route.

At the start of the journey we were introduced to some ancient trees that were well over a hundred years old and around three metres tall. Their tall, thick trunks stood straight and with few branches, the way that trees are supposed to stand in an educational forest.

The Evo Forestry Institute specializes in teaching the multiple uses of the forest, so alongside economic values, it emphasizes the non-economic values of forest nature. When the lakes and the college were behind us, an impressive landscape opened out before us. In the old-growth forest, the beams shone with their absence; the trees grew as slowly and twisted as they wanted, leaning against each other until they finally fell down.

These kinds of free-growing forests are now rare, precisely because of the productivity dilemma surrounding forests. However, they maintain biodiversity by enabling habitat for many rare species of fauna and flora and are therefore valuable conservation and hiking areas. The atmosphere in the old-growth forest is something quite different than in the commercial forest; dusky and unhurried. The only one who might bother you here is the spider with his webs, and even he can’t always be bothered.

Even the creek had had enough of flowing and decided to stop. As a result, water flooded onto the trail, and saturated the land, which came as a small surprise to the trees that had managed to grow as tall as man. They had no option other than to give up.

After a few kilometers of wandering through the old-growth, we changed landscape again. Lush, spruce-dominated mixed forest made way for rugged dry terrain. The pines still stood strong, but grasses were sprouting all over the place.

The land’s rolling form started to become predictable, but before that Syrjänalunen forest pond and the lean-to on its shores provided a moment of rest – if one wanted to take it. Behind the lean-to and the dry toilet were split logs, a wide wooden mallet and metal blade bolted to a wooden chopping block, an ingenious way to split wood. Chopping wood was so easy and fun, that our hike was in danger of being abandoned.

With it being the end of August, the evening was starting to approach, so we left the opportunity to enjoy a small sense of achievement for others and continued our journey. On a steep, sandy slope there was a sign about the nature conservation work that is done in the area for the endangered habitats and the species that live in them. The forest had been felled, but plenty of seedling trees had been left on the slope.

On Evo Forest Institute land, the forest is regenerated by simulating small, controlled forest fires. The earth gets nutrients from the ash, and the fire makes room for fast-growing plants that later humbly make way for the stronger ones, after nourishing the soil. But for now they’re permitted to flourish for a little while.

The path narrows and starts to twist towards the Syrjänalusenharju ridge. The forest becomes darker and pine trees make way for spruce again. The map used by the app has described the steeply rising ridge in front with two elevation contours, which is quite modest, as this land formation created by the ice-age rises to 170 meters above sea level. The whole of the Evo area is located higher than its surroundings, making it a watershed, but the climb from the bottom to the top of the hill still looks about 80 meters.

The top of the ridge is probably the narrowest I’ve seen. The slope descends steeply on both sides and the hiker needs to keep his wits about him for about a kilometre.

The theme of the route is forest yoga, and stretching instructions appear on the phone display while up on the ridge. I try them out because the spot was worth stopping at. My dad sits on a rock, one of many which feel as though they have been placed alongside the path for exactly that reason. He already knew what Evo had to offer, but I was not prepared for such a fantastic views. Time just stopped…

… But the sun was continuing to set, so we continued on our journey. We descended the steep slope, sometimes holding onto the trees for support, and ended up in the armpit of the ridge, in the lush and rocky grove of Hautjärvi lake.

Expectations were high after everything we had seen up on the ridge, so after surviving the dense grove, we were glad to come across the exceptionally beautiful swamp scenery of Karvalampi. Duckboards varied in width from one to three, and some were in good condition whilst others were partly submerged. Long grasses reached over the boards and sometimes over the walker. Despite the dry summer, there was water on the surface and it was clear! Rarely does the swamp come so close!

The clarity is because Karvalampi swamp’s source is a spring. On the swamp’s south eastern edge, water breaks through to the surface from the side of the ridge. Water is drinkable and keeps cool throughout the summer.

And again the landscape changed. This time, we wove through kettle-hole terrain. The birth of the kettle-holes is as fascinating an ice age story as the birth of the ridge. For a long time trolls and spirits were suspected as being the culprits responsible, but these traces were actually caused by blocks of ice left buried under the sand.

Finally it was downhill to Evo Forest Institute. At times the route went along a forest truck road lined with plentiful long grass and thick aspens, and other times along a narrow path through the spruce forest. Tall spruces show an example to the younger ones, standing snags tell their own story and the huge cypresses on the edge of the clearcut area look lost, but stand firm and resolute.

