Summer to winter

Over the last half a year or so, I have been experimenting more with my photography here in the Finnish nature. I’ve focused on big landscapes as well as focused in on the smaller details. My time spent in the forest, on the islands and near the lakes have been nothing short of spectacular. Below are some photos that I’ve taken over the last few months (from around July to December), here in wonderful Finland.

Above: A warm, summer scene within a small patch of bitch trees. Since Finland has many colder months, it almost makes the summer feel more special in a way. I’m lucky in that I enjoy all the variety throughout the seasons 🙂

Above: A sunset in July at around 23.00. This photo was taken along the river Pielisjoki in Joensuu.

Above: Another intimate summer photo. The time spent outdoors around sunset brings some fantastic and eye-catching glowing patches amongst the Finnish landscapes.

Above: Somewhere on an island near Tuusiniemi at around 03.00 in the beginning of September. I made plans especially for this night since it was predicted that the northern lights may appear. I spent the night camping near a summer cottage and was once again blown away by this incredible show of light. The aurora have become really special to me and I’m incredibly grateful to be in Finland so that I may experience them in person.

Above: Another photo from that night.

Above: Autumn. When autumn kicks in, you’ll know all about it 🙂 If I had to pick my favourite season in Finland, this would be it. The golden leaves, foggy mornings and starry nights make it a clear winner in my books.

Above: Trees in the fog on a fresh and crisp morning in Kontiolahti. This morning had an incredibly mysterious feeling to it, and I had to stop several times to pinch myself and check that I wasn’t dreaming 🙂

Above: A view of the treetops on a misty and snowy day. I climbed to the top of a nearby hill to take this photo and really enjoyed seeing the layers upon layers of forest fading into the distance.

Above: An October moonrise with an amazing halo of light above some forest in Joensuu. This is something that I’ve never really tried to photograph but thought it would be interesting to capture.

Above: Some finer details along the floor of an autumn forest. Interesting things may be at your feet 🙂

Above: Misty birch forest.

Above: Another misty autumn scene.

Above: A rocky lake shore in Joensuu at the end of October. No matter what I do with my photography, I always end up back in places like this. There is a sense of tranquility that is hard to find elsewhere.

Above: A November landscape at my favourite local spot. The water has become cold and icy.

Above: Icy patterns on a frozen lake shore. The small details can sometimes be quite interesting as well.

Above: This is my most recent photo from Joensuu (around 3rd December). The lakes are freezing up and creating interesting shapes of ice these days. One has to visit regularly to see all the amazing changes from day to day.

That was it for the last few months in Finland! I look forward to the amazing winter and what interesting photographic opportunities it may bring. Also, I just enjoy being outdoors regardless of whether I have my camera with me or not 🙂 I hope that all of you have an amazing winter and enjoy your festival season.

See you out there!

What is November like in Lapland?

Polar night has officially begun in the North and the whole of Lapland is already covered with a thick layer of snow. Here are some photos that I have taken during this last month in the areas of Kittilä, Muonio and Sodankylä. I hope you enjoy them – see how beautiful Lapland can be in November!

Above: Sun shining in a snowy forest near Levitunturi fell. In the beginning of November there was still some bright sunlight that we could enjoy. Day by day there was less and less sunshine and now it’s almost completely gone.

Above: Afternoon moments by Jerisjärvi lake. These little houses are very old but fishermen still use them actively – Jerisjärvi is famous for having lots of fish. This was a really cold day: it was -22 degrees celcius or about -8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Above: Some last rays of sunlight make this snowy forest look almost pink. This photo was taken by Kitinen river in Sodankylä.

Above: My friend on top of Levitunturi fell. Levitunturi or Levi is a cool place because it’s easy to reach: a road leads to the top and there’s even a parking lot and a café!

Above: This was a cloudy day, no sunshine whatsoever. I saw a white reindeer walking alone on the ice of Ounasjoki river. The reindeer noticed me as well and looked at me.

Above: Not all waters freeze even during the coldest winter nights. This photo shows what it looks like in Immelkaltio spring near Levitunturi fell.

Above: I took a picture of myself standing in the middle of some beautiful snowy trees. We had had lots of fresh snow the previous day.

Above: a whooper swan on Jerisjärvi lake. There’s a part of this lake that does not freeze – each year there are some whooper swans that decide to stay here instead of heading South. Whooper swan is the national bird of Finland.

Above: In Lapland there’s not much, if any light pollution. That’s why spotting the Milky Way is relatively easy, as long as there are no clouds.

Hike Finlandia, part 3: Lapland

Article by Onni Kojo

After Karhunkierros I continued my way north. The forgotten UKK route continues at the north end of Karhunkierros. This trail was almost non-existing, but it was fairly easy to find the markings on the trees. Very quiet, after meeting other hikers every day. I was not talking to other people that much. Finns are just so bad at small talk! But also because in these popular hiking routes, people tend to have own groups in which they travel.

I didn’t mind. I enjoyed walking alone as much as I enjoyed company. 

Beautiful old growth forests covered the fells that opened up in front of me. I was now in the region of Salla. Their slogan is – Salla – In the Middle of nowhere. I like that! It did feel like being in the middle of nowhere. The beauty of Lapland is very much in the sense of open space. 

When you get to Lapland, the nature starts to change around you. More old trees, different kinds of plants, more barren, but beautiful still. The Lapp huts along the way have remained even though the trail seems to be rarely used. I found myself in this hut between two fells, next to a small lake. Fireplace inside, pure drinkable water right next to it and still few berries to be eaten. This was perfection. It was now officially fall. My favorite season.

The nature roasted in to a golden-yellow glow. The forests of Salla were absolutely stunning! This season was a perfect timing for admiring them. I stopped often to wonder the different shades of orange and red while I was walking. Dead silent everywhere. I would meet a pack of reindeer or willow grouse every now and then. 

It was necessary to take more breaks as the ascents began to be longer and the fells higher. At one stop I startled. There was a dog behind me! For how long it had followed me, I didn’t know. It had a collar with antenna. It was some hunter’s dog. But where was the hunter?

Day was beautiful and not too cold. I admired the vast view of forests that continued beyond sight. The dog was still with me while I was sitting on this rock. We continued the journey together. Still no sight of the hunter. I tried to look a phone number on the collar, but the number was wrong. Well, maybe the antenna worked and we would meet the owner soon.

I stopped for lunch at this lean-to shelter. Not knowing what the dog could eat, I didn’t give any food. As a protest, I was barked at.

Soon we hit a dirt road. I knew that if the antenna worked, they would see from the gps and drive there shortly. After 2 minutes, a land cruiser raced next to me.

