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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

Spending Time With Autumn

September was amazing and October has thus far been greatly rewarding. Autumn has kicked in, and in my opinion cannot overstay its welcome. Last month I managed to see the northern lights for the first time ever, right here in Joensuu and right above the city. The sunsets have been dramatic and the stars bright. Also, the fog has crept in and turned the routinely visible into the unknown. It’s official, this time of the year is now my favourite.

Here are some moments that I’ve been happy to capture:

Above: Waves crash against some rocks on the shore of Lake Pyhäselkä, Joensuu. The cloudy weather can often bring powerful, dramatic skies to a sunset.

Above: This is a place that I just can’t get enough of. This little island sits just off the shore from Kuhasalo in Joensuu. It’s perfect for if you’re looking to take a good picture. On this particular day the clouds were dramatic, the sun bursted through them and illuminated the island. I also found the green colour on the rocks to be a great foreground interest.

Above: My very first time experiencing the aurora. I went out looking for it, but it was only on my way home that I was treated to a show that I won’t forget. This is not the most amazing photo of the northern lights, but the moment will stay with me forever. The photo was taken in Joensuu, with the church near the centre of the image.

Above: On certain clear nights, the milky way is out to light up the night sky, possibly giving you that feeling of insignificance but simultaneously making you feel immensely grateful to be part of it all.

Above: Onkilampi is a great little lake/pond in Kontiolahti. Every time I go there, this old jetty seems to draw me in. It has a lot of character and appears to have spent its time with many visitors before. This photo was taken on a windy day at sunset.

Above: Another sunset shot on the shores on a lake in Joensuu, Finland.

Above: My second time with the northern lights. I was absolutely amazed at the show I was given. This photo was taken in Kontiolahti.

Above: Autumn has brought with it many different colours. The orange, yellow and red flora starts pop-out and introduce itself in a very bold manner, creating some interesting scenes to take in. Kukkosensaari offers much forest to explore.

Above: Birches lined up in the fog.

Above: A tree in the fog. Finland has been giving me some amazingly foggy scenes to appreciate.

So there you have it. Autumn has so far been fantastic here in Finland. With such a variety of things to see, it makes me wish that winter could somehow delay itself for a little while longer (and I think winter is awesome too). Every day seems full of things to appreciate and photographic opportunities to take. So see you out in the forest and remember to take your camera with you when you go! The Finnish nature is waiting for you 🙂

Jasontiilikainen.com

Jason Tiilikainen on Instagram

This is what I saw as I walked 500 meters into a dark, silent, frozen forest

I live in a small village in the middle of Lapland. In fact, most people who live in Lapland live in small villages. That’s because there are almost no proper cities here at all, above the arctic circle.

And because there are no cities, there is no articifial light, but lots and lots of darkness in winter. But during this darkness, the sky can sometimes set on green and purple fire.

Last night I left home around 7 p.m. and walked into the forest next to our house. I had no headlamp or flashlight with me, as I knew that after a few minutes my eyes would get used to the darkness. There is a bit of snow on the ground, which helps to see the path. Also, the Moon started rising.

After having walked only about a 100 meters, I saw the first flames in the sky.

I sat down and looked at the auroras dancing above me.

In the dark forest full of pure silence, I could hear some soft and distant rustling. At first I thought it was the aurora making that noise, as they are known to make some weird sounds sometimes. But then, as I sat there thinking about it, I realized that what I actually heard was the nearby lake freezing. The temperature was well below zero.

I stood up and headed forward. I wanted to see the nearest swamp. And boy, was it beautiful.

I sat down again, this time next to a small pine on the edge of the forest. I didn’t want to walk on the swamp, as it might not be fully frozen yet. It was safer to stay on dry ground. I was wearing enough clothes so I didn’t feel cold at all, even though I was sitting in snow.

I could still hear the sound of the freezing lake. Then I heard a little snap behind me. I still don’t know what it was, but probably it was just a freezing tree. Trees can make popping sounds when it gets really cold. It’s such an interesting experience to walk into a dark forest in winter: you can even hear the trees.

I texted my husband that everything was ok and that I was be heading home now.

In a Finnish forest there’s really not much to be afraid of. Reindeer and moose are not dangerous, and wolves, wolverines and bears do not come anywhere near you. Most finns know this and that is why we love to spend time in forests, enjoying silence, pure air and sometimes also auroras.

