***  FINLAND  2012   -  WEEKS 16~17  ***
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CAMPING IN FINLAND and LAPLAND 2012 - the Arctic wastes of Northern Finland, leaving Santa Claus in the Arctic Circle at Rovaniemi, and south to Kajaani:

Leaving Kautokeino heading south towards the Finnish border, it felt like the beginning of the long journey home; but we still had more than 1,000 miles ahead of us down through the length of Finland with many more ventures yet to come over the next 4 weeks. We crossed back into Northern Finland with not even a reindeer in sight across the uninhabited, stony, birch-scrub tundra terrain, but approaching the small Sámi town of Enontekiö we were again driving through familiar pine and spruce forests fringed with birch trees, the afternoon sunlight picking out the beginnings of golden Ruska colours of the first autumn leaves.

Click on 3 areas of map for details of Northern Finland, Rovaniemi
and south to

The Skierri Fell-Lapland Centre in Enontekiö provided a wealth of information in readiness for tomorrow's walk in the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park and an impressive exhibition on Sámi life. Along the village street, we paused at Enontekiö's modern church built in 1952 with financial support from Finnish-American Lutherans to replace the original church destroyed in 1944. We walked around the church to admire the high curved vaulting and east end wall decorated with a mosaic of Christ blessing the Lapland fells, to an accompaniment of Vivaldi as the Oulu Chamber Orchestra rehearsed for an evening concert. (Photo 1 - Enontekiö church with Lapland wall mosaic).

After a night's Camp at Enontekiö's Hetan Lomakylä, we took the minor Route 957 SE through birch-covered heathland with the high Pallas-Yllästunturi fells silhouetted against the sky-line. The road followed the course of the wide and gently-flowing Ounasjoki River through delightfully forested terrain, and here we caught up with a strange-looking lorry. This turned out to be a snow-pole setting truck: a mechanism at the rear corner drilled the snow-pole into the roadside verge and the truck moved on to repeat the process in 100m leaving the line of red snow-poles in readiness for next winter (Photo 2 - Snow-pole setting in readiness for winter). Near to Lake Pallasjärvi, we reached the start-point for the Pyhäjoki Nature Trail (Luontopolku), part of the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, detailed in the Guide to Finnish Lapland published by Crossbill, an invaluable book which had served us well. This way-marked 3km circular walk passed through pine and spruce woodland initially on board-walks through a veritable forest of lush Ostrich Ferns (Photo 3 - Pyhäjoki Nature Trail board-walk). The forest floor was richly carpeted with a profusion of shiny black Crowberries and juicy ripe Bilberries (Photo 4 - Bilberries); the Finnish Everyman's Rights law gives freedom for berry-picking and we had come prepared with collecting pots to take full advantage of this (Photo 5 - Berry-picking on the Pyhäjoki Nature Trail). The path contoured over hillsides, dropping down where the Pyhäjoki stream tumbled down from a small lake with pines reflected in the still waters (Photo 6 - Pine reflections in Pyhäjoki lake). Gaining height up the rocky fell-side, the trail continued across an open, treeless marshy plateau on board-walks (Photo 7 - Board-walk across open mire). Here Cloudberries grew among the sphagnum in the mire, and although small, it was our first opportunity to taste the ripe fruits (see below left). Approaching the road, we found juniper bushes growing in an old meadow laden with ripe black berries (see below right) and we gathered a bag full to dry for adding to stews, leaving fingers smelling of the pungent juniper scent; it had been a worthwhile afternoon of berry-picking.

Before leaving the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, we called in at the Visitor Centre on the slopes of the region's highest fell, the rounded topped 807m high Taivaskero. The Pallas-Yllästunturi chain of forested fells form the western terminus of the northern boreal taiga belt which spans the Arctic polar region of the globe passing through Siberia across to North America. But the highly profitable winter sports industry had made its presence unduly felt in this bleakly attractive and previously unspoilt fell-land tundra: the area was now dominated by a huge and intrusive ski hotel and the eroded walking paths on Taivaskero were scarred by ski-lifts. It did however have its practical advantage in that the narrow minor roads leading through the area which would previously have been unsurfaced were now tarmaced for the ski companies to bus winter tourists up here from Kittilä airport. Reaching Route 79, we ourselves turned towards Kittilä for tonight's campsite. This main road passed through the most beautiful forested terrain with the birch trees now tinged with their golden Ruska colours and lit by the bright afternoon sun (Photo 8 - Autumn tinged birch trees). Kittilä suffered the same WW2 fate as all other Lapland towns with not one stick left unburnt. The town was hastily re-built post-war, its blandly unattractive buildings strung out along Route 79, but it does serve as a major service centre for the surrounding area, with banks, supermarket, shops and garages. Just beyond the centre, Route 80 turns off towards Sodankylä some 100km to the east where we had begun our northward passage through Lapland over 2 months ago. On the banks of the wide River Ounasjoki which we had crossed earlier today, we found Camping Kittilän Lomamökit, a delightfully straightforward and welcoming campsite (see left) where we enjoyed a peaceful day in camp catching up with household chores. Our breakfast yogurt was enhanced with juicy bilberries picked the day before at Pyhäjoki, and our supper laced with freshly picked juniper berries.