He was a bear hunter and he had seen from the gps where his dog was and told me that he knew from the movement that there were humans around. The guy had driven 40 km from the other side of the forest to that spot. He also said that it was a good thing that I didn’t give the dog any food, because otherwise they would learn to go after the hikers to give them food!

In the village of Salla I got more supplies and ate a huge, well-deserved pizza. Hanging around at the main street of the village was like from a movie. Guys drinking beer at a bench next to the grocery store, hitchhikers from Germany at the bus stop, grannies cycling along the street. It was a nice and sunny autumn evening. A lovely little town it was. I continued my way towards west now.

4 days I hiked these gravel roads to a place called Pyhä. For me, it was a familiar place as I had been working there the previous winter. Here, I would also have couple days off from the hike and I actually worked as a guide on these break days! I was welcomed with the Lappish hospitality from my dear manager at work. It was unreal to be indoors and have a bed after weeks of hiking!

I experienced this Lappish hospitality on those 4 days of gravel road hiking, too. This guy drove next to me with a transporter. He was a hunter. He was amazed. Why the hell I was walking here by myself! After we shared a laugh, he offered me his cottage to stay! He just said that I could go there and sleep! I didn’t get there that night before the dark. Anyways, people in northern Finland can be extremely hospitable. I had many other encounters like this in Lapland.

Pyhä is an old holy mountain of the forest Sami people that used to live on these lands. The word ‘Pyhä’ in Finnish, means ‘Holy’. This place is unique. You’ll find remarkably unique landscapes, old growth forests and silence from here. There is a national park that covers most of the area. Finland’s biggest gorge is here between the fells and one of the most beautiful waterfalls I know. Right next to the national park there is also skiing slopes, a small village and lots of activities packed in one small place. A perfect combination for everyone! It’s like Lapland in a nutshell.

Pyhä-Luosto national park’s logo features a Siberian jay. You see these birds here every day. These curious and pretty birds sure are fun creatures!

After hiking amongst many other visitors, who had come to see the fall colours, I headed to the town of Sodankylä. I walked by the driveway and from there took another 4 day gravel road hike to the west towards Ylläs.

Those days were one of the most boring ones of my life. There were just vast areas of semi natural forests and not much to see. One stop near Kittilä was nice though. This big lake you could see from the shore overlooking the landscape of fells.

My plans had worked quite well so far. I had stayed pretty much on that path that I had thought. There was just one problem – the winter was coming. 

There was already some wet snow pouring when I started hiking through yet another national park: Pallas–Ylläs. This national park is one of the oldest and most known in Finland. No doubt, the scenery is breathtaking. Here I met many other hikers and made new friends. After a few days of rain and wet snow, the weather turned beautiful. Crisp cold mornings and bright blue days. I enjoy those kinds of days.

Herds of reindeer would pass by every day. They start their mating time around this time of the year so it is good to be little bit cautious with them. At least with the stags.

These herds can be hundreds of individuals, sometimes running around the fells. One morning I got woken up by this huge herd as some of them have bells around their necks like sheep. They are a semi-domesticated species and all of them are always owned by someone even when they go around the wild every now and then. There are a lot of domesticated reindeer as well in the farms all around Lapland. 

They say that a white reindeer is for good luck. I saw one every day! From a distance though. I heard a story about how furious the stags can get during mating season. I was having lunch at this Lapp hut with few other hikers when this older guy told us a story that involved a reindeer antler, a carotid artery and lots of blood. I kept my distance.

Nice lunch discussions and encounters continued along the way. I remember this one dad who was hiking with her 5-year-old daughter. They were on a one-night hike and we had a chat at this yet another Lapp hut shelter. I told him about my journey. By now I had walked about 2000 km. He told me word to word ‘I doubt your mental health’. I laughed. But he was right as well. I might have gone mad by now, walking by myself for months. There were a few things that kept me sane. One was social media – (staying connected is almost too easy nowadays; I did also have days when I didn’t use it), the other was just staying on the course, so perseverance. I would meet new people all the time so I wasn’t really lonely. There were only a few times I felt loneliness, but I think that is good. In this hyper social world of ours we easily forget to self-reflect. It is very important to just be happy with yourself. The modern world easily distracts us to use our time on just looking on what other people do.

But yeah, to walk over 2000 km you have to be a bit crazy. In a good way!

To be honest, at the moment while I’m writing this in a studio apartment in Helsinki, I feel lonelier than when I was hiking alone. I would meet so many fantastic people along the way. The wilderness cabins would usually be full of people, sharing their adventures. People would gather around a fireplace and share their stories. Would that happen in a city? Just random people at a park for example just meeting and sharing stories about their days? 

There is something really familiar to us, when we meet new people while hiking in national parks or in the wilderness. We are so close to the things that humans are made for. Surviving in the wilderness and staying together as a tribe. 

I shared a wonderful evening with people all over Finland on the last day of the Ylläs – Hetta hike. To hear everyone’s craziest adventures was so much fun. You also learn so much from others while you share stories. We even saw pretty good northern lights that night.

That is one exceptional aspect about the open wilderness cabin culture. There is always another side of the coin, though. This culture is based on respecting the place and other visitors. That includes cleaning up after yourself and giving space to people who need the shelter most. This age-old rule is easily forgotten nowadays. Always respect the nature and others around you, always! We can still keep this culture alive and have these places, so we can share stories by the fire. It would be sad to see this go and have private cabins all around instead of the open ones, if we do not adhere to common rules!

In general though, during my journey, I met great people and almost every shelter and cabin that I visited was in good condition! Way to go Finland!

I heard news that there was already snowfall in the very north western part of the country. That’s where I was heading. I based my plan to the fact that last winter the snowfall was so late and that people had hiked up to Halti even at the beginning of October. It started to seem that it might be impossible. I didn’t change my plans. The snow might have melted.

I walked along the driveway towards Kilpisjärvi for days. I headed to the wilderness after three days. There was this dirt road leading to the wilderness area of Käsivarsi – ‘Käsivarren erämaa-alue’. From there I was to hike to Kilpisjärvi through the wilderness. After about 10 km walking the dirt road it was obvious that there was a lot of snow. The snow limit was in about 600 metres above sea level. I still continued, I didn’t want to quit. Mainly because my other option was pretty lame. To walk the along the road all the way to Kilpisjärvi, another 70 km or so.

I went to the first cabin at the end of the dirt road. I was a little depressed. I couldn’t hike up to Halti. The October gloom got more intense day by day. Nevertheless, I had an amazing adventure in the wilderness! The soft snow made it super hard to go through even with skis. At times the snow was down to my knees. At the first cabin I found some hard plastic and iron wire so I decided to make my own snowshoes. Surprisingly, after testing them, they worked!

