***  FINLAND  2012   -  WEEKS 8~9  ***
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CAMPING IN FINLAND and LAPLAND 2012 - Eastern Finland and crossing the Arctic Circle into Lapland:

Continuing our journey ever northward along the Via Karelia through the deserted boreal forests parallel with the Russian border just 10 kms to the east, we reached our next stopping-point, the Hossa Trekking Area. The Hossa Visitor Centre, operated by the Finnish National Forestry Agency, Metsähallitus, helpful as usual provided us with detailed maps and walking route information, and served as reception for the neighbouring Karhunkainalon Leitintäalue campsite set amid forested heathland. The site's first class facilities with washing and drying machines to catch up with laundry, well-appointed kitchen to help conserve our limited gas supplies, and Visitor Centre's free wi-fi for contact with our family, provided a comfortable base in the wet and gloomy weather.

Click on 4 areas of map for details of Eastern Finland across the Arctic Circle

From the range of Hossa's forested walking routes, we set off the following morning on a 9 kms path to find the Värikallio prehistoric rock-paintings. Driving to the walk's starting-point, we passed the small lake of Iso-Niskalampi, where in gloomy light the reflections of pines and clouds in the still waters and a formation of Whooper Swans passing overhead presented a quintessentially Finnish landscape picture (Photo 1 - Pine and cloud reflections at Lake Iso-Niskalampi). The way-marked path led through wilderness forests above the narrow Ala-Ölkky lake-canyon and at several points we disturbed capercaillies among the dense crowberry-lingonberry-bilberry groundcover. Midge-helmets and DEET-repellent spray kept the midges at bay as we crossed boggy valleys on board-walks. It was here among the glorious gardens of wild flora that we had our first sightings of the distinctive Dwarf Cornel which was to become one of the trip's iconic flowers (Photo 2 - Dwarf Cornel - Cornus suecica). The path eventually crossed a wooden bridge where lake waters tumbled over into the river-canyon, and on the far side led to a long wooden walkway at the lake's edge (Photo 3 - Värikallio lake-side rock face with Palaeolithic rock-paintings). The walkway ended at the foot of a vertical rock face alongside a gallery of Palaeolithic paintings, indistinct traces of red-ochre painted figures thought to date from around 2,500 BC. There were several human stick-figures which are incorporated into Hossa's emblem (see right), and an outline painting of a shaman figure in dance pose with ritual horned mask (Photo 4 - Detail of Värikallio prehistoric rock-paintings) . But despite a protective layer of silica, most of the paintings were now obscurely smudged; for details of the Värikallio prehistoric rock-paintings, visit the Metsähallitus web site.

The wilderness forest walk at Hossa had provided a treasure trove of both botanical and historical interest to satisfy us both, topped by more reindeer sightings as later we returned along the forest road (Photo 5 - Roadside reindeer in Hossa Trekking Area).

The following day in pouring rain we continued north to reach the small town of Kuusamo, which although still in Kainuu had all the feel of Lapland with its boundless boreal coniferous forests, lakes, marshland and reindeer. Kuusamo suffered the same WW2 fate as the rest of Lapland when in September 1944 the Germans mercilessly torched the town with their retreating scorched earth policy. The result is that today there is little of architectural merit in Kuusamo. The supermarkets in the town's suburbs however enabled us to stock up with a week's provisions in readiness for our time in the remote wilds of the Oulanka National Park. The TIC's free internet access showed the weather continuing pessimistically wet and gloomy with low temperatures and even the possibility of snow! With the rain still pouring, we took a brief look around Kuusamo, pausing by the modern church built in 1950 to replace that destroyed by the Germans 6 years earlier, and alongside the Finnish war cemetery filled with WW2 dead. Despite its lack of noteworthy sights, Kuusamo did have 4 noteworthy features: well-stocked supermarkets, a helpful TIC, a delicious smoked cheese, and the cheapest diesel yet encountered in Finland, €0.10 less costly than further south.

In truly miserable weather conditions with driving rain and bitterly cold Arctic northerly wind but thankfully no snow, we camped overnight at a small site just to the north of Kuusamo set in a lakeside forest clearing (which could describe most campsites in Finland). North past the Ruka ski resort, an offensive blot on the gloomy fell-scape, we turned off onto Route 950. At the village of Käylä, we took a side-turning onto 14kms of unsurfaced lane which eventually dipped steeply down into the valley of the Oulankjoki, the river which flows through the Oulanka National Park and eastwards into Russia before eventually turning north to outflow into the White Sea. The helpful Oulanka Visitor Centre again supplied maps and details of walking routes, and 1.5kms beyond, we reached the straightforward National Park campsite. We were given a smilingly reassuring welcome by the young students at reception and the charges were very reasonable, the setting glorious amid pine and birch forest on the banks of the Oulanka river, the facilities in turf-roofed huts (see right) had everything you could ask for with spotlessly clean, snugly heated showers, well-equipped kitchen/wash-up, drying room for wet kit, and small kiosk at reception selling basics. We settled in happily under the pine trees (Photo 6 - Oulanka National Park campsite).

