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In cooperation with Cursor

Article by Mari Valtonen

The Salpa Line bike route is located in southeastern Finland, in the province of Kymenlaakso, near the Russian border and close to the Finnish section of the Europe-wide EuroVelo13 or Iron Curtain Trail. The Iron Curtain Trail (9950 km in total) introduces European history from a time when the continent was forcefully divided into east and west, and the general atmosphere was tense. In Finland, which miraculously defended against the Russia goliath while maintaining its independence, you should definitely take a small detour to experience the 72 km long Salpa Line bike route.

Distance: 72 km
Duration: 2 days
Destination on map
Difficulty: Easy route

The Salpa Line is a fortress line built in defense of Finland’s eastern border, the structures of which are still clearly visible in Finnish forests. The Salpa Line is even one of the best preserved fortress lines in the whole of Europe built during the Second World War, reaching all the way to Lapland from the southern coast of Finland, and many of the most spectacular and powerful structures are located in Kymenlaakso. The Salpa Line reaches an impressive total length of 1,200 kilometers and was built between 1940 and 1941, and 1944.

Kymenlaakso has two Salpa Line themed museums – one in Miehikkälä, and the other in Virolahti. Both are located along the EuroVelo13 and the Salpa Line bike routes. These museums shed light on the background of this impressive structure and are definitely worth a visit. EuroVelo13 travelers can easily start the Salpa Line bike route from either location.

However, the route is not only suitable for those interested in military history. You can also enjoy a lot of beautiful and extensive Finnish nature with its beautiful forests and idyllic farming landscapes. I set out to find out what the Salpa Line bike route has to offer. Join me!

The warm fall weather and the fine fall colors ensured that the cycling season in southern Finland continued into October. The Salpa Line bike route was a great choice for enjoying the northeastern European fall weather for a couple of days’ bike ride.

You can start your trip from anywhere on the route, but you can easily park your car in the parking areas of the Miehikkälä Salpa Line Museum or the Bunker Museum in Virolahti (the distance between these sites is about 20 km). On the last day of September, I started from the Bunker Museum. The museum is only open on Fri–Sat in the fall, so I started my journey straight away since the museum was closed.

The Salpa Linja bike route is not marked on the terrain, but I had uploaded Cursor’s map to my Google Drive, where I could easily track my journey with the phone’s GPS data. The route travels partly along a hiking route called Salpa Trail, but those sections were often marked as mountain bike sections, so I most often chose the dirt road route. A third asphalt option was also indicated on some points.

Here we go!

After driving west on Vaalimaantie for a while, the route turned southeast onto Vahtivuorentie. The dirt road was in good condition, although bumpy. First there were warnings about horses on the road and then about snowmobiles, but I didn’t see anyone. After some recently planted forest, the road dived into a coniferous forest. According to the map, the first dugouts – troop-protecting structures used in the war – should be located near the Vahtivuori campfire site, where I parked my bike on the side of the road and continued walking up the path.

There were insanely big blueberries everywhere! In Finland, you can pick natural berries, thanks to the so called everyman’s rights, so I tasted the northern superfood with a smile on my face. However, the berries were already quite tasteless at this time of year, so I didn’t regret leaving my bucket at home.
Next, my attention was drawn to some really large boulders. Could they be man-made parts of the Salpa Line, or natural obstacles, I wondered. I found the cooking shelter on top of the hill, but the trees prevented a wider view of the surrounding landscape. I decided to use my Trangia to make coffee with apple pie before I went looking for the dugouts.

After studying the map, I realized that I should have been right next to the dugouts, but I didn’t see anything. Military history isn’t exactly my area of expertise. I wonder what I was supposed to be looking for. I had read beforehand that most of the dugouts are not maintained, with potentially dangerous drops and sharp iron structures so it was a bit terrifying trying to find them alone. I’ve never been to the army, so even in that sense, I had no idea how the dugouts could’ve been built into the terrain. I understood that the map made it difficult to determine the exact location of the dugouts and probably the GPS signal on the phone displayed my location incorrectly. I was beginning to wonder whether I would find any bunkers on the whole trip.

Amazing boulders! Or tank barriers after all?