I walked with my snowshoes about 7 km to the next hut. I was the most exhausted I have ever been. It was so heavy to walk in the snow. I had lunch and a cup coffee and decided to head back and plan another ending for my journey. There was no way I could walk in these conditions even if there would be melted ground after the next fell. I was beaten, but still so happy that I tried. It sure was an instructive and fun adventure!

A boring couple of days of walking by the road followed. I would just camp where ever I could find a spot. There were a lot of campfire places along the road and rivers. Fishermen use this road and these rivers during summertime and make campfires everywhere. It started snowing and the temperatures dropped even more. It was now officially winter here.

When I finally saw the Saana fell and the village of Kilpisjärvi, I jumped out of joy. This would be the last village before heading to Norway. I decided that I’d climb to Saana and then walk to Norway and to the Arctic sea. It was only 50 kilometres away!

This was the only area that is geologically considered to be a part of a mountain range in Finland. After hiking up to Saana I had visited almost all the different habitats found in this country. From the shores of the Baltic sea, through the fields and villages of the south, across the lake land and boreal forests, over the endless swamps and up the fells of Lapland, I had walked across the whole country! 2300 kilometres by now, to be exact. 

I wanted to finish the trip by going to Norway. I hadn’t swam or seen the sea for months, so I would end this at the mighty fjords of Norway. 

The very last day I walked from close to the Finnish border down to the fjord beach. It was one of those clear sunny days when the blue sky just opens and the universe just feels so vast. I felt good!

The feeling was also a bit melancholic, I would end my journey now. During that one day, the scenery changed from the arctic tundra into almost like the southern type of nature! Even the leaves were still orange and yellow, even though 30 km inland in Finland there were no leaves on the trees anymore. I was close to the sea though. The snowy cap mountains and sheep welcomed me to the village at the beach. Why is there sheep everywhere in Norway?

I have nothing greater to say after all this. Finland is a wonderful country and we must continue to care for it and its magnificent nature. Whoever reads this, remember, be sure to take some time off for yourself in life. Losing the track of time is the best way of charging your energies! Even a small amount of time is enough, you don’t have to hike 2000 km. Through this self-reflection, one also learns to be a better person to others and the nature around us.

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus

Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Read more:

Hike Finlandia: a hike from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea. Part 1

Hike Finlandia, part 2: Eastern Finland

Hike Finlandia, part 2: Eastern Finland

Article by Onni Kojo

In this article I will be going more into the less known places of Eastern Finland.

The end of July was really warm. Hot even. The weather made hiking harder. Insects like mosquitoes and horse flies were annoying. I was now heading close to the eastern border of the country. Here, you can still find crystal clear lakes, untouched forests and endless mire lands. 

The downside with the seemingly never ending nature is that it has also been cultivated a lot. In North Karelia, 89% of the land area consists forests. Forestry companies own a prominent amount of them. Peat, or turf, is also a significant resource around here. I saw that as I was walking past those infinite fields on these hot summer days. By the way, if Finland had done the same with their swamps and turn all of them into peat fields, we could have a very plentiful source of fuel. Peat is harvested for fuel from these fields. 

It’s good that we didn’t.

Swamps are super important for the environment, since they are host to a range of plant life and a high level of humidity, hence plenty of insects. Now this might be uncomfortable when visiting swamp areas, but when you realize how many birds and reptiles there are because of the insects, you respect them much more. And because of the smaller animals, there is always a bigger animal coming after them.

In addition to biodiversity, mires are important carbon sinks.

I would be walking through endless swamps for weeks! But first, I had to visit some of my relatives. I had planned my route so that I could pay them a visit this summer. I also needed a bath so bad. I’m making a statement now. There is nothing more satisfying than sauna, a swim in a pure lake and to having a cold beverage after hiking a day in heat. Trust me. Or maybe there is, but this combo is surely very close to the ultimate satisfaction.

I had a weekend off from hiking. It is important to rest properly on such a long walk. I also needed to do laundry, as from now on it got harder and I really had to plan my stops and rest days. Where could I charge my phone and batteries, where could I do laundry and get more supplies? Up to this point, I could just visit friends and family, but after this I’d have to book a guest house every now and then.

After the July heat, the temperatures dropped tremendously. There was a cold north wind to all around Finland. These extreme weather changes are getting more and more common in Finland. Before, our climate has been fairly mild, at least in southern inland.

For me it was good though! The north wind kept the nasty insects away and it was nicer to walk than in the heat. I was so prepared for having to deal with millions of mosquitoes around here. I did encounter a few flying devils that I really hate, like the deer fly. Also it is notable, that in the very eastern part of North Karelia, close to the border, there are ticks that can carry diseases. That’s why they are one of the only dangerous creatures in Finnish nature. There is only one venomous snake in Finland, the common viper.

Equal growth pine forests and gray skies led my way to the next national park, Patvinsuo. Here, it is fascinating to see some age-old pines amongst the new growth ones. I hiked through vast open swamp areas to the lakes of the national parks. I found some nice beaches along the way and met other hikers. It was nice to talk with people. My social life took place only online on some days of the hike

I ate last of my Karelian pies (you only get the real ones in Karelia) and continued the journey north via ‘Karhunpolku’ – The ‘Bear trail’. This would lead me to the town of Kuhmo and from there I would take the Eastern border trail all the way up to Lapland.

At Karhunpolku, I didn’t meet any other hikers! Again, once out from the national park, there was no one else. The forest looked magical, full of white lichen, moss, pink blossoming heather and berry bushes of different colours.

Slowly, through the beautiful ridges cutting the swamps and forests, I made my way towards north. These trails would also have other kinds of shelters besides the huts and lean-to shelters: wilderness cabins. This culture of open wilderness cabins is one of a kind in the world. Some of them even have saunas! Absolutely brilliant for a tired hiker, or a country-cross skier in the wintertime!

These shelters always have a visitor’s book, where one should write about their visit. These journals were so much fun to read every night. I found notes from few other long distance hikers, even couple from one of my teachers at the wilderness guide course. One note was from this one guy who had done a big hike the previous summer (I met him earlier in the summer somewhere in the lake country). He had only written: ‘On my way to the North’. Pretty modest from a guy that hiked across the whole country!

These stories and encounters with people are worth writing down. Apart from these forgotten hiking trails, I met many people. I had many of confluences with interesting people. I heard stories that I would’ve never heard. People opened up to me in a very different way. I mean telling me, a stranger, about their lives. Maybe there was some kind of nostalgia to the old days, where there would be vagabonds and tramps all around the country. You stayed connected with the people because of this folk. 