The following morning was bright but the air had the distinct chill of early autumn. Today, after a provisions stock-up in Kittilä's supermarket, we had a 150km drive south on Route 79 following the Ounasjoki's middle valley to Rovaniemi, our final day within the Arctic Circle. The road passed through continuous pine and spruce forest, and we had a narrow miss when a large reindeer unexpectedly scampered across the road. Approaching Rovaniemi was something of a culture shock, after weeks of almost deserted Arctic roads, suddenly to be plunged headlong into busy, speeding traffic, dual-carriage way and speed cameras: welcome to urban (un)civilisation! Promoted by the tourist industry as the Capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi is a place of dual aspect: the town itself set at the confluence of 2 mighty rivers, the Ounasjoki and Kemijoki, had to be rebuilt entirely from the built-out ruins of old Rovaniemi's once elegant wooden houses and churches left behind in 1944 by retreating Germans. Post-war reconstruction was directed by the eminent Finnish architect Alvar Aalto with a network of streets said to be shaped like reindeer antlers, and a cluster of Aalto's archetypal white-tiled public buildings. Then there's Rovaniemi's ghastly commercial aspect: most current day mass tourists never actually see the town, but are whisked from Rovaniemi airport in their plane loads for 24 hours over-commercialised, sanitised sampling of Arctic wonderland in the souvenir shops of Santa's shopping centres 6 kms to the north along the main Route 4 to Kemijärvi. The tourist industry manages to lure 1000s of visitors here each year searching for Santa and gullibly emptying their wallets into greedy, grasping hands. Arriving at Rovaniemi's outskirts, we turned onto Route 4's dual carriage-way to take a brief look at just how awful the Santa Claus 'attractions' were.

Passing the Santa theme park (thankfully closed in August), we pulled into the Santa Claus Village (Joulupukin Pajkylä) set at the point where the notional line of the Arctic Circle (Napapiiri) crosses. To escape the pouring rain, we dived into the nearest souvenir shops to glance at the shelves laden with ephemera. Across the car park, Santa's Main Post Office (Joulupukin Pääposti), operated by the Finnish Postal Service, was a novel and modestly under-commercialised feature: you bought your card, addressed it at the writing tables provided, bought a stamp from the smilingly friendly elf at the counter, and posted it in one of the boxes for delivery at Christmas duly franked with Santa's postmark (see right). And at Christmas, the card was duly delivered to our grandchildren, adding verisimilitude to the Santa myth. This Post Office receives millions of letters each year addressed to Santa in Lapland from children all over the world. Outside the notional line of Napapiiri was marked across the car park's puddles for tourists to be photo-ed standing astride; the actual Arctic Circle has long since drifted further north! Santa's Official Office (Joulupukin Kammari) stood across the driveway. Hurry along, a passing elf urged, since the Old Man was about to take his tea break; a visit to Santa was entirely free of charge - this we had to see. A mysterious corridor meandered around the darkened interior, past a huge ticking clock mechanism which, so the story goes, magically slows the earth's rotation so that Santa has time on Christmas Eve to visit children all round the world. So if you had ever wondered, that's how He does it! This eerie ticking monster provides entertainment for those who queue for hours at Christmas to see Santa. Today however we walked straight in, up the stairs and were greeted at the door of Santa's grotto by another elf who enquired if we had been good. And there He was, beckoning us in to sit either side of his throne, conveniently positioned for the photo of this magical moment. The job description for Santa applicants requires multi-lingual speakers, since He chatted with us in charmingly accented English. There was no rush for our audience with the Great Man, and in conclusion we shook his hand and wished him well. The only element of commercialism was the elf who tried to sell us our Santa photo at €25; we tactfully declined! Tacky as the Santa Village sounds, it was all remarkably low key, and even more surprising there was no charge for an audience with the Boss Man. You could take or leave the souvenir shops and there were no queues for the Main Event at this time of year. His Post Office service was also free of any exploitative charge with just the cost of a normal stamp. You could happily ignore all the tackiness, and enjoy the pseudo-magic of a visit to Santa, especially in the pouring rain - and we did!

We drove down through the town and crossed the river on the so-called Lumberjack's Candle Bridge (named from the illuminated-topped pylons) to find tonight's campsite, of which Rovaniemi has two: the smaller, more attractive and cheaper option, Camping Napapiirin Saarituvat in the eastern outskirts would mean a drive into town for tomorrow's visit. The closer option, Ounaskoski Camping, is set on banks of the Ounasjoki river looking directly across at the town, and we headed for that, to be greeted with an officiously indifferent non-welcome from the surly owner; he reacted with a casual shrug on being congratulated on being the most outrageously over-priced campsite in the whole of Scandinavia, as he demanded €31.50 for a night's stay, plus an extra €5 for wi-fi if you were prepared to pay for that - we weren't. But it was within walking distance of the town; you pays your euros ... !! We selected a pitch looking out in the grey gloom across the wide Ounasjoki/Kemijoki grey rivers to the town's grey modern buildings on the far bank; it was a forlornly grey vista. Having moved further south beyond the Arctic Circle, it was fully dark by 10-00pm, the first time in 4 months we had experienced darkness.

It was still raining the following morning, a miserably wet day for our visit to grey Rovaniemi, and in full rain-gear, we set off walking across the river on the double-decker girder-bridge, the railway running along the upper decking and the road-footpath below (see left). As we crossed, a long timber train trundled over the bridge above us. In 1944 while the occupying Germans went about their barbarian business of destroying old Rovaniemi, the entire civilian population was forcibly evacuated to Southern Finland or Sweden; a number of monuments scattered around the modern rebuilt town commemorate the huge task of post-war reconstruction. The first of these monuments, the Clearing and Reconstruction Memorial, stood on the far bank, commemorating the work of Pioneers during the Lapland War and post-war reconstruction (see right). On the far side of the railway, we reached Rovaniemi's parish church, built in 1950 to replace the original destroyed by the Germans. The huge interior was dominated by an impressive east-end mural: entitled the Fountain of Life, the painting depicts a Day of Judgement scene with the figure of Christ rising from a Lapland setting above the segregated figures of the good and not-so-good about to be judged. It was just the sort of illustration to hold a congregation's attention and while away lengthy Lutheran sermons (Photo 9 - East-end mural in Rovaniemi parish church). Across in the town we walked past the cluster of white-tiled Alvar Aalto public buildings, the City Hall, Lappia House Concert Hall and Library where we consulted the weather forecast on the free-access internet (Photo 10 - Rovaniemi Lappia House Concert Hall designed by Alvar Aalto). Stylised reindeer sculptures grazed the lawns outside, although it has to be said that neither from the street plan nor walking the streets could we distinguish Aalto's supposed reindeer antler-shaped town layout. In gloomy rain, we plodged our way around the streets to find another of Rovaniemi's reconstruction monuments, this one resembling an oversized TV antenna, with a moving display of post-war photographs showing the scale of war-time destruction with just the skeletal remains of chimneys standing among the smoking ruins. The commentary was conveniently translated into German to remind modern-day German tourists of the crimes against humanity committed by their fathers and grandfathers.