I had read that there should be a cave and a nature stage near the fire site. I went down the path and followed some signs. I noticed that there were better signs on the opposite side, and discovered the first winding trenches and the opening of the first bunker No 82. After continuing ahead, I came across another much cozier lean-to called Rinnelaavu, and found the rock cliff I was looking for, with its railings. Next to the railing there was a path down and a view opened up to the nature stage: What a great venue with stands can be found below the cliff! The barrier rocks have been mined from the cliff, and this can be seen in its the vertical shape. The place is so impressive that it would be great to watch a show there sometime!

The nature stage looks rugged!

There was a concrete doorway next to the stage, and after a while, and after I got my headlamp working, I had the courage to enter through the door. Inside I discovered a large cave carved into the rock and there appeared to be a smaller room at the back. Water fell from the ceiling. The bunker seemed so strong that I dared to continue through the second door. There was an embrasure on the right side of the second door, and on the left you could see the small room that I had noticed earlier. There were no furniture. After leaving the cave, the air felt warm and I felt relieved – I made it! I realized that it takes a lot of courage to enter such structures on my own. I decided that this would be enough for now, and that the structures that I would explore next would be at the Harju Learning Center.

The road lead to an idyllic field opening and a row of tank barriers erected on the Ravijoki river banks. Later, the barrier line continued along my route in many places and I can only imagine how much work it has taken to build it with the tools of that time! At this point, the tank barriers were inside the pasture, and after a while a resting flock of sheep appeared.

Tank barriers as sheep pasture

Next, I climbed to the courtyard of the Harju Learning Center, where I saw many beautiful old buildings. The students had just finished their school day. The summer café Kiessi seems to operate there but it was already unfortunately closed for the year. The Kiessi Museum was on the opposite side and the door was open. Inside I found a collection of horse-drawn vehicles and some information about the history of the Harju manor.

The Harju milieu

From the Harju courtyard, the journey continued along a birch alley until we turned left onto Museotie. A great view opened up to the Harju manor. The route continued along the side of the road and alternated between idyllic well-maintained countryside and different types of forests. Huge boulders could be seen here and there. Grasshoppers were still chirping along the road, and there were still flowers such as bluebells, tansies, thistles and sow thistles. Summer was in the air!

The old kilometer markers guided me towards Virojoki, where I had planned to have a little lunch break.

After the village center, my journey continued on a bike road next to Vaalimaantie for a short while before the last bit of road turning to Miehikkälä. A couple of sphere-shaped dugouts were marked on the route map along Mattilantie, which I decided to visit. I found the dugouts relatively easily when I followed the path in the forest. But I didn’t enter because they seemed to be in bad condition. Also, there were some homes nearby so you had to be careful not to walk into anyone’s yard.

Soon I spotted a sphere-shaped dugout right by the side of the road on the left side! The camouflage of the dugout – the moss that covered it – was destroyed, so the round dome was clearly visible. Unfortunately, the location by the side of the road meant that the dugout was full of trash bags and I didn’t bother to go inside. According to the Finnish trekking etiquette, you should always take your trash to the nearest trash can and take them with you if there are no trash cans on site. Nothing should be left behind.

Balded sphere-shaped dugout

Based on the map, the next attraction was the Kotolankoski rapids of Vaalimaanjoki, which was a very pretty place. It would have been a much better place for a break than the place I had chosen. After the rapids, the road turned into a dirt road and passed through the village of Kotola. Kotolankoski is worth a break!

The evening was getting darker, and I had to maintain a decent speed so that I could get to my accommodation near the center of Miehikkälä. Indeed, around September and October, you have to consider the fact that it starts to get dark around 7 p.m. Finally, I spotted the village of Miehikkälä!

Vaalimaanjoki river

According to the instructions, the accommodation was next to the church. In the tenant’s yard, the village blacksmith’s cabin was a separate two-person accommodation building with a kitchenette, toilet and shower. Perfect accommodation for such a one-night bike ride.

It is also possible to plan the route so that you stay in a tent at one of the lean-to or campfire sites along the route. These are located in the western part of the route, so in that case you should start from the Salpa Line Museum in Miehikkälä. I had originally thought about bringing a tent, but I couldn’t fit the gear on the bike so I decided to book accommodation. Based on the route map, there seem to be accommodation options in several places, so there is room for choice.