The healing power of forests

Those suffering from noise and stress can find an escape in forests. It is proven that sylvan nature reduces stress and blood pressure. Finland offers an excellent opportunity for a change in lifestyle, and its path leads to the forest.

Only five per cent of Finland’s surface area is built. More than 70% of the surface area is forest and 10% water systems. No wonder that enjoying nature is great on a global scale in Finland: more than half of Finns visit summer houses regularly.

As much as 70% of the inhabitants of northern Finland annually visit the nation’s forests to trek or pick berries or mushrooms.

In principle, every Finn has access to a silent forest and a strip of shore where one can be in peace. Foreigners too have noticed this. Tourists seek a counterbalance to their everyday life in Finnish nature destinations. They want peace, quiet and opportunities for nature and aesthetic experiences.

This is difficult in the built urban environment. For example, as much as 75% of Europeans live in an urban environment. Tourists value original nature, clean environment and local culture.

“Aesthetic experiences and the relaxing effect of a green environment lift your mood and help recover from stress,” claims Professor Liisa Tyrväinen of Natural Resources Institute Finland.

Dr. Liisa Tyrväinen has long studied the significance of forests as a producer of well-being. Forests have a great effect on people as a mental, cultural and experiential environment.

Air pollution and exposure to noise, in this order, are the biggest environmental problems for human health according to WHO, the World Health Organisation.

Insufficient recovery from stress raises the blood pressure and increases the risk of diabetes.

Ms. Tyrväinen emphasises that particularly nature areas must be seen as a resource of health care for city dwellers. According to many studies, forests promote both physical and mental well-being.

Large nature areas muffle noise and improve air quality by removing dust and other impurities and by binding ozone and monoxide gases.

It is also proven that an outing in nature and just being there lift the mood. Forests have a great therapeutic significance.

On the basis of studies, one can influence one’s state of health by being and moving in a nature environment. Especially in one’s favourite spot in nature, it is possible to regulate one’s condition towards promoting health.

“According to studies, people experience stronger recovery from stress on pleasant exercise routes often situated in the forest and in larger outdoor exercise areas than in the street and outdoor spaces of city centres mentioned as favourite places.”

Blood pressure falls and  the organs recover in the forest

Tyrväinen’s research group has results measured with heart rate monitors and blood pressure meters on how quickly a nature environment and particularly the forest help recovery from stress.

The measurements and surveys were made with a test group of almost a hundred persons.

“The health benefits of a green environment are evident.

A stressed person recovers quickly in nature. Recovery in a green zone is apparent after just 15 minutes!”

“The results of joint studies made with the Japanese are indisputable. When people were taken into the forest, a decrease in blood pressure and pulse, a reduction in muscular tension and an increase in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system were observed in the measurement results.”

The parasympathetic nervous system is most active in rest. From the effect of a parasympathetic impulse, the heart rate slows down and respiratory frequency is reduced. Being in the forest has a similar effect on the organs as yoga or meditation. The Finnish forest is a retreat.

People felt more vigorous and even more creative after being in the forest. Liisa Tyrväinen emphasises the aesthetics of nature. Stress is particularly removed by the experience of nature, an unbuilt, beautiful scenery and silence.

Liisa Tyrväinen recommends consciously combining nature experiences and moving in nature with a holiday trip.

It helps recovery from the strains of everyday life. “One nature trip is not enough to heal, but it can be an impetus for a change in lifestyle.”

A nature trip to the Finnish forest offers a holistic health package. It includes multisensory nature experiences, a clean and beautiful environment, outings in nature, accommodation and sauna close to nature, silence and healthy forest products, such as berries, mushrooms, wild vegetables and game.

Article by Visit Finland / Ari Turunen

Nuuksio National Park Is a Spectacular Wilderness Area Right next to Helsinki

Nuuksio lake highland is very close to Helsinki, but its atmosphere is really far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Nuuksio is in many ways one of Finland’s most important nature sites. It is easy to get there by bus and there are plenty of fire places and marked trails in the area. In the forests and gorges of Nuuksio you cant get enough of nature. People have been in Nuuksio for thousands of years as the ancient rock paintings, like the one shaped like an elk by the lake Pitkäjärvi, let us understand.