After a good value Finnish buffet lunch at Moriza, we walked in drizzly rain through Rovaniemi's ultra modern pedestrianised centre, passing another of the town's memorials, a shell-fragment shaped piece of scrap metal posing as Alvar Aalto art-work and stuck on a shop wall and entitled Aurora Borealis (see left); local people who walked by it every day managed to remain indifferent. Across the Route 4 highway where it emerged from an underpass under a shopping centre, we passed what is allegedly the world's northernmost MacDonald's and followed signs to the much promoted Arktikum which our guidebook described as 'One of Finland's best museums and well worth the admission fee' ie it was unduly expensive to get in! The first of its 2 exhibitions, the Provincial Museum of Lapland was a randomly arranged series of themed displays tracing the recent history of the region and Sámi culture. The centrepiece was 2 contrasting scale models of Rovaniemi, one from 1939 showing the pre-war city, the other from 1944 showing the city's charred ruins and broken, twisted remains of bridges after the Germans departed. The other exhibition on Arctic natural history was equally disappointing, and included a series of displays on the Arctic's so-called indigenous peoples which left you feeling that, while the enforced assimilation policies by national states was to be condemned, the present day self-seeking claims to special status by such as the Sámi are equally questionable. Arktikum, neither its displays nor over-expensive admission prices, did not impress. In gloomy, misty rain we made our way back across the Jätkänkynttilä bridge to camp on the far river bank, passing Rovaniemi's final memorial, a statue of 'I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK'. Under a uniformly grey sky today, the city's dismally grey-white modern buildings blended into one another as they must do when snow and ice envelope Rovaniemi for 6 months of the year.

The sky was still uniformly grey the following morning with the air autumnally chill as we departed Rovaniemi heading south-easterly along the beautifully forested Kemijoki river valley, misty rain clouds blanketing the distant hills. The birches now really did have their autumnal Ruska golden touch. Route 81 crossed the Kemijoki over a huge hydro-electric dam which spanned the river to form a lake on the upstream side. This was hopeless weather for our originally planned walk to the Auttiköngäs waterfall today, and instead we headed for tonight's campsite, a northward 30kms diversion from Autti to Luusua on a minor road towards the bottom end of Kemijärvi lake and Camping Matkatupa. We were greeted with genuinely charming grace by the owners, Elvi and Urho at the Matkatupa Camping-café which even in this wretched weather seemed such a cosily welcoming lakeside campsite. Here we gladly settled in on a grassy promontory overlooking the lake, not far from Kemijärvi at the northern end of the all-pervasive lake where we had camped weeks ago 'back in the summer' and had first seen the Midnight Sun. Despite the bitterly cold and wet weather, Matkatupa was in a beautiful setting with Elvi and Urho's house forming one side of a floral courtyard. The campsite was set on Urho's farm which had been established from virgin forest by his father on return from the war. Urho and his brother Paavo had been born here and grew up on the farm; they still kept a few dairy cattle and worked in forestry cutting timber and clearing more land, but their main livelihood was now the campsite which he and Elvi had developed over the last 40 years. The following morning we at last woke to clear bright sun, and Urho showed us the open-air wooden theatre on the lake-shore where shows were arranged for guests in high summer; he also told us the snows lasted from November to February during winter darkness, with only 2 hours of daylight to collect wood from the forests on his snow-mobile. Under the trees he showed us that lingonberries were now ripening and we gathered these and bilberries for our larder. We had been given such warm hospitality by Urho and Elvi, and before leaving we took their photos by the house to add to our treasured memories of these lovely people and our stay at Matkatupa (Photo 11 - Matkatupa Camping with owners Elvi and Urho). With our diversion to Matkatupa, we had returned sufficiently northward to have been camped almost back on the Arctic Circle: Matkatupa's latitude was 66° 30' north, just a couple of kms south of the line of Napapiiri. Before heading south this morning, we drove further along Kemijärvi until the satnav showed us we had reached the magic latitude of 66° 33' (Photo 12 - Arctic Circle sign near Matkatupa at Lake Kemijärvi).

The 30kms along Route 944 was a delightful drive on a sunny morning crossing sections of the elongated Kemijärvi lake, and finally crossing the weir of the Kemijoki to resume Route 81 at Autti to turn along to the parking area for the Auttiköngäs waterfall and nature-trail. Wooden steps led down to a footbridge crossing the 19th century dam above the waterfalls, built to maintain a controllable head of water for the log-flume bypassing the obstacle of the 16m high falls. As the most economic means of transporting cut timber, logs had been floated down the Auttijoki river to sawmills at Kemi at the head of the Bothnian Gulf until as recently as 1970. The log-flume constructed to bypass the falls had been reconstructed by Metsähallitus, the Finnish Forestry Commission, as part of the area's cultural heritage (see left). From the footbridge, it certainly made an impressive sight looking down the steep wooden chute into the depths of the river's rocky canyon with the roar of falling water filling the air (Photo 13 - Auttiköngäs log-flume and waterfalls). Beyond the falls, the nature-trail continued on a board-walk above the sheer-side canyon and onto into the forest. Here the forest floor was covered with all the berry plants which we had got to know so well and now were laden with ripe berries: juicy Bilberries, shiny black Crowberries and increasingly red ripening Lingonberries (Photo 14 - Ripening Lingonberries). The path dropped down to a wooden suspension bridge spanning the river and climbed steeply on the far bank to the plateau summit of Könkäänvaara Hill where a wooden observation platform gave distant views over the pine and spruce forests which stretched away in all directions. Back down through the forests with yet more Bilberries to pick for our breakfast stocks, the path led back to the car park.