The dahlias were in bloom outside, on October 1st!

After breakfast, I started towards the Salpa Line Museum, which was only three kilometers from the center of Miehikkälä. I decided to take a shortcut along Taavetintie and skip going round Myllylampi, marked on the route map. The trip started uphill and I felt the 40 km cycling from the previous day.
After climbing into the museum courtyard, I marveled at the silence and indeed: it was October 1st and the museum was no longer open during weekdays! This was my own mistake, since I hadn’t considered it would be October. From the window I could see that staff were there and after knocking on the door they were kind enough to give me a map of the outdoor areas and permission to tour places that were not locked.

I had thought that I could safely visit the museum’s refurbished dugouts, but this seems like the perfect excuse to revisit southeast Finland some other time.

That’s how impressed I am with the Salpa Line fortifications. In sunny weather, I toured the trenches, visited the aerial surveillance tower, and marveled at the tank barriers and cannons. I was thinking how all of it would have worked if the enemy had approached Taavetintie. Could they have stopped it? The tour took so much time that I decided to use my Trangia to cook lunch at the museum’s campfire site.

From the museum, the route turned to Rakolantie and an exceptionally enjoyable part of the journey started! The road was a smooth dirt road and it meandered in stunning pine forest, among sturdy and gloomy spruce trees, and occasionally through idyllic field areas. When cycling, you felt like you were following a trail of historical events. I wonder if the people who built the Salpa Line are still alive. Have they felt proud to build such large fortifications? The concrete dugouts are in relatively good condition, as the Finnish Defense Forces partially maintained them until the 1980s.

No worries when cycling through boreal forests!

On this stretch, many parts of the route merged with the Salpa Trail. I had read in the guide that there was something worth seeing in Jermula, and I decided to visit, even based on the name alone, to see what I would find in the direction of the sign.

There was a sign to the dugouts on the way there, but I kept going all the way to the back where I found a parking area. A road continued to the right, and there I first found a tipi-like hut, then a Jermula cottage used by war veterans, and a lean-to. There were concrete figures at the campsite: a couple and a dog, but I didn’t see anyone else. There was also a well in the yard and a long jetty at the beach. I was startled when a heron took off just a few meters from the beach!

When I came back, I went to the parking area to find dugout 310/443. I just took a sneak peek, because once again I was terrified to go in alone. There was even an information board near the door. As I cycled back to the route, I noticed an embrasure disguised with rocks on the slope and climbed to see it. I was beginning to know how to look for the fortifications in the terrain!

The fall colors were beautiful and bright, as the sun shined in summerlike fashion. The grain fields were all already harvested – fortunately, because winter is approaching. After turning to Vuolteentie, the route crossed another beautiful little river, the Turanjoki.

From the Salpa Line Museum onwards, the cycling route sometimes merges with the Salpa Trail for long distances. There were also beautiful, short forest parts on Vuolteentie, and there were even dugouts right next to the road. The shore of Pyyhinlampi would’ve been a great spot for a break, but after studying the terrain map, I found that going there would have meant uphills both ways, so I decided to postpone the coffee break. Today’s part had more hills anyway, and I was feeling it in my legs.

After this, there would have been a short mountain bike trail to the left, which traveled along the unfinished cave of Soikonvuori, and I had read it was beautiful. I decided that I might not dare go into the cave alone, and I decided to skip it on this trip. After the forest section, the route passed through the idyllic village of Mässelinmäki.

The barn is camouflaged too!

Shortly before the highway underpass, there was a concrete dugout 153 on the edge of the forest opening, which looked so firm that I ventured to go inside. The embrasure pointed directly at the highway. I thought that during the war there had been few roads in the area where the enemy could have progressed inland, and all of them had spots where they could be cut off if necessary. Now there’s a huge highway to Russia! But that is how it should be: neighboring countries peacefully trade with each other and live their own lives.

The embrasure in this dugout points right in the direction of the highway

According to the map, there was supposed to be a lean-to right after the highway underpass, where I decided to take the last coffee break. I read on the information boards that a bunker had been blown up to make space for the highway. The Salpalaavu lean-to turned out to be a brand new lean-to placed right next to the concrete bunker! The sun was already setting behind the woods when I made the coffee and ate the last piece of apple pie.

