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Frisbee golf for the whole family in Västerby – with forest ponds and idyllic rural landscapes

In partnership with Visit Raseborg

Article by Sanna-Mari Kunttu

Frisbee golf (also known as disc golf) is an affordable hobby for the whole family that combines socialising with being active outdoors in beautiful surroundings. The Västerby frisbee golf course offers challenges and thrills for beginners as well as the more experienced.

Forests, rocks and idyllic countryside are all part of the Västerby frisbee golf course.

Three different ability levels at Västerby

Your fingers take an expert grip on the disc, your body twists in the middle and your mind is centered. The frisbee leaves in one controlled movement coming from the whole body. The disc curves gently between the trees and glides towards the metal basket, but falls short of the goal and onto the ground. On the next throw, the disc jangles into the basket. You jump for joy at your success and make a note of your score.

National championship level frisbee golf player, Susanna Virtanen, shows how to throw. Next up is her son, Niko Virtanen. Frisbee golf is the hobby of the whole Virtanen family. They have actively toured all of Finland’s frisbee golf courses, and are now in Raseborg (Raasepori) at Västerby, which is about 1,5h drive from Helsinki. According to Susanna Virtanen, it’s one of Finland’s best frisbee golf courses because of its diversity.

Susanna Virtanen shows how a frisbee is thrown.

Västerby’s course is right next to Tammisaari, only 3 km from the city centre. There is parking by the sports hall for those arriving by car. If you don’t have a car, there are buses from the Helsinki area or from the centre of Tammisaari. Then at Västerby it’s less than kilometre by foot to the course.

The course is maintained mainly by volunteers belonging to the local organisation EIF Disc Golf. Virtanen is one of them. However, the course is for everybody to use and remains completely free of charge. For this reason, Virtanen hopes that everyone makes sure that they leave the course tidy and in good condition.

One frisbee golf course is made up of several fairways, in other words, tees (from which you throw), goal baskets and the game areas in between. Västerby has two full length, 18-hole courses. The A course is for amateurs and the length is 1684 metres all together. To complete it, you should set aside a couple of hours. The B course has been the competitive course for the national championships – it’s more challenging and longer at 2356 metres. Some fairways connect the A and B courses. As well as these courses, there’s a children’s course in the area that’s less than a kilometre long with 9 fairways. However, there is nothing to prevent beginners from trying more demanding courses.

Beginner course on the top of the rock.

On the south coast, the snowless period is long, so the playing season at Västerby starts in the early Spring and carries on long into the Autumn due to mild weather. Frisbee golf can also be played in winter, but you have to take into account the cross country ski tracks that are made in the area at that time of year.

‘In the winter, you can find your disc more easily by sticking a long piece of gift ribbon on it, so that the ribbon floats on top of the snow even when the disc has sunk into it. You could also put a small LED light on the bottom of the frisbee so that you can find it more easily in the dark’, suggests Virtanen.

Västerby’s fairway 11 on the competitive course on a mystic Autumn morning looks inviting.

In addition to Västerby’s courses, the following can be found in Raseborg:

  • Karjaa 18-hole: good for beginners. You can go around the track quite easily with a pushchair or pram.
  • Pohjankuru, Competition Centre: 18-hole, challenging forest course in stunning surroundings
  • Tammisaari, Skogny: 18-hole, forest course near the sea, good for beginners
  • Tammisaari, Bromarv, Görans Frisbee Centre. 18-hole, private course, but all players are welcome.
  • Tammisaari, Snappertuna: 6 holes as part of Snappertuna school. Good for beginners.

You can find more information about Västerby’s courses and many other courses in Raseborg on the website: www.visitraseborg.com.

Diverse fairways and idyllic surroundings are Västerby’s calling cards

Västerby’s courses are amongst the best in Finland. The reason is the diversity in the landscape and the charming scenery. And there’s something for everybody! After the first fairways you get to throw in a lovely park environment under the oak trees.

The third fairway under oaks.

The next fairways are on pine-covered rocks and the hilly terrain bring challenges to the thrower. Some of the course has been planned to cleverly make the use of the land under the power lines.

Fairway 12 goes under the power lines over some magnificent rock.

When descending the rock, the forest transforms from a mix of birch and pines to a mossy-floored spruce forest right to the edge of Lillträsk lake. Many have lost their frisbees in water, as one of the fairways goes over the pond. Although the water of the lake looks tempting enough to swim in, it’s not worth diving in after your frisbee. The lake bottom is soft mud, in which you can get stuck. Therefore it’s recommended that you continue your game with another frisbee.

Lillträsket.

Again it’s time to climb higher up onto the rock, which treats us with an open view. Far above the forest canopy rises Tammisaari’s new water tower.

You can see far from the open rock.

The B course fairways continue from the rocks onto the field fairways, which have been called Finland’s most beautiful. And not without reason, for the most idyllic countryside view opens out in front of the player. The fields are framed with old multi-trunked oak trees.

Västerby competitive course, fairway 14.

The A and B courses are connected by a moss-floored spruce forest, after which you are almost back at the starting point. While going around the course it’s impossible not to notice that you are surrounded by some really good berry and mushroom picking terrain.

What on earth is frisbee golf?

In recent years frisbee golf has become more known and grown in popularity. New courses are being built all over Finland. According to Virtanen, the sport’s popularity lies in the fact that it’s easy to get started, and costs next to nothing. You can buy a frisbee for about 10 Euros. Also, frisbee golf can be played by almost any age group, regardless of differences in skill level. With 18 resting points along the way, the journey doesn’t seem too long or boring for even the smallest children.