The following morning, although the air temperature was still chill at only 10°C, the cloud had broken to give patchy but warming sun filtering down through the pines. Our plan for today was to walk the 8 kms nature trail which passes Oulanka's key natural feature, the Kiutaköngäs river-rapids and its backdrop of red dolomite cliffs. The path began just beyond the Visitor Centre following the course of the river which at this stage flowed with innocuous placidity and was lined with an array of distinctive wild flora growing along the mossy banks, like the curiously pendulous One-flowered Wintergreen (see left) and the spiky-flowered Herb Paris (see right). As we moved on, the sound of churning water increased as the river approached the narrows of the Kiutaköngäs Rapids; a side path led over rugged rocks to give a bird's eye view as the river waters were funnelled into the narrows and churned into a breath-taking series of seething white-water rapids and cascades surging through the narrow channel (Photo 7 - Kiutaköngäs Rapids on the Oulanka River); against a back-drop of ruddy-brown dolomite cliffs, dark green pines rising up the hillside behind and the vividly blue sky, all lit by bright sunlight, this was an awe-inspiring sight viewed from this rocky grandstand, the air filled with the roar of the foaming river (Photo 8 - Churning waters of Kiutaköngäs Rapids). A few lone specimens of Mountain Avens grew on the very brink of the precipice 30 feet above the rapids. We followed the rocky path through the trees with its startling views of the rapids as the river was funnelled through the narrow ravine, finally gushing out into a wider and more peacefully flowing stretch of river beyond.

As the river settled back into a more somnolent pace sluggishly meandering into ox-bows, the onward path advanced through more open pine woods along a broad, flat-topped heathland plateau above the deep valley. Looking out from this terrace across the wide gulf of the river valley, pine woods stretched away over distant hills of this boundless forested wilderness towards Russia; there was a fearsome awe about this spectacle. The path continued through coniferous woodland passing the delightful small lake of Hiidenlampi. The marshy land again provided a wealth of glorious wild flora nestling among the sphagnum moss alongside the narrow board-walk: delicately attractive pink-white globular Bog-rosemary, cloudberry flowers with their fragile white petals, shy pink Cranberry flowers, Bogbeans with their fringed white flowers, and today's floral highlight, tiny isolated specimens of insectivorous Sundew with the sunlight just catching the sticky red hairs on their fly-catching leaves (Photo 9 - Insectivorous Sundew - Drosera rotundifolia). The walk concluded with a reminder that we were approaching the reindeer herding region of Lapland: a restored wooden-fenced reindeer corral where the husbanded reindeer are gathered twice yearly for tagging and culling. Back at camp, as the midge swarms mustered for their evening assault, the BBQ was lit after another wonderful day's walking amid Oulanka's peaceful coniferous forests.

We spent our 2nd day at Oulanka walking the Rytisuo nature Trail (luontopolku), a circular route starting from the Oulanka campsite, with the possibility of seeing the spectacular wild orchids which grow in the National Park. The way-marked path rose steeply through the forests lined with further wealth of wild flora growing on the nutrient-rich sloping mire draining down the hillside; these included the tiny white insectivorous Alpine Butterwort (Pinguicula alpina) growing out of a rosette of sticky leaves whose curled-up edges trap their insect prey (see left below). But the real highlight of the day was yet to come. We were too late this year to see the Calypso (Fairy Slipper) Orchid which flowers in June and forms the Oulanka National Park's emblem (see left), but growing in a profuse clump alongside the boardwalk, we found plants of the Lady Slipper Orchid (see right): their huge, curiously-shaped flowers had a large yellow bulbous bowl-shaped lip spotted red inside with 3 large maroon wings (Photo 10 - Lady Slipper Orchid - Cypripedium calceolus); how on earth did such a bizarre flower evolve? They made the purple Marsh Orchids seen later growing in marshy ground seem quite mundane (see below right). But there was more wild-life to come: a rustle in the nearby vegetation alerted us to a large mottled brown female capercaillie strutting nervously away probably in an attempt to divert us from her nest of eggs or young. And later near to Rytilampi lake, a Wood Sandpiper sat on a tree branch singing insistently to distract us from its nest in the nearby marshes. We had been fortunate with weather, but the day declined rapidly meaning a sweaty plod back to camp later in full waterproofs as rain began.