Sometimes when I had to walk along the driveway, I felt like a rebel. Maybe little bit extremist, but why use fossil fuels, when you can just walk to places? There was other free riders and rebels along the way. Every time there was a biker or a long distance cyclist passing by, we shared this smile. These people know what freedom feels like.

One of the most interesting stories was from this old man and his wife who I met somewhere near Kuhmo. They were locals and had lived there all of their lives. This mosaic of old growth forest, lakes and swamps was, just 50 years ago, a true wilderness. Now, there was are a lot of clear cut forests in the area. Luckily there still are conservation areas in between of these more cultivated lands.

I was in the lands of storytelling. No wonder there would be people who like to share stories. From the notes in the visitor’s book, to the old guy at the market square of Kuhmo telling me about his life, I was having difficulties to write it all down. I felt like a 19th century explorer going around the wilderness collecting stories from times that were forgotten.

I mean, Finland’s epic, Kalevala, was collected from these lands. The vast area of White Karelia (Vienan Karjala in Finnish) spread from here far to the east to the Russian side of the border. Culturally, White Karelia also has three poetry villages on the Finnish side of Kainuu.

There was other culturally important places along the border too. A Traveller faces the relics of the wars around here. Old foxholes, bases, fortresses, some of which have been restored as a historic sites. There has always been war around these lands and I think it’s good to visit these places as we should never forget how horrible war is. 

While I was walking the Eastern border trail, I was for a few times, stopped by the Border Patrol. They were just keen on what I was doing, as they were no hikers around here. Metsähallitus (Finnish Forest Administration) had just stopped maintaining the trail. I worried that the campfire places would not have any firewood because of this. It would be harder to dry clothes and shoes after many days of hiking in the swamp areas! Luckily they were still somewhat serviced, maybe because the local day hikers or hunters would still be using them. I did actually need the campfires a few times because at the beginning of my two week journey at this trail, it was quite rainy. Also the trail was in some parts, in very bad condition. I would have to cross the creeks because the bridges would be broken down. I would have to walk in the swamp a few times because the boardwalks would not exist anymore.

It was good meeting with the Border Patrol because we both changed information like, what animals we’d seen, what was it like at the next campsite etc. Now to clarify a bit, the guards were driving with a jeep along the dirt roads, not hiking the trails like they used to. Still, nice guys that were amazed of my journey. 

Last time I talked with them, they half-jokingly stated that I’d have to put something red on my head, as the bear hunting season had just started and these lands and forests were full of hunters. I might get shot otherwise. It was only later, at this Wilderness Centre in Martinselkonen, I realized the Border Patrol was not joking. I talked with the owner of the centre. He said that if the hunters would not get the bear at one shot, which is highly likely, the bear would be extremely dangerous wounded. Not only the wounded bear, but the hunters running after it and shooting, while I’m there as well!

Later I heard a few gunshots here and there. Some of the dirt roads along the trail had pickup-trucks beside them and tents in the forest which the hunters used. I met few hunters as well. It was interesting to hear what they were doing, as this was a totally new world to me.

I’m not a hunter, so I’m not going to go into it. All I know, is that hunting and fishing are a big part of the Finnish outdoor life. To kill for trophies and for sport is in my opinion bad, but to hunt for game, for food, is just an old way of living.

Anyways, I was now in the land of lot of bears. I saw signs of them every day. Like ant nests dug, all the blueberries eaten (European brown bears love blueberries!), or I would just step on a pile of bear poop.

I didn’t see the king of the forest. They have a natural fear of humans and they could smell me miles away. There is bear watching tours you can book, if you want to see these mighty creatures! At Martinselkonen for example.

I saw other animals though. Moose would walk in the forest or crane (bird) would fly past me every now and then or make its very recognizable sound echoing in the open swamp areas. All kinds of forest grouses would hurtle from the bushes when I walked quietly by myself through the boreal forests. Some of these age old forests had hanging moss or beard lichen on the branches of the trees more than I had ever seen before. This is a clear sign that the air is super pure. This moss doesn’t grow if there is any pollution.

I would some mornings, be woken up by whooper swans. Their sound is loud and can be heard miles away because the lakes carry sound. These small ridges would cut the swamps and lakes. Little birds flew in all directions from the berry bushes on the ridge slopes. In addition to blueberries, lingonberries and crowberries grew everywhere. 

I diverged from the trail a bit to get supplies. There was only one village with a little country store around here. Ala-Vuokki store had a post office, bar and a gas station in the same building. Very typical to have all the services in one place in these remote areas. The store owner was interested of my journey and offered me coffee and pastry! I continued to the trail the same day. Days were getting shorter and nights darker.

A few times I heard hunting dogs barking or the forest machine would break the feeling of being in the wilderness. Otherwise, I still walked mostly on magical lands. No wonder these forests and lakes were attached to the age old storytelling lands. And did I already say that I didn’t meet any other hikers along these hiking trails? There were couple of days that I didn’t see any other human being!

After the long eastern border adventure, I made my way to Finland’s latest national park – Hossa. The contrast was huge. Suddenly there was all these newly made trails and huts. People hiking along the turquoise waters of Hossa or mountain biking next to these magnificent cliffs. 

I had a resting day in the town of Kuusamo. From here I would continue to one of the most known hikes in Finland – Karhunkierros. 

Before this, it had been relatively easy to hike, at least in terms of altitude differences. Finland is pretty flat country. So until here, I would not have to ascend more than sixty meters or so! But here, it was crazy! Climbing up and down these hills was brutal. With a backpack full of one weeks supplies, anyways.

The scenery changed more to the northern kind. Gorgeous sceneries, big rivers and cliffs. I also saw little bit of northern lights the first night. Already! The days got even shorter and the leaves of the trees would turn to yellow, orange and red. By now, I really had to try and wake up early because I had to use the daytime for hiking. Summertime was easy – it didn’t really matter what time I was walking since there would be enough light even during night time. 

I started to see more northern species like the Siberian jay and reindeer! I was now truly in north. I felt so good. I had hiked through the endless swamps all the way to up the north, by myself!

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus

Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Read more:

Hike Finlandia: a hike from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea. Part 1

Hike Finlandia: a hike from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea. Part 1

Article by Onni Kojo

I travel and explore nature, history and culture. I am interested in the relationship between man and nature. During the summer and autumn of 2019, I hiked from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea in northern Norway.

For a long time, I had this need to connect with the outdoor world again. For our generation, the human world is so much different than for any of the other generations before us. Nature, on the other hand, is always perfect with it’s dangers and beauty.