There seemed to be a large parking area nearby and signs to the Bunker Museum, which was only 2.5 km away. The last part of the route was brand new asphalt road, which must have been built when the highway was completed. There would also have been a mountain bike section going alongside the Salpa Trail, which would probably have been nicer, but on my bike and load it wouldn’t have been a good idea.

The Salpalaavu lean-to is located right next to the dugout

The two days passed pleasantly when admiring the landscapes of southeastern Finland painted bright by the fall colors, and exploring the Salpa Line. The Salpa Line bike route can be recommended for tour cyclists, and you don’t have to be a military history enthusiast to go on the route. The route requires a bit of an adventure attitude, as it is not marked on the terrain and you need to read a map. Only a small part of the Salpa Line fortifications are marked and it might take some time to find them. Safety issues should also be taken into account. Most of the dugouts have not been refurbished, so they are accessed at your own risk.

Bring a good headlight (and spare lamp) with you. I highly recommend going with a friend, as going alone increases risks, and it took a lot of courage to explore the dugouts on my own, at least for me. Of course, during the summer or on weekends there are certainly more travelers in the area than during the off-season and on workdays. If you enjoy your own peace, then I recommend going on workdays.

In addition, it is advisable to check the opening hours of the museums in advance, as they definitely provide added value and information for the trip. For me, at least, the closed museums bothered me so much that I have to visit the area again in the future!

Read more:

EuroVelo 13 – Iron Curtain Trail, Visit Kotka–Hamina

Salpa Line Museum

The Salpa Line Trail

The article has been created for the Bizcycle project / Southeast Finland-Russia CBC program. The program is funded by the European Union, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Finland.

In commercial cooperation with Visit Raseborg

Article by Mika Puskala

The 46-kilometre long Front Line Route in Raseborg is an interesting, beautiful and also thought-provoking cycling route which starts from and ends in Ekenäs. The adventure awaits only a train ride away for example from Helsinki. History of the war is still present in many places along the route in the pinewood forests, which makes it so special. Read here about our experiences from the route when we took it at the end of July.

Circular route, 46 km (Google Maps)
Duration 6 hrs.
Start and finish coordinates on a map
An intermediate route. For those not accustomed to cycling long distances on roads, the route might feel hard.

The centre of Ekenäs is quite lovely. The town was established way back in the 16th century, so expect to find ancient streets and idyllic courtyards adorned with apple trees. You can easily imagine hatters and clockmakers hard at work while the gentlefolk were taking their daily stroll.

The Front Line Route combined with lodging for a night or two in the town centre will give you a nice little mini-holiday. But it’s also a perfect destination for a day trip, if you come from Helsinki for instance.

I had rented us bikes from Carfield Bike Rental which has rental points all over the coastline. In Ekenäs, the bikes can be rented and picked up at Motel Marine. Early in the morning, we park our car on the Raippatori Market, check the tyre pressures and hop on our bikes. The first leg on our route rolls along the highway no. 25 on the north side of the town. Google Maps guides us to the start of the route and along it. Following the route is easy, because there are not many different roads and turns on the way.

The Empress Dagmar’s spring and the beautiful Vitsand 

We are speeding along the first few kilometres from Ekenäs, on a combined cycle- and walking track, all the way to the crossroads of the Prästkullantie road. After that, we have to ride about a kilometre with other traffic until we turn to the Leksvallintie road. There is almost no other traffic. We stop to pick some raspberries by the roadside and enjoy the peaceful countryside. The tarmac is in good condition, and soon we arrive at the parking area of the Dagmar Park.

The nature conservation area of the Dagmar Park is located about 8 kilometres from the centre of Raseborg (Ekenäs). There’s plenty of parking space for cars, and if you arrive by bicycle, you have a chance to get a little closer to the spring itself. The parking area is clearly marked, and the signs and directions on the region are exemplary.

Finland celebrated its 100 years of independence in 2017. The nature conservation area resides on the land owned by Fiskars Company, who donated it on the same year to Metsähallitus to be maintained for 100 years.

