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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.