***  FINLAND 2022 - WEEKS 1~3  ***

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FINLAND 2022 - Åland Islands and South-West Finland:

Two years of Covid:  it has been a long two years of Covid restrictions, which for so many has resulted in such tragic losses. It is almost the stuff of fiction that, in the 21st century, the entire global population and economy could be laid low by an unstoppable modern-day plague which over the last 2 years has led to global fatality levels of 15 million people. In UK in the early days of the pandemic, with no means of treatment or vaccination against this highly contagious respiratory infection, strictly defined and legally enforceable rules of isolation were the only means of containment of the virus' spread. Such intensive restrictions on public freedom were applicable to all except (as emerged later) to Boris Johnson and his cronies in Downing Street who partied their way through the pandemic. Deaths rose to 1000s and families were prevented from being with their loved ones at times of bereavement. Even the queen was obliged to sit alone at her husband's funeral. But never mind: the UK's Prime Minister partied on; the rules only applied to the little people. While millions of people across the country made colossal sacrifices to live within the rules clearly articulated by Boris Johnson, those at the heart of government broke those rules on a contemptuous scale. When later challenged for this continuous and flagrant breach of Covid regulations, Johnson initially denied it all. But when the truth was no longer deniable, he claimed he believed he was attending work meetings! Now you would need to be a naive and congenital idiot to interpret boozey revelries lasting into the early hours as work events. Were such lame excuses credible? You could call Boris Johnson many things: unashamedly deceitful liar for one, or unscrupulous buffoon masquerading as PM for another, but naive and congenital idiot, never! Even the Metropolitan Police were eventually compelled to reach a conclusion about the criminality of the Downing Street gatherings: we now have had the only PM in history to have been convicted and fined for a criminal offence. The senior civil servant appointed to investigate had no such difficulty in her report (when it was eventually published) in condemning the scale of unacceptable behaviour and absence of leadership. It took an extraordinarily long time for Tory MPs finally to reach the conclusion that Johnson was an electoral liability as well as being an incompetent, corrupt and lying Prime Minister. And now, after weeks of governmental vacuum while the contenders to succeed Johnson daily hurled shameful insults at one another and the British people are wracked by hyper-inflation, we finally have a new Prime Minister. Her new government's first moves, blatantly discriminating in favour of wealthy Tory supporters, have however naively led the UK into unprecedented depths of financial chaos. Ah well, you get what you voted for; caveat suffragator (let the voter take care). Having lived through all the tragedy of Covid, perhaps now the British public will draw its own conclusions at the next general election about the Tory party's fitness to be trusted with governing the country, as it will about the lies and deceit over Brexit.

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Åland Islands and Southern Finland

In the early days of the pandemic with no effective treatment or vaccination then available, catching the disease carried the threat of an almost inevitable death sentence for the vulnerable elderly or those with compromised immune system. But thankfully scientists at Oxford under Prof Sarah Gilbert worked with relentless application and dedication to develop a vaccine against Covid with impressive levels of immune-response. The normal timescale for vaccine development, through lengthy trials leading to the gaining of approval for human usage, could take years. From this early development work however, the Oxford scientists teamed up with the pharmaceutical giant Astra-Zeneca for bulk production and distribution of the resultant vaccine. The results of this intensive work were that, from its start in the early months of 2020, approval for public administration of the Oxford~Astra-Zeneca Covid vaccination was given by the UK Medicines Regulatory Agency on 30 December 2020. A similar development programme leading to approval of an effective Covid vaccine was achieved by scientists at the American Pharmaceutical producer Pfizer. And the first UK citizens received their Covid vaccination in December 2020~January 2021 as part of the UK's national mass vaccination programme.

There is no disputing whatsoever that mankind owes a profound debt of gratitude to the development scientists for this outstanding achievement in providing, in such a remarkably short timescale, an effective means of protection against a previously unknown but virulently infectious disease. 12~18 months ago Covid infection meant a potential death sentence for the elderly and vulnerable; now, in an astonishingly short timescale, the mass vaccination programme and development of effective treatments has resulted in Covid infection being reduced in most cases to a 5 day disorder with mild flu-like symptoms. The Covid virus will always be with us, and we may need annual Covid boosters as for flu to counter the virus' ability to mutate. But thanks to the efforts of scientists, physicians and so many others, life can begin to resume a new normality as we learn to live with Covid.

Rays of limited hope for travel again in 2022:  during the early months of 2022 the vaccination programme began to take effect, and despite infection rates still being high, EU borders began to open up, albeit initially with complex entry requirements; it was beginning to seem that travels might be possible again in 2022. The major constraint now however was that because of Brexit, UK travellers would be restricted to spending a maximum of 90 days within the EU Schengen zone in any 180 day period. This would place a severe limit on the distance we could travel before having to turn about to reach the Channel port within the 90 day period. If we were to travel again to Finland, we could just about reach the Arctic Circle north of Kemijärvi before having to turn south again. Never again it seemed could we be able re-visit Inari let alone reach Berlevåg on the Barents Sea coast of Finmark. This was the new reality, and we began to plan our 2022 travels to Finland. As the tourist season began, European entry requirements began to ease: we had however to keep check on the differing entry requirements for all the countries we should travel through to reach Finland: Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland itself, to ensure we were not tripped over by bureaucracy at border crossings. Finally, as our mid-May departure date approached, most countries on our route dropped all entry requirements, other than nominally needing proof of vaccination.

Russian aggressive invasion of Ukraine:  but in February 2022, after its occupation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent militaristic posturing on the borders of eastern Ukraine, all of this culminated with Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Barbaric bombardment and destruction of towns and cities followed together with brutal murder of civilians, resulting in the flight of millions of Ukrainian refugees to neighbouring countries. Our generation remembers the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which brought the world perilously close to the brink of nuclear annihilation. Now Putin, the very epitome of evil who ruthlessly suppresses all opposition in his own country and deludes the Russian people with his preposterous propaganda, again threatens the use of nuclear weapons. From one-time petty KGB operative to paranoid megalomaniac autocrat, Vladimir Putin dreams his obscene tsar-like imperial fantasies of what he sees as the glory days of Soviet power, having hypocritically amassed a personal fortune for himself and his cronies from the break-up of USSR. All in all, Russia under Putin's thoroughly malign and fanatical regime represents a far greater existential threat to world peace than at any time during the Cold War. It is no wonder that there has now been global revulsion and condemnation of Russia's blatant disregard of international law and its committing of wide scale inhuman war crimes with its barbaric invasion of its Slavic neighbour Ukraine. The entire civilised world (apart from the few nations who support or profit by Putin's regime) has resoundingly imposed crippling economic sanctions on Putin's Russia, which is now entirely isolated and facing economic ruin. With the media totally controlled by strictly enforced censorship, the Russian people must rely on overseas broadcasts to learn the truth about the evils committed by Putin in their name.

Finland and Sweden to join NATO:  it might seem foolhardy at a time like this to be contemplating travelling to Finland, a country which shares a 1,340 kilometre land border with Russia (see map left) and within living memory has lost 1/10 of its eastern territory to Russia following Stalin's invasion of Finland during WW2. Both Finland and Sweden have long maintained a proud tradition of international non-aligned neutrality. Finland's neutrality was a pragmatic means of survival and maintaining the country's independence following defeat by Russia in WW2; for Sweden, neutrality was a matter of identity and ideology. But Putin's behaviour has shattered a long-standing sense of stability in Northern Europe, leaving the Nordic countries feeling vulnerable. For Finns, events in Ukraine bring a haunting sense of familiarity, recalling Russia's 1939 invasion of their country. Sweden also has in recent years felt endangered by frequent incursions into its airspace by Russian military aircraft and even reports of a Russian submarine in the waters of the Stockholm archipelago. Russia's aggression in Ukraine has been the last straw: both the Finnish and Swedish parliaments, countries which have been neutral for so long, have now applied for NATO membership as protection against their countries' vulnerability to Russian aggression. NATO's Article 5 views the attack on one member state as an attack on all. Putin has responded with aggressive but unspecified counter-threats, and implications of nuclear weapons deployment in the Baltic region. But such threats are nothing new. The outlying Russian oblast of Kaliningrad, formerly the German province of East Prussia with its port of Königsberg, was occupied by the Soviets at the end of WW2. Kaliningrad, as it is now known, is still Russia's only ice-free Baltic port and base of the Russian Baltic fleet; more significantly however it is also home to an arsenal of nuclear missiles pointing at Western Europe, The irony now however is that Putin, who invaded Ukraine to prevent that country joining NATO, has succeeded in recruiting 2 other previously neutral countries to NATO. Russia's Western border will now (see above left). be confronted by a solid wall of NATO member states stretching from the Arctic to the Black Sea