The dry pinewood forest continues down towards the sea and turns into a lush oasis on the way, as the groundwater springs through the Lohjanharju esker, forming a small, meandering stream. Spending a while in a stone pool, the water eventually runs into the sea. On the beautiful little beach, there is a small pier with a bench. An ideal place to spend a hot summer day, I would say.

The spring of Dagmar got its name from Princess Dagmar of Denmark who married the crown prince Alexander of Russia. Alexander and Dagmar made many trips to the Finnish archipelago on their yacht, usually mooring in the safety of Lähdelahti bay. The visits of the Emperor and Empress have been recorded on the memorial stone by the spring.

We walk back to our bikes and continue southwest along the Leksvallintie road. After a few kilometres, the road takes a turn to the left and to the beach of Vitsand. If you wish to take a more direct route, there is also a path from the Dagmar’s spring, leading straight to Vitsand.

The trail from the spring to Vitsand is a forest path, so it’s more comfortable to ride it with a bike that has little fattier tyres than normal. There doesn’t seem to be any specific instructions in Vitsand where to park one’s bike, so it’s  up to you if you want to challenge yourself or to take it easy: the trail is short but bumpy.

Nowadays, it is very hard to imagine, how the white, sandy beach of Vitsand used to be a stage for a fierce battle between British warships and Russian–Finnish troops and their gun battery on the opposite side, during the Crimean War in 1854-1856.

Our coastline is strategically very important, so it has seen blood spilled on many occasions throughout history.

After we return to the road, we continue a few kilometres along the Leksvallintie road, turning eventually to the road leading to the village of Skogby. The air is heavy with flying dust as we ride along the gravel road to a lovely wooden house called Villa Kosthåll. The house used to function as a mess hall and office of the Skogby sawmill as well as the residence of the sawmill’s founder, Mr. Mauritz Hisinger. Hisinger had a park built in the honour of Empress Dagmar, and he also acted as a host for the Emperor and Empress during their visit in 1888.

We spend a moment watching the sheep tending the courtyard lawn before riding northwest towards the village of Harparskog and a defence line named after the village.

The Bunker Museum and the impressive Irma 302

I think I have read my share of history, but at the same time, never really given any more thought to some of the events. One of the eras that I had apparently been totally oblivious to, was the lease of Hanko to the Soviet Union before the Continuation War in 1941-1944. When the Winter War (1939-1940) ended with the Moscow peace treaty in 1940, Finland had to give the whole of the Isthmus of Carelia to the Soviet Union and also lease them Hanko and its surrounding islands for 30 years.

The Soviet Union established a military base in Hanko with 27,000 troops and thousands of civilians. Altogether 40,000 people – four times as much as there were indigenous Finns. The so-called lace villas in the region received new residents, and Hanko became the “Riviera of the North”, with a strong competition for who got stationed there.

Obviously, Finland didn’t let her neighbour to roam on her back yard totally unprepared. Before the Continuation War, Finland had built a fortified defensive position along the border of the leased territory. By the end of May 1941, the Harparskog Line consisted of 46 concrete bunkers with a same amount of dugouts, 70 artillery sites and 113 machine gun nests. There was also a huge, several kilometres long anti-tank barrier built across the Hanko Peninsula. Parts of it are still visible, as we noticed on our cycling tour.

Those events seem to be far away in the past, especially in the middle of a warm summer day, but if you’re interested, you have a chance to look into the history in the bunker museum. The so-called Irma 302 was one of the tough concrete bunkers built on the temporary border. It has been since restored and opened for public. The armament of the bunker consists of a 45-millimetre anti-tank gun and a machine gun. The guns slide effortlessly on their well-oiled tracks, and the accuracy of the optical sights is still amazing. The smoke and sound effects take you back 80 years to experience what it was like to be one of the 16 soldiers manning the bunker. Available for groups visiting the bunker, the experience is both impressive and thought-provoking at the same time.

We continue about half a kilometre from the bunker towards the front line memorial, erected on a place where Marshal Mannerheim received the march-past of the troops in Hanko when the Soviet Union left the area. We pass by some private courtyards and ride to the memorial along a quiet village road. After enjoying our packed lunch, we get back on our bikes and move on.