We now had a 60km drive south to Ranua where we planned to camp tonight in readiness for tomorrow's visit to Ranua Arctic Zoo. On a sunny afternoon, Route 942 was a pleasant road passing through forests, pastoral land and farming villages. As we travelled south, the countryside no longer had the wilderness appearance so typical of Lapland; even the forests looked less severe. There was a nostalgic feeling of leaving behind the northern wilderness as we approached Ranua. We had 2 camping options, one 2 kms south of the small town which sounded pleasantly situated; the other by the zoo was convenient for tomorrow's visit, and just north along Route 78 we found the newly laid-out Ranua Zoo Camping. As the sun dipped behind the surrounding pines, the evening grew autumnally chill and it was dark again by 10-00pm; the year was indeed moving on. The following morning was bright as we walked around to the zoo entrance. Ranua Zoo specialises in the animals and birds of the Finnish Arctic with a few additions from the polar region. The layout was less of a conventional zoo, more of a safari park with each of the animal groups having large enclosures all set in natural pine forest woodland on the hillside slopes. As expected, the entrance charge was high with seniors' tickets at €13.50 each. Layout plans of the 2.5km board-walks around the animal enclosures were provided in English, also giving a schedule of feeding times.

Having had the opportunity to see brown bears the wilds out in Eastern Finland, our priority today was to see Finland's other 3 natural carnivores, the wolf, lynx and wolverine, albeit in the artificial surrounding of a zoo, and headed up to the top end of the site firstly for the polar bears' feeding time. The polar bear enclosures were large and rocky with pools, creating as natural an environment for the animals as captivity allowed. Ranua Zoo's pair of polar bears had last winter produced a cub, and the mother bear and cub were in the first enclosure clambering around on rocks, standing in characteristic Glacier Mint pose, with the mother plunging into the pool (Photo 15 - Polar Bear and cub at Ranua Arctic Zoo). Despite being Saturday, there were remarkably few visitors about, and although the animals were some distance away, they were well lit by sunlight and a raised board-walk platform gave clear views for zoomed photography. We moved around to the other carnivores' enclosures and were able to look directly down from the board-walk with unimpeded view of these rare animals. The lynx sat in characteristically feline pose but then began prowling around; however large the enclosure and caring the regime, they were still caged animals. There are around 2,000 lynx in the wild mainly in the boreal forests of Eastern Finland (Photo 16 - Lynx, one of Finland's 4 wild carnivores). In the next enclosure, a pair of wolverines scooted around. These stocky and muscular carnivores with powerful jaws and sharp claws are related to weasels but superficially more closely resemble a small bear; the wolverine has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size with the ability to kill prey many times larger than itself. There are around 200 surviving in the wild in Northern and Eastern Finland. They are powerful and versatile predators and scavengers, their prey consisting of mainly small mammals, but the wolverine has been known to kill such prey as adult deer . The attendants arrived for feeding time and tossed several chicken carcases down for the carnivores: the lynxes behaved in typically feline manner towards their prey, tearing into the carcases. For the wolverines, 'dinner' was more of a game, and they prowled around gripping the carcass in their jaws. The wolves were more elusive and remained at a distance on the far side of the large enclosure. They were hunted almost to extinction in Finland but there currently around 200 wolves surviving in the wild.

The rest of the zoo had a variety of species of deer including reindeer (but over the last 2 months, we had seen many of these gentle creatures in the wild), as well as otters, cranes and a number of owls, buzzards and eagles. Despite our reservations about Ranua Zoo and the cost of admission, it had been a reasonably worthwhile experience and the animals seemed well cared for with plenty of space in a natural environment. Most importantly, we had achieved our objective of seeing Finland's 3 other wild carnivores, the lynx, wolf and wolverine, to complement our wild brown bear-watching experience of earlier in the trip. The new campsite alongside the zoo had been convenient, but we moved that afternoon over to Camping Ranuajärvi at a delightful location set among pine woods on the shore of Ranua Lake where we greeted with a smiling welcome. Bilberries grew in profusion under the trees around where we were camped and we duly topped up our breakfast supplies.

Our next campsite was 80kms to the south at Pudasjärvi but rather than take the direct road, experience had shown that even minor roads were well surfaced and gave a far more pleasant drive especially on a bright morning. We therefore took a roundabout route through the pine forests on Route 858, a lonely road through forested heathland interspersed with farming villages. We passed just a few reindeer, probably the last we should see, and just after the farming hamlet of Kelankylä, we reached the southern border of Lapland indicated by the Lappi sign (see right); it was a sad moment (Photo 18 - leaving Lapland). This was a truly magnificent drive: the road was deserted and the golden Ruska colour of birches fringing the woodland was lit by the afternoon sun (see left).

Traffic increased as we reached the junction of Route 20, the main road linking Kuusamo and Oulu, and 20kms to the SW we turned off into Pudasjärvi before finding tonight's campsite just to the north of the small town. Camping Jyrkkäkoski had a gloriously peaceful camping area in a pine forest glade with the afternoon sunlight filtering down through the trees; it was another memorable campsite with welcoming reception and first class facilities set in a heated log cabin. Using the free wi-fi access to consult the BBC weather forecast and news, we learnt that Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969 with the now immortal words One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, had died at the age of 82.