The journey begins; it's so good to be on the Road again:  with an albeit wary eye on events in Europe in these unstable times (Covid almost pales into insignificance), we continued with our travel plans; ferries were booked, Covid vaccination certificates downloaded, and kit packed. On a bright, sunny mid-May afternoon, we joined other vehicles queuing at Harwich International Port for the Stena Line Hook of Holland ferry; we had last been here 2½ years ago, in what seemed a different world, pre-Covid, pre-face masks, pre-hand sanitiser. Come 8-30pm, the lines moved forward to check in. This time however we were shunted aside for the Border Force (or should that be Border Farce?) officials to subject British drivers to the third degree. There was nothing purposeful, such as examination of vax-certificates; boots and bonnets were lifted and some drivers frisked, but what point this all served other than demonstrating what clowns the UK Border Force are remained unclear. Disappointed that our camper carried merely personal belongings, we were waved through. Having boarded and stowed our kit, we found a quiet corner in the ferry lounge. This was the moment we had waited 2½ long years for, and we opened the bottle of German wine, bought in Lübeck on our return from Denmark in 2019 and kept since then to celebrate our eventual return to Europe. We savoured the moment of our 2022 trip's beginning, and a neighbouring German couple obliged by taking this trip's official launch photo (see right) (Photo 1 - The trip begins).

Entry to EU at Hook of Holland, transit of Netherlands, and entry into Germany:  an early disembarkation the following morning at Hook of Holland, and lengthy queues to pass through Dutch customs. But despite all the publicity about post-Brexit British vehicles having to avoid using the EU citizens' customs lane, in fact nothing had changed; simply use the shortest queue, we were told. It took an hour's queuing before our turn came for passport stamping to record officially the start date of our 90 period within the Schengen area. But unlike UK passport control, there was none of the expected officiousness; quite the reverse, the Dutch customs official was ultra-friendly. There was no inspection of vax-certificates, and no questions about whether we were importing foodstuffs, dairy products or ham sandwiches into the EU. It was all pleasantly informal as before.

Dutch motorway speed limits are now 100 kph, but traffic was light on a Sunday morning, and we reached Deventer by 11-00am to shop for provisions in the town. Re-joining the motorway, we soon passed into Germany; there were no Covid border checks, and we sped through as normal. At Osnabrück, the A1 autobahn turned north but this was slower going with narrowed lanes and 80kph speed limit due to roadworks. Closer to Bremen, we turned off for an intermediate night's camp near to Dötlingen in Lower Saxony. Aschenbeck Camping 6kms from the autobahn was peacefully sited in rural countryside. We pitched in an open grassy space shaded from the hot afternoon sun by mature trees (see left). It was a wonderfully quiet evening (most of the surrounding statics were empty at this time of year), and the blackbirds sang melodiously around us. Later as darkness fell, we were rewarded with a super-sized blood moon rising above the trees. Today's experience of post-Covid, post-Brexit EU entry was that despite all the fuss about meat, dairy products and a bureaucratically complex list of other foodstuffs (including fruit and vegetables without health certificates - I kid you not!) being now banned from being taken into the EU, the reality was that, in all the bustle of ferry arrival, no one gave a damn. And again, despite all the palaver about vax certificates being required, we encountered no checks. It was all business as usual.

An agreeable overnight camp in Schleswig-Holstein:  the following morning we shopped for food and filled the camper with diesel in the nearby village of Neerstedt, before re-joining the A1 autobahn north. Today we had to brave the notorious traffic black spot of passing through Hamburg under the Elbe Tunnel. Just south of the city we hit the inevitable traffic jams soon after turning onto the A7, and crawled for several kilometres through Hamburg's dockland. The everlasting Hamberg traffic jams continued for several kilometres north of the Elbe Tunnel, until traffic eventually moved freely again as we passed into Schleswig-Holstein for the final 50 kms of today's drive. By 3-00pm, we reached Junction 11, the turn-off for tonight's campsite, the curiously named See Camping BUM 5 kms around rural lanes. It was 5 years since we had last stayed here on our way north in 2017, and again we received the same delightful welcome from the family who have long kept the campsite. We settled into the familiar lakeside pitch, and sat out with a chilled German beer to enjoy the afternoon sunshine, with the first cuckoo of the trip calling across the lake (Photo 2 - See Camping BUM) (see right).

Entry into Denmark:  traffic was light as we re-joined the A7, making good progress northwards to cross the wide Kiel Canal. Just beyond Flensberg we approached the Danish border. The Covid control post was still in place, but there was no hold-up, and we crossed into South Jutland passing Aabenraa and Haderslev, towns familiar from previous visits to Denmark. At Kolding, the E20 swung eastwards to cross the Lille Bælt suspension Bridge onto Denmark's central island of Funen. Our rather unconventional route was planned to turn south at Odense onto Route 9 towards Langeland, and from Spodsbjerg on the eastern side of the island, we should cross by ferry to Lolland. From here we should travel north to København to cross the Øresund Bridge to Sweden. But there were warnings of serious traffic delays ahead due to roadworks. Both lanes of traffic soon came to a standing halt as the roadworks began, and only slowly moved forward. Our sat-nav directed us off the motorway; we duly followed, assuming this would take us across to Route 9. There then followed a hour long rustic tour through every hamlet and farmyard of South Funen. It was frustratingly time-wasting and only eventually, after many miles of ambling around country back-lanes, did it bring us onto Route 9 to Svedborg. Finally crossing the bridge onto Langeland, we turned into Rudkøbing to shop for food.

An overnight camp at Tårs Havn stellplads in Lolland, Southern Denmark:  first stop was the fiske røgeri (fish smokehouse) down by the harbour, then into the town for the Super Brugsen supermarket. But Rudkøbing was a disappointing town, and the shops poorly stocked. We continued south across Langeland to Spodsbjerg just in time to buy tickets for the 4-15pm ferry over to Tårs on Lolland, Southern Denmark. The Langeland Straits were quite choppy with the brisk easterly breeze whipping up a swell. The crossing took 45 minutes, and on the approach to Tårs ferry dock, the little fishing harbour where we planned to camp at the stellplads could be seen across the bay looking very exposed. As George our camper drove ashore however, his engine sounded much harsher than usual on accelerating. We had a problem.

At the end of the lane at Tårs Havn, the grassy area behind the familiar fishing sheds was unoccupied, and we settled into this delightful stellplads (see above left). But today Tårs Havn was exposed to the chill wind blowing from across the enclosed bay. Everything was exactly as remembered form our first stay here in 2019, and we took photos around the little fishing harbour in the bright evening sunshine (Photo 3 - Tårs Havn fishing harbour) (see above right) as ferries came and went to and from Spodsbjerg.

Crossing the Øresund Bridge:  We woke to a hazy sun lighting the eastern sky but the wind was still brisk and chill. This morning we phoned the VW garage in the nearby town of Maribo to arrange for them to check the camper's engine. The mechanic examined the engine and reassured us there was no serious problem, and we set off again north on the E47 motorway across Falster towards København. But the engine still sounded wrong and lacked the normal accelerative power. Past Kastrup Airport, we approached the Øresund Bridge (see above left). Almost at the Bridge's apex, we crossed the border from Denmark into Sweden (see right). The crossing of this magnificent engineering structure, passing beneath the remarkably tall bridge pylons (Photo 4 - Crossing the Øresund Bridge), is always a thrilling experience, even more so today after such a long interval. Down the far side of the Bridge, we reached the automated toll booths; the toll is now an expensive 400 SEK (over £32) one-way. The Swedish border guard simply waved us through with a welcoming smile, not even inspecting our passports let alone checking vax certificates.

