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Above the busiest motorway in Finland is a hauntingly beautiful secret – the backwoods of Karnaistenkorpi

An unexpected journey awaits those who come to this place. A fairy-tale forest exists above a section of the National Road 1, running from Helsinki to City of Turku.

Karnaistenkorpi has a well-marked nature and story trail and lean-tos by the ponds. The trails look like figure 8, and you can choose whichever distance you wish to hike. There are two starting points for the trails that are equipped with outdoor toilets. They are marked in this map under the name “Paikoitus”. The address of the parking area is Suoniementaival 30, Lohja.

A shorter trail of about 3.5 kilometres is available starting from the parking area next to the Kisakallio Sports Institute. The trail goes around two ponds and lean-tos and comes back to the starting point. This trail is suitable for families and for those who wish to take things easy.

The story trail begins also from this parking area. One of the many things that may come to you as a surprise is the silence. Although the motorway is close, it runs inside the bedrock which effectively blocks out the sounds of traffic. Nature is also quite special here: beauty everywhere and forest as from a fairy-tale. Soft green mosses and towering spruce trees make you feel you’re safe here.

The story trail runs clockwise. It rapidly leads to the shore of a small pond. The bank is a little marshy. When we visited the place, the winter was on its way, and the pond was partly frozen. However, the sun was still warming us up nicely. We smelled smoke coming from somewhere and understood that there must be a lean-to nearby.

Beautiful Labrador tea was growing by the pond. Labrador tea is a common plant on marshy areas, and when you rub the leaves of the plant on your fingers, the scent gets stronger. This is what Finland smells like.

When we got to the lean-to, fire was going, and a father was teaching his son some wilderness skills. We sat down with them. We had picked up some delicacies from a bakery on our way to Karnaistenkorpi, and we also had a small coffee pot with us. As we were hungry, a lunch break was in order.

There is a wood shed near the lean-to, and the firewood is available for use. The firewood was a little damp, so I chopped it into smaller pieces to make it burn better.

The lean-to is located on a very picturesque spot on top of a cliff by the Ahvenanlampi Pond. You need to step off the story trail a little to find the lean-to, but it’s still an easy task.

We found a handy gridiron at the lean-to. We put our paninis on the gridiron to warm them up over the fire, and the water for the coffee boiled in no time. Our little outdoor lunch by the fire was perfect!

The father and his son went on with their hike. We stayed to enjoy our coffee in almost complete silence. You wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t know, but the biggest motorway in Finland runs right below this lean-to!

We also continued our own journey along the story trail. There are 21 control points with information boards along the trail to offer lots of interesting information about local nature. The information boards are in Finnish.

We made good way, and soon were at the lean-to at Sorvalampi Pond. This lean-to is also located on a pretty spot on top of a cliff. Both lean-tos (this and the previous one) are equipped with outdoor toilets and firewood sheds.

Autumn days are not very long, and the dusk was already setting in. We stayed on for a little while longer to look at the last lights of the evening.

The ancient rocks of the region are covered in grooves that almost look like runes. Green mosses and lichens grow on the rocks which makes them look fairytailish.

The trail runs on wooden causeways in many parts. Beautiful cliffs surround the trail on both sides. The causeways have recently been fixed so they are in good shape as the rest of the trail structures.

Darkness fell gradually further and further into the forest. Luckily, we didn’t have much distance to cover anymore, so we just enjoyed the beautiful backwoods as long as there was light.

My imagination got wings when the darkness settled in. In the dark everything looks different.

Oh, I wish the trees could talk! These majestic spruce trees are way over a hundred years old. They have witnessed the cycle of life in the forest. Their roots are strongly embedded in the ground, and they are not easily moved.

Eventually, we had to leave these fairy-tale forests behind. We got into our car and drove home, but we will be back again someday – so magical was this place! Maybe next time we will sleep in the lean-to and listen what secrets the old spruce trees might share with us in the night.

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

The Ice Age sculpted the spectacular Lohjanharju Esker and made it the top destination for modern-day backpackers

In Lohja, less than an hour drive from Helsinki, rises the majestic Lohjanharju Esker. It is the perfect location to enjoy what nature has to offer. It’s right by the city, and the trails are easy.

Several marked outdoor trails criss-cross the Lohjanharju Esker. Their lengths are from 1 to 6.5 kilometres, and they are accessible with prams as well. Amongst these wide trails there are many smaller ones that will lead the traveller to the mystic forests and to the land of the fairies. Although the esker is a fascinating destination all year round, in winter the trails will become skiing tracks where walking is prohibited.