To explain simply, the aim of frisbee golf is to get the frisbee in the goal basket with as few throws as possible. After the first throw from the tee, the next throw is taken from where the frisbee stopped. When the disc ends up in the basket, the fairway is played and you move on to the next one. The winner is the one who completes the course with the least throws. If you don’t want to compete with others, you can compete with yourself and the course. Fairways and the whole course have their own par-number, which tells you the ideal result. Just the satisfaction of a good throw is rewarding.

The metal basket acts as a frisbee goal or ‘hole’.

Throwing a frisbee is all about technique and doesn’t require good fitness. However, as you go round the course, you get free exercise without even realising. Above all, frisbee golf combines the pleasure of being active outdoors with socialising with other players. Frisbee golf also lowers the threshold to head out into nature. The aspect of being active in nature is also emphasised by Virtanen. Västerby’s fairways are mostly in the woods, and natural obstacles such as trees, rocks and waterways, are an essential part of frisbee golf.

The water obstacle of Lillträsk lake has been overcome!

A frisbee is all you need to make a start, but if you want to dive deeper into the sport, there is plenty to learn and frisbee golf has its own tricks and techniques. Just as in golf a variety of racing clubs are used, frisbee golfers use different discs that have different flying properties. The sharp-edged driver is ideal for long throws and the approach frisbee or the mid-range with its more rounded edges is more accurate. Nearer the goal, a thicker disc called a putter is used.

Frisbees from left to right: putter, mid-range and driver.

Virtanen gives some tips on typical beginner’s mistakes to avoid:

‘Your first frisbee shouldn’t be a far-flying but technique-wise challenging driver. Your enthusiasm for the hobby may be cut short.

Throwing styles and holds are also varied: spinning, palm-throwing, throwing rollers under obstacles, and ups for crossing. You can ask the clubs about the prices of courses or work days out, if you want a guided game for your own group. Of course, you may also find some tips from Youtube videos, but you’ll only learn the technique by practising.’

Top left: Putter hold. Right top image: power grip (backhand). Left bottom: fan grip. Right bottom view: forehand

‘There is no wrong way’, reassures Virtanen.

‘What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.’

So, go and try frisbee golf with the whole family – even if only to spend time outdoors and enjoy the scenery of Västerby’s course!

If frisbee golf is not your thing, just come and enjoy the view!

Caption: If frisbee golf is not your thing, just come and enjoy the view!

Read more about Raseborg:

Ekenäs Archipelago national park is paradise for paddlers 

Fiskars’ mountain bike trail network is fast gaining a reputation

Dagmar’s spring park – a beautiful nature reserve by the sea

 

Translation: Becky Hastings

Paradise for the beginner mountain biker and easy riding for the more experienced: Fiskars’ mountain bike trail network is fast gaining a reputation

In partnership with Visit Raseborg

Article by Mia Sinisalo

Mountain bike trail departure point on the map
ℹ Fiskars Village Trail Center’s website
ℹ Trail map (pdf)

I remember the moment I first learned to ride a bike without stabilizers. These days when I hop onto my bike and start peddling, I still get that same sense of freedom and thrill from the movement. When part of my life moved into the woods, it was only natural that cycling would soon follow. Mountain biking entered my life two years ago.

Those two years on the back of a mountain bike have been up and downhill, in every sense. The problem has been that my skills haven’t quite reached the level of my enthusiasm for mountain biking.

The search for the perfect trail came to a happy end, when I pedalled out of Fiskars Village Trail Center, which is about an hour’s drive from Helsinki. For me the best thing about the Fiskars trails was being able to achieve a level of relaxation while riding. I’m a somewhat cautious mountain biker, who only occasionally gets an adrenaline rush from executing some slightly more daring moves, riding a few small drops or down steeper slopes. Mostly this doesn’t happen. But in Fiskars the trails were just the right amount of meandering and bumpy, rising and falling, twisting and turning, so I got to ride longer distances without having to walk my bike or kick for more speed.

Because there were so many trail options with varying levels of difficulty, I got to test myself: was I really as cautious as I imagined?

I wasn’t.

Fiskars Village Trail Center

Fiskars Village Trail Center was founded in 2016 and it instantly became a popular destination amongst seriously enthusiastic mountain bikers as well as the cautiously curious.

The trails are specifically created for mountain biking. What luxury! Usually a mountain biker has to pedal on paths trampled by walkers, meant for the hiker, or on routes intended for motor vehicles. There is such a noticeable difference when you get to try trails designed for mountain bikers by mountain bikers.

The Trail Center’s bike rental centre can be found in Fiskars village’s workshop square, but the actual trails are, of course, in the forest surrounding the village. Fiskars Trail Center also organises different events from mountain biking expos to courses.

If you don’t own a bike, you can easily rent one via the centre’s website. Booking in advance is highly recommended, rather than just turning up randomly. And do make sure that you check the rental centre’s opening hours beforehand.

By renting from the centre, you get to test how it feels to ride a decent mountain bike. All bikes are quality mountain bikes by Canyon, which allow even beginners to get a good feel for the sport. There are also a couple of children’s mountain bikes at the centre.

Day 1: Flacksjön and Långbrobergen trails

The Fiskars trails have been designed with mountain bikers’ varying levels of ability in mind. Each trail’s level of difficulty is colour-coded:

green – easy
blue – moderate
red – difficult
black – extremely difficult

First I decided to test a combination of the the trails that run on the north east of the village: Flacksjön (8 km) and Långbrobergenin (5 km), which were classed as ‘moderate’. These were the newest routes from the Fiskars Trail Center’s selection.

‘When designing the routes and building them, we were specifically thinking about beginners and sunday riders, who just ride now and then’, says Marko Halttunen, from the Flowriders Association which runs the Fiskars Trail Center.