Soon after resuming our northward journey on the Via Karelia, we crossed into Lapland as we approached the line of the Arctic Circle. We knew that any fixed marking of the Arctic Circle, defined as the southernmost point at which the sun does not actually set for at least one day a year, was purely notional; the actual line slips northward by some 15m each year due to the earth's changing angle of tilt. But despite these technical trivialities, it was satisfying to find a surprisingly discrete sign at the Hautajärvi Visitor Centre just north of Oulanka village indicating the notional line of the Arctic Circle (Napapiiri in Finnish) and official 'crossing the line' photos had to be taken (Photo 11 - Crossing the Arctic Circle at Hautajärvi). Northwards from here, the topography of the terrain changed dramatically to hilly Lapland fells, partly forested with bare tops, the Sallatunturi fells south of Salla now sullied by the over-commercialised ski industry. The large village of Salla was originally a widespread community of small settlements spread over an area twice the size of the modern municipality; but now it is a place of modern apartment blocks with a forlorn air and sad history after the dreadful suffering of WW2.

We drove into Salla to learn more about its history at the Salla Museum of War and Reconstruction, which describes the traditional farming life within the municipality of Salla, the destruction and disruption caused in WW2, and the post-war period of reconstruction and re-housing of refugees from the area lost to USSR. In 1939 massive Red Army forces launched the invasion of Finland through Salla causing people to flee their farms as the Soviets attempted to cut Finland in half at its narrowest point. Despite having no anti-tank guns, the Finnish forces aided by winter conditions and determination to defend their homeland resisted and the Soviet attack stalled amid fierce fighting. But the terms of the 1940 Treaty of Moscow ending the Winter War brought horrendous loss for the people of Salla: the easterly border of their municipality was forcibly shifted to the westward bulging border line seen today, as the Finns were compelled to cede to the Soviets 6,000 square kms of territory now known as Old Salla (Vanha Salla) (see map left). The Continuation War enabled the Finns to recover some of this and Salla's refugees reoccupied their farms and even laid out a war cemetery by Old Salla church for the 1939~40 war dead. But with renewed Soviet attacks in 1944, the people of Salla were again forced to flee their homes with even worse to come: the retreating Germans destroyed all the buildings of Salla village with fighting again ravaging the area. The 1944 peace treaty reinforced the new border line with USSR, meaning a permanent loss of Old Salla's territory and the need to re-house 4,000 refugees. 9 entire village settlements and farms were rebuilt around New Salla which expanded during the period of post-war reconstruction and life started all over again. The villages and farms of Old Salla with its church and war cemetery, all now within Soviet territory, fell into dereliction and the area of territory lost to Russia is now entirely depopulated as a border zone. The young lady at the Salla Museum of War and Reconstruction responded with candour to our many questions. This is another of those admirably brave little museums which proudly tells the tragic tale of a community which suffered so grievously from the ravages of war, and whose municipality had been victim of rapacious territorial loss at the hands of the Russians and totally destroyed by retreating Germans. No wonder modern Salla still has something of a sad air. Do make a point of visiting its excellent Museum, and ask for a copy of the local guide Vital Villages Salla Tour for an informed exploration of the municipality. Before leaving Salla, we drove the 20kms along Route 82 leading to the modern border-crossing point into Russia, although without a visa we could not see for ourselves this disputed region. We expected to see the usual queues of trucks at the border-crossing, but access to the lost area of Old Salla was today dismally deserted, the grimly dark clouds seeming to symbolise the human suffering of its tragic history (see below right).

We camped that night at the foot of the Sallatunturi ski slopes at Sallainen Camping (see left), but our hope of a first experience of the Midnight Sun across the open vista of the lake were frustrated by a bank of late cloud. The following morning we went instead in search of Lapland reindeer at the nearby Salla Reindeer Park (Poropuisto), admittedly with some misgivings about this possibly being an over-expensive tourist-trap with animals in zoo-like corrals too distant to photograph. In fact the park covered a large area of natural woodland criss-crossed by walking trails and after a couple of kms of walking, suddenly in the trees ahead we spotted the first of a small herd of freely grazing reindeer. The animals were of varying ages and sizes, including young calves, their antlers at this stage of the year covered with soft downy velvet. Being semi-domesticated, the herded reindeer had no fears about our presence and we were able to move freely among them taking our photos and examining closely their cumbersome antlers and curiously shaped hooves; 2 cloven sections at the front and curiously delicate-looking 'high heel' at the rear which clicked as they walked and supported their weight on snow covered ground in winter (see below right). We had already seen a number of reindeer ambling along roads but this had been our first opportunity for close encounters with a whole grazing herd of these animals which are such an iconic symbol of Lapland and form the staple of its traditional Sámi lifestyle and economy (Photo 12 - Lapland reindeer at Salla Poropuisto). We spent a happy couple of hours following the reindeers around the forest clearing, and some of our photos are published here on our  Reindeer Photo Gallery