A successful day trip starts casually from the door of a cabin, and after the memorable day in the nature the next best thing is to have a comfy bed and catch up with the fellow hikers. Check out Nuuksio’s cozy cottage options, where you can comfortably have a bigger party. Book your preferred cottage in advance online so you can focus on relaxing and enjoying the the wilder side of the Helsinki area.

Click here to find and book a cottage in Nuuksio

It is easy to get to Nuuksio by public transport

Different parts of Nuuksio national park are easy to reach from Helsinki. First, take a train S, U, L or E to get to Espoo.

  • If you want to visit the eastern or northern parts of Nuuksio national park, take the bus 245(A) from Espoo Centre. In the winter, the bus will take you to a place called Nuuksionpää. In the summer you’ll get a bit further, to Kattila. Both of these places are located in the national park area and are good places to start your hike in Nuuksio. This bus will also take you to the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia.
  • If you wish to see the southern part of Nuuksio, first take a train from Helsinki to Leppävaara in Espoo. Then take the bus 238 from Leppävaara to Siikaranta or Siikaniemi in Nuuksio.
  • To get to the western side of Nuuksio you can simply take a coach from Kamppi bus station in Helsinki. This coach will take you to Tervalampi, from where you need to walk about 2 kilometers to get to the national park. Find your bus here.

Nature Center Haltia is ready to guide you to the secrets of nature

In addition to Nuuksio, the Nature Center introduces you to the gems of Finnish nature. The building itself is a piece of architecture and definately worth of seeing and experiencing. Children are given a change to try how it feels to crowl into a fox’s or bear’s nest. There is also an unobstructed hiking trail next to Haltia where nature experiences are all accessible.

Haltia has a constantly something new to experience. For more information, visit the Visitor Center’s web site.

Trails in Nuuksio:

  • Nahkiaispolku, 2km: Natural restoration theme trail starting from the nature hut
  • Punarinnankierros, 2km: Easy trail that fits for the beginners starts from the nature hut of Haukkalampi.
  • Kaarniaispolku, 2,7km: Especially a versatile nature trails for school children starts from the end of road soidentaantie.
  • Haukankierros, 4km: trail with contrasting terrain leads to mighty sceneries. Starting from the nature hut of Haukkalampi.
  • Klassarinkierros, 4km: Circle trail by the surroundings of the bond Saarilampi starts from the road Valklammintie.
  • Korpin kierros, 8km: Great trail for the first time visitors in Nuuksio starts from the nature hut of Haukkalampi

Read more about Nuuksio in English here.

Photos by Antti Huttunen and Nella Himari.

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.

Sounds of silence

Lapland is known for its pure air, vast wilderness and the fact you can escape all noise. Enjoy silence. When is the last time you could let go and float into meditative mode surrounded by nothing but nature, hearing nothing but the wind and occasional bird? I am lucky to live in Lapland but actually sitting still in the forest doing nothing is something I hardly ever do. I did now.

Road to nowhere

I spread out my map on the kitchen table and had a good look. I didn’t get much wiser by looking at it, so I closed my eyes and placed a finger randomly on the map. Ok, looks just as good as anywhere, I shall go somewhere there!

I packed snowshoes and drove off. I already felt good and relaxed, as there were absolutely no expectations. I wasn’t really aiming anywhere particular, no mission, no time limits or anyone else to look after. I realised I often get a bit anxious because of all the planning and gearing up hiking and skiing trips include.

The random road I chose went on and on and on. I even woke up a reindeer who was standing still in the middle of the quiet road, head drooping. Lazily he moved out of the way. At some point I just pulled over, put on my snowshoes and headed straight into the woods.

Sounds of snow

The snow was deep and fluffy. Even with snowshoes on I was knee deep in there. On each step there was mute fluffy part on the top, and a crunchy layer underneath. The crunchiness was due to hardened snow, as a week ago temperatures rose temporarily as high as +2 C. Snow feels and sounds different every day, depending on temperature now and in the past couple of weeks.

I kept on snowshoeing until I needed a break to catch my breath.