Rather than heading directly towards Oulu along the busy Route 20, we again took the more peacefully traffic-free minor Route 855 through pine forests following the Iijoki valley westwards to the curiously-named villages of Yli-Ii (Upper Ii) and Ii. As we approached the coast at the Bothnian Gulf, the pine forests gave way to the most intensive farming countryside we had seen in the whole of Finland, with dairy cattle, cereal crops and large fields cleared over generations from the surrounding forests. Crossing the wide River IIjoki on another double-decker girder bridge with the Rovaniemi-Kilpisjärvi railway line passing overhead on the upper deck, we reached the village of Ii and the main west-coast Route 4, which runs from Oulu north to Kemi, across to Sodankylä where we had joined it weeks ago, on from there to Ivalo and Inari, and finally across the tundra fells to Finland's northern outpost of Utsjoki, indeed an old friend of a road. Here we turned south but before heading into Oulu, we turned off into Haukipudas to see the small town's parish church whose interior is decorated with 18th century wall-paintings of Biblical scenes.

The cream-coloured church with its tall chamfer-cornered red-tiled roof stood alongside a sturdy belfry with wooden, moustachioed vaivaisukko (pauper statue) holding out his palm for charity donations to be dropped into the slot in his hollow chest (see left). We walked through to the neighbouring war cemetery whose trimly maintained lawns were filled with the graves of local men killed in the 1939~44 Winter and Continuation Wars, each grave-plaque marked with a brightly flowering fuchsia plant (Photo 19 - Haukipudas church with Winter~Continuation War Cemetery). The present church was completed in 1762 with cruciform layout common in Ostrobothnian churches where the congregation was closely gathered around the pulpit for Lutheran instruction. The church's interior walls were decorated by the top church painter of the day, Michael Toppelius from Oulu; clearly this was a wealthy community to commission work of this scale for their church. The paintings were begun in 1774 and a Day of Judgement mural added in 1779, all regarded as Finland's finest Baroque ecclesiastical art-work. The altar wall was decorated with scenes from the Passion and Resurrection with the crucifixion scene taking centre-stage (Photo 20 - Baroque paintings covering the walls of Haukipudas church). At the west end Adam and Eve were depicted in the Garden of Eden with a small elephant and unicorn for company, Abraham stood over his son Isaac with sacrificial knife, and opposite David faced a swash-buckling armoured Goliath, with all the painted scenes enclosed by Rococo-style acanthus leaves frames. The north transept showed a Nativity scene worthy of any Christmas card (see right), while the lower wall was covered with a huge and elaborate Day of Judgement portrayal. This rustic art-work was simply delightful.

After all the wonderfully peaceful forest roads of earlier, it was now a shock again to face city traffic as we worked our way into Oulu's NW outskirts to find Camping Nallikari sited on one of the large islands of the Oulujoki delta around which the city is located. This was part of the Top Camp chain of 'holiday villages'; the very name implied expensive at €27 a night, but we were received with smiling helpfulness - city map and details of the #17 bus from nearby and get off the 'big yellow church' ie Engel's ochre-stuccoed cathedral. Being so close to the Bothnian coast beaches, this campsite would be rowdy bedlam in summer, but in late August we had the place almost to ourselves and settled in under the birch trees (see left). The following morning in bright sunshine, we walked over to wait at the bus terminus (see right); like everything else in this enviably civilised society, the bus was punctual and clean and the driver helpful and friendly; a few stops along, the crew changed and the departing driver called näkemiin (goodbye) to the passengers and the new driver greeted them with päivää (hello) - how delightfully civilised. As instructed, we got off by a small park by the cathedral (Photo 21 - Oulu's neo-Classical Cathedral) looking forward to our day in the city of Oulu.

Oulu (pronounced Oh-loo) with a population of 135,000 is Northern Finland's largest city. Founded in 1605 by Swedish King Karl IX as a port at the mouth of the Oulujoki river. the city's historical wealth was based on timber floated down the river from the forests of Kainuu, from salmon fishing in the river, but most particularly on the export of pine tar brought for caulking wooden sailing ships. A disastrous fire in 1822 destroyed much of Oulu which was rebuilt in grandiose style by the city's wealthy merchants who enlisted Carl Ludwig Engel, Helsinki's architect-in-chief, to design the new city's major public buildings in neo-Classical style. The modern city has been revitalised in recent years by its university's technological and computing expertise, attracting IT companies to establish science and technology parks in the outskirts. Oulu has become a national leader in the IT and microchip industries, supplying many of Nokia's mobile phone designs and attracting skilled IT staff from across the world as well as local graduates. Reflecting its technological expertise, the city enjoys a universal free wi-fi network called appropriately Pan-oulu. The city now has a prosperous and cosmopolitan atmosphere. For us the most noticeable feature of Oulu as we got off the bus was how quiet and traffic-free the streets were.

The cruciform interior of Engel's neo-Classical cathedral was starkly Lutheran but decorated with several noteworthy pieces of art-work including Finland's oldest surviving painting, the 1611 portrait of the Swedish historian and dramatist Johannes Messenius (Photo 22 - Interior of Oulu's Lutheran Cathedral). Across the square, the neo-classical grandeur of the Governor's former residence, now the Regional State Administrative Agency, was lit by morning sunshine (see left). The park's third side was enclosed by one of Engel's less inspiring design, the Oulu Upper-Secondary Lyceum with plaques recalling 3 former pupils who became Finnish presidents, K J Ståhlberg (president 1919~25), Kyösti Kallio (1937~40) and Martti Ahtisaari (1994~2000), a plaque marking Ahtisaari's Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, and one commemorating the victims of WW2 Soviet bombing of Oulu. We walked down Kirkkokatu (Church Street) to find Oulu's neo-Gothic City Hall, formerly a restaurant for the city's tar-rich merchants and now offices for city bureaucrats (see right). We ventured inside and asked at reception if we could see the Great Hall, expecting to be thrown out. Not at all; this was civilised Finland, and one of the security officers gladly showed us upstairs to admire the former restaurant now used for official receptions with its ornate Viennese ceiling decoration and chandeliers. We walked around to the gardens at the rear of City Hall to find the bronze sculptures by Sanna Koivisto called Ajan Kulku (Course of Time) created in 2005 to mark the 400th anniversary of Oulu's foundation (Photo 23 - Course of Time memorial to Oulu's 400 year history). The procession of 32 miniature figures represented characters who had influenced the city's development over its 400 years history, starting with its founder King Karl IX of Sweden; the wall-top line of figures included a man rolling a tar barrel, a fisherman holding a salmon, a fireman from the 1822 great fire, a mother with children, culminating with a student holding her newspaper, a yuppie clutching his mobile phone, and at the very front symbolising the future a small boy sits at the end of the wall. It had become a tradition for local people to wrap a knitted scarf and hat around the little figure to keep him warm in winter, perhaps symbolising Finland's caring society (see left). This was a charming work of art, elegantly silhouetted against the neo-Gothic façade of the city's Cultural Centre (see right).