The front line of the Hanko Peninsula was fixed all the way through the Continuation War, and both sides concentrating on defending their posts. Most of the battles were fought with the artillery, and where the front line was on land, it was trench warfare. The archipelago was a stage for more mobile battles. Eventually, the Soviets evacuated their base in Hanko, and the remainder of the troops left the town on December 3, 1941. On the very same morning, Finnish troops advanced into the empty town.

Hanko Front Museum

We get back on the highway and cycle a short distance to the Hanko Front Museum. I have seen the cannon on the museum courtyard flash by through our car window, but now it’s finally time to visit the museum itself. The permanent exhibition displays the events of 1939-1941 in detail with photographs, maps and various objects of the era. An old warning sign reminds the visitors that the border of the leased territory of Hanko was just a hundred metres away from the museum. The trenches surrounding the museum also provide quite an authentic feeling of those times, and they are also very exciting for the little ones visiting the museum. When we were there, children could also enjoy a pony ride on the museum grounds.

Read more about the war history of Hanko at Finland100.fi for example.

Back to the beginning

After having a cup of coffee at the Front Museum, we move on. We have two choices: either to go back the same way we came from or ride towards Hanko for a short while and then turn northwest. After all, as the idea is to take the circular route, we choose option no. 2. Riding through the villages of Öby and Vimenböle, we return on the Prästkullantie road and then back to Ekenäs, riding several kilometres alongside Lake Gennarbyviken. The lake was dammed from the bay for industrial purposes.

This leg is the most scenic of the whole route, reminding us about the Archipelago Trail and its stops. There’s little automobile traffic, and only a few other cyclists. We pass one walker who says a happy hello. One hill after another rolls by under our tyres. The lake shimmers as we make our way uphill, downhill, uphill and downhill again.

As this leg is practically gravelled all the way, we are happy to have fat tyres on our bikes. Rolling downhill is funny, but there are some treacherous grooves on the road which we have to negotiate carefully.

A white-tailed deer hops in front of us across the road. Three cranes are slowly moving on the field. We stop by the fieldside to eat our packed lunch, to be suspiciously watched upon by a proud steed from behind the fence. Our summer holiday is almost over, but we still have nine kilometres to go on tarmac. But in a landscape like this, it is no problem.

Read more:

Visit Raseborg – Front line Route

Visit Raseborg – Welcome to Raseborg

Visit Raseborg – Plan your stay

Translation Mikko Aslak Lemmetti

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.

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Häme Nature Center on a map

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Article: Heli Heikkilä

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Becky Hastings

Kekri is an old Finnish agricultural harvest festival celebrated in autumn, and it’s also the time for the souls and spirits of the dead to visit us who are still living here on Earth. This is the time when even ghosts go to sauna! 

Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve has spred all around the world from the United States. It has made its way also to Finland during the resent years, but did you know that Jack O’Lantern, trick or treating, costumes and ghosts all refer to European traditions that are thousands of years old?

In Finland we have long agricultural traditions with the harvest celebrations: Kekri used to be the biggest fest of the year. Here are 5 interesting facts about the Finnish Kekri celebration!

1. Long traditions

Long before All Saint’s Day and the commercial Halloween, people used to celebrate the harvest season in many countries. In Finland the agricultural traditions were strong, and the Kekri fest has roots even back to Iron Age over 2 000 years ago!

2. “Kekri” refers to the remnant of harvest time

The word kekri comes from an old fenno-ugrian word kekra, kekraj which means cycle. Back in the old times it was natural to end a year connected to the earth and harvest, so while people celebrated the harvest it was also an ending of the year fest!

3. Trick or treat!

The Kekripukki, Kekri goat, was a creature with horns. Young people used to dress up as a Kekripukki with a fur coat worn upside-down and walk from house to house asking for feasting or beer. If a household would refuse they used to threat by breaking the oven. Sounds like trick or treating old school, huh? Today it is common to burn the Kekri goat made from straws during the harvest fest!

An interesting fact is that the Kekri goat was actually the origin to Santa Claus! Yup, you heard that right.

4. Ghosts go to sauna too

Sauna is probably the most Finnish thing on earth and its history goes way back. Löyly means the steam that rises from the stove or heat of the sauna. In Finnish mythology it also refers to the soul of the body, and sauna was thought to have strong connections to the underworld. During the harvest season it was also thought to be the time when the spirits and souls of the people who had passed came back for a visit. Sauna was offered to those spirits before any living person was allowed to go to there, and it was prepared with towels, water, soap and everything a living person would need.