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

*DigiTrail is a mobile application that works in nature like a navigator and thus lowers the threshold to explore nature areas. The application guides the traveller in the woods, shows nearby services and attractions. In addition, it provides interesting information, for example, about the history of the region and can be used to activate its users with different themes, such as forest related sports and cultural content.

Article: Heli Heikkilä

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Becky Hastings

Ruostejärvi recreation area is a hit with the kids, particularly with a fun new mobile app to guide you on trails

In cooperation with HAMK

If you’re hiking in the Häme region, north of Helsinki, you can take advantage of the fun Digitrail* mobile application that guides you through the nature trails. The idea of the application, developed by Häme University of Applied Sciences, is to work like a navigator on a particular trail, encouraging people to get out and explore nature.

There are five trail networks on the app, which we test in this new article series. We were now at the first app location that was ready for trial, which was the Ruostejärvi Recreation Area on the Häme Lake Highlands, in Tammela.

There are three route options for all locations: easy, medium and challenging. The starting point for each is the Häme Nature Center.

Photo: Tomi Pohja

This time we chose to test the easiest trail. On this route we could go investigate the kid’s all-time favourite, the cable boat!

I left any other maps behind, and we decided to just find our way using the app. Your position is shown on the map as a blue dot and the trail as a purple line with destination points show as map symbols. So off we went!

Photo: Tomi Pohja

First, we made our way through a dark and dense, spooky spruce forest, along an easy gravel path. Under the close-knit branches, even on bright summer’s day like today, the forest was dim. It was like being in another world.

Our journey continued. Next appeared a smaller path down which we were supposed to go. Summer was giving its best, pampering us with warm rays, but the mosquitoes were thankfully nowhere to be seen. A tree that had fallen over the path, which could have been an annoying barrier in other circumstances, now provided a perfect seat for a little rest. But only a little one, as the adventure must go on.

Moments later, the path came to the lakeshore, where it followed the lake until it reached the highlight of the trail, the cable boat. When I said that this place is perfect for kids, the next sight just confirmed it. Right at that spot there were four of them fishing with a rod and line.

Before we could even say hello, two boys already volunteered to help us over.

It didn’t take long for the boys to hoist us over. We exchanged a few words with them and then carried on our way.

After the cable boat, the path curves to the left, to the beautiful duckboards that take you to your final destination, a peaceful campfire spot. We sat there for a longer while. Taking refreshing sips of water, we relaxed in our surroundings, aware and present.

In fact, I’m not even sure how long we stayed, so our relaxation exercise did its job. Now in front of us was the other half of the journey, the same route back, at least up to the gravel path. From there we chose another fork offered by the app, which took as along the shore back to the nature centre, arriving right next to the swimming beach.

The app did its job well and delivered exactly what it promised. The path was excellent for children to walk along: suitably short, mostly easy to walk, but also a hill and some more uneven terrain that develops balance and motor skills. The fallen tree and the cable boat were the highlights.

Our testing continues, and in the next sections we will explore the DigiTrail further.

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

  • *DigiTrail is a mobile application that works in nature like a navigator and thus lowers the threshold to explore nature areas. The application guides the traveller in the woods, shows nearby services and attractions. In addition, it provides interesting information, for example, about the history of the region and can be used to activate its users with different themes, such as forest related sports and cultural content.

Christmas in Finnish Lapland

After 3 months of being on student exchange, the time had come for me to embark on a long-awaited Christmas adventure to snowy Finnish Lapland. This experience is literally the polar opposite of what it’s like in my home country, sunny Australia. I was especially looking forward to the untouched nature and of course the elusive northern lights.

On the long bus journey, we stopped over at Santa’s village in Rovaniemi and walked across the arctic circle. It can’t get any more Christmas vibe than this!

After over 12 hours of being on a bus, my group finally arrived at the pine-tree filled winter wonderland that was Saariselkä. We were staying in a rustic wooden log cabin complete with a fireplace and sauna.

Picturesque log cabins are where you can expect to stay at in Lapland.

There was fluffy snow up to the knees everywhere. Being above the arctic circle, this time of year is the polar night, where the Sun does not rise for several weeks. However, there were about 3 to 4 hours each day with twilight conditions. Being an avid aurora-chaser, it makes for an ideal opportunity to catch a glimpse of the northern lights – if only the clouds stay away at night.

The local area around where I was staying… so pristine and natural.

Beyond searching for the elusive northern lights, this place was an amazing location for a wide variety of activities that I tried, including husky-sledding, snow-shoeing, skiing, sauna, ice-swimming and of course nature photography. It was especially great to meet some husky puppies. But more than anything, it’s a place to wind down and take in the quiet and fresh air of the nature on short walks. It was indeed one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.

