Tag Archive for: Mika Puskala

In commercial partnership with Visit Raseborg

Billnäs is a significant part of Finland’s industrial history. The beautiful ironworks milieu may still be experiencing a moment of peace from a bigger tourist rush, but the village is coming to life thanks to the hard work of the ironworks’ new owner. In 2019, we cycled over the old Ratavalli train tracks, now open to the public, from Fiskars to Billnäs and enjoyed both the stunning Mustionjoki scenery and the impressive history of the ironworks.

Route length: 20km

Riding time around 2h

Destination on the map

Starting point and end point on the map

Easy route, some hills

One beautiful day in the early summer, we found ourselves unloading our slightly too tightly-packed bicycles from the trunk of our car on the outskirts of the village of Fiskars. We’d spent the previous day gathering our strength on the endless beaches of Hanko, and our minds, thirsting for action, were already racing through our route for the day.

For our home base, we chose Fiskars, from where we would cycle towards Billnäs on the Ratavalli, which was opened in 2019 as a footpath. The Ratavalli, named after the old train track base it runs on, starts at the Karjaa sports park and ends in Fiskars, and it’s an excellent route for travelers wanting to cycle. The trip can also be made without a car if you start in Karjaa, as you can bring your bike there by train from Helsinki.

The fields and farms are criss-crossed by numerous roads, mainly gravel, so you can pick your own path with relative freedom. The plan was to take a slightly different route back from Billnäs to Fiskars.

Taking the Ratavalli to Billnäs

You can find the Ratavalli route on Google Maps under the name Skuruntie, departing from the Fiskarsintie road that approaches Fiskars from the south, on the south side of the village center. We travel the first few kilometers around the shore of lake Borgbyträsket, which belongs to the drainage basin of Fiskarsinjoki river. Leaving the happy cows behind, we push onward on the peaceful gravel road on the first bike trip of the summer. We stop next to a wall of rock on the south side of the lake when my spouse shouts at me from behind. I only see a gray blur of the snake slithering by my feet. The viper slips away quickly in search of a calmer place to warm its poikilothermous body.

We roll on southward on the tracks, passing the Tallbacka village, until we cross the Turuntie road. Our initial plan was to cycle through Åminnefors village, but we realize around the bridge crossing Mustionjoki river that the Ratavalli passes Åminnefors on the north. If we wanted to stop at the only ironworks still in industrial use, we should have left the Ratavalli route and continued along Mustionjoki river towards the village center. Oh well, there’s always next time. We continue on our way towards Billnäs, where we have a date with guide Matti Piirainen, based in Tammisaari.

We arrive in the center of Billnäs and leave our bikes on the old railyard, bordered by the old dispatch center under repairs. This building was used for dispatching the ironworks’ products all around Finland and the world. Soon we are approached by the guide, Matti, who will guide us through the history of the area.

Billnäs, 1880

History of the Pohja ironworks 101

The Pohja ironworks were first formed in the early 17th century, and are as a whole part of Finland’s national landscape, a collection of 27 sites that proudly represent the country’s culture, history and nature. The ironworks are a significant part of Finland’s tradition of industrial history.

There are altogether five old ironworks in Länsi-Uusimaa: The Pohja ironworks, consisting of Antskog, Fiskars and Billnäs, as well as Mustio and Fagervik. They’re all located within 30 kilometers of each other and all have differing natures and histories. Antskog is very quiet and less of a tourist attraction, Fiskars is a village of artisans, and Mustio is the oldest of the ironworks, characterized by Mustio castle and the large manor park. Fagervik in Inkoo is noted by the Finnish Heritage Agency as “the most complete and representative ironworks of the pre-industrial era”, and it, too, is well within reach of a cyclist looking to visit the Länsi-Uusimaa ironworks.

The Billnäs ironworks was founded in 1641 under Swedish rule. Sweden’s own ironworks had shaved down the forests surrounding them, so the decision was made to build new ironworks in Uusimaa, known in Swedish as Nyland. The location of the ironworks was based on three key needs: a harbor for the logistics chain, a river to power the ironworks, and forest as a source of charcoal to burn. Billnäs manufactured various tools, from nails to ax heads, later moving on to office furniture – which is where many Finns know the name from today.

We start our walking tour from the gate of the ironworks. Attention is quickly drawn to the initials and dates on the ends of the houses. The wrought iron initials signify the period each building is from.

Billnäs was founded in 1641 by former customs officer Carl Billsten, who later passed on the title of ironworks tycoon to his son. During the Isoviha period of the Great Northern War, the ironworks was destroyed almost completely, after which the company was purchased by the Hising brothers. The Hisinger family ruled over the ironworks for a few hundred years, until they were acquired by Fiskars in the 1920s. Understandably, the buildings mostly carry the Hisinger initials.

We walk by the store of a tourism entrepreneur, sporting new, shiny city bikes at the front. In addition to Billnäs, there are bicycle rentals in Karjaa, Fiskars and Tammisaari. Thanks to this, you can cycle between the ironworks without much pre-planning or acquiring a bike beforehand. The entrepreneur also operates a workshop and a flea market in the same space, which will be neighbored by a canoe and bike rental in the future.