Habo-Ljung Camping on the shore of the Öresund at Lomma:  traffic was heavy on the motorway around Malmö, with roadworks on the approach to Lund. We turned off at Junction 20 for Lomma and drove out along the coast road to find tonight's campsite, Habo-Ljung Camping. Along at the Öresund shore-side camping area, we selected a spot safely distant from the inevitable camping-cars here already and settled in. The hazy early evening sun was bright, and we sat looking out over the magnificent outlook across the Öresund and the distant misty outline of the Bridge to the south (see left). As dusk and darkness fell, the lights of København twinkled on the far side of the Öresund, and a nightingale sang its sweet melody in the trees behind where we were camped.

A long drive across Sweden to Gränna: after rain in the night, we woke to a misty morning; it looked like being a grey day for our 330kms drive partway across Sweden to Gränna (click here for detailed map of route). Lomma campsite's cost was high (330 SEK low season even without electricity; it would be exorbitant in high season at 430 SEK!), but facilities were good with a fully equipped kitchen/wash-up and integrated showers/bathrooms. We packed and were away by 10-15 to drive into Lomma for provisions at the ICA supermarket. Re-joining the E6, we headed north towards Helsingborg in reasonably light traffic. George's engine was still not performing well, adversely affecting his acceleration, but at least his temperature remained normal. At Helsingborg, we turned NE onto the E4 motorway signed for Jönköping and Stockholm (Photo 5 - Swedish E4 motorway). Traffic was unexpectedly light with only occasional need to pull out to pass slow-moving trucks, and we kept up a good pace. We pulled into a delightful rest-area for our lunch sandwiches at a woodland picnic table, with the scent of pines and surrounded by the trip's first Lingonberries and Bilberries (see above right). This was a perfect foretaste of the Sweden we loved as opposed to the endless farmland and fields of rape further south in Skåne.

An overnight stay at Getinggaryds Farm-Camping by Lake Vättern:  we reached the motorway junction at Jönköping, passing Husquvarna (of chainsaw fame) and getting this year's first sighting of Lake Vättern. Some 20 kms further, we turned off through the small lake-side town of Gränna, and 12 kms along the southern shore of the lake, we reached the turning into Getinggaryds Farm-Camping. Driving along the lake-side lane from Gränna, the bright green of this year's new leaf on the road-side trees glistened in the afternoon sun. We selected a pitch down towards the lake in the warm hazy sunshine, and settled in to brew tea after today's long drive (see left). Later as the sun faded behind heavy cloud, temperatures dropped, and the evening became drizzly as prelude to tomorrow's forecast rain.

Completing the drive across Sweden to Grisslehamn:  we were away early on a wet morning for today's long drive to complete the crossing of Sweden to Grisslehamn. We re-joined the E4, leaving behind Lake Vättern and headed towards Linköping. Passing the first of the Saab aircraft (manufactured in Linköping) displayed alongside the motorway, we turned into the town in now pouring rain to shop for provisions in a huge ICA Stormarknad (hypermarket). Back on the motorway in persistent misty rain, we headed towards Norköping. Our route would take us north from here on Route 55 via Strängnäs to Uppsala (click here for detailed map of route), but the weather was foul and visibility poor. This region of central Sweden would once have been a traditional iron mining and smelting area (Malmköping means Ore-market) and we passed signs for number a bruks (smelting works). Despite the rain, it was also magnificent Swedish terrain passing through pine and birch forests with exposed glacial bed-rock covered with Lingonberries and lichen, and roadside verges filled with White Wood Anemones. Beyond Strängnäs, Route 55 crossed several channels of the all-pervasive Malaren waterway on a series of bridges and causeways. It was also a route bedevilled with frequent speed cameras! The route passed Enköping on a section of E18 motorway (signed Oslo to the west and Stockholm to the east) to reach the university-city of Uppsala, with brief views of its cathedral twin spires from the bypass. Crossing the E4 just NE of Uppsala, Route 288 followed a winding, circuitous route on 40 kms of rural lanes finally to reach the village-port of Grisslehamn on Sweden's east coast.

Grisslehamn Marina Stellplads:  we had planned to camp tonight before tomorrow's ferry to the Åland Islands at Grisslehamn's little harbour stellplads, but on our arrival this was totally full of camping-cars. We had therefore to use the Marina Stellplads, and found a waterside place there well away from all the camping-cars crowded around the marina. The warden was brusquely unwelcoming and the charge exploitatively over-priced; but we had no other option. By now the rain of earlier had passed, replaced by sunshine brightening the waterside and red-painted wooden cottages; it was a delightful Swedish setting of rural tranquillity (Photo 6 - Grisslehamn Marina Stellplads) (see above right). While Paul sat to write up the log after today's exhausting 255 mile drive, Sheila walked around the inlet photographing a nesting Great Crested Grebe on a rock in the water (see left) (Photo 7 - Nesting Great Crested Grebe). Our peace was disturbed later by the arrival of a grotesquely obscene monster camping-car, a veritable block of apartments on wheels, driven by an equally obnoxiously obese owner. As normal with such folk, the moment they had parked (with much ado of course), up went the satellite dish to be twirled around in search of TV soap operas! Plus ça change ...

Ferry crossing to Eckerö on the Åland Islands :  we were up at 6-30 the following morning to be round at the ferry dock for the early morning Eckerö Line ferry crossing to the Åland Islands. There were far more foot-passengers taking tour-buses for day-trips on Åland than car-born passengers. Along with our passports and pre-booked tickets, we had our Covid vax certificates ready in case these were required for entry to Finnish territory; but again no one was interested. Having boarded, we eventually found an outdoor deck position overlooking the stern flag for photos departing Sweden (see right) (Photo 8 - Departing Sweden). The ferry was more crowded than any situation we had been in since before lockdown, and no one was wearing masks. We eventually found seats in a less crowded area, and the 2 hour crossing passed quickly; we were soon seeing the coast of Eckerö increasing in size along the horizon.

Arriving at the Åland Islands:  the ferry docked at 1-00pm (Finnish time, 1 hour ahead of Sweden), and once ashore we parked to give chance to dig out Euros again and put away the Swedish Kroner ready for our return at end-July. The plan for this afternoon was to drive into the main town of Mariehamn for provisions, before returning to Eckerö to camp tonight at Söderhagen Camping (click here for detailed map of Åland Islands). We had expected the Ålands to be busier with Swedish holiday-makers at this later stage of the year than we had been accustomed to, but as we drove into Mariehamn passing familiar landmarks, the roads were as deserted as usual other than local Ålanders. It was so good to be back in peaceful, civilised Åland. We shopped in the familiar surroundings of the well-stocked Spar Hallen supermarket (where you can buy anything from sausages to chainsaws!), and since it was only still only 3-00pm we decided to fit in a walk around the Ramsholmen woodland meadows before returning to Söderhagen for tonight's camp.

The Ramsholmen Wooded Meadow Nature Walk:  the Ramsholmen peninsula just to the west of Mariehamn is one of the few surviving areas of wooded meadows in Åland from which the mown hay and pollarded foliage of ash trees was once used as winter feed for cattle. We pulled off into the parking area and booted up to walk the 2kms woodland circuit. The meadows were ablaze with masses of both White and Yellow Wood Anemones (see above left) and the beautiful Åland Cowslips, and we were soon down on our knees for close-up photos (Photo 9 - Ramsholmen wild flora). The woodland floor beneath the many-branching pollarded Ash trees (Photo 10 - Pollarded Ash trees) was covered with a profusion of Ramsons (wild garlic), which gives the meadow its name of Ramsholmen; the Ramsons was just coming into bud, filling the air with its pungent garlicky smell. Dotted among the Wood Anemones, we also saw arching Solomon's Seal just coming into flower, purple flowers of Spring Vetch, Violets and Celandines, and in the wetter areas beautiful clumps of bright yellow Marsh Marigolds. We made slow progress around the path circuit since every step brought another stop to photograph the magnificent wild floral display. At the far end, the path circled around the fjord shore, and along the sunnier southern return walk, the masses of Wood Anemones, Cowslips and Marsh Marigolds were even denser. We also found a lovely colony of Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) (see right), one lone clump of Water Avens, and wild Lily of the Valley still tightly in bud. This short walk through these classic Ålands woodland meadows was a paradise garden of wild flora. See our photo-gallery of Ålands wild flora: Wild Flora of Ålands