After bathing it was time for a feast. The house folk left a table full of food and drink and went to sauna themselves to leave space and peace for spirits to enjoy the meal.

5. Jack O’ Turnip

Everybody knows the traditional pumpkin lantern from America, but also in Finland we had something similar. During the Kekri fest it was common to carve a turnip and put a small candle inside. Pumpkins were not known in Europe before the colonialism.

 

The Salpa Line is the largest construction project in Finland’s history. It was created as a deterrent, so that the enemy wouldn’t dare attack. The Finns suspected that the Soviet Union, not satisfied with the territorial gains they had made during the Winter War (1939–1940), would plan another invasion.

Built at the beginning of the 1940s in preparation for another war, The Salpa Line spans more than 1000km along Finland’s eastern border. It contains a total of 728 field fortifications either made from concrete or excavated from rock. Sweden provided assistance in the construction, both financially and in the form of manpower.

The line’s southern part was the most strongly fortified. The Salpa Line can be explored by following the South-East Salpa trail, which is a 50km one-way hiking route in Virolahti and Miehikkälä. There are points of interest suitable for everyone: formal museums, accessible roadside features as well as more hidden fortifications for the adventurous traveller, found off the beaten path.

For those interested in military history, the Salpa trail is an endless treasure trove. Along the trail are 13 picnic and overnight spots as well as 4 reservable saunas. A mountain bike is the ideal mode of transport for this route.

For the trail, wear good footwear and bring a powerful lamp, preferably two. The bunkers can be dangerous and dark places. There might be water on the floor or ice, even in the summer. The walls often have iron fixings and there can be metal rods poking down from the roof. Sewer lids might also be missing and some wooden structures may be rotten. Explore the bunkers at your own risk!

Almost all of The Salpa Line’s 25 caves are unfinished. They were intended to be accommodation dugouts for soldiers and regimental aid stations, where men injured in battle had their worst wounds dressed before sending them away from the front line for further treatment. With each step you can sense the past all around you.

5 points of interest on the Salpa line.

  1. Ventovuori area, Virolahti

The Salpa line’s best offering for the independent traveller. In a small area you will find three cave systems, a dugout and a petrol filling station. Map.

  1. Anti-tank barrier fence (dragon’s teeth)

Hundreds of miles long, this barrier, normally made from concrete blocks, is made with large blocks of excavated natural rock stacked several rows deep. For each rock, a hole was dug half a metre deep, leaving the rest of the rock poking out one metre above the ground. The fence can be seen in the yard of Virolahti’s bunker museum. Map

  1. Pääkaupunginkallio – The Capital’s Rock

A 14 metre high and 50 metre long vertical rock wall, from which stone was quarried for building materials. Map

  1. Klamila cannon batteries

The round cannon battery is a thought-provoking sight. This was the firing position for a 152/45 C -type gun. Ammunition stores, as well as accommodation facilities are located at its periphery. Map

  1. The Salpa Line Museum

There are many trails in the area, along which you can explore the history and construction of The Salpa Line. There’s an exhibition inside the museum as well as a short film. Other things to see include a wooden aircraft control tower and one of the better known tanks from the Second World War, the T-34. Map

5 CAVE SYSTEMS

  1. Salmenkylä tunnel, Hamina

A 20-metre-long cave, which is almost completely in its original condition. The floor is concrete and the furnaces and smoke ducts are made from moulded bricks. Map

  1. Lusikkovuori cave, Lappeenranta

The largest cave on the Salpa line is located in Lusikkovuori and was made by 400 men. In winter, icicles of up to one metre in height grow upward from the ground. The cave is open by request and can also be booked for private events and concerts. You can inquire about guided tours from Hilkka Suoanttila, tel. 040 565 4462. Map

Kuva: Jukka Siiskonen

Photo: Jukka Siiskonen / willimiehen jäljillä

  1. Vahtivuori cave

Vahtivuori cave is 32 meters long and meant for 80 persons. On the side of the accommodation tunnel is a machine gun chamber, and on top of the rock is a hemispherical lookout shelter. Map.