The route from the trail centre to the forest and onto the trails themselves is well marked. I’m an expert at getting lost, but managed to stay on track most of the time. There were only a couple of points where I needed to stop and check my location on my phone, worried that I’d missed a sign.

The trail had some easy sections, almost completely without roots or rocks, which I cycled along quickly and easily. The beginning section of the trail encouraged me to trust my own cycling skills, but there were times when I had to concentrate hard, especially when the trail narrowed and went down to Stensjö lake. Although I surpassed myself on a few stony and rocky bits, I left out the biggest drops and carried my bike through some short but steep parts. I managed to get into a good riding flow, which was only interrupted by the squawk of a deer, when a mother and her fawn leapt out of the way on the rocks.

The mountain bike season is at its busiest in Fiskars in the autumn and spring. I arrived during the summer heat, and had a refreshing wading session on Flasksjön’s beach. If I’d had a swimsuit with me, I’d have definitely gone swimming. Although riding in the forest you don’t get too hot, because the trees provide shade from the sun and the breeze from riding also cools you down. I also had plenty of water with me.

I don’t know if I covered all corners of the trail, but the part in the forest and getting to and from the trails took a total of 1,5 hrs. That was a perfect circuit length for that evening.

Day 2: Elevation changes, views and easy pedalling on a dirt road

On the second day of riding, I wished that I had company: I would have liked to have ridden with friends or on a guided group tour, because I feel that mountain biking is actually best in a group. When someone is cycling in front of you confidently and you know you musn’t slow down the person behind, you ride faster that you would by yourself, when you’re thinking about every stone and root.

Fiskars Trail Center’s trails on the east side work well for bigger groups, even if the group contains a mixture of beginners and experienced enduro cyclists. Everyone can cycle the routes from one trail to another together, and after that each one can find their own suitable trails with the help of a trail map, signs and painted arrows.

Elevation differences are typical of eastern mountain bike routes. If you want to sweat a bit and raise your pulse, then this is the place for you! There is some occasional relief from the up and down slopes on stretches in the woods and on dirt roads, giving you a chance to catch your breath or rest your burning thighs. There are also two easier, green routes on this side.

On Fiskars’ trails I realised that my enjoyment of mountain biking also depends on the trails, not just on me.

Finishing off a day of riding with good food and drink

Fiskars Trail Center’s inspiration is from abroad. Flowriders’ Marko Halttunen has been on many bike trips in different countries, and he wanted to bring the same atmosphere to Fiskars: the chance to ride on great trails in good company, and then relax at the end of the cycling day with good conversation, food and drink.

In Fiskars this works out perfectly. In addition to restaurants that choose to serve local food, Fiskars has its own brewing company, cider made from local apples and a distillery.

Throughout the year there are different local food festivals, including the Slow Food festival which is organised at the end of the summer, bringing together Western Uusimaa’s fishermen, bakeries, meat producers, garden farmers, organic farms and food artisans. Local food and mountain biking are a good combination, when you’ve ridden through the forest to the point of exhaustion and ravenous hunger.

Fiskars village is known for its handicrafts, design and art. After a day of cycling, you can slip straight into the holiday vibe, strolling along the shores of Fiskars river, with its bridges, and popping into handicraft boutiques and art exhibitions.

And don’t forget that Fiskars has plenty of other options for outdoor recreation. The village lies in the middle of the lush forest and countryside scenery of south coast Finland. Large oaks reach over paths, and cows graze on the grassy shores of the lake. For lovers of the outdoors, this means that in addition to mountain biking, you can go trail running, paddling and hiking.

Trail running is also permitted on the Fiskars Trail Center’s blue and green routes. If you run out of time to do all of the activities that you want, you can even spend the night at Fiskars. I returned already a week later to test more trails!

 

Translation: Becky Hastings

Finland receives a unique gift for its 100th birthday: a beautiful nature reserve by the sea

Finland’s mysterious and pure nature is an enchanting experience. Fresh air, thousands of blue lakes and endless forests attract both foreigners and Finns themselves.

This year an independent Finland turns 100 years old. What to give for a birthday present to this amazing country that seems to have already everything?

The great Finnish company Fiskars, known for its design, gives Finland and all Finnish nature lovers a unique gift: a nature reserve about an hour’s drive from the capital Helsinki.

It is a scenic Dagmar’s spring park in the scenic seaside cove in Southern Finland, municipality of Raasepori. Around the spring, there are beautiful sandy and rocky shores of the Baltic Sea and a fairytale-like old Finnish forest with charming paths. Water in the spring itself is said to be the best water in the world.

The park of the Dagmar’s spring is so special that even Russian Emperor Maria Fjodorovna is told to have visited there. Fjodorovna was originally born as Danish princess Dagmar.

You may know Fiskars from the orange scissors known by the whole world. Fiskars manufactures many other home, garden and kitchen tools. In 2016-2017, Fiskars employees have restored the Dagmar’s spring area so that the beach offers the most amazing natural experience for both boaters and walkers, near and far. The gift is exactly what Finland is at the best: natural beauty, cleanliness and peace.

Fiskars hands over the Dagmar’s park for Finland and for finnish people for the next 100 years with a annual rent of EUR 1. The donation to Metsähallitus will take place on Wednesday 30 August 2017.

By this unique donation, the Dagmar’s spring and its surrounding area become a formal nature reserve. The area is important both for history and for its culture and nature. Now the area lasts for the future generations as well.

Cycling in Porvoo’s National Urban Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk in Kokkola’s legendary old town, Neristan

It’s Christmas time and I have returned to my old home town for family gathering. It’s the 23rd of December and the temperature is just below zero.

Rauma’s old town is known for it’s status as Unesco World heritage site. But Kokkola’s old town, Neristan, is just as stunning, an old wooden neighborhood with lots of romantic mood.