A natural starting point for a trip to the esker is by the Neidonkeidas Swimming Hall (Address: Runokatu 1). If you come from the centre of Lohja, it is recommended that you take the path that starts from the Kasarminkatu Street, goes up the hill and joins the other trails running parallel to the slope. If you come by car, you can leave it at the parking lot of the swimming hall. There is a stairway beside the swimming hall leading down to the trail.

It is one Sunday in December. I am standing on top of the esker. The ground is still free of snow, but the sky is covered in clouds. There’s still some light at noon. I can hear the noises carrying from the city, and I look around me. I have come here to investigate the tracks of the last Ice Age, and I wonder how the landscape looked back then, almost 10 000 years ago. I still hear the noise, but now it is different. Where a moment ago the rooftops of the city were, now are the swelling waves of the ancient Yoldia Sea.

Behind me, the glacier stretches further than the eye can see. The rivers that are born deep under the ice are transporting massive amounts of sand and gravel, which will slowly accumulate into a border moraine. That long mound runs hundreds of kilometres, following the edge of the glacier, and reaching from Hanko to Lohja and via Lahti, all the way to Eastern Finland.

This ancient landscape is clear in my mind when I start my journey on the trails of the esker. At first, the forest around me is open. Tall and robust pine trees reach up to the sky, and their tough bark spells dignity. I am walking the path downhill. I can spot colourful old wooden houses between the trees. Further away, there is the glimmering Lake Lohjanjärvi, spotted with small islands.

For a while, I follow the wide outdoor trail, but soon I choose a narrower path. At the bottom parts of the esker, dense spruce trees create a dusky effect.

As I go along, I notice the large rocks appearing here and there between the trees. Compared to these rocks, the trees are youngsters, albeit hundreds of years old themselves. These rocks are called erratics, and they are testament to the unimaginable forces which were at play during the Ice Age. Along its way, the moving ice sheet chipped off enormous boulders and carried them even hundreds of kilometres away.

I stop beside one of these boulders to stroke the moss growing on it. The moss is like goblin’s hair. With a little more imagination, I can discern a wrinkly face on the rock. Actually the wrinkles are a result of the Ice Age, too. Along with the larger rocks, the ice also carried smaller pebbles and stones that grinded on the larger ones and created these creases.

I walk alongside the esker for about 2 kilometres to the nature preservation area of Neitsytlinna to find a strange, tall mound. It is made of sand and moraine, but how, no-one has been able to tell. I climb up the steep slope and stop again to gaze at the scenery. The slope feels even steeper going down, and I almost lose my foothold. The mound is surrounded by erratics and smaller stones that have been honed smooth by the waves of the Yoldia Sea. Here is an ancient shore, now covered by forests, mosses and lichens. I feel like being at a geological art exhibit when I stand in the shadow of a giant, rugged boulder.

As I am ready to return, I will choose the paths higher up the esker. They will run in the open pinewood forests. I start to look for a suitable place to have my break. Can’t go backpacking without some lunch, can you! At the upper part of the esker, roughly halfway to the trail, there is a picnic table and a campfire site. I will not stay there, though, for I spot a fallen tree a short distance away. It is so inviting that I will sit on the trunk, take out my thermos, pour myself some tea and grab a sandwich.

It’s getting darker, when I return back to the place I started from, at the swimming hall. Today, the Sun didn’t favour me with his presence, but when the skies are clear, it is nice to time your trip to the esker so that you can come back just before the sunset. That way you can have the icing on your esker cake by looking at the breath-taking evening sky spreading above the lake.

Article and photos: Kukka Kyrö

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

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The stunning Liessaari Island in Lohja

Visit Lohja

The stunning Liessaari Island in Lohja near Helsinki invites you to explore its nature trails and relax by the fire at a lean-to

Less than an hour’s drive from Helsinki, the city of Lohja offers you a good glimpse into the nature of Southern Finland. One of the most popular outdoor destinations in Lohja is the Liessaari Island. The magnificent nature trails of the island invite you to explore them in an easy way.

Few kilometres away from the centre of Lohja, there is a white wooden bridge stretching across the lake to the island of Liessaari. Loved by many, the bridge has appeared in thousands of photographs, and the long island, equally cherished as a local jewel, will offer you much to explore.

On the island, there is a special wellness trail, nature trail, beach and a lean-to. The Liessaari Island is a great place to visit with kids, and some of the trails are accessible even with prams.