Matti Piirainen arranges boat trips in the Tammisaari archipelago national park and works as a guide in both the nature of Tammisaari and historic environments like the Fiskars and Billnäs ironworks. Matti has completed the Suomen Latu wilderness guide course. He has guided wilderness trips in Utsjoki, Lapland, and since expanded his repertoire. He started the boat tours about 10 years ago, and he has a rental boat driver’s license. Learn more on Matti’s website.

We continue walking towards the banks of the Mustionjoki river. A thrush nightingale is singing on the branch of a deciduous tree and the bright June light is casting sharp shadows all around us. Soon we’re standing on a wooden bridge over Mustionjoki on the east side of the dam.

Mustionjoki river is also suited for canoeing and kayaking. Right on the south side of the Peltokoski power plant, by the side of the Salontie road, is a boat launching place. There are no dams on the way, and aside from one small rapid, you can boat down the river for around 20 kilometers all the way to Billnäs. You can take your canoe out of the river before the Billnäs dam. As for renting, you can find rentals such as Melontatehdas, known in Swedish as Paddlingsfabriken, in the area.

Before the hydroelectric dam, a new pontoon bridge takes us to the newly-built fish ladder. We’ll hear more about them later from the ironworks’ current owner, Olli Muurainen. The ironworks creates an impressive view from the north side of the river, the factory chimney standing out against a nearly cloudless sky. We pass by the oldest houses in the village, smith’s residences from the 18th century painted in red ochre. The workers lived in these wooden houses painted with red earth pigment, charming from a modern viewpoint. Clerks lived in slightly larger stone houses.

The ironworks’ development

The ownership of the key buildings was transferred from Fiskars to the municipality of Pohja in the 1980s. In 2008, the municipality sold them to entrepreneur Olli Muurainen, who’s been renovating the area since. We meet Olli on the terrace of the soon-to-open summer restaurant, on the bank of Mustionjoki river. He tells us about the toil it’s taken to renovate the ironworks.

Now, after a gap of 10 years, the ironworks is open to individual customers once more. A hotel has been built in the ironworks’ old head office, offering 22 tastefully decorated rooms, some of which are located in the neighboring former design office. The ironworks also offers an unparalleled setting for meetings, events and celebrations such as weddings. As a pandemic specialty, the ironworks has offered remote work packages.

In addition to the current restaurant serving hotel guests and conference-goers, an outdoor summer restaurant will be opened this year and in the future, there will be shops in the old dispatch center, which is currently under renovations. Throughout July, there’s a Sunday market in the area.

The renovation of the protected buildings has been going on for years, and the work is now roughly at its halfway point. The forested area has been cleared heavily to better match the original landscape. 300 cherry trees have been planted in the area along with North-American maples and oaks, which are expected to sport stunning fall colors. The ironworks is celebrating its 380th anniversary in 2021, and the celebrations will be surrounded by gorgeous colors in both the summer and the fall.

Last year, fish ladders were opened as a bypass for the Billnäs and Åminnefors hydroelectric dams. Billnäs has a so-called vertical slot fish ladder, where fish swim from rung to rung and can rest in the pools along the way. The fishways are opened around May Day and closed in November, following the annual cycle of migratory fish. The brand new pontoon bridge along the opposite bank leads to a viewing spot for the fish climbing their ladder. Later, the bridge will allow for passage over Mustionjoki river.

Back to Fiskars

Now it’s time to return to Fiskars. Leaving the red-brick chimney behind, we continue northwest on our bikes, through the Billnäs tree nursery and past the gorgeous Billnäs ironworks manor designed by Lars Sonck. We ride along the Turuntie road for a while before turning back onto smaller roads at the Påminne skiing center.

Following the Lillforsintie, we make our way to the Brunkom waterfront road, which we follow for a few kilometers to the Brunkomintie road. We cycle along the edge of a field for a while, until we get to the Gästerbyntie intersection, surrounded by forest. After that it’s a straight shot to Fiskars along the Gästerbyntie road, sand billowing behind our bikes. We ride fast into the village downhill, stopping conveniently in front of Cafe Pesula. Leaving our bikes to lean against each other, we enjoy some well-deserved apple soda on the sunny yard.

On this hot summer day, the impressive history of the ironworks feels both distant and tangible at the same time. The structural change facing the ironworks has pushed them to reinvent themselves. Fortunately, their locations are beautiful without exception, and the charming ironworks milieus are an inviting destination for travelers. They’re anything but historical curiosities.

Text and photos: Mika Puskala

Learn more

Visitraseborg.com/Billnas

An impressive cycling route in Raseborg: Presenting the 46-kilometre long Front Line Route

One of the most beautiful hiking areas in Raseborg hides among the reed beds and hazel groves – hiking on the trails of lake Lepinjärvi at dawn

The Antskog Ironworks in Raasepori – a historical idyll by the river

Culture & cardio – experience the Embankment route from the capital region to Fiskars on a train and bike

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