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The historic Ox Road of Tavastia now hosts a 70 km bicycle route – mobile app lets you in on the story from the village of Letku to the city of Hämeenlinna

Undoubtedly the most famous road in Finland is the Ox Road of Tavastia (Hämeen Härkätie). Autumn was kind to us in regards to the weather when we embarked on our bicycling trip on the Ox Road. The 70 kilometre-long route is classified as intermediate. On our trip we would learn many things about the Ox Road, the villages along it, and also its history.

The Ox Road is now a host to a bicycle trail gone digital, thanks to the Digitrail Project mentioned in some of our earlier posts. The Digitrail app* will guide you through the section of the road that lies on the side of Tavastia Proper. The route starts from the Village of Letku and goes all the way to the City of Hämeenlinna. The app will guide you along the route in a form of a story, told by a character called Hemminki, also known as Kulkeva.

It was early October when we hopped on our bikes, started the app and off we went! It’s so wonderful how modern times and history can come together with the help of a mobile application as the Digitrail.

Hemminki told us the first story already at the Village of Letku. He said that there is a strange place somewhere in the vicinity of Kapilo, called the Giant’s Tomb. At the tomb, there is stone that looks like a coffin, and if you knock on the stone, it will make a booming sound.

We would’ve surely wanted to try and knock on the stone, but we had much distance to cover, so maybe we will do it next time. We continued on our trip, passing the Häme Nature Centre and Eerikkilä on the way. If we’d started from Turku, we might have stayed the night at Eerikkilä. Eerikkilä is a paradise for those who love nature, for its outdoor and hiking facilities are second to none in Southern Finland. This time, however, we covered the rest of the distance in a day.

Next, our virtual guide Hemminki provided us with directions to Korteniemi, warning us about the caves at Ilveksenluolakallio.

Then, the idyllic village of Porras. The Esker of Kaukolanharju and the Folk Park of Saari would have been only a short distance away from the village. Albeit they both are beautiful national landscapes, we decided to get to know the history of the village of Porras and what the village had to offer.

The Nahkurin Verstas Tannery in Porras is an old and small industrial facility where the tanner used to process his leathers for market. Now it serves as a business offering accommodation and catering services in beautiful surroundings. The Tannery carries on the tradition started by an inn which used to exist in the village.

You might wish to reserve a few days to travel along the Ox Road in order to really enjoy your trip. The Nahkurin Verstas Tannery is a good choice for having a nice, idyllic and peaceful place to stay.

But, let’s get on with our bikes, shall we!

We were making good way, and our digital guide Hemminki shared with us stories from the village of Punelia, salvaged houses and Räyskälä. We passed many picturesque landscapes, but for some reason, a place called Vuohiniemi was particularly lovely. It literally forced us to stop so that we could take in the beauty of the place. Only a small rain shower made us to seek shelter for a while.

Next breath-taking place was the village of Vuorentaa. According to the app, there would be a cup-marked stone! Around here, in the village of Ojoinen, there is one of the largest known cup-marked stones in Finland. There are over 350 registered cup-marked stones in Finland, and they are mostly located in the southern and southwestern parts of the country. So, we were in the “hot zone”, actually. There are many theories about the use of the cups, and most of them believe that they are some kind of sacrificial places where people left offerings such as grain for the ancestors for hunting luck, etc.

Somewhere along the way the tarmac road had changed into gravel, but we just realized that when we were getting close to the City of Hämeenlinna.

The road changed back to a tarmac cycleway which would lead us to the medieval Häme Castle itself. Seeing the silhouette of the castle gave us energy to pedal a little further to our final destination.

You can download the app here.

*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: Antti Huttunen

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

A journey into the past: Digitrail leads you to the best parts of Aulanko

The story of Hämeenlinna’s Aulanko started at the end of the 1800s, when the outstandingly rich colonel and weapons manufacturer Hugo Standertskjöld wanted to return to his home region, acquired a summer villa and then tried to make an impression on a Polish countess with his estate.

An English-style country park was created in the surroundings of the manor house and around it a distinguished forest park. Foreign plants were brought to the area, a pond was excavated and pavilions, a granite fort and a lookout tower were built.

In spite of his efforts, Standertskjöld remained a bachelor. He was known for his hospitality amongst high society who used Aulanko’s playing fields as well as towards ordinary people. The park was open to everyone, and the country’s first information signs guided people towards the most important spots.

But we decided to ignore all the signs and let our mobile phones guide us.

From the three Digitrail* options, we chose the medium length, six kilometre route, which circles Aulanko’s nature reserve. The theme of the trail is the history of Colonel Hugo Standertskjöldin’s forest park. The shorter route goes through the middle part of the park taking in the most important sights, and the longest leads north and around Aulankojärvi lake.