A hospitable return to Söderhagen Camping on Eckerö:  from Ramsholmen parking area, we headed westwards across the flat farmlands of Hammarland past Katsby Church and crossed the high-arching fjord bridge over to Eckerö. Turning off to Torp, which over the many years we have visited the Ålands we have associated with its wooden windmill. Today driving through the village, alas the magnificent Åland post-mill was in ruins, its wrecked sails lying derelict alongside on the ground. A little further and we turned off towards Degersand to reach Söderhagen Camping. Up onto the the flat, hilltop camping area which the owner Sven Eklund had progressively cleared, levelled and drained by sheer hard graft, we settled in with the still warm afternoon sunshine lighting the new leaf of the surrounding birch trees. Nothing had changed since we were last here in 2018 except perhaps a few more statics, but there were no other campers today. Thankfully it was still the same peaceful setting, overlooking the waters of Torpfjärden fjord inlet. Early evening Sven called round in his pickup, greeting us like old friends with his jovial smile and ebullient laugh. We reminisced about the last couple of years and the impact of Covid on island life, and exchanged news of our respective families and about his timber cutting business which was still doing well. He again offered us a reduced price of €20/night (the usual price was €25) "as old customers" he said, recalling that it was now 10 years since we had first camped here. It was so good to see Sven again, looking well if a little older, as we all were. As the sun set behind the hilltop birch forests, the evening grew chill and we cooked a warming supper of meatballs in a Lingberry sauce. It was indeed good to be back at Söderhagen, and we looked forward to our day in camp here tomorrow after a long week of travelling.

We woke to a blissfully sunny morning, and breakfasted outside in the warm air looking out over the fjord (see above left) (Photo 11 - Breakfast at Söderhagen Camping). Part-way through the morning, a Swedish-speaking lady called by for a chat; she also spoke good, colloquial English and lived in one of the static caravans at Söderhagen. She introduced herself as Mona, saying she came originally from Vaasa on Finland's west coast and now drove the local service bus, also doing odd jobs at the campsite for Sven including cleaning. As a result, place was much less run-down and the facilities well cared for, unlike when we were here last. We caught up with our housekeeping jobs, talked with family over Whats-App, and the much-needed rest day happily drifted by refreshing and productive.

A visit to the Ålands devolved Parliament, the Lagtinget the following morning, we phoned the VW garage in Mariehamn to arrange for them to check the camper's engine, receiving a helpful response from the service manager; we arranged an appointment for 1pm today. We were away early and drove along to re-visit Eckerö church (see above right). On a beautiful sunny morning, the Åland countryside looked so peaceful. On the way into Mariehamn, we called in at Kattby church in the morning sunshine (see above left) (Photo 12 - Kattby Church). Around by the eastern harbour at Mariehamn, we had time this morning to revisit the Islands' devolved Parliament, the Lagtinget (see right) (Photo 13 - Lagtinget in Mariehamn).

Although politically part of the Finnish state, Åland (pronounced Aw-land) enjoys a unique status as an autonomous and demilitarised self-governing region of Finland, made up of an archipelago of 6,700 islands and skerries. The largest, Main Island is home to 90% of the 27,000 population. Åland was first settled by people from Sweden, and historically the Ålanders have spoken Swedish and retained their Swedish culture and identity. It was part of the Swedish Kingdom until 1809 when disastrous defeat in war forced the Swedes to cede all of Finland including Åland to Tsarist Russia. The strategically placed islands were fortified as the Russian Empire's western extremity. With the Bolshevik Russian Revolution in 1917, representatives of Åland's municipalities met secretly to demand re-unification with the Swedish motherland. Finland also seized the chance to declare itself an independent republic in 1917, citing the same principles of self-determination as the Ålanders, but refusing to acknowledge Åland's claim. They even imprisoned the islands' leaders on charges of high treason. The issue of Åland's constitutional future was referred in 1921 to the newly formed League of Nations, which true to its later sad history, proposed a compromise solution. Finland was granted sovereignty over the Åland Islands, but was obliged to guarantee the Ålanders their Swedish language, culture and self-governing status. The Autonomy Act established the devolved Åland Parliament, the Lagtinget, which now exercises autonomous government and control of its own budget in matters of education, health, transport, industry, policing, postal and communications services. The Finnish State retains law-making powers in foreign affairs, civil and criminal law, customs and state taxation. A portion of taxation revenue is assigned to the devolved Åland government which manages the islands' budget. Under the Autonomy Act, Swedish is the official language in Åland, used by state authorities, and is the language of tuition in schools. But such is the indifference towards Finland that most Ålanders can neither speak nor understand Finnish and regard the Finnish language as an irrelevance.

The Lagtinget receptionist greeted us for our re-visit with news of a final session of the Parliament before the summer recess at 1pm today, which we were welcome to attend; unfortunately this was just at the time of our garage appointment. She did however show us the parliamentary chamber where the 30 member Lagtinget holds its plenary sessions (see above left) (Photo 14 - Ålands' devolved Parliament). We also viewed again the series of murals in the parliamentary lobby illustrating the Islands' history; these conclude with the scene of the Ålanders' delegates storming out of the Helsinki parliament in 1921 after Finnish rejection of the demands for the Islands' re-unification with Sweden (Photo 15 - Pictorial history of Åland) (see above right). We talked at length with the Lagtinget receptionist about constitutional and current issues, and learned that Finland gained one additional EU parliamentary seat at Strasbourg in the post-Brexit re-allocation but this was not awarded to Ålands, still a matter of controversy. We also learned that the title of Lagtinget (meaning Law Assembly) had been changed from Landtinget (meaning Regional Assembly) at the time of the 1993 constitutional revision to emphasise Åland's law-making autonomy. We also discussed Finland's and Sweden's NATO application which she said was supported by the majority of Ålanders in the face of Putin's aggression. Although Swedish-speaking, she clearly identified with Finland, referring to Sauli Niinistö as"our President". It had been another memorable encounter, and again we had learned much.

Sailing ship Pommern moored at Mariehamn harbour:  having eaten our lunch sandwiches sat in the Lagtinget gardens (see left), we drove along Mariehamn's main street to re-visit the sailing ship Pommern. Åland had once maintained one of the world's largest fleets of merchant sailing ships lasting into the 20th century. One of these the Pommern, a steel-hulled sailing ship built in Glasgow in 1903, is now moored at the quayside near the Maritime Museum at Mariehamn's harbour. This was of particular interest to us since she had operated the grain route from South Australia, holding the record for completing the home run to England around Cape Horn in 86 days. These sailing merchantmen had loaded grain at the South Australian ports of Port Pirie and Port Germaine on whose piers we had stood on our visit to our daughter in Adelaide (Photo 16 - Sailing ship Pommern) (see right). It was now approaching 1pm and we drove out to the Mariehamn VW garage. The service manager came out to meet us, and an hour later he reported they had fixed the camper's turbo. The engine was still running noisily on acceleration which he put down to fuel injection irregularities; it would be too big a job to undertake further investigations, but he assured us the camper was safe to drive. We could only take his word for that, and no charge was made for the checks.

Wild Orchids at Nåtö Nature Walk south of Mariehamn:  we decided this afternoon to re-visit Nåtö south of Mariehamn for the Naturstig (nature walk) to see again the wild orchids which grow there. Back through the town and out along the narrow peninsula to the south, we parked by the magnificent wooden post-windmill (Photo 17 - Nåtö wooden post-windmill). Immediately at the start of the nature walk, we found a large patch of mixed lemon-yellow and ruby-red Elderflower Orchids growing side by side in profusion, called in Åland Adam and Eve Orchids (see left). We followed the path around and out to the eastern shore, seeing many more Elderflower Orchids and Early Purple Orchids with their taller, more bluey-mauve flowers showing white markings as the florets opened. The path circled back through a more forested area of pines and spruces (see right), and returned through open wooded meadows. This delightful nature walk truly lived up to its name with the variety of wild flora seen growing there: Lily of the Valley, White Wood Anemones, pollarded Hazel trees, Juniper bushes, a carpet of Birdseye Primrose, clumps of Marsh Marigolds in wetter ground, Cowslips, Water Avens, Herb-Paris and Solomon's Seal both in early bud. See our photo-gallery of Ålands wild flora: Wild Flora of Ålands

Back through Mariehamn we returned out to Eckerö and re-settled into Söderhagen Camping for a final night. Later as we settled up with Sven for our 3 nights' camp, he told us more about the horrific impact of Covid on the Islands' way of life: in 2021, the public ferries were unable to operate for 5 months, and government subsidies were necessary to keep access to the islands open and food supply maintained. For this long period the islands were entirely cut off from the outside world. Later as the evening grew dusky, a pair of Muntjac deer scampered around the campsite, and by the time we turned in it was markedly chill.