I actually have a very funny story to tell about my phone whilst husky-sledding. After my turn on the sled was complete, I realised my new Finnish Nokia smartphone had fallen out of my pocket (duh!) and into the snow somewhere in the arctic wilderness.

Husky-sledding in the arctic.

After lunch, the tour guide and my friends decided to make a search party. Walking through the snowy wilderness in the fading light conditions at 2pm, there seemed to be little hope, but the untouched and silent nature was just surreal. Suddenly, at the very end of the journey we found just a tiny bit of the phone sticking out of the snow. It was basically a block of ice.

But it was still on! And to my great surprise — still at 75 percent battery. The next thing to do is typically Finnish — to take the phone to the sauna so the ice can melt.

And this plan worked! Because afterwards it was working perfectly fine.

Lapland with its photogenic forests.

On the first night, I was most eager to see the northern lights. There were good geomagnetic conditions for aurora, so it was promising. That’s until I stepped out of the warmth of the cabin to see that the sky was mostly full of cloud. Nevertheless, I went outside as there was a few gaps where I could see a star or two. After walking around the village and shooting photos without luck for over an hour in -10 degrees, it was time to head to bed.

Then I awoke suddenly to find my cabin-buddies announcing that the northern lights would be visible soon! Half-asleep, I looked out the window to see nothing. I thought the window was facing north, but it was actually facing south, a mistake that would bite me this night.

I managed to find my compass which pointed me north, and by the time I got outside, there was only a very faint polar light show, with cloud rolling in again. The others who reacted faster saw a much better show this night.

Finnish Lapland is one of the best places in the world to see the enchanting northern lights. Photocredit: Jonna Saari.

The next night, in even colder and windier conditions, more luck was on my side, but only for a good twenty minutes. The skies cleared briefly just at the right moment to see a band of aurora flickering overhead and down to the horizon. I managed to get this photo before it clouded over again.

No matter how many times I have seen the lights, or how impressive they have been, it is always immensely exciting!

A brief show of the northern lights in the forested fells of Lapland in the midst of the long polar night.

The next night had even better auroral conditions, but it was cloudy and snowing heavily so there was no point of going outside. The following (and final night) there was a few hours of clear skies in the early evening, but the auroral conditions were so weak that only those on the aurora tours managed to see them, and only briefly. Though I did hear of a couple who got engaged as soon as they saw them! That’s definitely a Christmas to remember for them. And for us, it was for sure an adventure to look back on!

The blue twilight hour falls relatively early in the afternoon at this time of year in Lapland.

This beautiful and varied trail is a pleasant surprise for both children and adults: The Troll Forest Trail in Raasepori

In partnership with Visit Raseborg

➡️ 5,5 km, loop
🔥 Shelter
📌 Starting point on the map
ℹ Read more

The Troll Forest Trail (Peikkometsän kierros) is a picturesque and diverse trail in Västerby recreational area in Raasepori, which is about an hour and a half’s drive from Helsinki. Its 5.5 kilometre length is perfect for a family with children on a day trip – leaving time for games, breaks and even hunting for mushrooms. The trip can be made at any time of year. The forest is full of light, with scenery which is probably still beautiful even in the darker times of year.

Västerby recreational area was a new location for us. According to the map, there was an interesting route of just the right length: The Troll Forest Trail, which takes you up onto the rocks and the edge of a pond. There was also also a lean-to shelter, the perfect spot for a break.

We drove through Western Uusimaa from Helsinki to Tammisaari admiring the wonderful scenery on the way. We found the parking place for the recreational area and starting point for the Troll Forest Trail easily with the help of a map.

There was plenty of space at the parking place. In addition to the information board, we found some convenient climbing trees.

The trail started with a section on the rocks, where moss had created lovely green columns.

The trail was wide and easy for even smaller people to use, but still nice and diverse. The Troll Forest Trail is marked on certain trees with yellow paint, and there are duckboards going over wet areas. We felt a little overdressed in our warm clothing, as it felt like summer.

On the way we made some interesting discoveries. Someone (or something) had dug into a wasps ground nest and spread pieces of honeycomb on the moss, on the shores of Vitsjön pond. It was also here that we found our first porcini mushroom.

We were well prepared with plenty of things to eat. Our plan was, that at the shelter, we would make a warm lunch. But the table and benches on the shores of Vitsjön were calling us to take our first snack break there.

The path went through beautiful swamp areas and through the forest to the lakeside rocks of Grabbskog Stortäsket. The view from the top of the rocks was stunning, where you could see the lake narrowing into a canyon.

By the higher path we found a real fungal surprise. The warm weather had brought about twenty porcini mushrooms to the surface, none of which had any worms. Our mushroom basket was full in moments.