I managed to convince my two teenage sons to join me and they promised to take care of navigation. ‘Hurry up!’ shouted one and then he shot ahead. The rest of us followed, laughing, wondering how far he would get until he realised that he was on the wrong path. The blue locator dot was merciless and guided him back before he had even reached the edge of the forest. The second boy later received the same treatment, after he had started opening up to us about how he was getting on (the best thing about hiking with a teenager), his distraction quickly leading us off route.

The trail starts from the Aulanko hiking lodge parking place, follows the ski track and immediately curves around towards Aulanko lake. On the other side, it rises steeply towards Aulankovuori hill. On both sides we are shown old forest specimens, nearly 200 year old spruces and equally handsome pines, linden trees, maples trees, ashes and elms…

In Aulanko there are over 140 species of trees and shrubs. Almost all of Finland’s naturally occurring hardwood species, groves of foreign tree species, trees with shapes that differ from the norm of their species, as well as overgrown secret gardens with the apple trees of paradise, can be found there.

It soon became apparent, that although the environment had richer soil, this kind of tree selection wouldn’t have flourished here without external help, passion and love for this Polish princess.

We continued our journey towards Aulanko lake, gently pushing towards Aulanko peninsular. We sat on the stone steps commissioned by Standertskjöld and we could easily have imagined cruise boats gliding towards the jetty with the most famous artists of the times on board, Sibelius and Leino. But no, we talked about the gloomy history and sacrificial stones of Lusikka peninsular which was opposite us.

A few hundred metres ahead, the trail made a stop up the hill. In a rock cave there lived an endearing bear family, created out of soapstone and placed there at the beginning of the century by sculptor Robert Stigell. This was said to describe the park owner’s longing for his own family.

Steps up going up Aulanko hill lead to the bear family. They’re not part of the tour, but we went up anyway. The views from the top of are breathtaking…

… and from the 33 metre lookout tower, iconic. The view is straight from a postcard, and from 2011 onwards made it onto a stamp.

But our journey had only just started. So we descended the steps, greeting those who pass and wondering out loud about the sculptures to each other in the middle of the forest, as we continued on our way.

After climbing a few a hundred metres up another hill, we had more to wonder about. A huge square shaped stone wall surrounded a natural meadow of approximately a hectare, which concealed within it the ruins of a square-shaped building.

We made a few guesses on what we were looking at, until the app revealed that the structure was a gunpowder magazine commissioned by the Russian army in 1860, which for safety reasons was far from the barracks and the town. The area is now a protected ancient relic.

We left the nature reserve for a moment and took a detour down a steep rocky path onto Aulanko road.

We continued the journey following the contours of the hill and noticed that we had come to an ancient shoreline. Around it almost 40 metre douglas firs swayed from their sheer height. The narrow forest roads which we crossed were also steeped in history, supported on the hill by low moss-covered stone banks. On the path we found a horseshoe, which couldn’t have fit the atmosphere better.

The trail twisted and turned and came back to Aulanko road. This time the sight was the manor house commissioned by Standertskjöld, with its granite tower, from which shots used to be fired, not for defence, but to celebrate the birthday or nameday of a guest or worker and sometimes just randomly. For decades, the ruins have been providing a venue for children’s theatre, which was probably part of the owner’s intention.

After the fort, we went onto a smaller path and from a distance passed the red brick Temple of Happiness that was built for the princess. It’s windows were framed with natural stones and used to have stained glass windows. According to the princess, this side of the Baltic sea was too cold, but hopefully she at least went to have a look at the park and its buildings.

After Molkkari hill we reached the shores of Joutsenlampi pond (Swan Pond). 300 men were needed to dig out an artificial pond in place of the swamp and transport earth from in front of the manor house to make two islands in Vanajavesi lake. A path framed by fifty species of trees and shrubs had been built around the pond and in its middle had been black swans brought all the way from Australia. There also used to be pheasants, from which some of our current wild pheasant population has its origins.

After Joutsenlampi we followed the linden-edged park road leading to the lookout tower for some of the way – the same path that cheerful members of high society once rattled up in their horse-drawn carriages, clinking their champagne glasses. It would have been a beautiful road to continue on, but the road leading into a rare rowan grove looked even more beautiful.

We leaned for a moment on the bridge that crossed the stone-lined creek, when two girls with their dogs stepped out of the Northern white cedar forest. They looked at us and shook their heads ‘What an unbelievable place, you have got to go there!’ The grove was their secret place. Duckboards dove into the shadows of the thick white cedar trees that had been planted before the war. Light filtered in and time stopped. The duckboards ended at the lookout tower platform, from which there was no view ahead of us. It was behind. The message for us seemed to be that the most important thing was not the destination, but the journey itself…

…. so we continued, as the evening was drawing in and we had to reach our destination regardless. We stopped along the way to see the rose pavilion built from vast romantic longing and cast a bitter glance over the other side of the Baltic sea. We descended from the forest park, going under the arch created by a young hackberry tree that had curved over the path and we bowed our respects to Hugo.

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