Kvambo Church in Saltvik:  the following morning, we first drove down to Degersands at the southern tip of the peninsula to walk down to the deserted shore-line which enclosed this beautiful bay. Here we sat on the shore side rocks drinking in the peace of this magnificent setting with the morning sunlight sparkling on the surf lapping over the rocks (see left) (Photo 18 - Degersands Bay). Finally leaving Söderhagen, we headed into Mariehamn to shop for provisions at Spar Hallen. In the fish kiosk, the girl serving us turned out to be Latvian and was surprised to learn that we knew her home town of Jēkobspil in the Daugava valley. We headed north through Godby (click here for detailed map of Åland Islands) to re-visit the 13th century Church of St Mary in the village of Kvambo in Saltvik (see right) (Photo 19 - Kvambo Church). Unfortunately the church was locked so we were unable to see the interior.

Jan Karlsgården Skansen:  from Saltvik we cut across to Route 2, the main road out to Prastö and Vårdö, and turned off through the grounds of Jan Karlsgården Skansen. This was founded in 1931 to preserve traditional wooden historical agricultural buildings and windmills from around Åland, re-erected here in this beautiful rural setting. Admission was free and in bright sunshine we were able to wander across the hillside looking at the farmstead with its Åland flag proudly fluttering on the flagpole (Photo 20 - Jan Karlsgården Skansen). On walking down the hill towards the fjord (see below left) to photograph the preserved post-windmill and traditional fencing where the apple trees were just coming into blossom, the old windmill was nowhere to be seen; it had been destroyed by a severe storm in 2019 and awaited restoration. We walked back past the 3 windmills aligned along the bedrock granite hillside, and the summer pole still bearing last year's greenery decorations and lying ready to be re-dressed afresh this coming summer.

Wild camp at Bomarsund Fortress:  we continued eastwards towards the ruins of Bomarsund Fortress to investigate the two possible wild camp spots we had identified for tonight. The first was near the ruins of the former Imperial Russian garrison town of Skarpans, amid wonderful native Ålands terrain with pines and birches and extensive outcrops of bed-rock granite. It was in a beautiful setting with a small gravelled, grassy flat parking area and picnic table; this certainly looked an attractive spot for a wild camp. The other possible spot was along the dirt road out by the ruins of Prästötornet, one of Bomarsund's outlying defensive towers across the sound on Prästö island. This would be more exposed but overlooked the channel separating Bomarsund from Prästö beyond the bridge. We drove along past the ruined remains of Skarpans out onto the main road, but horrors - the arched Prästö bridge was no longer a thing of beauty to be photographed against the channel and backdrop of Bomarsund fortress walls. It was now totally shrouded with scaffolding and closed to traffic. For a moment it also seemed that Prästö and Vårdö were inaccessible. Hesitantly we crossed the replacement temporary bridge alongside onto Prästö, gazing in amazement at all the building work taking place on Prästö's once elegantly arched bridge. 200m further and we turned off onto the dirt road leading out to Prästötornet on the northern tip of the island. But at the far end, the lane was gated off close to the grassy area and tower ruins where we had thought to wild camp. We therefore left this and returned over the temporary bridge to Skarpans and our first wild camp option.

It took a while to find a flat spot on the parking area grass, but we finally settled in and set up camp. It truly was an attractive spot to camp, surrounded by pines and birches and looking out over the bed-rock granite outcrops (Photo 21 - Skarpans wild camp) (see above right). We sat enjoying the beauty of the peaceful surroundings. The bright late afternoon sun was still warm, but it would doubtless become chill when the sun set later. The only disturbance was a very occasional local car passing along the dirt road to isolated dwellings, and the distant noise of traffic along the main road. During the evening the temperature did drop, and the sun was just setting as we turned in.

The Prästö Kulturstig (Historical Trail) around Bomarsund graveyards:  we enjoyed an undisturbed night in this peaceful spot, and woke to an overcast, drizzly morning. Crossing the temporary Prästö bridge again this morning showed fully the extent of renovation works taking place on the arched bridge; it was taking over 2 years to complete and was not due for re-opening until 2023. Our plan for today was to walk the 5.5 kms circuit of the Prästö Kulturstig (Historical Trail) around the Bomarsund graveyards.

Following Tsarist Russia's punishing defeat of the Swedish Empire in the 1808~09 war, Imperial Russia gained possession not only of the whole of Finland but also the strategically positioned Åland Islands; they immediately began to fortify and garrison the Åland Islands as a furthest westward defensive outpost of the Russian Empire. Work began on construction of the massive fortress at Bomarsund as defence against Swedish retaliation. This epic project to create a fortress to accommodate a garrison of up to 2,500 troops would take decades, and brought to Åland thousands of soldiers, penal gangs of construction labourers, craftsmen, quarrymen and masons. Such garrisons were the most ethnically and religiously diverse communities, reflecting the breadth of the Russian Empire. Civilians with their families, along with civil servants, and merchants, were stationed here in the township of Skarpans (near the ruins of which we had camped last night) which grew up around the fortress of Bomarsund. The massive walls of Bomarsund fortress, which covered a huge area by the channel between Sund and Prästö, were faced with precisely cut granite blocks quarried locally in an attempt to make the fortress cannon-proof. But when an attack from the west came, it was not from Imperial Russia's old adversary Sweden. In 1854, the Western Allies sided with Ottoman Turkey against Tsarist Russia in the Crimean War, and a combined British~French naval squadron attacked Bomarsund. The enormous and seemingly impregnable fortress had been under construction for 40 years and, despite its planned scale, was in fact only 25% completed. Despite its formidable defences, Bomarsund was no match against the Royal Navy's more modern weapons and tactics, and fell within a matter of days. The Russians surrendered the fortress, the incomplete construction work of four decades was destroyed by explosives, some 2,000 Russian POWs were transported to prisons in Britain and France, and under the terms of surrender the Åland Islands became a demilitarised zone which it remains today. The fortress was never rebuilt.

During the 19th century Russian occupation of Bomarsund Fortress, Prästö Island was the site of the fortress' military hospital and extensive areas of burial grounds, with many of the garrison and civilian population dying from epidemics. Surrounded by sturdy walls of granite blocks, six graveyards covered the island of Prästö, divided into sections reflecting the religious origins of the many nationalities buried here from around the Tsarist Empire: soldiers and POW construction workers drafted to this western outpost of empire, together with merchants and civilians attracted to the settlement which developed around the fortress. Today's walking route around Prästö island would take us past the remains of these graveyards.

Across the width of Prästö, we parked by the Vårdö ferry on the island's eastern side, and set off back along the road for the start of today's walk (click here for map of Prästö Kulturstig). The first of the granite-walled graveyards we came to was the New Russian Orthodox burial ground begun in 1842 with five surviving stone monuments: one to a Russian merchant and his family, and another to a military engineer and his infant son. Nearby was a small area for Catholic burials; these would have been Poles drafted here as POWs from the crushed Polish national rebellion against Russian rule in 1830~31. Only two of the gravestones survive. The next graveyard was for those of Lutheran faith, mainly Finnish and other non-Russian soldiers and their families. The Lutheran burial ground was consecrated in 1846 and is still in use for local Lutheran burials from Prästö. The way-marked pathway led across to the far side of the Orthodox cemetery, shelving through dark pine woods along the lower slopes of an escarpment, then climbing its way up through the rocks of a low cliff, finally mounting the sheer upper section of the rocky escarpment on a wooden step-way. At the foot of the escarpment ascent, we found this year's first specimens of Chickweed Wintergreen shyly nestling in the damp shade beneath the wooden steps. The path emerged onto the magnificent bare granite-slabbed summit plateau of Ångsbergen. We followed the route across the plateau, its exposed granite outcrops dotted with stunted pines and covered with extensive carpets of dry, crusty lichen (Photo 22 - Ångsbergen plateau-top) (see above left). Despite today's gloomy weather, this was truly exquisite terrain covered with Bilberry, Lingonberry, and bed-rock granite outcrops. At the fell-top plateau's highest point, a wooden observation tower gave a panorama across Prästö's multi-green forest-scape to the surrounding sea (see above right). Bomarsund Fortress' Notvik defensive tower stood out on the headland above the northern sound, and to the south, we could see the sound from which a British~French fleet attacked Bomarsund in 1854.

