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“Only the birch trees gave away the fact that we weren’t in the Greek archipelago” – a hike at Iso-Melkutin lake

“What an unbelievable place”, enthused my mountain-biking obsessed colleague, when he heard that we were doing on a Digitrail-tour around Iso-Melkutin lake. A moment later he pedalled back to ask, ‘So you’re going on a digi-what? The app could have easily been sold to him, even though it’s free from the app store.

My colleague’s statement clearly came from the heart. Further investigation showed that he was quite right: About an hour and a half’s drive from Helsinki, right next to Räyskälä airfield, is said to be one of Finland’s hiking gems: the Melkutin backwoods with its protected ridges and beaches, and the crystal clear Iso-Melkutin lake.

But would I go so far as to call it unbelievable?

The village of Räyskälä seemed quite lively, even though it felt like travelling back a few decades. The old buildings were built in an even more traditional way than the traditional ones right next to the main road, and the village shop was from the same period. In the corner of the field was a potato pit. It was now a café, which would be open until three o’clock. We could definitely make it there for a visit, as it was still only morning.

The starting point for Loppi’s Digitrail route is at the western corner of Räyskälä airfield, next to the road called Tauluntie. The large car park was full, even though the summer had already made an exit. There were your usual enthusiasts with tents on their backs, mountain bikers, divers (?!) and then us, who paid no attention to the large signposts pointing in all directions. We were now relying on our mobile phones.

From the Digitrail app’s three options, we chose the middle one, which was approximately seven kilometres long and classified as medium in terms of difficulty. The theme of the route was Lake Iso-Melkutin, its origins and the flora of the area. As we progressed along the route, bite-sized chunks of information about the nature types found on ridges popped up on our mobile phone display, from typical plants to rarer features of the area. The most interesting was was the theory surrounding the origins of the lake that was at the centre of it all.

According to the map, the route is shaped like a balloon; at the beginning and the end of the trail we journey out and back along the same path for about a kilometre, and the rest is around the lake. If we forget to follow our progress on the screen, the GPS stops working or the satellite dies, getting lost in the vicinity of the lake would be quite difficult.

Of the three aforementioned risks is the only one that’s likely is the first one, as the locator is accurate and monitors all progress on the map without any delay. The graphics on the map are simple, the app is easy to use and is full of interesting possibilities. The map, sorry, the phone, can be held in the hand either in the direction of travel or you can fix the locator to move with the map. And, best of all, if the hiker gets lost on the route, the app remarks politely:

“Don’t get lost! It looks like you walked past the path. A little adventure won’t hurt as long as you don’t get lost. ”

Digitrail application

The highlight of the trail awaited further along, but the start of the trail was already calming our restless minds. We step into the light-filled, gently rolling terrain of dry coniferous forests….

And then dove deeper into a young spruce forest…

We wove between swampy ponds and the lake. The path is narrow at the start, but widens as we go along.

And thank goodness it does get wider; as this is where we come to the edge of Iso-Melkutin lake. My colleague was right: the view is not from this country. The lake shimmered vivid and bright with visibility several metres in depth. Only birch trees on the beach revealed that we hadn’t gotten lost with our mobile phones in the Greek archipelago.

On the shadow side of the lake the colour was close to a dark emerald. Such clear, humus-free lakes are rare in our country. There are more of them in the north, but in the south they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

The shore of Iso-Melkutin is mostly unbuilt – thanks to the shore protection program – and the mostly sandy and gravel-based. You can swim almost anywhere, although the best spots are on the northern shore of the lake. The official bathing places along the route can be found on the eastern and western ends of the lake. The first of these is also equipped with two lean-tos, a campfire site and a dry toilet.

According to divers, there are piles of rocks at the bottom of the lake as well as an underwater ridge. The lake is said to have formed during the melting phase of the last glacial period, when huge ice blocks were buried inside the glacial sand. When they melted, they created big pits in which water was left behind. The deepest part of Iso-Melkutin lake is 27 meters.

Another result of the ice-age is the esker ridge, which gives the lake its peculiar shape. The ridge pushes to the surface at three points to form long and narrow capes. The western-most ridge almost separates Iso-Melkutin lake from Vähä-Melkutin lake. The strait left in between, at only a few meters wide, is ceremoniously crossed via the Samoyed Bridge.

The middle point, the couple of hundred metre-long and approximately fifty metre-wide Nappilahdennokka peninsula, almost separates Nappilahti bay from the lake. The peninsula was not on our route, but we just had to go there. The application also understood what the hiker needs, and didn’t suddenly shout at us for taking a detour.

At the eastern end of the lake, we came across a third peninsula, Tokholmannokka: half a kilometre long and narrower than the previous ones, reaching almost to the opposite shore. It’s hard for the human mind to resist these formations, so we detoured here too. A snag had snapped conveniently fallen right next to the path, forming a bench parallel to the headland. We sat for a moment and sighed in both directions. On the opposite shore, there were still two nameless peninsulas. Let’s see if we actually do make it to the potato pit for coffee.

Luckily, on the opposite shore, our route took us to the top of the headland, so we followed along. The narrow ridge turned out to be a base for divers and a hiker’s paradise. The adjacent Melkuttimentie road makes it easier for divers to get their equipment near the water and also makes it possible for the smallest hikers to get up on their own steam. At the tip of the peninsula a lean-to with seating platforms has been built along with a campfire site and dry toilets. And did I already mention, the scenery is spectacular!

Next to the lean-to there are steps down to the lake that have been built by volunteering divers.

As the route continues, the lake mostly stays at least in your peripheral vision. Occasionally we deviate from the immediate shore, sometimes looking at the lake from above. There are plenty of hills on the trail’s western side, but none of them so steep as to make the hike impossible if you were of average fitness. You do however have to raise your knees over rocks dotted along the path and over thick roots. For this reason I wouldn’t do this trail by mountain bike, but about twenty mountain bikers who crossed our paths were clearly of a different opinion.

On the north side of the lake, the trail follows steep and dry slopes typical of the area. Snow disappears from these areas early in the spring, giving room for unique plant varieties. On this slope, you can find the rare and therefore protected, Pasqueflower with its blue buds, which has been named the official flower of the Kanta-Häme region.

At the end of the lake tour, the path widens, eventually filling the whole hill. We were approaching the lake’s other swimming beach, which has attracted people for centuries. And it is no wonder, because its bottom is pure gold … sand, and it continues as far as the eye can see.

Three o’clock came and went, and we were still sitting on the lakeshore. We missed our coffee, but nevermind, we will definitely be coming back!

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

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

Article: Heli Heikkilä

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Becky Hastings


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

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

Article: Heli Heikkilä

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Becky Hastings

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

In cooperation with HAMK

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

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

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

Photo: Tomi Pohja

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

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

Photo: Tomi Pohja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

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