Old city hall and Christmas tree

Almost perfect square shaped city blocks, old style streets lights and beautiful wooden buildings take you back to 19th century. If you get lucky you don’t even see any cars parked on the streets!

Old wooden buildings with Christmas lights

The oldest wooden buildings are from the 17th century. Kokkola has two main languages. One is Finnish and the other Swedish. You can see the Swedish architecture’s influence in some of the buildings. Neristan is also Swedish and means downtown.

Restaurant in Neristan

Near water there is a small building with big windows and strange boat inside. It’s memorial for the skirmish of Halkokari: year 1854, when British navy raided Finland’s coast during Crimean war, they tried to burn down the harbour of Kokkola. This boat is the only known vessel that has ever been obtained as a spoil of war from the British navy.

Memorial of the skirmish of Halkokari

An evening stroll in Porvoo’s national urban park

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Porvoo is the old town with is it’s pretty wooden and stone houses. However, a stone’s throw away from the narrow cobblestone streets, you can take a relaxing evening walk surrounded by nature. Looking at the city’s outdoor map, I noticed that I would end up under a kilometre away from Porvoo’s bus station, which is still very close to downtown.

Those who wish to break a sweat can opt for the longer route (it extends from Old Porvoo 10km South and 8km East), but I was more interested in exploring what the immediate landscapes had to offer.

I could have been lazy and chosen the even path from Porvoo’s riverside towards the south, from either side of the river. But I’ve always been drawn to looking at views from higher up,  so I walked over the bridge on the west bank and soon found an inviting path up to Näsi Hill.  It was still brimming with nature’s edible offerings, so I popped blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries in my mouth from the side of the path. Long live berry season and Everyman’s Rights.

From under the pine trees opened out a beautiful view of the evening sun illuminating Old Porvoo with its cathedral and the riverside houses reflected in the stilly calm Porvoo river. I wondered, what this landscape looks like in autumn, when the green of the trees has given way to yellow and other autumnal colours…

I walked from the slopes of Näsi hill onto the next path heading south and stopped every now and then to peer through the trees down to Porvoo river. Soon red warehouse buildings flashed between the pine branches. It was from this slope that Albert Edelfelt composed and drafted his painting, ‘View from Porvoo’s Näsi Hill’, the draft of which can be found at the Ateneum. The final painting lives at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

A little way along from the vantage point that was marked on the map, I could see almost all of Porvoo’s new city centre. I have to admit, it doesn’t quite have the same appeal as Old Porvoo’s vista. And so I turned back, towards the top of Näsi hill, where Näsi’s rock was waiting for me. There was something celebratory about this boulder hurled here by the ice age, especially while the sun’s rays hit it so gloriously. From behind this impressive rock, the buildings of Näsi manor’s courtyard revealed themselves.

My attention was next drawn to a beautiful yellow building, whose semicircular terrace would have had me stopping for evening tea, if there was such a thing on offer. Unfortunately there wasn’t, so Honkala (Furunäs) was quiet this evening. But it would have been nice to sit down and enjoy the view of the urban park…. The scenic restaurant’s history dates back to the beginning of the 1900s, when it was known by the name of Turisthyddan.

So then what? Just a few hundred metres away was a cemetery, where you could find, for example, Johan Ludvig Runeberg and his wife Fredrika’s grave, but I wanted to enjoy the evening sun’s final rays nearer the river. So down I went.

The forest trail descended behind Honkala from Näsi hill down to the side of Old Helsinki Road. Cars rarely passed on the road anymore and the tourist coaches had already left  the parking lot, which was by the bridge.

As I walked to the bridge, I stumbled across some living history. A few men and women were dressed in clothes from the 1800s. The travellers in their handsome clothes were not just on an ordinary evening walk, they were returning from a general rehearsal of a play about the 1809 Porvoo state elections.

On my return to the Old Porvoo side, immediately after the bridge, I turned into the street on the left heading towards Porvoo’s riverside. The silence of the river was arresting. Not one boat was on the move and there weren’t even any birds swimming around. Where were the kayakers, on such a perfect evening  for floating slowly down the river?

A few tourists sat along the riverbank and some locals crossed my path on their evening walk, with dogs and without. Behind the untamed reedbeds glimmered the national landscape, which included the manicured riverbank lawn with it’s flowerbeds, as well as Näsi hill from where I had just come.

On the other side of Porvoo river, I could make out the wooden railway station. Groomed park avenues with their silver willows are part of the more ‘park’- like  elements of the National Urban Park, and I could have continued my journey on this route beyond the river, but from here you can’t see Maari’s wetlands so well. Besides, a neat park avenue feels a little too tame for me, so I decided to deviate towards a slightly wilder looking path.

And so I ended up in the midst of a hefty army of stinging nettles on either side of the path… I honestly didn’t even notice at first,  as I was so entranced by the light in front, filling my vision with gold. These spinach substitutes shouldn’t, however, be ignored. They are, after all, excellent wild herbs that can be used in all kinds of dishes. So I hadn’t just come to Maari’s wetlands, but also a wild herb garden!

The path led me to a narrow, grey arched bridge, which took me closer to Linnamäki (Castle hill). The landscape in Maari’s bay has changed considerably over the centuries. In the 1100s, the bay was part of Porvoo river and served as a natural harbour. You wouldn’t necessarily guess that now, as the bay is fast becoming overgrown, a result of the land rising and also of nutrients and silt accumulating in in the river.

It’s hard to imagine what this looked like when Porvoo city was still young and had a tiny population. In the middle ages, you may also have come across a foreigner shopping in these parts. They could have been, for example, from Estonia. Smaller vessels were able to travel right up to here via Porvoo river, but larger sailing vessels had to be left further away from the river’s mouth.