Our next stop was at Kemijärvi, a small town sitting astride the tooth-shaped lake of Kemijärvi, itself a huge swollen body of water along the course of the mighty Kemijoki River which flows down from Northern Lapland to its mouth at Kemi at the head of the Bothnian Gulf. The road crossed the river/lake on a causeway and on the western side of the town, we reached Camping Hietaniemi. The warden was welcoming and helpful, the lakeside setting delightful, and it was the first time we had camped on grass since leaving Åland. The custom was to fly the flags of guests' countries and we were gratified when the Russian Federation flag was removed to make way for the Union Jack; the warden admitted she had few occasions to do this! Tonight the sun was still shining in a clear sky late into the evening, and a reasonably clear view of the northern horizon unimpeded by pine trees raised further hopes of a first sighting of the Midnight Sun. Sure enough as midnight approached, through the trees we had a partial sighting of the sun positioned on the horizon but not actually setting. It was clear that north of the Arctic Circle during the critical few days of the Midnight Sun period between late June and early July, the sun dipped but did not actually set below the horizon; it appeared to traverse horizontally for a full 90° from NW to NE until it began to rise again in the early hours of the new day. This was an unforgettable experience actually to witness and photograph the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun, and we finally turned in at 1-00am still full of excitement. (Photo 13 - First experience of the Midnight Sun).

Slightly blear-eyed after our late night of sun-watching, we woke to find the sun now fully risen. The compact centre of Kemijärvi is of course entirely modern after wartime destruction; the church which was re-built after WW2 to replace the one destroyed by the Germans has a war cemetery and memorial, and nearby the separate 18th century bell-tower still stands, remarkably having survived German destructive attention (Photo 14 - Kemijärvi modern church and 18th century bell-tower). Following the valley of the wide Kemijoki, we turned north again onto Route 5 to the farming village of Vuostimo with its scattered red-painted wooden dwellings each with their wood stack. Just beyond Vuostimo we reached what undoubtedly was one of the trip's most delightful and hospitable of campsites, Kuukiurun Lomakylä. We were welcomed by the charming elderly couple who have been running what is understandably a popular little set of cottages, café and small campsite here of the banks of the Kemijoki for a number of years (see left), and settled into the grassy camping area in warm evening sunshine. This was as truly a peaceful jewel of a straightforward campsite as you could find anywhere. The sky was perfectly clear and still this evening and the sun still high at 11-30pm. Tonight however woods obscured our view of the horizon, but as we turned in around midnight the sun's light was still glinting through the trees as it sat on the horizon ready for its eastward traverse ready for early sunrise tomorrow. It was only 1 week ago at Kuusamo that temperatures were down to 5°C with bitterly cold Arctic wind and tonight we sat out for supper in warm sunshine, such were the vagaries of wind-direction dependent weather north of the Arctic Circle. The following day we enjoyed a 'jobs day' at Kuukiurun Lomakylä with beautiful sunshine and temperatures of 30°C. The campsite owner called by to offer us use of the rowing boat on the river; they were driving into Kemijärvi to the supermarket and could they get us any shopping, such was their hospitality.

Sorry to leave the homely surroundings at Kuukiurun, we set off northwards the following day to cross the bare-topped Lapland fells of Pyhä-Luosto on Route 692. The road was almost traffic-free enabling us to make good speed, but other hazards lurked along this road: Sheila's job became elk and reindeer watch. The greater hazard are elks, real brutes of beasts which can leap out unexpectedly, but fortunately we only glimpsed one of these in the roadside forest. Reindeer on the other hand are innocently amiable creatures which tend to amble in small groups along the road in a care-free way, totally oblivious to traffic and only move out of the way if you drive slowly towards them. Although semi-domesticated, the herded reindeer wander freely over the forests and fells to graze, but when the midges become too bothersome, they stray onto open spaces including roads to get relief from the midges, graze the grass verges, and in spring lick the residual road salt. Although they do not leap out unexpectedly like elk, they do constitute a real hazard for carelessly speeding traffic and 100s of cars are written off every year through hitting reindeer. Each day we had to keep a sharp watch out for ambling reindeer, and pause to avoid them as they ambled along the road (Photo 15 - Lapland traffic hazard of reindeer ambling along the road).