I had this idea of a big hike. Maybe I felt like I needed a break from this busy world of ours, or maybe just for the pure adventure. Many people share this same urge to explore. But to have the time for all of that is just so hard in this modern life. It’s also scary. Just to leave everything and go abroad by yourself.

Of course this hike would include visiting a lot of culturally important places and meeting new people, things that I really enjoyed as well. But this adventure would be more about the nature than my previous travels.

Big hike of a lifetime. There are those routes that take months to walk. Like Pacific Crest Trail in the US or Camino de Santiago in Spain. But here in Northern Europe there really is no such a route. Just few longer hiking routes amongst the hundreds of shorter ones. That is why I decided to plan the route myself and have as much different places along the way as possible.

I’m not the only one who has done a hike across Finland. There are few other people, even couple of people who I saw along the way, that have done a similar hike than mine. Some of these people might want to keep themselves. Who knows how many other big adventurers there are!

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus
Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Hike Finlandia, part 1

The Baltic Sea opened up in front of me. The breeze from the sea was warm, the day was sunny and bright. Few tourists were by the sea, enjoying the day. Polished by the glaciers from ice-age, these cliffs were smooth, gently curving into the depths. This point was the southernmost point of coastal Finland.

My backpack weighted about 25 kilos. I had a wide grin on my face as I dipped my toes into the salty water and then put my hiking boots on. I felt free for the first time in ages.

My plan was to hike all the way up to the northern part of this country. To the highest peak in the north western part of it, to be exact. I had little bit less than 4 months to do this. I had planned this hike the whole spring as I was studying to become a nature – and wilderness-guide. So for me, this was also a continuation to my studies. I wanted to see what it was really like out there. What kind of secret places I would find? How many species in the nature would I remember from my studies, how many new I would learn? Would I survive by myself hiking the endless forest? What kind of difficulties would I encounter and what kind of people would I meet. I was eager to travel and explore.

For me it was easy to travel by myself, as I had been backpacking around the word much of my adult life. But this was a whole other level. I would walkNo cars, no train, no bicycle, no boat. Just hike.

Sunny and windy day continued and I started walking. The cape of Tulliniemi is a conservation area with couple of nature trails. The day hikers looked at me and my backpack curiously. Beautiful groves and pine forests covered this cape. It didn’t look like any other place I would visit during this hike. This was the only place that had that kind of southern temperate nature. I would soon be walking in endless boreal forests and swamps.

As the first day folded into the night (It didn’t really, the sun just went close to the horizon for a bit), I was exhausted. I had first walked into the southernmost point and then started the actual hike. I already had a blister on my foot. First day of any hike, is always the hardest. I hadn’t hiked in ages, because I was studying and working before this. My backpack was way too heavy. The day was hot.

I sat down and took my hiking shoes off. I was close to the beach I was going to camp for that night. I saw a stick. A branch of a pine tree. I took it, cut it half by kicking it. I hated it. It was crooked, not cool enough. But I needed a walking stick. It really helped me to get there the rest of the way. I had walked 40 km that day and it was almost midnight. Tired, but still happy. I made it even when my feet hurt so badly.

The next morning I dipped myself into the water. The air smelled salty. It was a hot and sunny morning. I felt like I was somewhere in the Mediterranean. This would be the last time I would feel and smell and hear the ocean, for months to come.

The days went by and walking got easier. I had marked down places worth to visit and good spots to camp from the map. I used ‘Maastokartat’-app on the phone. Here in the south I would have internet access almost anywhere, but in the north I would need to download the maps on the phone or then just buy a map. Anyways, I had a general plan of my route and all the camping sites, lean-to shelters and ‘kotas’ marked in the maps on my phone.

It was fairly easy to navigate with the app. At least here in the south. I just enjoyed the summer days and walked along country roads and forest tracks.

So the first bit of my hike was the nature trail and then the streets of Hanko. Very nice town by the way, Finland’s most sunny town, they say. There was no hiking routes around here. But luckily, Finland is full of forest roads, because of the forestry and logging industry.

The scenery changed all the time from the nice country estates with horse stables, to the mixed forests and then into clear cut forests (which there is a lot in the south). Here and there, there would be a small conservation area with a fire place in it, or just a nice beach or shelter to camp for the night. Most of the places were quite good. And they were free to use because of our everyman’s rights. I would see a white-tailed deer every day, as this introduced species has been very successful in southern part of the country.

Now, there was also some problems with everyman’s rights. In the town of Karjalohja for example, it was not allowed to camp on the public beach. I went into the nearby forest instead, and checked from the map that it wasn’t near any residence. This is the law, you are allowed to camp for a short period of a time as long as it is not near anyone’s property nor causing any disturbance.

But most of the evenings, I would easily find a place to camp. I had a tent with me, but I also used the shelters. The tent was better option in midsummer though, because of the insects. As I would go further inland and close to swamps, there would be way more mosquitos. But I will go into that later on.

So, it’s fairly easy to find places to camp for the night anywhere in Finland. Just need to know the rules that apply for the everyman’s rights and have general respect for the places and nature where you are visiting. Leave no trace, don’t set up a fire if there is a forest fire warning, don’t disturb others or the nature and don’t destroy any living trees or plants. In exchange, you can pick up the berries and mushrooms, camp, and roam freely! Now this habit of respecting the area and freedom to roam should be common knowledge, but unfortunately it’s not.

The next area after the countryside, was the national park of Liesjärvi. From there, I would use the Ilvesreitti trails into the lake country.

Liesjärvi is convenient and nice national park, as it is quite short a way from Helsinki. Because of the easy access, there would be a lot of visitors. It’s good that people come and charge their energies in the nature, and outdoors is a healthy new trend. But. Unfortunately the side effects of this growing number of visitors, is rubbish left on the fire places, food waste on the river next to the camp sites, people throwing every single piece of rubbish into the bonfire.

I do not know where this habit came from. Cardboard and paper is usually ok to burn, but anything else is really easy to just take with you and recycle at home. There is nothing nastier, than someone burning plastic and the next moment, kids around the fire place roasting marshmallows.

Why would you have the energy and willpower to travel into a certain natural place, and then leave your rubbish and food waste there. It does not belong in that place. It is ok to visit. To feel, smell, hear and see the pure nature. And then just leave with everything you had with you. Including your dog, who was on the leash for the whole time. Wasn’t it?

Anyways, there is clearly lot of advisory to be done for the hikers, tourists, any visitors really. Everyone who visits the nature of Finland, should know, what the common rules are. Without them, all this free roaming is in danger.