The velvety surface of chocolate brown cattails were tempting to touch and you could smell the meadowsweet aroma in the warm humidity of the evening. A number of different wildflowers dotted the side of the path, as I continued forward, enraptured again by the view that opened out onto the cathedral. I wish I had a plant expert with me who could identify some of the rarer species amongst all this greenness.

I didn’t take the most direct route up to Linnamäki, but decided to take a small detour around to the left. The meadowsweet meadow was vast. Behind the pole fence I noticed a drinking trough. Could there be some landscaping sheep behind the fence? If there were, they had hidden themselves successfully somewhere amongst the meadowsweet and were lazily neglecting their summer work, for the meadow looked so untrodden.

While looking at the pole fence and  this kind of landscape, time somehow stood still. Such a sweet summer evening, fragrances floating in the air, dusk approaching: just as if I was in the countryside. You wouldn’t believe that here we were only about a kilometre from the centre of Porvoo.

However, I still had one climb left to do, and that was Linnamäki. The trees seemed to grow so densely, that I wasn’t sure would if there be much of a view, but hopefully something worth seeing anyway, A St John’s Cross (a looped square symbol) on the side of the path signalled something promising, that I was reaching a historical place.

Linnamäki (Castle Hill) has been part of forming Porvoo’s name. The city’s Swedish name, ‘Borgå’, means castle river. Now there wouldn’t be a castle river without a castle, which, in the middle ages, would have been right on top of this hill. Porvoo was so important by then that it was the third town to receive city status along with city rights in Finland in 1380, after Turku and Ulvila.

After the trail I still had to climb some steps and cross the moat, but I was already in what would have been the castle area in ancient times. You can sit on the narrow wooden bench here  to think deep thoughts, catch your breath or imagine what this all used to look like.

Views from the top of Linnamäki are limited; You can get a better view slightly lower down, on the slope facing downtown. Once upon a time the trees had been sparse enough for Albert Edelfelt to paint his work ‘From Linnamäki’, which, depicted Porvoo as seen from this point. The work is on show at Haiko Manor in the yellow lounge.

On Linnamäki it’s difficult to let your imagination run wild and immerse yourself in some kind of a castle romance, as there isn’t even a trace of the wooden log structures that once stood here in the middle ages. I walked around the location of the castle and wondered what had been in that pit. How high had the log castle been, what kind of equipment did it have, how many people lived there… History says, that there had already been a building here in Viking times (800-900s), but an official castle was built at a later date for defence. Reportedly the log castle itself was only in use for a few decades.

Before I left, I stopped and looked at the view again. This hill was smiling! The shallow pit formed its own kind of dimple. It was as if it too was enjoying the evening.

The most exciting thing on Linnamäki was this funny moat, which you could cross from both sides along a wooden bridge. I wonder if at the time a drawbridge or two went over it. Linnamäki is currently in such a wildly natural state, that it feels like only a matter of time until bushes and trees will sprout from the moat, foresting the landscape completely. In Linnamäki’s surroundings, around the smaller hill Pikkulinnamäki, a burial ground dating back to the Roman iron age had been found, as well as bronze jewellery. Linnamäki and its ancient monuments form a fine part of the National Urban Park.

Feeling content, I returned to the cathedral and back to Old Porvoo. My small outing around the park had been an atmospheric and leisurely end to the evening.

Porvoo’s National Urban Park: Maps and route advice

Map (Näsi’s rock)   ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6696091  E 425865

Map (Linnamäki) ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6696682  E 425741

The writer stayed at  Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast courtesy of VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.

Sikosaari’s birdwatching tower and nature trail in Porvoo

Sikosaari (Pig Island) is situated in Porvoo river’s estuary, just over two kilometres from the centre of Porvoo. In the past, it has served urban dwellers as forestry land and pasture. The island is a part of Porvoo’s National Urban Park, which comprises a variety of significant historical areas and natural sites. The 1.5 kilometre nature path and a birdwatching tower can be found in the northeastern part of the island. Sikosaari’s name (Pig Island) isn’t as poetic as, say, Sulosaari (Grace Island), but don’t let that bother you. You won’t meet any pigs there either.

I did a cycling trip using the Jopo bike that Visit Porvoo provided. The beautiful winding route alongside Porvoo river takes you to the island on an easy, even path, and as you get closer to the island, the wetlands appear to continue as far as the eye can see. In the middle of the reeds there are only a few, narrow channels, along which you can travel by boat or canoe. The reedbeds would soon become overgrown if selected waterways were not kept open by humans.

I parked my bike for a moment, but only managed to spot a couple of flapping ducks having their evening swim. So much for birdwatching on this trip…

The raised road leading to the island delivered me to my destination effortlessly. But soon I had to brake, as the sign for the birdwatching tower indicated right. I parked my bike on the side of the road and started walking on the even path that crossed the coastal grove. Meadowsweet flowers wafted their scent in the air, raspberries jumped into my mouth with a little assistance, and there were only a moderate number of mosquitoes.

Sikosaari birdwatching tower is one of the highest in Porvoo, so I knew I would be able to see far. A few cables had been secured to the corners of the tower, probably to secure it in strong winds. I looked down to the duckboards leading to the tower and noticed a watery patch. Had I crossed on that partially submerged plank, my trainers would have gotten soaked.

As birdwatching towers tend to be by water, it would be sensible to take rubber boots in wetter weather. I hadn’t really thought about this, as it had been sunny and dry for many days. I removed my shoes on the rock and carried them with me as I took on a refreshing footbath on the way to the tower. Besides being cold, the water didn’t really feel like anything.