The road led up though the spectacularly high ground of the Pyhä-Luosto fells, and at Pyhä village we paused to see a small modern wood-built roadside chapel whose interior was the very essence of peaceful, elegant simplicity with vases of fluffy cotton-grass decorating its altar; somehow it seemed out of place and time in this unsightly ski resort. 15kms further up into the high fells, we reached the even more ghastly ski resort of Luosto, thankfully deserted at this time of year. Curiosity led us up a side lane to a parking area from where a 2.5kms track led to the Luosto Amethyst Mine, allegedly Europe's only working amethyst mine. A half-hour brisk walk brought us to the Lampivaara café for mine visit tickets and we made our way up the wooden steps which rose steeply up the scree-covered upper fell slopes. This was a topography not seen before in Finland. Gaining height quickly above the tree line, widely extensive panoramic views opened up across a vista of Lapland fells; the ridge-line of conical fell-peaks stretched away the 30km length of the Pyhä-Luosto valley, rising above the tree-covered lower slopes (Photo 16 - Scree-covered slopes of Lampivaara Fell). Mining of amethyst was begun here on the open summit of 400m high Lampivaara fell in the 1980s by hand-excavation to find amethyst crystals in the surface layers of rock debris. Amethyst is formed by slow crystallisation of silicon dioxide which would normally produce quartz but the combined presence of iron and aluminium impurities gives the characteristic amethyst purple colour. Amethyst formed in this way in caves deep underground is brought to the surface by aeons of erosion of the upper rock strata and more recently by glacial scouring, hence its presence here on a Lapland fell-top. The comically extortionate admission charge to visit the mine suggested that insufficient amethyst was produced for commercial viability and they made their money by ripping off tourists. And the mine visit was a non-event: after a brief introduction, we were given picks and left to scratch around in the debris for pieces of quartz or amethyst (Photo 17 - Digging for amethyst on Lampivaara fell-top); you had to be impressed at the sheer novelty of the rip-off!  But the weather was good and the fell-top setting magnificent with the distant views of Lapland fells. Returning along the valley path, we were again able to photograph more of the elegant Dwarf Cornel flowers (see right) despite the swarming midges. The path doubled as a walking path in summer and ski/snowmobile route in winter snows, enabling us to add a further uniquely Finnish sign to our collection (see left), and back in Luosto village, a small herd of beautifully antlered reindeer browsed the car park.

Route 962 was a magnificent road carving a way over the forested watershed of the Pyhä-Luosto bare-topped fells, down into the broad Kitinen valley to join Route 4 northwards to the outskirts of Sodankylä. After the rural peace of the last few days, Sodankylä seemed a busy little town set at the junction of 2 major highways. Its rather drab modern appearance thanks to WW2 German destruction, gives little impression of its history: founded in the late 17th century as a market town for the Finnish settlers and scattered indigenous Sámi population who travelled here from a wide region to trade and attend church, by boat in summer and reindeer-pulled sledge in winter. It still forms the major service centre for Central Lapland, one of Europe's least populated regions with just 0.8 people per square kilometre and many more reindeer. The town's TIC provided another heap of brochures and enabled us to collect emails and consult the weather forecast, and across the street a bronze statue intended to celebrate reindeer husbandry looked more like a bull fight between a reindeer and an elf. Far more impressive was the Sodankylä's wooden Old Church (Vanha Kirkko) dating from 1689 and one of the town's few buildings to have survived the 1944 German scorched earth retreat. The small wooden chapel, standing in a graveyard surrounded by a low wooden fence next to the less noteworthy 19th century church which replaced it, is no longer used for services but is now a popular wedding venue (Photo 18 - 17th century wooden Old Church at Sodankylä). The dark wooden interior was delightfully restored, with plain wooden pews and undecorated with an altar made from beams (Photo 19 - Interior of Sodankylä Old Church). This was certainly Sodankylä's highlight. Before finding tonight's campsite, we went in search of Sodankylä's less well-known features and certainly well off the usual tourist trail: 2 kms north of the town on Route 4, turn left just after a Neste filling station into a small industrial estate, and there you'll find the factory shop of the Kylmänen meat processing company, which sells fresh, frozen and tinned reindeer meat and their recommended specialty, tinned cream of reindeer soup (poro keitto). If you wait to buy such delicacies at Lapland tourist souvenir shops rather than directly from the producers, you'll pay twice the price. Well pleased with our acquisition of a 6-pack of reindeer soup (ideal presents for family) and a large bag of frozen reindeer meat, we turned back into town to find Nilimella Camping on the banks of the Kitinen River. This is a welcoming, reasonably priced campsite with rowan-divided pitches, free wi-fi and best value washing machine in Finland (€1 for wash and free drying machine); they don't come better than this. Sodankylä was certainly a pleasantly useful town with all the services you might need including supermarkets for provisions stock up, but prices are inevitably more expensive this far north.