The well-marked path wound its way across the fell-top and descended the steeper granite slabs on northern side of the plateau, to drop down through the pines, Bilberry and Lingonberry to a forest track-way which branched off through pine woods. Here banks of Lily-of-the-Valley (Kielo, Finland's national flower) were just coming into bud along with elegant Dog-Violets. Just along the trackway through a grove of tall pines, we paused for our lunch sandwiches, sitting on a pile of cut birch trunks. The forest track emerged at the western side of the island into an open meadow which had once been the former Orthodox cemetery where the majority Russian Orthodox community at Bomarsund had been buried. It was consecrated soon after the occupation of Åland in 1815 near to the military hospital on Prästö. Most of the wooden Orthodox three-barred cross grave-markers, for the thousands of burials during the thirty years of the cemetery's usage, have long since disappeared; the only evidence now of burials are the undulations of the uneven ground, now grazed by sheep. By 1842 this burial ground had been filled, leading to the creation of the New Orthodox Cemetery on the island's eastern side which we had passed earlier. At the northern end of the former graveyard where the forested hillside edged the sheep meadow, sturdy granite-block walls enclosed cemeteries segregated for Jewish and Muslim burials from Bomarsund. The first area contained six surviving Jewish grave-stones engraved with Hebrew text on one side and Cyrillic on the reverse. It is not known whether other Jewish burials were made here, but in 1854 the Jewish community at Bomarsund numbered around one hundred. Just by the Jewish cemetery's wall we found lovely specimens of blue Hepatica flowers (see left), the only ones we had seen this late in their flowering season. We also found more Spring Vetch, the maroon flower of the pea family recalled at this location on a previous visit. The far enclosure was for Muslim burials; no grave-markers survive and although some mounds remain, it is not known how many burials were made here. Little is known of the Muslim community at Bomarsund, but it is likely they were POWs who worked as labourers. The first half of the 19th century was for Russia a period of conflict with Islamic nations, with repeated wars against the Ottoman Turks and numerous rebellions in the newly occupied Caucasus provinces; it is likely therefore that Muslims at Bomarsund were POWs from these conflicts.

From the far corner of the former Orthodox cemetery, past the sheep and lambs now grazing the meadow, the path climbed over a rocky outcrop at the head of a small inlet, dropping down to pass one of the former stone quarries where masons had cut and shaped the octagonal granite blocks for facing the fortress' walls. We had driven along this lane yesterday looking for a possible wild camp spot along by the outlying defensive tower at the northern tip of Prästö just opposite the Notviks tower across the sound. Built as much to impress as for defence, little now remained of the once sturdy structure which over the years had been plundered for stone and brick building materials. From here. a two kilometre foot-slog back along the dirt road brought us to the main road across Prästö island. 400m along the road, we turned off on the southern side by the former Russian telegraph station. This had been built in 1912 when the Russians had attempted to re-occupy the Ålands militarily in defiance of the 1856 demilitarisation treaty that had ended the Crimean War sack of Bomarsund. Beyond the site of the original Bomarsund military hospital, we followed the track-way around past houses and gardens of the modern South Prästö settlement. The path circled around close to the water's edge to emerge back at the road close to our start point close to the Vårdö ferry.

Sandösunds Camping on Vårdö Island:  we were just in time for the free-of-charge chain-ferry which conveys vehicles over the narrow sound to the next island of Töftö (click here for detailed map of Åland Islands). Here a causeway-bridge crossed onto Vardö Island, a fruit-growing area with fruit tree frames stretching across the fields. Through Vardö village past the sturdy-looking church, we turned north through Lövö village towards the island's tip where a dirt lane leads to Sandösunds Camping set in a forested clearing alongside Sandö Sund (Sound). Parking on the flat bed-rock slabs, we eventually found the enigmatic owner Olof Salmi whom we had met on the 2 previous occasions we had camped at Sandösunds. We pitched down at the shore-side camping area looking out to the waters of an inlet of Sandö Sound (see above right) with the distant low-lying islet of Adö on the skyline. The first of the trip's mossies buzzed around our heads as we settled in, a sign of things to come! Despite the disappointing weather, today's walk around Prästö had provided another feast of Ålands wild flora: Wild Flora of Ålands

Stallhagen Micro-Brewery pub:  we woke to a hazy sun on a still morning, and breakfasted looking out across the waters of Sandö Sund inlet. Sandösund Camping's facilities were good with fully equipped kitchen but a long trek carrying bowls of washing-up from the camping area. The morning drifted by and it was gone noon by the time we were away. Leaving George's reserved plaque, we headed back towards the Prästö ferry to shop for provisions for our forthcoming weekend on isolated Brandö Island, and to re-visit the  Stallhagen Micro-Brewery pub. We just reached the ferry in time to drive straight on board for the next crossing. Across the width of Prästö and Sund to Godby, and we turned north for a lunchtime beer at the  Stallhagen Micro-Brewery pub.

Stallhagen Micro-Brewery is the islands' only micro-brewery which, from its foundation in 2004 by Brewer Christian Ekström, has continued to increase its range and output of high quality, hand-produced beers; these range from a light honey-beer, a pilsner-style lager, a brown ale, through to the monumental 7% dark Baltic Porter. We had first visited Stallhagen Micro-Brewery pub in 2012 when Christian Ekström the brewery's founder showed us around the brew-house, and each time we are on Åland, we take the opportunity for a re-visit. Today, a new outdoor seating area had been added since our last visit in 2018, meaning that on a sunny day the pub bar was empty. We ordered our beers and sat inside to enjoy them along with the familiar Stallhagen traditional atmosphere (see left) (Photo 23 - Stallhagen Microbrewery Pub). What was immediately noticeable was the increased number of customers speaking Finnish, rather than Swedish which had been the norm for Åland; the barman clearly spoke fluent Finnish, and we had in the last couple of days seen many more Finnish-registered cars. Later in conversation with one of the other members of staff, we learned the reason for the increased proportion of Finnish visitors. During the periods of Covid lockdowns, the border with Sweden was inevitably closed; but with the islands being part of Finland, Finns (who were prevented from going abroad) could travel to Åland. The habit had clearly stuck, and more Finns than we had been accustomed to seeing over here were still travelling to Åland.

We drove back to Godby to shop at Mattsons' supermarket, but stocks and variety were sadly lacking, particularly for fresh meat, fish and vegetables; perhaps this was an after-effect of distribution problems caused by Covid. We needed to cross to the S-market to complete our shopping. It was 4-30pm by the time we were finished to drive back across the width of Sund and catch the Prästö ferry for the final time, and return to Sandösund Camping to re-pitch in our reserved spot looking out over the inlet with the sun still shining brightly.