I climbed to the third level barefoot. From the birdwatching tower you can see clearly towards the centre of Porvoo, with Ruskis bird tower on the opposite shore, and Ekudden’s birdwatching tower near it, towards Stensböle. There is plenty of room here for birds to nest, as the movement of humans is limited in such dense reedbeds.

I wonder what this looked like 400-500 years ago? The reedbed was probably much smaller and the gulf’s waterways wider for boats, considering the land has also risen out of the sea since then.

Sikosaari belonged to the City of Porvoo as far back as the year 1602. In 1550, at the same time as Helsinki was founded, our then ruler, the Swedish King Gustav Vasa discontinued Porvoo’s city status. It had been founded in 1380 and was at that time Finland’s third oldest city. However in 1602, Porvoo got its city rights back from King Charles IX who, in the same year, donated land from Sikosaari to the city to complement an earlier donation from 1546.

After the tour of the birdwatching tower I hopped onto my bike and cycled a little further on the path. Sikosaari’s nature trail appeared only a couple of hundred metres along, so I parked my bike again. The wooden signposts for the trail have deteriorated over time, but the trail’s information board was in perfect condition with not so much as a smear.

On the departure point’s info board you can study Sikosaari’s history and familiarise yourself the nature trail in advance, with the help of the more detailed route map. The island’s forests have suffered extensive logging, but the situation was calmed by defining a protection zone around the coast. According to the info board the current woodland has been able to grow in peace for around 80 years. The nature trail’s history goes back to 1985 and from it you can explore forest as well as coastal ecology.

So into the woods! I was welcomed into the coniferous forest with the whine of a few mosquitoes, but they didn’t bother me as long as I kept moving… only when I came to a standstill. Alongside the nature trail, I spotted excellent looking mushroom and berry picking areas. There were plentiful wild blueberries on these clumps. However I didn’t investigate mushrooms any further. A mushroom trip is its own thing, which you need to be prepared for not only with a mushroom knife, but with more time.

Around the nature trail there were plenty of rocks in the shade of the fir trees. The grey granite gradually started to disappear under a green blanket. All kinds of different mosses grow on rocks along with who knows what else. Some delicate plants or even a tree could use a mossy boulder as a growing bed. On one rock, ferns grew out of its head like a coquettish hat decoration.

Another rock had a very rough, pockmarked surface. Even the colour of the stone was not just grey, but reddish hues could also be seen. This kind of rapakivi granite has been extracted since the beginning of the 1900s when Sikosaari was a quarry site, providing building materials for the urban dweller and his streets.

Sikosaari has been an abundant resource for many kinds of activities. The island’s clay was used in brick-construction, forests provided fuel and construction wood (until it was necessary to restrict logging), a pilot station was set up in 1802 and the island’s western part has served as a dock since the 1850s.

I walked forward on the path, full of the most awesome colourful moss carpet and arrived at some smooth rocks. Because the island doesn’t have a fire place or other picnic spots with benches and a table, this dry rock was a good place to enjoy a snack.

Close to the rocky ridge I noticed a small but somewhat whimsical ‘cave’. It was made from big slabs quarried from the erratic boulder, forming a cavity easily accessed by humans. Could I be bothered to crawl in there? I couldn’t resist the temptation, so in I wriggled… In such a heavy duty shelter provided by nature you could at least protect yourself from a rain shower (I can’t guarantee that water wouldn’t flow in from the larger rock above) or otherwise, take a nap! For kids this is a brilliant hiding place.

The nature trail soon curved away from coastal waters. The beach was already shimmering behind the spruces. If in some parts the path is easy to walk, you might want to be careful in the stony parts. Tree roots can also surprise you as they snake across the path.

At the beginning of the trail, I expected a kilometre and a half to take around an hour.  But it’s worth noting that a nature trail is not a place to rush. There are separate jogging paths for that. A slower pace can give you more time to enjoy nature, in which case the path’s stones help you to focus on the moment.

Descending the trail I thought of stories and tales, for the rocks around me were so extraordinarily beautiful. Daylight turning into evening light didn’t bother me at all, just brought its own sweet atmosphere.

Soon there were even larger erratic boulders dotting the mossbed in front of me. I took my seatpad from my backpack and sat down with my back against a rock wall. Some considerable rocky relics have been left here since the ice age, most likely not pushed here by giants, as was once believed. At the same time I remembered one trip to Jyväskylä’s Muurasalo, where I found even bigger but similar rocks in amongst Lake Päijänne’s coastal landscape. Similar greetings from the ice age can be found all around Finland.

The path guided me next to the shore’s edge, where a promising sign was waiting: Bird Rock/Fågelsten. I wondered first if it was a birdshaped rock. Then I walked around the coastal Rowan trees and in front of me was a stone boulder that you could climb up via little wooden steps. The handrail made for the rock was in poor condition, but it didn’t matter, the rock wasn’t too high.

From bird rock you see Stensböle’s bay better than if you were standing on the ground, even though the terrain is flat. Abundant tall reeds dominate the landscape. So much so that the reed sea looks like it intends to slowly swallow the actual gulf. Near bird rock an information board can be found, revealing the life of reeds. It also helps with bird identification, if you happen to see any feathered friends in the landscape. Binoculars are always good to have with you on a trip around here, as with your bare eyes there is no way you’d be able to make out the differences in the birds and their feathery details.

A small section of the route was marked out on top of the water by duckboards. Duckboards through the reedbeds was a nice idea, but time had taken its toll on the poor planks. These structures from 2007 had been rendered useless in parts. From the direction of bird rock, you could only take a few steps on the boards before you came across ones so skewed that you could only attempt to tackle them the same way as you would parkour. I don’t recommend it.