The national park had clear hiking routes marked with various colours, depending on what kind of a hike you wanted to do. I was following the route that was marked with a head of a lynx. ‘Ilvesreitti’ means ‘The lynx route’. This web of routes stretches hundreds of kilometres around the Häme region, about an hour drive from Helsinki. There is also an old heritage farm in the national park called ‘Kortenniemi’ that is worth visiting! I went there also and got a free presentation as there was a local guide doing a tour with visitors.

Besides the national park, there was literally no one on these routes. Some fire places along the way had day visitors, as they were usually close to the roads and had easy access. Some camping sites were barely used. As the route went to another municipality, it changed in its condition and scenery. Sometimes it would be just bush that was still marked with yellow signs hanging from the trees. Sometimes it was a dirt road, sometimes a nice path in a magical moss covered forest.

The reason for this alternating condition of the trail was because it went through different municipalities. When the trail is not entirely in one region or park, its condition varies. Some towns make an effort maintaining outdoor services, some don’t. Either it’s because of budget, or some places have just been forgotten. Seriously. I was surprised how many people there is, if the area is a national park. But there might be a beautiful conservation area nearby that has all the same services, but is nearly never used.

One of these places worth mentioning was Heinisuo. A swamp area close to Hämeenlinna. It was basically like mini version of the Torronsuo national park which is the biggest preserved swamp area in southern Finland. There I met first grouses and snakes during my hike. And not a single person.

Soon, I encountered another problem with the rights to roam. There was a field, rye field if I remember correctly. I had looked from the map, that if I went from the dirt road into the forest and went little bit along this field, it would be a smart route. The field was first just hay and it was not that wide. But then it changed. It was someone’s rye field. Now, to walk in fields where there is something growing is prohibited. I made a mistake with my route. Luckily there was tractor tracks where I reckon it was ok to walk the 100 meters to the other side. Still, I kind of broke the law.

Also, some maps are older and might not have all the tracks, routes, fields or clear cut forests marked into them. All hikers and travellers should know this.

Anyways, the Maastokartat-app worked very well. 10 days had passed from the start of the hike when I reached to town of Hämeenlinna. I would have a day off here, have a shower and go buy more food.

You could be thinking by now, how I managed to take care of the hygiene, what kind of food I would carry with me, how I would succeed generally. Like mentally and physically.

The thing is, while hiking, you have to let go of some standards. Especially in places where there is no modern comforts. Swimming in the lake every day for a week is enough to stay clean, before you get the chance to go into a sauna or shower. Luckily, Finland is full of lakes and public saunas!

For the clothing. Using materials like wool, that don’t need washing all the time, is good. Other hygiene, like I said: Wash your teeth and face, brush your hair, like you would do every day. But it’s really not necessary to have a daily shower. I was fine just going swimming every day and have a proper shower at least once a week.

Food supply was easy to take care while just hiking from town to town in the south, but further along the way it got harder. I would just go into the shops in almost every town and by fresh food and also go in cafes and restaurants. But I would also be on budget and when hiking in national parks and far from any villages, I would need lots of lightweight, mostly dry food that does not rot. At least in the summertime when the temperatures are not the same than in your freezer.

For the boredom, I listened audio books. That was only for the long days when I would be walking roads that went in the same looking scenery. Like these semi natural forests, which there is more than enough in Southern Finland.

But I was bored for a very little time as there was always something new to encounter. Was it a deer walking in the forest or a butterfly that I was trying to figure out which species it was. Or a villager passing by with a bicycle and talking with me, asking questions about my travels. There was always a new kind of atmosphere and landscape after every turn on the roads. It never really got boring. Sometimes it was just nice to listen to music and feel the breeze on your face as I was walking alongside a lake. Sometimes I would just listen to what birds I would recognize were singing. (I didn’t recognize many, it would take a lifetime to know all the Northern European species singing in the early summer choir)

To walk every day tens of kilometres with a heavy backpack, it takes a lot of mental strengths. ‘Sisu’ as we would say in Finnish. Everyone who has climbed a mountain or been on a weeklong hike in a challenging terrain for example, knows what I’m talking about. You are just not quitting.

Now for the physical endurance, obviously training is essential. I did try to get as fit as possible before the hike. But the most important part is just to take care of yourself. I did rest properly and avoided taking risks like climbing cliffs with heavy backpack.

Only thing I didn’t do during the first days of the hike was stretching properly. That I got to know after about a week. My right knee was hurting really bad. I tried to massage it. Didn’t work. It was only after I started stretching properly every morning and evening, that the pain was gone. I might have been pushing myself too much the first days of the hike. I was so eager to just go.

I also have to say that nutrition is very important. Your body needs so much energy while hiking. Lots of carbs and good fats. Good fats are also essential for the joints. I also picked some wild herbs for my lunches and dinners like fireweed and nettles. I’m pretty sure that they helped for the pain in the joints also. Later in the summertime there would be a source of vitamins in all the forests as the berries would grow.

So, naturally, the nature would be my chemist and nutritionist along the way!

Well rested day in Hämeenlinna and the adventure continued! The Häme region has always been the gateway to inland Finland. The lake country starts here. Lakes continue as far as the eye can see. You can hike up to hills that cut this landscape. It’s a maze of swamps, lakes, forests and rivers.

This area has lots of history with its castles, iron-age fort hills, churches, old towns and holy places in the nature. Like sacred groves for example. I was to visit few of these old sacred places, but further inland, as I had already visited in many places around Hämeenlinna before. There was lot of other interesting places to come, and I had planned my route so that I could visit as many new places as possible before winter.

My next destination was to hike to Evo-region. This hiking area is very popular combination of trails and camp sites. Not a national park, but a huge area consisting many little pieces of conservation areas. Here you can find animals like beavers, moose and flying squirrels. You can also find some of the oldest forests in southern Finland. These age old forests are in my opinion the most interesting of all places. There is just a different kind of feeling in them.

I didn’t see any beavers, moose or flying squirrels. But I did see a lot of beaver damns, lodges and other signs. I also started to see more of the ordinary species like common goldeneye and other water birds, frogs, squirrels, rabbits and hawks. The kind of animals you usually see and hear in Finnish forest.

First month of the summer is usually rainy. This year it seemed like the rain poured all at once, at the beginning of July. I was walking on the tracks of Evo and got a bit lost. Downpour, lots of water everywhere. There was a beaver dam and the trail went besides it. I somehow passed it and instead went next to a creek that was about 3 meters wide. Two birch branches crossed the stream. Of course, I had to try and walk to the other side. Rain, slippery surface and heavy backpack was not a good combo. I was in the creek to the waist.