Lövö Naturstig (Nature Walk):  after a warmer night, we woke to a heavy mist covering the Sandö Sund inlet which separated Vårdö's northern peninsula from the intermediate island of Sandö. As we were drinking early morning tea, 2 very large hares scampered past. Our plan for our final day on Vårdö was to walk the 4.5kms circuit of Lövö Naturstig (Nature Walk), which starts directly from Sandösunds Camping, and climbs over the red-granite bed-rock fell-side up to Lövö village, and back around through forest to the campsite by the sound (click here for map of Lövö Naturstig). We set out along the campsite driveway at just after 10-00am, and at the road-crossing and start of the path we found the first of today's floral gems, a patch of elegant Lily of Valley in fuller flower than those seen on Prästö 2 days ago, and beyond the boathouses (see above right), some beautiful specimens of Chickweed Wintergreen and tiny May Lilies still in tight bud. The ongoing path, clearly way-marked with white paint marks on boulders and lines of cairns, advanced upwards gaining height steadily across the hillside on an almost clear pavement of lichen-covered, glacially-scoured slabbed granite bed-rock outcrops, scattered with stunted pines and spruce and floor-covering of Bilberry. We paused frequently for photographs in this peacefully idyllic paradise (see above left) (Photo 24 - Lichen-covered Lövö fell-side). This granite slope gave a living text-book lesson in soil formation: the layers of lichen caused fallen pine needles and moss to accumulate in hollows in the bed-rock; this composted over time to form a thin organic layer of proto-soil, where young pine saplings or green-leafed plants such as Bilberry could take root. But what was so marked this year was how dry the fell-side was and the lichen so crumbly; the newly-formed thin soil layer and layers of moss were so barren dry and peeling away from the bed-rock slabs, killing off the newly germinated young plants and pine saplings. Rain was so badly needed. At one point, a large hare paused on the skyline before scampering off. As we advanced up the fell-side, in a shady rocky hollow we found the next floral gem: a small patch of Lingonberry with the first flower buds of early summer (see left), the first seen this trip. On a low-growing pine, we were able to distinguish clearly the male and female cones (Photo 25- Male and female pine cones).

Towards the top of the slope we reached a temptingly convenient granite boulder to sit for our lunch sandwiches (see above right), revelling in the peace and beauty of this magnificent wild terrain. Among the lichen clumps growing at our feet, we again found examples of the tiny red trumpet-shaped fruiting heads and spore bodies of lichen (Photo 26- Lichen spore bodies). Continuing up the final part of the slope to the radio mast, the terrain changed from open pine-forested, lichen-covered fell-land to green, deciduous woodland with ground-covering of wild Lily of the Valley. Reaching the dirt road, we found a magnificent patch of Solomon's Seal with its characteristic curved branches and creamy-white pendulous flowers (see right). The ongoing route wound over bed-rock slabs around behind old buildings to emerge down at Lövö post-windmill (Photo 27- Lövö post-windmill) (see below left). Almost at the road in Lövö village, the ground was covered with bright yellow and purple Heartsease Wild Pansies and scattered among these flowers of Meadow Saxifrage. Lövö had been the site of a 2 year long Peace Congress in 1718~19 to negotiate an armistice during the Great Northern War in hostilities between the Imperial Russians under Peter the Great and the Swedish Empire under Charles XII; some 1,200 delegates encamped here, indulging more in feasting than securing a conclusive peace treaty in this lasting and destructive war.

200m along the road from Lövö village, Österängsvägen farm-trackway turned off; the light sandy Ålands soil in the surrounding tilled fields looked so dry and barren. The lane led around to enter dense pine and birch woodland; here the midges were so bothersome that, for the first time in Ålands, midge head-nets became necessary. The footpath meandered a winding way through the forest, with Bilberry, tiny May Lilies scarcely in bud, Chickweed Wintergreen, and Wood Sorrel with its bright green trefoil leaves carpeting the forest floor. On the far side of the forest, the labyrinthine network of paths finally emerged back at the campsite. All the other campers had moved on and we moved George to pitch looking out over Sandö Sund inlet (see right) (Photo 28 - Sandösund Camping) where the fresher breeze closer to the water kept the midges at bay. Today had been a memorable re-walk of Lövö Naturstig in bright weather, with a profusion of wild flora, but the barren dryness of the lichen-covered terrain gave cause for concern. See our photo-gallery of Ålands wild flora: Wild Flora of Ålands

Ferry on to Brandö, easternmost of Åland islands:  after an enjoyable 3 nights stay at Sandösund Camping, an early start this morning to catch the onward ferry to Brandö, the easternmost of the Åland islands. We had time to divert at Vårdö village to the well stocked small shop at Vargata for provisions, before heading out to the ferry dock at Hummelvik at the South-East side of Vårdö Island (click here for detailed map of Åland Islands). We were the first vehicle to arrive at the normally busy ferry port, and joined the Torsholma ferry lane; the other queuing lane was for those travelling to the intermediate North-Eastern islands of Enklinge, Kumlinge and Lappo on the way to Torsholma on Brandö. The ferry appeared in the distance and swung around to dock (Photo 29 - Ferry at Hummelvik for Brandö), for vehicles to disembark, arriving foot passengers to board the waiting bus, and queuing vehicles to board (see left). The morning had been overcast until now, but by time we were aboard drizzly rain had started and visibility was poor. It was far too wet for us to be out of deck for the usual photos as the ferry pulled away, and we settled into the ferry lounge for the 2½ hours crossing. We got into conversation with another passenger at the same table. She was a Swedish-speaking Ålander from Mariehamn, clearly an educated and like-minded lady; a retired teacher originally from Stockholm, her family was from Åland, and she was now crossing for a weekend at her family summer-house on Brandö. She also spoke English fluently without trace of accent, and we talked at length about matters affecting Sweden: about the changing nature of Swedish society with the numbers of immigrants; she asked about our travels in Scandinavia, surprised at the extent of our knowledge of Sweden and Finland. We discussed Finland and Sweden joining NATO, and the difference between the two countries' past attitudes towards their neutrality, the former arising from post-WW2 expediency, the latter as a cultural, ideological matter. All in all it was another rewarding conversation from which we learned much. It was a fascinating sea-scape for the entire crossing through the Ålands archipelago, passing a multitude of islets. But it was simply too cold and wet to venture onto the outer deck for photos as the ferry called briefly at the intermediate islands.

Arrival at Brandö:  at 13-55, the ferry finally docked at Torsholma. Our map showed the ferry port to be located on a tiny skerry just off the southernmost of the chain of islets which makes up Brandö, the easternmost district of the Ålands (click here for detailed map of Brandö). Brandö is not itself just one island, but in fact a lacy archipelago of a thousand islands, islets and skerries, the principle group of which are interconnected by bridges and causeways (see above right), so that on the map the road running the length of the Brandö island-group seems to travel as much over sea as over land. From the ferry port islet, the road immediately crossed a lengthy causeway to the larger island of Torsholma, and turned north over further causeways and bridges to begin the 20kms drive up the archipelago chain. With the entire surrounding sea-scape dotted with a myriad of islets and skerries, navigating the ferry channels throughout the Ålands archipelago must require such incredible skill and experience. The next major island in the chain was Baggholma which in turn was linked by bridge to Nötö. This in turn was further linked by bridges over an intervening islet-dotted channel to the main island of Brandö (click here for detailed map of Brandö) where Brandö village housed the island-group's church, school, small shop, and fire station. At its northern end Brandö was linked via bridges across a channel and intervening islet to the next in the island sequence of Björnholma. Here the road continued north to the ferry port of Åva for the on-going crossing to the Finnish mainland (itself a misnomer in this archipelago-world) at the northern tip of Åva island, the topmost (well almost!) of the Brandö archipelago.

Fisketorpet Camping at Korsö on Western Brandö:  at the Björnholma road junction, today we took a westwards minor road over bridge-linked islets to the island of Korsö. Through the hamlet of the same name we finally reached our goal, Fisketorpet Camping. We had exchanged a number of emails with Ingeborg the campsite owner, starting in 2019 when we had originally planned this journey. The Ålands trip had to be cancelled that summer because of the need for George's roof repairs; then the same trip in both 2020 and 2021 had to be cancelled because of Covid. Now third time lucky, we had finally made it to Brandö and Fisketorpet Camping. We had phoned Ingeborg two days ago from Sandösunds to remind her of our arrival today by Ferry from Hummelvik; she had said to phone again on reaching the campsite since the reception was closed out of season. As we arrived, Ingeborg's husband walked over, and from him we learned that his wife was ill; so perhaps we should not meet her in person after all this time. Fisketorpets Camping's shore-side setting amid granite outcrops and looking out over the sea to a distant horizon of islands was utterly stunning. We have over the years camped in many wonderfully memorable places, but this took the prize. If only the weather had been warm and sunny, and the sky and sea blue as during the last two weeks, it would have been a perfect idyllic paradise. But today, being miserably wet and grey with a chill NW wind blowing, this somehow took the gloss off Fisketorpet's perfection.