The Sun was setting as it always is midwinter. The sky looked like a trend colour catalogue from the 80’s. Beautiful lavender, purple, pink, peach and yellow pastel shades. I had to close my eyes as the ridiculously beautiful sky was filling my head and blocking other senses.

Silence isn’t silent

I could only hear the beating of my heart. So loud! After few minutes my body had recovered and I could listen properly. Annoyingly the first sound I recognised was a snow mobile going fast somewhere in the distance, probably on a lake I had passed by car. Here, in the wilderness, in the arms of Mother Nature, a motorised vehicle. Quite a turn off.

Ok. I kept standing still, no hurry.

A crow.

Wind catching the tree tops, making some branches to drop their snow load on the ground.

Nothing.

Standing still surrounded by trees is very calming. They are just there, wanting nothing from you.

A dog barking far away few times.

A little bird calling shortly, probably Siberian tit.

I noticed my breathing became deeper and slower. Indoors it’s often short and shallow. It’s not something I normally would pay attention to. But now I have time to observe. I also remembered to be grateful for the pure air. In Muonio where I live in Lapland, the air is actually the purest of all Europe.

Nothing.

Wind in the tree tops again.

Me singing, noticing there was a cool echo.

BEEP of my phone, receiving a message.

..And the moment was ruined.

Back home all relaxed

Hiking alone has its advantages. You don’t have to fill the space by talking non stop. You can concentrate on being very quiet, thinking nothing at all. For me this works better than any meditation. Also, if it is longer than a day trip, you have to keep your phone off to save the battery! In the wilderness, further from the roads, there is no network anyway.

I think I’m going to do this again – just head somewhere with no expectations, just to breath, listen and be.

Photos by Joona Kivinen, from another trip as I didn’t want any cameras on my retreat of silence.

Beauty of the primeval forest warms the black winter: Haltiala forests, HELSINKI

It is raining outside and the weather is cold and dark. In Finland you can’t trust the weather, as on one day everything is white and full of snow and the next day it melts away. Sometimes it is difficult to find beauty from the pools of water in the streets, but it is there, when you just look around.

We went out, braving the weather, and found a true fairytale forest just near the city center.

Haltiala Forest Path is a three kilometers long marked path in the woods that you are able to follow by small pine cone signs that are set along the path. Haltiala Forest Path is a perfect trip you can walk easily through, as the terrain is easy to walk, with causeways and wide paths. Haltiala also has a longer, seven kilometers long path for the challenge seekers. To follow that path you must look out for yellow marks.

Haltiala Forest Path serves wonderful things to seek – long beautiful causeways, huge rocks from the ice age, dark primeval forest and the animals that are living along the path.

On a dark rainy day, you would think, that nature around you is closed and silent – but it is full of life. When you stop for a moment, you can hear birds singing and see small movement in the ground when animals run to their home nests. Raindrops fall and splatter to the ground and the wind blows through the trees. The rain brings out wonderful new details, colours and scents of nature.

On the path, you can also see the big rocks that have come to their places during the ice age. They can be almost 13 000 years old and were dragged to their current places when the icecap started to melt. They are a beautiful sight and strange things to see, as they feel completely out of context in the forest.

Walking in the forest, we started to wonder how amazing it is to stand in the middle of tall trees, on top of green moss, when we were just a while ago in the busy city.

The forest did not mind the rush of everyday life, let alone a change of weather. Therefore, we strayed from the path and sat down on a large tree trunk, listening to the forest around us. It was humming silently and suddenly our everyday worries and the constant chatter of the mind just faded away.

A black, rainy forest had left a peaceful yet exciting feeling – how beautiful nature is. In the middle of black winter you can find true beauty.

Haltiala on the map.

A GLIMPSE OF MAGIC IN THE HEART OF HOSSA

The quiet patter of rain didn’t put us off trying the 3km nature trail at the heart of Hossa. We had already been treated with a couple of days of sunshine, so a bit of rain felt quite pleasant. Being active outdoors can make you pretty warm, and nothing is more refreshing than raindrops on your forehead.

The nature trail, which winds around Huosilampi lake as well as a smaller unnamed pond, is clearly marked and departs from Hossa Visitor Centre’s courtyard. The first portion of the trail is wheelchair accessible.

The first sight on the path left me and my partner feeling rather puzzled. Was it an enclosure to keep people out, or was the fence there so that the lichen couldn’t stray?