We headed down towards the Kauppatori (market square) and by the side of the market stood the delightfully attractive re-brick Kauppahalli (market hall) dating from 1901, a truly elegant building its façade decorated with ornate brick features (Photo 24 - Oulu's 1901 brick-built Kauppahalli). Outside the Kauppahalli guarding the entrance to the market square stood the squat, portly figure of Toripolliisi, a 1987 bronze sculpture of an Oulu market place policeman funded by public subscription to symbolise the bobby-on-the-beat around the Kauppatori, affectionately adorned with a floral garland (Photo 25 - Toripolliisi sculpture of an Oulu bobby-on-the-beat). (As an aside we could not help contrasting this with the low esteem to which public respect for the police in UK has now sunk). We bought a delicious lunch from one of the market square's food stalls and sat in the warm sunshine to eat this with a glass of beer at a bar-terrace (see right), enjoying the ambience of the market and watching the many local people of all ages cycling around the city's walkways; given Oulu's unique topography spanning the islands of the Oulujoki delta all interconnected by footbridges, cycling was the most practicable means of travel within the city's central area. Before leaving the market, we walked around the Kauppahalli, its stalls laden with mouth-wateringly attractive food-stuffs, fish, vegetables, meat cheese and reindeer products from the Kylmänen meat processing company which we had visited on the way north at Sodankylä (Photo 26 - Kylmänen reindeer products stall in Oulu Kauppahalli), and bought a litre of ready picked lingonberries from the market (see left).

Leaving the market, we passed under 2 road bridges into the delightful wooded green area of Ainola Park which looked out across the Oulujoki delta towards the Merikoski HEP generating plant dam which spanned the bay with water gushing through the sluice gates (Photo 27 - Merikoski dam spanning the Oulujoki river). A path led us through the park to the Northern Ostrobothnian Museum whose displays present a history of Oulu and its region from prehistorical times up to modern industrial development. We particularly wanted to see the exhibits detailing the production of pine-tar, floated in barrels down the length of the Oulujoki from the forests of Kainuu to the port of Oulu for export, to caulk wooden sailing ships and line the pockets of merchants with wealth that beautified the city. It was not the most exciting of museums but we did learn much about timber, tar and salmon fishing industries which brought Oulu its wealth. Moving on around the waterside looking out across to the dam, we reached the Merikoski Fish-way. The dam and power plant were completed in 1948, totally blocking the passage upstream for salmon to migrate back to their spawning grounds further up the river. The higher reaches of the river were re-stocked with fish annually, but in 2003, under pressure from environmentalists, the Oulu power company constructed a 750m long stepped passageway to enable migrating salmon to bypass the dam barrage and make their way upstream again to spawn. We followed the fish-way around and just where it re-joined the fast-flowing river above the dam, we found the underground control room where a glazed panel allowed visitors to watch the salmon struggling against the current to force their passage up into the higher river. The scientist gave us more of the details: after an interval of 60 years of the river's closure by the dam's construction, the fishes' instincts to migrate back to the spawning grounds had caused new generations of salmon to discover the newly formed passageway. We stood transfixed by the underwater sight of 60cm long salmon battling their way upstream against the current (see right).

Dodging the cyclists, we crossed the dam to reach the far bank and walked past the power generating plant along the riverside pathway to a footbridge to cross 3 more of the delta's islands and back to our start point back in the market square. After an ice cream in the sunshine we ambled over the footbridge to the 4th island of Linnansaari where the remains of Oulu's Swedish castle stood on a hillock. From here it was short walk back to the park by the cathedral to wait for our bus back out to the campsite. As we got off the Nallikari terminus, the driver waved us a cheery farewell. Before returning to camp, we walked along to the broad stretch of sandy beach, deserted on a late August evening, to photograph the sun setting across the Bothnian Gulf (Photo 28 - Setting sun across the Bothnian Gulf); it was the first time we had seen this sea since landing at Turku almost 4 months ago (see right). Back at camp, the BBQ was lit for a late supper of grilled pork chops served with generous servings of lingonberries bought in the market today, the sweet meat blending deliciously with the sharp berries. Today had been one of the finest city visits ever: Oulu was certainly a city which took full advantage of its wealthy mercantile history and the inheritance this had left, together with its current prosperity from its forefront position in modern technological industries and most of all its splendid setting astride the islands of the Oulujoki delta. All the people we had met, from bus drivers, to market stall holders, City Hall security officers, and unknown people who had unbidden stopped to offer help as we consulted our city plan, all had been courteously helpful, leaving us with some very happy and satisfying memories of Oulu. And the unseasonally warm sunshine had certainly helped.