With all the shore-side granite outcrops, it was difficult to see exactly where we should camp, but Ingeborg's husband led us down to the supposed camping area, assuring us of the finest camping spot in the whole of Finland; we followed slightly incredulously. But he was right: sure enough George was pitched amid the granite outcrops surrounded by stunted Juniper bushes and somehow levelled on a high grassy knoll looking out seaward to the island-spangled skyline; unfortunately today misty rain clouds obscured the distant horizon. Shivering with cold and anxious to be out of the wind-driven rain, we quickly settled in, plugged into power and switched on George's heater.

Once inside and warm, we could reflect on the experience of our arrival on Brandö and the drive up the length of the archipelago. It was such a pity that toady's wretched weather and cold, misty rain had deprived such a journey of any views or opportunity for photos. Brandö's topography was utterly bemusing: we had envisaged arriving at one elongated island, but instead 'Brandö' consisted of a long, complex and belief-defying archipelago consisting of a series of islands, islets and skerries, interconnected by causeways and bridges over a multitude of intervening channels, inlets and sounds, with a narrow road threading its way incredibly up the length of this network of islands (click here for detailed map of Brandö). It was such a pity that our arrival on Brandö coincided with such a miserably wet, cold day so obscuring any views of this topography.

And the campsite was indeed a perfect idyll, or at least it would have been had the weather not been so cold and wet with wretchedly poor visibility. Camped among the shore-side bed-rock granite outcrops and stunted Juniper bushes, we looked out over a steely-grey sea with a myriad of islets scattered along the scarcely visible horizon; if only we could see and appreciate such an unprecedented outlook. These granite bed-rock outcropping slabs among which we were camped, and which make up the low-lying islands and skerries of the archipelago, were truly magnificent. Their surface was striated from the grinding and scouring effect of the retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago when sea-levels were higher before the post-glacial land uplift. It was like camping among the pages of a living geology text book. But in this wretched weather, all we wanted to do was get out of the rain and get warm! Later as we cooked supper, the rain eased, but the evening remained chill and heavily overcast.

A day in camp at Fisketorpets Camping, Brandö:  magically we woke to a bright and sunny morning and first priority this morning was photos of this shore-side camp setting (Photo 30 - Shore-side pitch at Fisketorpet Camping) (see above left). And as we sat eating breakfast we could but marvel at this magnificent outlook over the sea towards the island-spangled horizon (see above right) (Photo 31 - Breakfast at Fisketorpet Camping). This wonderful location was an idyllic place to take a day in camp, and throughout the day we would break off to gaze out from atop the bed-rock slabs to gaze out seaward admiring this panoramic view around the horizon (Photo 32- Panoramic horizon view) (see above left). Exploring other corners of the campsite revealed more hidden coves with boat moorings and different views around the coast (Photo 33 - Wooded coastal cove) (see right), or along the Brandö archipelago (Photo 34 - Brandö archipelago).

Despite the campsite's wonderful location and its expensive price of €30/night, Fisketorpet's facilities were limited and basic with just one dry privy, a small kitchen cum common room with no hot water for washing up without boiling a kettle; showers were only available in the shore-side wood-saunas. It was always a matter of amusing irony when campsite owners in Finland or Sweden proudly offered us usage of their wood-fired sauna; our seemingly ungrateful response was thank you but we'd rather have a hot shower, and separately! For us, washing is a functional, not social activity; saunas are not a Scandinavian habit we were likely to acquire. But our rest day at Fisketorpet had been wonderfully restful and productive, and later as the evening became chill again, a magnificent golden sunset lit the cloud-decked western sky (see left) (Photo 35 - Fisketorpet sunset), a fitting climax of our stay at Fisketorpet.

Leaving Ålands and crossing to Finnish mainland:  after such a memorable stay at Fisketorpet, we were away early the following morning to enable us to reach Åva ferry-port at the northern tip of Brandö and be sure of a place on the ferry for today's crossing to the Finnish mainland (click here for detailed map of Brandö). We had been warned about the aftermath of a recent maritime incident at Hummelvik which had damaged  the large ferry M/S Altågeln normally operating the route to Torsholma. While this ferry was undergoing repairs, it would be replaced by M/S Viggen which normally covered the Åva~Osnäs half of the overall route. In turn Viggen had temporarily been replaced by a smaller ferry whose lesser vehicle capacity had caused severe delays with booked passengers having to wait until the next day. Although our Åva~Osnäs booking was not until the 12-30 crossing, we wanted to ensure an early place in the queue to guarantee a crossing today.

We were away from Fisketorpets by 9-30am for the 20 minute drive up the northern part of the Brandö archipelago to Åva. Back to the Björnholma road junction, we turned north crossing a watery gap on a causeway to the intermediate island of Söderholmen. Over another channel, the road passed the Brandö Fiskefabrik (fish factory) (see above right) to continue along the length of the larger island of Åva, and across a further channel to Bolmö, finally reaching the ferry port at the island's northern tip (see left). Apart from the pier extension work taking place, the port was deserted when we arrived just after 10-00 (see right) (Photo 36 - Waiting at Åva ferry-port); we now had a couple of hours to wait, but we had achieved our intention of securing our place. More vehicles gradually arrived, including a Finnish motorcyclist who said that the crossing should be quiet on a Monday morning; he added that last evening the Finland national ice-hockey team had beaten Canada in the finals to become world champions. The celebrations should mean that most Finns would be suffering from hangovers this morning!

The ferry arrived from Osnäs and a truck and a few cyclists disembarked; we continued waiting to board (Photo 37 - Åva fery-port). This was certainly a smaller ferry with decidedly less vehicle capacity. Eventually at 12-25 the barrier lifted, lower height cars were directed aboard and we finally boarded at the head of the central lane (Photo 38 - Boarding Åva~Osnäs ferry) (see left); we had our passage.

This smaller ferry had no lounge and passengers stayed in or alongside their vehicles for the 45 minute crossing. With Brandö and its northerly neighbouring island of Jurmö left behind, we finally said farewell to the Ålands, at least until July when we should return via Kökar and the Southern Line ferries after our stay in Mainland Finland. During the crossing we stood at the ferry's rail looking out at the passing islands (Photo 39 - Ferry crossing to Osnäs) (see right).

Arrival at Osnäs/Vuosnainen on Finnish mainland:  after what seemed a remarkably short crossing, the ferry docked at Osnäs (Swedish)/Vuosnainen (Finnish) and we drove ashore onto the Finnish mainland to set off on Route 192 (click here for detailed map of route). But we were not finished yet with crossing watery gaps; after a few kilometres, a further ferry awaited to take vehicles over to Kustavi. We began seeing familiar Finnish road signs, and also passing a multitude of speed cameras to trap unwary drivers speeding from arriving ferries! George had a further fill of diesel at a Neste station, and we continued on Route 192 almost to Turku. Here initially we joined the E8 motorway. A short distance further, we turned off onto the E18 motorway around the north of Turku through roadworks where the trunk road was being converted to Motorway standard. Finally clearing the roadworks and with traffic now light, the A1 motorway led out towards Salo, signposted for Helsinki (click here for detailed map of route).

Vuohensaari Camping, Salo:  into the town of Salo, we shopped for provisions at a K-Market; after the comparative paucity of variety in fresh foodstuffs in Mariehamn, this store was well-stocked. It was however a case of needing to re-familiarise ourselves with Finnish words for foodstuffs. With our shopping secured, we headed out through Salo town for tonight's campsite, Vuohensaari Camping just outside the town. The campsite was set on a lake-island, approached by a causeway from the town's industrial suburbs; it was shared with public leisure areas of parkland and lake-beach. When we arrived, it was heaving with townsfolk enjoying the warm sunshine. We were well-received by the English-speaking youngsters at the café-reception, but the price was expensive at €29 including a Camping Card discount. The camping area sloped every-which-way on the island's hilly ground and power supplies were limited. But we settled in and relaxed (Photo 40 - Vuohensaari Camping), weary after today's ferry crossing and taxing 84 mile drive around Turku. Facilities were brand new and sparklingly clean, with a fully equipped kitchen-common room and wash-up. The hot sun that had greeted our arrival soon dipped below the lake-island's tall trees, and the temperature dropped. Tomorrow we should begin our journey across Southern Finland and the next phase of this year's travels, which will be covered in the next edition.

Second edition from Finland to be published quite soon

Sheila and Paul

Published:   8 October 2022


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