To clarify, this kind of enclosure is usually known as a ‘kirnu’ (‘churn’ in English), a fenced area in the centre of the main corral, into which reindeer that roam in the wild are herded during the reindeer round up, something which happens twice a year. The ‘kirnu’ is usually where the main action happens, where individuals are caught and put into separate pens according to whether they will go slaughter, be castrated, go on to breed, be sold and so on. However, the ‘kirnu’ usually has a gate which you can open easily. There was nothing like that here.

Thankfully we were on a nature trail, which meant that there was an information board to offer immediate relief to our confusion. The spot in question was a test area, where they were studying how quickly lichen grows, when it isn’t being eaten. So the fence was to keep reindeer out rather than lichen in,  which was a slightly more logical answer than our earlier speculation.

Our reindeer herding dog seemed to be of the opinion that there were too few reindeer around, and was eager to continue the journey, when we finally finished reading the sign.

Wheelchair access to the shore of Huosilampi lake

Soon after the start of the trail, we reached the shore of Huosilampi. Along the route, a pier had also been made wheelchair accessible. It is really admirable that access has been provided, for all to enjoy the clear waters of Hossa. When Hossa officially becomes a National Park in 2017, it is said that accessible infrastructure will be developed even further.

Along the shore there was also a campfire area which included benches with backrests, as well as a table in the shelter that a wheelchair could easily fit around.

Someone could be heard fishing on the opposite shore. Our route continued in that direction. For a while, the wide, accessible trail hugged the edge of the lake and then crossed beautiful swamplands.

The route then narrowed into a regular path as we dove into the woods, where the elevation differences were noticeably greater.

Soon after, a swamp opened out to our right. Is it just me, or are swamps especially beautiful in the rain? Their colour saturation seems more intense against the contrast of the dark sky.

A little further along we got to admire the dark back of Huosiusjärvi lake from a high slope. There was also a bench, where you could sit and rest. The nature trail shouldn’t include any dramatically steep climbs or tricky downhills, but you can still manage to break a sweat. You won’t find flat, even ground in ridge terrain.

We were approaching the ridge of Huosiharju, the trail slanting towards its eastern end. The path snaked clearly through the ground and was well-marked, making it easy to follow. No-one crossed our paths throughout the whole journey.

The nameless pond along the trail was dark turquoise even in the rain. Might it have been a kettle hole formed by a lump of ice melting at the end of the ice age? The nature trail’s information board confirmed my suspicions.

Kettle holes (bowl-shaped depressions in the land) and ridges, which tell us of the ice age’s powerful influence, have a strong presence in Hossa. But they are so big, noble and soft in form, that nature’s rage during the ice age no longer really comes across. Instead everything is beautiful, gentle and quiet. The turquoise waters of the kettle holes, the soft lichen on the ridges and the carpet of low-lying forest shrubbery invite the soul and eyes to relax.

This aside, nature’s strong will can be seen in the fallen trees, some of which looked like they had experienced quite a violent fate.

We wandered around the forest between the kettle hole pond and Huosilampi lake in a figure of eight trying to guess where the route continued. Straight? No, it continued to the south of Huosilampi.

Soon we reached a road. There was a tourist in a caravan in the carpark. From the carpark, steps led down to the lake shore, by which we found a campfire spot with a woodshed. On the other side of the water on the forest slope a reindeer rustled.

The clear surface of Huosilampi was trying to tell us, that the rain was weakening. Only small individual drops tickled the surface of the pond.

Walking around a small bay I saw tree trunks resting beneath the surface of the water. They were as beautiful as they were eerie.

During the whole trip we only met one other person, a man fishing. I asked if any fish were biting, but the man asked for more time saying that he had only just arrived.

Huosilampi’s disabled access shelter

Around the corner we came across a picnic area so large that you could arrange a wedding there. But it was empty. In front of it was a disabled access jetty. At the water’s edge there was a table for gutting fish.

Soon we were back at the Visitor Centre, where the carpark was filled with the smart-looking motorhomes belonging to French and Germans. It’s wonderful that foreigners have also found Hossa.

The nature trail is a great sampler of what Hossa is all about: clear turquoise waters, forests that are bright and full of rich colour, straight trees and round shapes. This is why it’s a great choice for those, who are for whatever reason only passing through and don’t have enough time to enjoy Hossa more extensively.