The birches under which we were camped at Oulu were now not only showing a golden autumnal tinge but beginning to shed their leaves. The following morning we crossed back from the outer island of Hietasaari on which Camping Nallikari was set to the mainland to join Route 20 eastwards from Oulu and turned off onto minor roads along the valley of the Kiiminginjoki. This was a quiet route and at all the villages we passed through, school children were all now wearing coats and scarves as autumn approached. At the larger village of Yli-Kiiminki, we paused to photograph the church set on a rise among the pines (see right), before turning south-easterly onto Route 836, an even more peaceful road passing through delightful stands of pines all glowing in the afternoon sun (Photo 29 - Peaceful road through pine forests). This led eventually to the small town of Puolanka, back in the region of Kainuu. The municipality covers an area of 2,600 square kms with a population of 3,000, a population density of just 1.24 inhabitants per km2 in this largely forested region from where Oulu's barrels of tar were produced. Puolanka was clearly a service centre for its largely rural surrounds and we topped up provisions at the supermarket and diesel at the garage. Tonight's campsite, Camping Lomakylä Puolankajärvi just 2 kms south of the town was set on the shores of its eponymous lake, part of the Kiiminginjoki drainage system (see left). Here we were greeted hospitably by the elderly lady owner who spoke no English at all. This was the first time we had encountered this, but after 4 months in the country our limited Finnish enabled us to communicate. That evening we cooked a beef and lingonberry stew, a warming and delicious supper duly added to our collection of recipes as Finland's contribution. Dusk was getting earlier and by 9-45pm, it was fully dark with a misty moon rising above the birch trees.

Leaving Puolanka the following morning, we continued eastwards onto Route 891, a narrow road with, unusually for Finland. some steep hills, and 6 kms along reached the turning for today's visit to Hepoköngäs which with a drop of 24m is one of Finland's highest waterfalls; the Metsähallitus website (Finland's Forestry Commission) had again provided invaluable information on both locating the falls in the wilderness forested terrain but also on the nature trail around the falls. A short single track lane led to a parking area and from there, the falls and nature trail were sign-posted. The path was lined with bright red, ripe Lingonberries but we resisted the temptation to stop and pick some at this stage. Some 500m into the forest, the path divided with the left fork descending on a board-walk to the foot of the Hepoköngäs falls. At the top of the board-walk, the insignificant Heinijoki river slid gently towards the lip of the rocky 24m high precipice before plummeting down the falls into pools below (see right). The foot of the board-walk led down to lower river bank amid the pine trees looking directly across to the falls; even at this time of the year, this little river still managed to produce a spectacular cascade as it dropped over the precipice (Photo 30 - 24m high Hepoköngäs waterfalls). From the pools at the base of the falls, the Heinijoki resumed its quiet onward course into the forest, flowing eventually into Puolankajärvi where we had camped last night, part of headwater of the Kiiminginjoki. In the early 1900s, log-floating was tried along the Heinijoki, but without a log-flume as at Auttiköngäs, unsurprisingly the logs shattered at the falls or jammed in the slowly flowing gorge; the practice was soon abandoned as unprofitable. Returning to the top of the falls, a faint track along the river bank marked the beginning of the 2.5km Hepoköngäs nature trail on rickety board-walks under high rocky cliffs through the forest. A short distance along the now almost stagnant stream, the way-marked path turned uphill into the forest; this would have been rich in flora earlier in summer but now was the berry season, and Lingonberries, Crowberries and Bilberries grew in profusion on the forest floor: the Lingonberries were ripe but still sharp (see right), the Bilberries fulsome and sweet, and even the Crowberries were fat and edible though you had to spit out the pips. We spent a happy hour berry-picking as the path threaded through the forest finally leading back to the car park.

Route 891 cut a straight but steeply undulating course through Kainuu's forested landscape which from high points along the road could be seen stretching away to the horizon. Kainuu region, about the size of Belgium but with a population of just 84,000, had during the 19th century been the world's largest producer of pine-tar. Huge quantities of timber had been floated down the rivers to Oulu, but today the last of the region's paper mills has closed. During today's drive, we did however pass a number of well-loaded timber trucks and the railway line crossed here must still carry a lot of timber trains. As we approached Hyrynsalmi, a road branched off north to Suomussalmi; we had now almost completed a full circuit of Northern Finland and returned to the point of 2 months ago. Today we turned south onto the busy main Route 5, following the wide Emäjoki river which at several points swelled out into lakes, finally reaching Ristijärvi village. Here we consulted the weather forecast on the library's free internet and walked around to the yellow-painted wooden church where in the trimly mown war cemetery large numbers of WW2 graves were set out in rows each of the head stones marked with a red plant. There had scarcely been a village through Finland that did not have its neatly kept war cemetery. Just south of the village, we found tonight's campsite, Ristijärvan Pirtii Camping where again we received a warm welcome; this homely campsite had free wi-fi and pleasant setting among birch trees on the shores of Ristijärvi.

It was a pleasantly warm autumn day for our day in camp at Camping Ristijärvan Pirtii and after a morning catching up with household jobs and updating the website, we went berry-picking on the nature walk which led from the campsite around a lakeside board-walk. Among the birch woods we found more ripe Lingonberries to add to our culinary stock (Photo 31 - Berry-picking at Ristijärvan Pirtii) but most of the trees were now beyond their autumn colours and losing their leaves. Such was the campsite owners' hospitality that they invited us to an end-of-season party being held for their regular static caravan occupants and that evening we joined them in one of the barns. Few of the other guests spoke English but we enjoyed a fun evening of singing and dancing, including joining in a Finnish karaoke; we now could sing Talo Auringan (House of the Rising Sun) to add to our stock of Finnish.