On a drizzly, overcast morning, we continued north on Route 4 along the valley of the wide Kitinen River which at several points swells out into lakes. After an hour's drive, we pulled into the Koilliskaira Visitor Centre at Tankavaara on the western edge of the Urho Kekkonen National Park, the country's largest conservation area covering some 2,550 square kms of uninhabited wilderness. Our plan was to walk the 6km circuit of the Kuukkelilenkki nature trail, named after the Siberian Jay (Kuukkeli); this distinctly charactersome bird is native to these forests but we failed to see or hear any of them. The way-marked path led up from the Visitor Centre though pristine spruce forest, some of the spruce being tall, slender candle-shaped, evolved to avoid damage from the heavy weight of winter snow, and others more elegantly broad shaped. The branches of the spruce were hanging with beard lichen which the reindeer browse on (see left) and spiky-leafed, yellow-flowered Cow-Wheat grew among the ground cover (see right). As we approached the conifer tree-line the spruces thinned to give more open ground. The path rose more steeply up through Mountain birch scrub leading to an observation tower on the fell's point with panoramic views to distant horizons across the bleak Lapland fell-scape (Photo 20 - Summit of Pieni Tankavaara Fell). The 468m high open fell top was a miniature paradise garden of wild flora with Chickweed Wintergreen (see left) and our first sighting (though certainly not the last) of curiously-shaped Twin-Flowers still in bud growing among the exposed stone field (Photo 21 - Twin-Flowers - Linnaea borealis). As we lost height from the fell top, the descent path led down to the start of a long board-walk crossing a broad mire, with the usual floral array of Cloudberry, Cranberry, Bog-rosemary and Bogbeans we had come to expect in marshland, this time augmented by some fine specimens of Heath Spotted Orchids. The path led back through spruce forest to Koilliskaira Visitor Centre which, in addition to providing good information and maps, also has well-presented exhibitions on local flora and fauna, birds of prey and Sámi reindeer husbandry. In 1868 the discovery of gold created a mini gold rush here at Tankavaara in the remote Lapland fells with prospectors panning the river sand and gravel in an attempt to make their fortune. Some claims are still worked, but the only fortune hunters today are those that milk the gullible tourists by charging extraordinary prices at the Tankavaara Gold Mining Museum. Having been unimpressed with the amethyst mine yesterday, we were not falling for more touristical hype; all we wanted now was a reasonable place to camp. Ignoring the tacky Gold Mining Museum, next door we found an equally tacky pseudo wild-west set-up whose owner offered the chance to camp among the dilapidated huts. We settled in for the evening in this woodland setting among the tall candle-spruces after a fulfilling afternoon exploring Tankavaara's fell-land flora.

On a bright sunny morning, Route 4 northwards was a delightful road passing through endless boreal forest with the candle-spruces standing out distinctively tall (see left). As we drove further into Lapland, road signs became dual-language, Finnish and Sámi eg Ivalo/Avvi and Inari/Anárr (Photo 22 - Dual-language Lapland Finnish and Sámi road signs), and north of Saarisekä, the road passed over more hilly and open fell terrain with snow fencing to protect the open sections susceptible to winter snow-drifting. Despite the busy traffic, we had to slow several times for reindeer on the road and in the outskirts of Ivalo there were even reindeer in the builders merchants yard browsing among the Jewson bits and pieces! Ivalo was a pleasant and functionally self-sufficient small town with shops lining its main street, and modern hospital and Orthodox chapel replacing those razed in 1944 by retreating Germans. Even the Lapland souvenir shop was better priced than expected, and the supermarket was well-stocked not only with foodstuffs but also a wide range of hardware. It clearly served a wide area, including a brisk cross-border trade with nearby Russia and we heard more Russian voices than ever among the shelves as we stocked up with provisions. The sign at the town's central roundabout pointed along Route 91 to the Russian border-crossing, with Murmansk 303kms to the NW (see below).