Fortunately I had covered my phone in my pocket so it didn’t get wet. Be sure to always wear a waterproof case for your phone if you are hiking! For me the phone was extra important because of the maps in it.

Also, another rule if you get wet: always have dry clothes in a dry bag. And don’t worry, the next fire place is usually not far away. I changed my clothes and shoes (Yea I had two of them) in this lean-to shelter and ate some chocolate. Dry clothes, shelter and food, that is the only thing what we really need.

The lake country

From Evo, it’s not a long way to lake Päijänne. This is the second largest lake in Finland. I remember camping at the shores of the lake, after a long day of hiking from Evo. There was again, white-tailed deer. Actually two of them, chasing each other at the beach. It was a nice summer night, and I was thrilled that I got there. Big lakes have unique atmosphere. You could easily travel through half of the country just by using waterways! Now, thinking back into it, I should’ve definitely do a kayak or boat section of this journey at the lake country. So if you happen to be in the lake country of Finland in the summertime, hire a water vessel of your style and explore.

My plan was to just use the roads and various paths that go in the forests. The problem was though, that this area is full of people’s summer cottages and houses. The lake country is sometimes referred as the ‘cottage country’. I mean, there is half a million leisure homes in Finland! One for every five people. Every family has one, or everyone knows someone who has a second home somewhere outside cities.

Anyhow, Päijänne has a national park. It’s mostly islands, but there is a ridge going through the other side of the lake. I walked along it to the other side and beyond, towards Central Finland and Savo.

Here I had to walk little while by the roadway. Then back to the endless little country roads that go crisscross everywhere. Finland has definitely been efficient in using its forests. That is why these little roads go everywhere. They are also one reason that there is no big forest fires: these little roads cut the fire and make lot of places easy to access and put out the fire.

I continued to Kammiovuori in Sysmä. This hill was the highest point of lake Päijänne. The view was just amazing. I remember having morning coffee on top of the hill, pine tree forests as far as the eye can see, clear blue sky reflecting on hundreds of lakes. Common loon doing it’s call somewhere on the lakes, the sound echoing between the hills.

I didn’t have to travel many days when I was in another view point to the lakes. Neitvuori. This was middle of lake Saimaa, the biggest lake in Finland.

There was not really any good routes to hike in the lake country. There is few other national parks here but they are better to be visited by kayak or canoe. I was focusing on the small conservation areas or old sacred hills where I could see the view. These hills usually had interesting history too, as they’ve been used as a sacrificial sites or hillforts. This one, Neitvuori, was known to be used as a deer hunting spot. People would surround packs of deer towards the top of the hill and the deer would get stuck on the cliffs or drop. This hunting style made these kinds of hills very important.

If the rock or cliff had some kind of shape of an animal or human, it would be a sacred place. Sometimes just the location would made a specific place important. One of these was Sulkava hillfort. Finland has hundreds of pre-history fort hills. These places are usually protected by the law or have been hard to access during times, so they tend to have more diverse nature!

I was now in Savo region. People seemed little bit easy going then in the busy south. Beautiful landscapes opened up after every little hill as I was walking the countryside. A lot of cows around here. Every now and then I would walk pass a dairy farm. Then another lake and another farm, between of them, forests of course.

It was a nice and sunny after the beginning of July rain. Butterflies were everywhere alongside these country roads. Flowers and wild herbs almost at the peak of growing season, giving life to every little living thing flying around them. For me as well, as I sometimes picked a dandelion or some fireweed to spice up my lunches. Fireweed by the way, is ‘Maitohorsma’ in Finnish in which the first word ‘maito’ means milk. The name comes from a belief that it increases cow’s milk production. Because of this feature, it is preferably added to the cattle feed. Finnish milk products are said to be really good quality!

Moving on. I left the cows and continued towards east. There was one more town before I would go the region of Karelia. Savonlinna. This place is definitely worth visiting. It’s like the lake country packed in one little town! Surrounded by the lakes from all directions, this town has a medieval castle and an old town, and of course Tori – a really good market (where I ate so much it was hard to continue my journey).

July continued with pretty nice weather, even some super hot days. Luckily I was in the lake country, where I could go swimming every day. I didn’t encounter a lot of other hikers or even animals during this time. Didn’t get to see the Saimaa ringed seal – species that only lives around here.

Like I stated before, this area is should’ve been explored by waterways. There is also inland water cruises during summer if you don’t want to navigate through the lake maze by yourself.

So if you like water, beaches, castles, history and nature – lake country Finland is the place to be in summer!

After Savonlinna, I continued my hike towards the eastern part of the country. 

In 10 days everything changed: 12 photos of how winter came to Lapland

I live over 150 km above the Arctic Circle. Here it’s quite common to have snow on the ground in October, but this year the start of the winter was unusually sudden. Here are 12 photos that I have taken during the last ten days – see for yourself how winter arrived!

Above: Frosty morning in a swamp in Kittilä (October 11th). Bog bilberry is one of the last plants to have some beautiful autumn colors. Most plants have dropped their leaves by now.

Above: Nature getting ready for winter in Varkaankuru, Kolari (October 13th).

Above: First snow near Pallastunturi, Muonio (October 14th).

Above: Lake Pallasjärvi is starting to freeze (October 14th).

Above: Swimming in Ounasjoki river (October 16th) only 24 hrs before ice started to appear.

Above: Snowy larch forest in Kittilä (October 18th).

Above: Winter is officially here! About 10 centimeters of snow in Kittilä (October 19th).

Above: Forest river is not ready to freeze just yet (Kittilä, October 19th).

Above: First sunny winter day 2019 in Kittilä. Forest and rocks are covered in snow (October 19th).

Above: Northern lights and the Moon above the frozen Ounasjoki river (October 19th).

Above: There’s still time before the polar night begins, but its colors can already be seen. This photo was taken early in the morning, but in mid winter this is what noon would look like. (October 20th).

Above: Reindeer on a road in Raattama (October 21st).

Would you like some plätty? This is how you bake and enjoy traditional Finnish campfire pancakes

The most loved delicacies in Finland are unquestionably open fire pancakes. They are not just any pancakes, they are plättys. To enjoy your openfire plättys in the best possible way, you should have good company and plenty of time – no one should prepare or eat plättys alone or in a hurry. It’s just not right. We’ll show you how it’s done.

To make best possible plättys, start by taking a stroll in the nature with at least one good friend. Enjoy the fresh air of the forest, listen to the silence. Pay attention to all the small details: the colors of the moss, the shapes of the trees, the ambiance surrounding you. Can you smell how pure the nature is? Take a good walk: the more you walk in the nature, the better your plättys will taste. This works really well especially when the weather is a bit misty, cold or even snowy or rainy.