On an overcast and chill autumn morning, we left Ristijärvi and continued south on Route 5, crossing Route 89 which branched off to a new border-crossing into Russia. Soon after we turned off westwards on minor lanes to find Paltaniemi a village on the shores of the all-spreading Lake Oulujärvi renowned for the wall-paintings which cover the interior of its wooden church. We had tried unsuccessfully on the telephone to arrange a visit, but we hoped this morning to find someone in the village who could open the church for us. Paltaniemi had been home to wealthy Swedish merchants who profited from trade in this remote corner of the Swedish empire whose borderlands with Russia were guarded by Kaajani Castle. The wooden church was built in 1726 and elaborate wall-paintings covering the interior walls and ceiling added later in the 18th century. These included a graphic Last Judgement scene whose gruesome depiction of Hell was so shocking that the lower part was removed. But when we reached Paltaniemi this morning, the huge church and separate bell-tower were well and truly locked, and no amount of enquiry around the village produced anyone to open up for us. Today we were not to be able to see any of Paltaniemi's ornate frescoes, and had to be content with photographing the exterior from the little war cemetery (see left).

It was a short drive into Kajaani where, crossing the river, we parked in the town near the market to walk back down to see the remains of the Swedish castle. Kajaani castle had been built on an island in the river by the Swedish governor of Finland Per Brahe in what was then a primitive village to protect the remote frontier with Imperial Russia. It was destroyed in 1716 during the Great Northern War and the pier foundations of the modern road bridge had been built into its ruins (see left); all that remained today of this small castle was a heap of stones. But across on the far side of the river, another piece of Kajaani's history was preserved, the 19th century Tar Canal (Terva kanava). Boats loaded with barrels of tar produced on the forests of Kainuu had once been dragged overland at this point of the river to bypass the rapids and rocky waterfalls at Kajaani to reach Lake Oulujärvi for their onward journey along the Oulujoki to the port of Oulu. In the mid-19th century, a narrow canal with locks had been constructed, cutting through the bed-rock alongside the waterfalls to enable the passage of tar-boats, and this had continued in use until 1915. After falling into dereliction, the canal and locks has now been restored and operates during the summer (see right). The Tar Canal was an impressive structure with its narrow passage navigating the drop in the river's height down to the level of Oulujärvi through a lock some 50 feet deep. The main passage of the river is now dammed by one of two HEP generating plants, leaving the rocky falls over which the wild river had once cascaded high and dry (see below left). Even so it did show why the cutting of the Tar Canal had been necessary.

The industrial city of Kajaani is capital of the Kainuu region and we walked back up into the centre for an afternoon's exploration, starting in Town Hall Square (Raathuonteentori) by the small Engel-designed wooden Old Town Hall (see right). The market food stalls sold muikku, crispy fried whitebait from local lakes and a delicious snack to nibble as lunch; we had often found these in town markets and could not resist a tray of these now. At the far end of Kauppakatu, Kajaani's main shopping street, we reached the town's architectural pièce de résistance, the restored 1904 Art Nouveau wooden railway station (Rautatieasema). Kajaani was clearly on a main railway route with the timetable showing trains to principle towns and cities in all directions, all names now familiar to us. From here we waked through back streets past small industrial workshops to the bus station, where again the bus stops listed many of the places we had visited. In an area of modern apartment blocks at Kalliokatu 7, we found a smaller and older apartment building which was the home from 1911~1926 of local-boy-made-good Urho Kekkonen, Finland's long-standing president from 1956~81. A relief plaque on the building's wall recalled Kekkonen's residency here in Kajaani where he worked as a journalist before moving onward and upward to Helsinki. Walking back along Kirkkokatu past the red-brick Orthodox Church, we looked for what we understood was the memorial to Kekkonen, erected by the citizens of Kajaani in honour of its most famous son. What we found was a curious piece of modern sculpture resembling an intestinal curvature which doubtless the authoritarian Kekkonen would have ordered removed. What possible bearing this grotesque piece of metal could have on the Finnish President (unless of course intended as unsubtle irony at his expense!) defied understanding, but sure enough the inscription read U K Kekkonen 1900~86. Nearby was the ornate 19th century neo-Gothic Lutheran Church and alongside it, a very large war cemetery containing many Winter and Continuation War dead from Kajaani.

We had identified a campsite 4 kms to the south of Kajaani said to be alongside a country-hotel which turned out to be a sordid service station motel with what must have been a pre-existing campsite alongside, but it looked forlorn and grubby. We booked in at the motel reception, but on investigating the facilities building, the truth of the sordid place really came out: they were the filthiest experienced in the whole of Scandinavia, worse than public loos in UK. Kainuum Portti Motel-Camping would go on record as the worst campsite of the trip, to be avoided at all costs; we had no alternative and it was only an overnight stay but others should take note. The following morning we were surprised to hear 2 young cyclists who had also camped overnight speaking English; Becs and Ross turned out to be from Preston on a long-distance cycling journey around Scandinavia, and we enjoyed their company for 3 more nights at other campsites as they followed a parallel route to us.

During the 16 weeks we had spent travelling up through Eastern Finland through Lapland, returning now through Northern and Central Finland, we had been able to follow the wild berry plants through all stages of their development, from tight buds of their early flowers, through to full flowering, the formation of berries, and finally their ripening, and we had been able to record photographs of this botanical progression. These last 2 weeks had been the season of the year when the Finnish wild berries were at the fully ripened stage, and we had enjoyed the opportunity enshrined in the Finnish legal entitlement of Everyman's Rights (jokamiehenoikeus in Finnish), the freedom of land access, for berry-picking. To celebrate the glorious harvest festival of wild berries which grow so abundantly throughout Finland's forests, we have included with this edition a page of our photographs showing the Wild Berries of Finland

Our final 2 weeks in Finland take us south through the towns and cities of Central and Southern Finland: IIsalmi, Kuopio, Jyväskylä, the second city Tampere, and out to the Bothnian coast at Pori and Rauma, finishing up at the port-city of Turku where we began our Finnish venture 5 months ago. From there it will be the ferry back to Sweden, across Southern Sweden and the Øresund Bridge to re-cross Denmark for the ferry back across the North Sea home to England. Join us again in a couple of weeks for the final part of our travels around Finland.

Next edition to be published in 2 weeks

Sheila and Paul

Published:  Tuesday 5 February 2013


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Violin Concerto composed in 1905

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