If you are coming in from the centre of Lohja, you can hop on to the bus to Virkkala, and hop off at the Haikarinkatu bus stop. That leaves you a 1 km walk to the island. If you are travelling by car, you can park it on the parking lot just by the bridge. If you do not have your own car or if you want to go green, you can rent an electric car from the city of Lohja. Instructions in English are found at the bottom of the page. If it is summer and you are arriving by a boat, you can leave your boat on the guest pier of Villa Haikari a few hundred metres away.

I am strolling on a wooden bridge with a smile on my face. Although it’s November; said to be the darkest and gloomiest of all months here, the sky is completely clear today. The lake shimmers in the sun, and the reeds bask in the yellow light. Once I cross the bridge, I am greeted by the tall pine trees. Their roots extend like giant toes in the sandy soil. Right next to the pines there is a small metal fence with love locks and a sign that says “Beach of Love”.

I stop to study the map of a wellness trail. The trail goes around the island for 2,4 kilometres. The map is carved in a piece of wood and attached to a thick dead tree. Along the wellness trail there are several checkpoints that contain small tasks. The tasks provide a good and fun way for learning more about the nature of the island and the wellness experience nature bestows.

Unfortunately, the checkpoints are in Finnish, but if you have a local person with you, you can ask them to translate the instructions for you. The wellness trail is marked on the grounds with wooden Luonnontie tags which don’t stand out much. The wellness trail is partly shared with an old nature trail, which in turn is marked with blue pine cone signs. Be careful in places where the trails cross if you wish to stay on the right one. Don’t worry, though, because you will not get very lost even if you inadvertently take the wrong path.

The map guides me to start my journey at the wide trail on the east side of the island. Large black alders stretch their trunks and branches over the water. The city of Lohja is visible on the opposite shore: I can see the high-rises and the chimney-stacks of the factories.

The trail is bounded by decaying trunks covered with mesmerizingly green moss. When I walk further, I spot a steep slope on the left, and a rope leading up the slope. That’s one checkpoint along the wellness trail. The idea is to climb up the slope with the help of the rope, and come back down. The children love this task, and there’s no shame in trying it if you’re an adult, either! The rope task is a fun way to get your energy flowing for the rest of the trip!

Soon the trail starts to go uphill. Up on the cliffs, I find a large erratic; a remnant from the Ice Age. There is another checkpoint and a task that asks me to whisper my worries to the erratic. The erratic listens to my whispers silently and steadily as ever.

I glance over the Lake Lohjanjärvi, but I don’t want to rest longer yet. Soon, however, I have to. Just a few more turns further, and I find some wooden benches on the clifftop. Finally, I can take the load off my legs and have a cup of tea. There is something special in this place, something extremely relaxing. Right next to this place, lies one of the two discontinued granite quarries of the island. If you are not afraid of sheer drops, you can go and take a peek at the quarry, safely behind the balustrade.

I move on, enjoying the sunlight filtered through the trees. There’s something fascinating about the light in November. It is both golden and cold at the same time as it is both sharp and soft. The light creates deep shadows that accentuate the features of the landscape. The trees in the forests of Liessaari are also wonderful; unattended they grow in many places, stretching here and there, taking their own space and time.

I marvel the cliff face covered in thick, deep green moss, and lie down on a wooden platform built here beside the wellness trail. I look at the treetops and close my eyes for a while. I would have no trouble in falling asleep.

After I’ve moved on again, I come to a crossing where the wellness trail turns back to its origin. I don’t want to go back yet so I choose another trail that leads to a lean-to in the western part of the island. That will add almost 3 kilometres to my trip, but I am not in a hurry. The lean-to is located at the north shore, under a steep and rocky slope. A rope has been set there to help the climb up and down, and I use it gladly.

I can see smoke coming from the campfire site. There is a family there roasting sausages. The lean-to is a popular place for short weekend trips. I meet several people going to or coming from the lean-to. There’s a shed for the firewood on top of the hill. You might want to grab a few logs with you before you go to the lean-to. That way you can cut off an extra trip to the woodshed. Please put out the fire carefully when you leave if there’s no-one else at the lean-to after you.

On my way back I pace myself a little to beat the sun before it sets beyond the horizon. Still, I can’t help stopping every now and then to gaze at trees stripped bare by January. One particularly wonderful detail is a robust tree stump made look like a throne in the woods. I wonder, how long has it been there?

When I reach the point where I started, the sun shines barely on the sandy beach by the bridge. The temperature has fallen below zero; not much but enough to make my nose and cheeks tingle. I have spent a few hours in Liessaari, explored its forests and cliffs, and I feel totally happy and relaxed.

Article by Kukka Kyrö, translation by Mikko Lemmetti