I returned to dry land and followed the planks along the coast towards the south for a while. There the structures were intact enough, that I could walk a small part of the way through the reedbeds with dry feet. Duckboards are always subject to wet conditions as well as the people that walk upon them. In this case it seemed that ice caused the worst damage. In the meantime, it’s safer to do this part of the trip along the coast, until the duckboards are fixed.

After the duckboard section, the nature trail turned back towards the island interior and towards Sikosaari road. I walked on the path softened by spruce needles towards the evening sun, and enjoyed the silence of the summer evening, making out a few more large rocks from the slopes. I came upon a fork in the path, where there was no sign, so I ended up guessing which path to take. I followed my instinct and the right path turned out to the the right choice. Soon the path joined up with Sikosaari road and I walked towards the P sign following the dirt road on the right back to the trail’s departure point and towards my bike.

Along paths and small roads you can wander along a wider area of Sikosaari than just the nature trail. Since the island isn’t fully for recreational use, there are also a couple of farms, as well as private and holiday homes, you should keep your distance and leave the private areas in peace. The island’s southern part, the old forest south of the farmland, is a protected as a nature conservation area.

Sikosaari is a laid-back and easy to reach location for a day trip, especially suitable for families. There is no fire pit, but if you want to have a picnic on the island, it’s worth taking a thermos bottle, cold snacks and sitting pads.

Location: Sikosaari is located south of Porvoo’s town centre and from there the journey is just under 3km, so it’s easy and also recommended to take a trip by bike or on foot. The birdwatching tower and the nature trail start from Sikosaari road and there are signs on the side of the road. At the birdwatching tower is a modest opening, in which a couple of cars can fit. The nature trail departure point similarly has limited space for cars. The island has no bus connection.

Map – Sikosaari birdwatching tower ETRS-TM35FIN -tasokoordinaatit N 6693482  E 427396

Map – Sikosaari’s Nature Trail departure point ETRS-TM35FIN -tasokoordinaatit N 6693510  E 426960

Nature attractions a stone’s throw from Porvoo’s city centre (Map and guide)

The author’s accommodation Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast – bed and breakfast was provided by Porvoo’s travel office /VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.

Ekkudden’s Enchanting Nature Trail, Porvoo

On Ekkudden’s nature trail you will encounter enchanting oak trees, linden tree landscapes, whispering spruce trees and a bird’s eye view of rustling reedbeds. The trail starts approximately 3 kilometres south of Porvoo’s town centre and is about one and half kilometres long. Although this distance sounds short, allow plenty of time for a trip down the path, as I ended up stopping constantly!

On reaching the field you come across the first information board. You can start your walk by reading about the Stensböle nature conservation area and the history of Stensböle farm in English, Swedish or Finnish. The area is currently owned by Swedish Literature Society. From here, a path that winds alongside a ditch, leads into the forest.

The Stensböle area, which belongs to the Natura 2000 Europe-wide nature conservation network, is around 1131 hectares, of which about half is water and reed beds. One thing in particular stands out from the story of Stensböle farm, and that is potato farming. Wentzel Frederik Rotkirch, who became familiar with the potato crop during the Pomeranian War (1757-62), started potato cultivation on the Stensböle farms (the potato, at the time, was unknown in Finland) and boiled potatoes became part of the festive table. Rotkirch distributed seed potatoes free of charge to locals and, for a while, sold potatoes locally. Eventually potato farming became more commonplace and Stensböle returned to cultivating them for personal use only.

I started to walk the nature trail counter-clockwise, turning right at the information board. The area is classified as a nationally important deciduous grove conservation area, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Everyday potatoes and worries are forgotten instantly as I look around me at the grove that oaks and linden trees have claimed as their own. Many broadleaf trees poked their branches out pretty high and the grove had a delightfully large number of trees of different ages, not just oaks and lindens, but also maples. Lilies of the valley have scattered themselves over a wide area here, so in spring there are plenty of white flowers.

A dark brown bird that I didn’t recognise rocked on the branch of a linden tree and then fluttered off on its way. I couldn’t keep myself on the path any longer and got momentarily sidetracked peering into the depths of hollow of a tree, among other things.

At the start of the path there had been warnings of decaying trees. And it was true, that some of the older, larger individuals looked like they wouldn’t remain upright forever. One had fallen, somewhat stylishly, over the path, creating a gateway. I admired how nice it looked… Of course, it did also occur to me that this leaning tree should be kept an eye on, particularly if walking the nature trail during a storm. A moment of bad fortune could have the wind send the tree crashing down onto the path.  

The grove is almost certainly going to be stunning with fresh green hues in spring, like it was now in the early evening. It was quite magnificent. Maybe even more impressive than in the middle of the day. There is plenty here for botanists to identify and with a some luck, butterfly watchers can catch a glimpse of a couple of more uncommon moths in the linden grove.

While walking the nature trail you shouldn’t just keep your attention on your feet and what’s in front of or to the side of you. Sometimes it’s worth stopping and looking back, as you might notice something completely different about the landscape. And look up! A joyous green network of twigs above your head against a blue and white sky can be a wonderful sight to behold.

I stepped out of the bright green of the grove and onto the beach, where a stylishly greying snag ruffled its branches. Vast reed beds imprinted the landscape and got me wondering if they might attempt to choke the coast and how long that would take. I sat down for a moment and let the sun warm me.

As I looked in the direction or central Porvoo, I could mainly see a green horizon with the exception of a few towers. To the south, Stensböle’s unbuilt shoreline continued, and on the opposite shore was Sikosaari (Pig Island), where there is also a nature path and a birdwatching tower. It’s amazing how close to the centre all of this is. The sound of cars doesn’t carry into these landscapes, and I haven’t even seen a single boat weaving through the midst of the reeds.