Also, thanks to its accessible sections, even wheelchair users can fully enjoy the beauty of its waters, the colourful marshes and the atmosphere of the campfire with ease.

After our own tour, we retreated to the cottage at Hossan Lumo that Suomussalmi region had kindly offered us, to dry off and rest for a moment.

The trail’s starting point is here on the map

This article is part of series about Hossa, carried out in collaboration with the municipality of Suomussalmi.

Translated by Becky Hastings.

The Magical Experience of Photographing Wild Bears in Eastern Finland

We’d been in the hide for around five hours, slowly watching the summer evening envelope the view before us: a still lake fringed by forest.

Bears in Finland

The lake had begun to steam as the sun began to set – the hot day cooling – and mayflies flickered in the golden brilliance.

Bears in Finland

“Bear!” Chris whispered.

I couldn’t see it a first, then a snout peeked from behind a tree, followed by the furry bulk of a bear as it emerged from the forest to the edge of the small lake.

Bears in Finland

It took a moment to find the bear through the lens on my camera, I’m not used to using a longer lens. I pressed the shutter button. The bear was ambling hesitantly towards the hide; it edged around the lake before reaching a stop and looking straight at us. I fired the shutter again.

All of a sudden the bear was alert, spooked. It turned and headed back towards the forest. I realised I’d been holding my breath!

The bear meandered around the curve of the lake and came to a stop, snuffling at the water’s edge.

Bears in Finland

The sun had just dipped behind the forest leaving a golden glow filtering through the trees and the night had taken on an ethereal light. A mist danced over the still lake.

Sniffing the air, the bear was reflected in the watery mirror; I couldn’t take my eyes off the magical scene.

A second later the bear vanished back into the forest yet the magical moment hung there for a second: did that really happen?

We were in a tiny wooden hide deep in the wilderness – just a few kilometres from the border with Russia – at Wild Brown Bear Centre, a company in Kuhmo, eastern Finland, specialising in wildlife photography of wild bears and other wild animals.

After the bear had vanished back into the forest nothing much happened for the rest of the evening except a brief appearance by a red fox. I curled up in the lower bunk of the hide and read a book for a while before drifting off into a light sleep.

Bears in Finland

An hour after midnight Chris woke me: “There’s another bear!”

I crawled sleepily out of the sleeping bag and perched onto the chair, squinting into the twilight, my eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness.

The bear was walking towards us, and he was big!

Bears in Finland

He strolled casually past the hide, so close we could hear him snuffle.

I remembered my camera was still set up and I fired a few sleepy shots. The settings were all wrong and the photographs were woefully underexposed. It didn’t matter: I won’t be forgetting this moment for a long time.

To be so near to a wild brown bear was thrilling: just a thin plywood wall stood between us and this majestic carnivore yet I felt perfectly safe.

I’m sure those bears wandered through my dreams that night, I slipped back into bed and the next thing I knew it was morning. Sunlight was streaming into the hide and the view beyond the window had transformed with the dawn.

Bears in Finland

It had been an unforgettable night, woven with moments so magical that they seemed improbable in the harsh light of day.

The moments were fleeting yet enchanted: a fantastic story rather than a wildlife spectacle.

A few days later, I was walking through the forest in a Patvinsuo national park late in the evening, the low sun burned through the boughs as I gathered blueberries. I wasn’t alone in these forests, somewhere deep in its heart were bears, I’d now seen them with my own eyes!

As well as the wildlife observation hides, The Wild Brown Bear Centre has accommodation, however we stayed in our camper on site for a small fee instead and had access to showers and sauna.

The bears are completely wild, they are encouraged to wander into the vicinity of the hides with tiny amounts of food left in photogenically strategic places.

Bears in Finland

As well as photographing bears, there is also the chance of seeing wolverine, wolves, and lynx.
Bears in Finland
We visited Wild Brown Bear as independent travellers, through our own choice and paid for the experience with our own money as part of an amazing two month road trip around Finland over the summer of 2016.

This story was originally posted on my own blog www.vagabondbaker.com, I have re-edited some of the text for this post.

Wild Brown Bear Oy: www.wildbrownbear.fi