  1. Soikonvuori cave

The unfinished accommodation tunnel was excavated from the rock along with a dugout for two machine gun positions, where the walls and floors are covered in stearin and at one end stands a large wooden cross. It turns out that every year, a candlelit evening service is organised here.  Map

  1. Pallokorsu

A furnished round dugout, with pure white walls. It feels like being inside an eggshell. In the corner there is a small stove. and most of the space is taken up by a two-storey wooden gun carriage. Map

Things to note before a trip here

A wide range of guided day trips are organised on the Salpa Line. Services are provided by K-linnoiteretket and Korsumatkat Bunker Tours. In addition to these, a Salpa line hike is organised each year, where a small group of 10-15 participants can explore the terrain under the leadership of a trained guide.

If just walking or cycling along the Salpa trail, wear clothing appropriate for the weather and bring a packed lunch. In the summer be prepared for mosquitoes and other bugs, as well as vipers that might be found in the thickets.

In the dugouts there is no lighting. Entrances are generally low and thresholds high. Large chunks of rock can fall from cave walls and ceilings  and there may be other things hanging down, such as barbed wire. For photographing in dingy spaces a tripod and separate flash could be useful.

Some sites are on private land, in which case you should be aware of and remember Finnish Everyman’s Right.

The Salpa Line fortifications are protected under the Antiquities Law and their alteration, concealment, excavation or any form of deformation or vandalism is prohibited without the permission of the National Heritage Board.

The world ‘Salpa’, means ‘locking bolt’. The fortification line was intended to be the ‘lock’ on Finland’s defence, the final barrier if the Russian’s would have continued west. However The Salpa Line never had to receive a war, as they didn’t make it that far.

Historical sources used for this article were the work ‘Matkalla Salpalinjalle’ and leaflets from the museum.

Article by Harri Leino. Photos by Harri Leino, Virpi Bordi and Janne Lumikanta. Translated by Becky Hastings.

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

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

Old city hall and Christmas tree

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

Old wooden buildings with Christmas lights

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

Restaurant in Neristan

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

Memorial of the skirmish of Halkokari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porvoo’s National Urban Park: Maps and route advice

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

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

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

Translated by Becky Hastings.

It is more than 70 years since the World War II ended. Finland suffered great losses but managed to get on her feets again.

During the war the German soldiers fought against the Russians in Lapland. But things changed as it started to seem like Finland would loose the war. The Germans had to withdraw from Northern Finland. While moving back they burned everything. They burned houses and barn houses, and they blew up bridges, railroads and roads.

suvanto-4

The disaster was total. But one village was lucky. That village is called Suvanto, and it is situated by the river Kitinen. The whole village remained intact.

suvanto

No one knows why or what happened. How come the Germans left this small village in peace while they burned almost everything else in Lapland?

suvanto-14

Today Suvanto is under the protection of Finnish National Board of Antiques and it is categorized as a cultural environment. There are about 30 people who live in the village year around. In summer time the amount of inhabitants grows when people come to visit their old homes, relatives and summer cottages.

suvanto-9

The village also attracts tourists because of it’s beautiful old log houses that were built before the war. The oldest one is from the 1800th century. Some houses still have shingle roof.

suvanto-15

To keep the village alive and buildings in good shape, voluntary work has been organized. People can for example take part in restoring the roofs and fences and learn how things were done in the old days.

suvanto-18

The last effort was to save the old ferry and it’s shelter in 2015. The ferry was in use during the years 1960–1975, then came a new ferry with an engine and later, in 1991, a new bridge was opened over the river Kitinen.

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The ferry was moved in dock and at the same time into history. The dock is located on the opposite bank of river Kitinen and is free to visit.

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Suvanto is also popular with artists and photographers and some art courses are arranged there during summers.

Visitors may rent a cottage from the village or nearby, have a cup of coffee in cozy café (check opening hours) or just walk around and admire the view and the colorful houses. A perfect place for a day trip.

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The location of Suvanto N / lat: 7448368 E / lon: 512567

More info about the village (only in Finnish)

National Board of Antiques, NBA

The following video is made by Mediapaja Seita-säätiö.