I got up and started walking towards the south on the nature path, weaving pleasantly between the trees, where I came across stonecrops, Scented Solomon’s Seal and harebells, to name but a few, on a rock under the watchful eyes of a couple of dead standing pines. The grove started to gradually get left behind and the terrain became coniferous, the territory of old spruce and pine trees. Soon after that was an obstacle: a spruce had fallen across the path. Hidden behind it was an information board about the black woodpecker. I walked around the dead spruce from the left.

The path came close to the border of the seashore, after following the moss-covered remains of a stone wall. From this we could conclude that these lands have been coastal meadows or pastures, but how long ago? In the spruce forest I came across the only other travellers on the path, a couple taking their evening walk.

The whole time, while keeping one eye on the rolling path, every now and then my nose picked up on something fresh and delicious to pop in my mouth, which is normal during berry season. At the same time I extended my neck to peer at mushrooms while passing by, even though I had no intention of picking them and taking them with me. This time it just wouldn’t have been possible for me to take my harvest all the way home. And then, just before the birdwatching tower, it found me!

A sturdy-stemmed cep basked in the sun and whispered ‘Take me! Eat me!’ Since the couple I had come across earlier had managed to get much further ahead, I couldn’t call out to them to take this cep away from a wormy fate. Mushrooms can’t really be reserved and collected on request, so I just hoped that the next walker would notice and pick it before it was too late. Or even that a squirrel would have the sense to go get it and stash it for winter.

After bidding farewell to the cep I was already at the Ekudden birdwatching tower, which was in great condition. I climbed up to look at the view and had to protect my eyes from the dazzling sun. Thankfully, I did have sunglasses with me. In the forest they’re not needed but in sunny spots protective shades might be necessary.

From the edge of the forest, the rustling reed beds opened out as far as the eye can see, even though the tower isn’t massively high. The wetlands are unbelievably extensive. When looking around from here, the first words that come to mind are not ‘city’ and ‘park’, but Stensböle is also a part of Porvoo’s National City Park, which includes diverse urban nature as well as built urban areas.

From Ekudden’s birdwatching tower, you can make out two other birdwatching towers with your bare eyes. On the opposite shore stands Sikosaari’s birdwatching tower and to the north, on the same shore as Ekudden, is Ruskis tower. From the towers one can conveniently observe many different types of winged beings outside of migration and nesting times.

Ruskis tower is close enough to the road for visitors other than nature lovers – this is evident from the marker pen scrawls on the tower walls. Ekudden’s tower has been spared from vandalism due to its sheltered location.

From the birdwatching tower the nature trail curved slightly inland. I hadn’t inspected the nature trail map closely in advance, so the sign ‘Big Oak’ came as a pleasant surprise. This oak doesn’t have a reverential clearing surrounding it (as with Paavola’s oak in Lohja) nor has it been allowed to grow into such a voluminous shape, but nevertheless, this too is a fine oak! Having seen some life, this oak had something satisfyingly mystical about it. Maybe the seductive early evening light sent my imagination flying into the world of tales and stories as I looked at the tree.

It would be nice to know what age this big oak is estimated to be. The tree has clearly been revered for a long time, as it has been preserved. Other oaks this large have not been found in this area.

After the big oak, a few largish rocks stood out from the surroundings – or large at least by Ekkudden’s standards – but otherwise it started to feel like the trail’s main highlights had been experienced. All that was remaining was a short, peaceful stroll. Should I still pick a couple of sprigs of wood sorrel from the side of the path?

Up to this point, many mini experiences had been packed into around a kilometre and a half. Along the Ekudden trail, in a relatively small area, Stensböle has a diverse range of different forest types, rocky coastal landscapes, opportunities for birdwatching, mushroom picking and berry picking as well as the option of taking a slower pace, allowing for more observation. The path was on even ground with virtually no changes in elevation, making it easy to walk. Occasionally you might need to watch carefully where you step as tree roots, for example, can always take you by surprise on a forest path.

When the path reached the side of the field, I was already near my earlier place of departure. The adjacent field had been a watery bay in the 1500s, which quite clearly shows the impact of the land rising. In the spruce forest, which had sparse undergrowth, trees that had fallen across the path had been sawn, but in the nature conservation area, wood had been allowed to rot in peace. The narrow duckboards also showed signs of decay… The ground wasn’t as wet here as in the swamp, but  overall, duckboards are useful even in these kinds of places to protect feet from getting wet. In dry weather you can walk alongside the planks.

Ekudden’s nature trail had something magical about it; the first part of the journey in the deciduous grove enchanted me completely.  More accustomed to walking in mixed forests, I especially enjoyed the green magic of the oaks and lindens, that gained more intensity from the evening sun. And what if I was in Ekudden on a misty spring morning or at the beginning of summer? I wasn’t surprised by the fact that when I got back it was around 7.30 in the evening. Looking around the carpark at that time, I saw one person leave to start their atmospheric evening walk along the nature trail.

Location/Directions: About 3 km south of Porvoo Bus Station, on Porvoo river’s eastern side, a reasonable cycling or walking distance from the centre of town. Ekudden’s nature trail starts next to the Tarkkinen playing field. The sandy field with its car park is at the address: Tarkkistentie 153 (Porvoo). You know you’ve come to the right place when you see a funny bear statue on the side of the playing field. The nature path map can be found on the playing field changing hut wall. The easiest way to the path is from next to the changing hut and from there to the playing field’s back left corner (looking at the car park), although the birdwatching tower signs point to the left of the changing hut, towards the field.

Please note. Mountain biking and driving of motorised vehicles as well as open fire are forbidden.

Map. ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinate system N 6693218  E 428788

The author’s accommodation Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast – bed and breakfast was provided by Porvoo’s travel office /VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.