One good thing about plättys is that you can prepare the dough at home and just take it with you in a bottle. This makes it very easy to start baking plättys after your refreshing stroll in the surrounding nature.

What you need:

5 dl of milk
2 fresh eggs
1 teaspoon of salt and sugar
2 dl of wheat flour
2 table spoons of oil

To prepare the dough, just mix everything together and let it rest for at least half an hour. That’s it!

You need also:

Matches and a knife
Firewood
A frying pan and a spatula
Frying oil
Strawberry or raspberry jam

Finding a good campfire spot is relatively easy in Finland. Now remember, even if one is allowed to enjoy our beautiful nature rather freely, making a campfire is not an everyman’s right. This is why you should always find an actual campfire spot to prepare your plättys. In national parks there are plenty of good and ready-to-go spots that even have firewood waiting for you! When visiting Helsinki, the nearest national parks are Nuuksio and Sipoonkorpi – both less than an hour’s drive away from the city center and also accessible by public transport.

A typical Finnish campfire spot in Nuuksio national park. There’s firewood in the shed.
With the bucket one can get water from the lake to put out the campfire before leaving.

Now, it’s time to make a fire. I hope you brought some matches and a puukko knife with you? Take some firewood from the shed and use your knife (be careful!) to carve little pieces of wood that are easy to kindle. Light the fire and wait for a bit so that the campfire is burning well and ready to prepare some delicious food.

Take your frying pan and put a dash of oil on it. Place it above the fire and let it get hot.

Now it’s time to fry the first plätty. Pour some oil and then some dough from the bottle on the hot pan – not too much, plättys are supposed to be quite thin. Wait for a minute or two and try turning it. Now, don’t worry – the first plätty always goes wrong and looks hideous. This is an essential part of the tradition. The good news is that it still tastes really good!

Maybe the second one turns better, or the third one at least. Fry each plätty one or two minutes each side and add some oil to the pan every now and then.

When you run out of dough it’s time to eat! Some people put sugar on their plättys, others eat plättys covered with strawberry jam. Raspberry jam is also a good choice! One can use fingers or a plate and a fork for example. And, if you’re really, really well prepared, you might even have some whipped cream or ice cream to put on your plättys!

After finishing meal, please make sure that you leave the campfire spot nice and clean. Should there be any rubbish, put it in a garbage can (if there is one) or pack it in a plastic bag and bring it with you away from the nature. Also, if there’s no-one else, put out the campfire before leaving. Let’s be thoughtful and keep our beautiful nature clean!

Enjoy plättys with us – let’s prepare them together!

Did all this sound a bit complicated? No worries. You can book a plätty experience and we’ll teach you how to make them! Come with us to the beautiful national park of Nuuksio, right next to Helsinki, and enjoy the prepapring of plättys as well as the surrounding nature.

Waiting for northern lights

As the nights get darker, northern lights can appear again. One night I was waiting for them with my friend. According to the forecast there should have been an amazing light show coming up due to a G2 geomagnetic storm. The auroras should be so bright that they could be seen even in Helsinki, and we were in Lapland! However, the sky was getting cloudy…

Internet and social media are full of beautiful photos of northern lights. However, photographing or even seeing them is not always a peace of cake. Clouds are the biggest problem. Great job if you’re in Lapland and it’s winter – your chances are really good. That’s why I was very optimistic that night.

We made a campfire on our yard and started waiting. The radio was on and we made some tea. But the clouds were coming and I started to wonder if we’re going to see anything at all.

Around 10 pm I took the first photos of the sky. I didn’t see any northern lights yet, but if there’s any light in the sky, the camera can see it even when the naked eye can’t.

And there certainly was something going on.

This was a good time to check that the camera settings were ok for some serious aurora shooting. Maximum ISO and F value, shutter speed about 5 seconds… and focus to infinity. Let’s try with that.

As I was adjusting the camera settings, the sky exploded – but only for a few minutes.

To the naked eye it did not look this green. As I said, cameras can see more than we can. That’s why photographing the auroras is so much fun, it feels like magic!

Before I knew it, the show was over. Reality check: it was way too cloudy.

This is how it can go sometimes – the nature decides whether we can see auroras or not. But nevermind, we had had a great evening anyways!

Would you like a cup of campfire coffee? This experience is a must when you’re visiting Finland!

Imagine sitting by a campfire, enjoying the wild silence of the woods around you. You can smell the freshness of the forest as well as the soft smoke coming from the campfire. You feel safe and relaxed. It’s time to have a cup of campfire coffee. Campfire coffee is one of the most Finnish things ever. Everyone must experience it when visiting Finland, no matter if it’s summer or winter.

To make campfire coffee you must have certain type of coffee grounds that are made especially for making coffee over campfire. Every grocery store usually has this “pannu” or kettle coffee from at least one brand.

You also need fresh water and a metallic coffee kettle that has no plastic parts. To enjoy your campfire coffee in the most Finnish way, also make sure you have a traditional wooden cup or kuksa with you (read more here). A Moomin cup is also acceptable.

Then you must make a fire. In Finland there are lots of maintained campfire spots, and one must not make fire elsewhere without the permission of the landowner. In national parks such as Nuuksio or Sipoonkorpi (both right next to Helsinki) there are dozens of good campfire spots with ready-to-use firewood. Be economical with the firewood – there’s no need to make a huge campfire for preparing campfire coffee.

When the campfire is ready, it’s time to begin. This is how you do it:

Measure one litre of freshwater into your coffee kettle.

Place the kettle above the campfire and wait for the water to boil.

When the water is boiling, take the coffee kettle away from the fire and measure two decilitres of coffee grounds into the kettle.

Then just wait for about ten minutes – the campfire coffee is now preparing itself. You can place the kettle next to the campfire so that it stays hot. Some people add a small amount of cold water into the kettle at this point, believing that the coffee gets ready a bit sooner. Whether this is true or not, who knows – every Finnish hiker has their own style of preparing campfire coffee.

The coffee is ready when all the coffee grounds have sank to the bottom of the kettle. You can test this by pouring a little coffee into your cup and see if there are any coffee gounds coming out. If there are some, put the coffee back to the kettle and wait for a little longer. If not, the coffee is ready to drink!

No coffee grounds coming out – this coffee is ready
Enjoy!

Does this all sound like a whole lot of effort? No worries! We can prepare some delicious campfire coffee for you and your friends. And to make things even better, we’ll also make some campfire pancakes and teach you guys how it’s done!

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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