North of Ivalo, Route 4 passed over undulating forested terrain with alluring views along the southern shores of the massive lake of Inarijärvi whose waters reflected blue from the clear sky. Within an hour we were approaching Inari, the main Sámi town of Northern Lapland and location of the devolved Finnish Sámi Parliament. The town is tiny, just a few buildings, church, small supermarkets and filling station at the bend of the road by the Juutuanjoki bridge where the river flowed into Inari Lake. Uruniemi Camping 3 kms from the centre had a surly and unwelcoming owner, limited facilities and an overcrowded, sloping camping area, but at least a few level pitches on a grassy terrace facing westwards overlooked Inarijärvi; if the evening remained clear, this open vista across the lake would give a perfect grandstand view of the Midnight Sun. The evening sun dipped gradually towards the western horizon, but frustratingly by 11-30pm a late band of cloud drifted across totally obscuring the sun (Photo 23 - Midnight Sun over Lake Inari obscured by late cloud); disappointed this evening, we turned in hoping for a clearer evening tomorrow to take advantage of this perfect position for photographing the Midnight Sun.

The following morning we drove into Inari in search of the devolved Finnish Sámi Parliament, the Sámediggi. Our enquiries were met with shrugs; was the Sámi Parliament so obscure, or even worse so ineffectual, as to be unknown or regarded as irrelevant? We eventually tracked it down to a modern timber-faced building only opened this spring housing the Sámi cultural centre, library and the parliament (Photo 24 - Sámi Parliament (Sámediggi) at Inari). We had at least found the location, but could we achieve a parliamentary visit? The Sámi lady in the souvenir shop assured us that visits were possible, and while waiting we leant more from her about Sámi language and culture. There were 3 groups of indigenous Sámi people living in Lapland each with different languages not mutually understood: the Inari Sámi living around Inari of whom only 300 speakers of the language survive; the Northern Sámi, the largest group with 10,000 in all and 2,000 living in Finland; the Skolt Sámi formerly from the Petsamo region of North Russian Kola peninsula, evacuated post WW2 after the Soviet occupation of the area, and re-settled around Nellim and Sevettijárvi in NE Finland; there area only 300 surviving speakers of Skolt Sámi, a complex language not understood by other Sámi speakers and more resembling Russian. We asked to learn the word for 'Thank you' in the 3 Sámi tongues: Inari Sámi - Takkâ, Northern Sámi - Giitu(cf the Finnish Kiitos), and Skolt Sámi - Spässeb (cf Russian Spasibo). School children have the right to receive their education and take exams in their mother tongue.

The guide returned and opened the parliamentary plenary chamber (see left), giving us a presentation on the Sámediggi and answering our many questions: there are 21 members of the devolved Parliament elected from the Sámi domicile areas of Finland for a 4 year term. According to law, a person is eligible to vote if they consider themselves as Sámi and they or their parents/grandparents speak Sámi as mother tongue. The Parliament was established under a law of 1973, making it the self-governing body for all Finnish Sámi, with devolved powers on issues concerning Sámi language and culture and their status as the indigenous people of Finland. It also decides on the distribution of funds earmarked by the Finnish State for Sámi affairs. It was however difficult to determine precisely the real level of devolved self-governing powers, since the definitions seemed so vague. We were keen to understand the relationship with the Finnish State Parliament, and as expected, the major point of contention was over land rights and access. Of the 3 Nordic countries, only Finland still denies the Sámi unique right of access to the traditional reindeer herding grounds. This was a very different view from the blandly patronising response to our questions on this issue we had received in Helsinki. The small circular parliamentary chamber named the Sajos, the Sámi term for their traditional nomadic encampment (Photo 25 - Plenary chamber of the Finnish Sámi Parliament), had simultaneous translation facilities so that members speaking in the different Sámi languages could understand one another. We had achieved our visit and leant much not only about Sámi language and culture, but about their limited constitutional rights to self-determination and government in the face of the overwhelming economic clout of the powerful forestry and mining lobbies which had the ear of the Finnish State.