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While looking for more porcini mushrooms (boletes) we spotted a huge cauliflower mushroom Sparassis crispa on the slope. Even though it’s a delicious edible mushroom, it’s also rare, so we left if there, as advised by the mushroom book.

Traversing along the trail we came across a few trekkers, but there were certainly no crowds on the Troll Forest Trail. When we arrived at the shelter, the fire was already going and a few others were also taking a rest. For our lunch we had brought a mushroom risotto to make with our camping stove, which fit well with the trip’s unexpected theme. For dessert we made croissants on the fire by wrapping the dough around a stick.

On the Troll Forest trail, as well as wonderful views, you may spot some stone trolls. This was particularly fun for the kids. The Geocacher in our family also made some of their own discoveries.

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The trail is a loop and returns to the shores of Vitsjön pond. Once there, we decided to go back and check the jetty built on the rock. This would be a great place to return in the summer when the water is warm. An unexpected find that brought a great deal of joy to the kids was on the tree next to the jetty. A rope was attached to it making possible a swinging game that was enough to fill mothers with dread, but thankfully we survived without getting wet.

The Troll Forest Trail can easily be combined with other Raasepori sights. We didn’t get to see the castle ruins, but on the way home we went to admire Tammisaari’s old centre, wooden houses and seaside park.

Here are a few more views from the route:

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Translation: Becky Hastings

Lue artikkeli suomeksi Retkipaikasta.

Snowshoeing in Puijo forest in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Snowshoeing in the city at Kuopio? The answer is Puijo!

Sometimes you get lucky and can find just the thing you are looking for very close to you. We chose Kuopio as our destination for a winter weekend mostly because it offers plenty of great winter activities within a very short distance from the heart of the city.

Puijo Tower at Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The city’s famous landmark Puijo ridge with its iconic Puijo Tower is less than 3 kilometres from the city centre. However, Puijo is also a haven for nature lovers: it is among the oldest nature conservation areas in Finland, having been established on Puijo ridge already in 1928.

We had already had a great time kicksledding on Lake Kallavesi, straight from Kuopio’s passenger harbour. Next, we headed up to the Puijo hill for a bit of snowshoeing.

Trail signs at Puijo, Kuopio in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

We parked our car at the car park closest to Konttila Farm and grabbed our snowshoes. The map of Puijo paths indicated clearly marked paths and when we arrived at the signposts, we saw to our surprise that we would have been fine even without snowshoes: the paths were well trodden.

Puijo forest in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

However, very soon we abandoned the marked trail and set off to find our own way in the gorgeous, snowy forest wearing our snowshoes. The great thing about leaving your own footprints in the snow is that you can’t get lost – you can always see where you came from and retrace your steps, if necessary.

Snowshoeing in Puijo forest in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The fir trees of Puijo have enjoyed peace and quiet for decades, thanks to its status as a nature conservation area. We started heading towards Satulanotko.

Snowshoeing at Puijo, Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Every once in a while we stopped to gaze the trees above. Suddenly we saw something colourful behind the tree trunks: a trail runner following the path closest to us. We preferred a slower pace.

Fallen fir tree at Puijo conservation area, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

There is absolutely no logging at Puijo conservation area. However, sometimes trees happen to fall down naturally, just like this poor fir tree fellow.

Snowy fir trees at Puijo conservation area, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Suddenly we heard a strange, creaking sound pretty close to us. It took us a while to locate its source: a fallen tree had got stuck, leaning against another tree, and whenever the fir tree swayed even a bit in the wind, the contact made it sound like a creaking door.

Other than that, it was almost totally quiet. Although we were so close to Kuopio city and the distance to the closest roads isn’t great, we could hardly hear any cars through the dense forest.

When you are snowshoeing, you don’t usually need to worry about getting cold. However, when the temperature is about -18 °C, you soon get a craving for a hot drink. We turned our faces towards the beautiful winter sun and began walking back, towards Konttila Farm.

Konttila Farm, Puijo, Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

You just can’t miss Konttila Farm – it dates back to 1770 and when you enter it, it feels like you are stepping back in time. The farm is open all year round and welcomes visitors to its café and nature & guiding centre. Konttila Farm is open most days until 6 pm.

Cafe at Konttila Farm, Puijo, Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

We left our snowshoes outside and stepped into the main building. Hot chocolate? Yes, please! We began sipping our delicious cups of hot chocolate and just enjoyed the moment, listening to the fire start roaring in the traditional old fireplace.

I wonder when I will dare to try the cross-country skiing tracks at Puijo…

Konttila Farm on the map

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