At the far end of Inari, we found what was reputed to be one of the best museums in Scandinavia, the SIIDA Sámi Cultural Museum and North Lapland Nature Centre. Its restaurant offers good value lunches including delicious sautéed reindeer with lingonberry sauce. The name SIIDA was derived from the Sámi word for the small community or clan which hunted or herded reindeer; it was certainly the place to find out more about the Sámi peoples, their traditional nomadic way of life and how this has changed in the modern world. The exhibitions began with a timeline tracing the history of the Sámi from their earliest migration into Finno-Scandinavia in the immediate post-glacial period, showing them as Finland's original indigenous settlers as the Scandinavian lands became habitable for humankind following the retreat of the glaciers. The timeline, against a background of world historic events, showed the development of Sámi culture from nomadic hunter-gatherers through to domestication of herded reindeer, initially on a nomadic basis but, aided by 20th century technology such as the snowmobile and improved road development, adapting to a more settled way of life (see left). The outer walls of main exhibition hall were covered with impressive photographic illustrations showing the changing natural landscape of Lapland through the seasons with the impact of extremes of weather and temperature on plant and animal life, against subtle background sounds of trickling water, winter winds, rustling birch trees, bird song and enigmatic Sámi joik song-chants. Of particular interest were the illustrations of the berries and a cleverly presented panel which helped to explain the phenomena of Midnight Sun and permanent winter darkness in northern latitudes caused by the tilt of the earth as it orbited the sun. The exhibition's central area was set out with displays and descriptive panels explaining in superb detail the various aspects of Sámi traditional life and reindeer herding from the time of nomadic culture following the migrating herds through to modern settled way of life made possible by developments like the snowmobile and outboard motor. The displays covered the annual cycle of reindeer herding, and Sámi dependence on reindeer for food, clothing and shelter; centrepiece of the exhibition was a modern snowmobile, towing a cargo-carrying sledge, which had revolutionised the Sámi lifestyle with reindeer herds now tracked by GPS (Photo 26 - snowmobile for modern reindeer herding). The external part of the museum took the form of a skansen of traditional Sámi dwellings, particularly the kota reindeer-skin nomadic tents (see right). SIIDA lived up to its reputation as a thoroughly worthwhile source of learning on Sámi lifestyle and culture and the natural environment of their northern homeland.

Just beyond SIIDA, a lane branches off to a parking area from where a way-marked footpath leads in 4kms to the Pielpajärvi Erämaakirkko (Wilderness Church). The church dates from the mid-18th century and had served a Sámi settlement once sited in the meadow near the church, where the nomadic reindeer-herding families had over-wintered in the kota huts after following their herds over the high fells during summer. This encampment site (Sajos) had formed the original settlement of Inari, but overgrazing had led to the abandonment of the site in favour of the present day township of Inari. The wooden church had been saved from dereliction by restoration in the 1970s in this beautiful floral meadow setting. From the car park, the path undulated through boulder-strewn pristine forest, the rocks carpeted with moss, lichen and young pine saplings all safely out of reach of grazing reindeer, and the forest floor covered with lingonberry flowers. Alongside the shore of Lake Pielpajärvi, we found one of today's floral highlights, a prolific patch of blue-flowered insectivorous Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris). But the best was yet to come: beyond the lake, the path emerged into the flowery meadow of the abandoned village, and here flourishing among the long grass and buttercups were patches of beautiful delicate lilac Lapland Jacobs Ladder (Photo 27 - Lapland Jacob's Ladder - Polemonium acutiflorum). The Wilderness Church stood at the far edge of the meadow in a small copse of birches (Photo 28 - Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church); dating from 1750, this is one of Finland's oldest surviving churches and the light shining through the open shutters showed the grey-painted interior in its plain simplicity (Photo 29 - Interior of Wilderness Church).

Returning through Inari that evening, we called in at the modern church, built in 1952 with American Lutheran financial help to replace the town's old church destroyed in WW2. The interior of the A-framed structure had a warm wooden feel, but the most attractive feature was the altar painting by Väinö Saikko depicting Christ blessing a Sámi family with their reindeer in the Lapland wilderness (Photo 30 - Altar painting at Inari church showing Sámi family). Back at Uruniemi Camping, the cloud of earlier was beginning to dissipate with the sun beginning to shine through; but would the sky clear sufficiently to give a view of the Midnight Sun tonight? (Photo 31 - Will the cloud break tonight?). By 10-30pm we waited anxiously as the western horizon cleared. Across the open lake we had a perfect westward line of sight along the full sweep of the horizon. From the door way of our camper, we watched as the full golden orb of the sun dipped lower; all looked good for our first clear experience of the Midnight Sun. Sure enough, as midnight approached, the sun dipped to its fullest extent, not actually touching the western horizon but visibly standing clear above it. Here at last we had our long-awaited unimpeded experience of the Midnight Sun (Photo 32 - Midnight Sun across Lake Inari). The wind across the lake was bitterly chill, but never mind - we were standing there watching and photographing the golden sun shining fully and brightly at midnight. It remained clear of the horizon, traversing horizontally eastwards as expected, its bright light reflected on our camper's windows. It was so thrilling that we stayed up until gone 1-00am watching this extraordinary phenomenon (see right).

Tomorrow we should move further northwards to cross the Finnish border into Arctic Norway, heading towards Kirkenes and the tundra wastes of the Varanger Fjord region. Join us again shortly for our continuing journey.

Next edition to be published in 3 weeks

Sheila and Paul

Published:  16 November 2012


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Music this week: Jean Sibelius
Valse Triste Opus 44 No 1
Incidental music for Kuolema (Death) 1904

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