BARE IN FINLAND
Published: September 2006
Finland has always been on my list of must-see winter destinations; visiting Father Christmas in Lapland and exploring the silent, wintry countryside on cross country skies and sleighs pulled by reindeer! But this trip was different. It was mid June, thirty degrees and not a snowflake in sight!
Finnish summer's may be short, but underneath all the snow and ice, you'll find a surprisingly different landscape. There are lush meadows and emerald green pine forests bursting with wildlife, and dazzling lakes teeming with salmon and trout. The unspoilt, natural wilderness is part of everyday life, and Finland's Everyman's Right policy, ensures everybody has the freedom to enjoy the countryside with only limited restrictions. Finns have an enormous amount of respect for their environment, an attitude I very much admire and wish all of us would adopt.
The proximity to water is one of Finland's biggest draws. Nearly every city, town and village is located by a lake, river or sea. The country's water resources really are unique and offer the world's biggest archipelago and over 180,000 lakes; the result of melting ice age glaciers 11,000 years ago. Before the advent of modern transportation, water was the only means of transporting goods, and naturally, settlements have sprung up along the coast and waterways. Kuhmo is one such town and it was where I was lucky enough to spend four fabulous days exploring the area and enjoying wonderful Finnish hospitality.
The town is located on the eastern edge of the Kainuu region bordering Russia, positioned between the taiga (coniferous forest south of the artic tree line) and two large seas, a location that's created a landscape perfect for adventure, and perfect for somebody like me, eager to test the range of summer activities on offer. If you're fit and active and enjoy the outdoors, I really can't think of anywhere better; a pure, unspoilt wilderness right on your doorstep.
There really is so much to do here - sailing, hiking, fishing, cycling, and of course, what we'd all been looking forward to the most, bear watching. Sadly, after sharing a boiling hot hide with dozens of mosquitoes for over twelve, sweltering hours (AND having been encouraged by the sighting of a mother and cubs the previous evening), we saw absolutely zilch, not even a stray deer or passing rabbit! It's an experience I wouldn't like to repeat. I was covered in mozzie bites from head to toe (Ok, so I was a rookie and didn't bother packing the old repellent). But previous guests' photos didn't help matters; beautiful shots of Finland's largest carnivores; wolf, lynx, wolverine and yes, bear. How annoying!
The following day, our disappointment quickly faded as we embarked on our next activity, husky trekking through the taiga. This was by far the highlight of my trip and an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. Take one very strong Greenland husky (in my case Jonnie - the largest dog in the pack!) and attach one end of a bungee rope to the dog's harness and the other end to your harness and away you go, one of the most exhilarating sports I've ever experienced. You are literally pulled at speed through the woods by a powerful dog that's bounding along and relishing the freedom of taking you for a run rather than the other way round! It's fantastic fun, brilliant exercise and great training for the dogs who will be pulling much heavier sledges during the winter months.
Like many of Finland's towns, Kuhmo is surrounded by lakes and rivers and foaming rapids, perfect for canoeing and white water rafting. We took a fantastic canoe trip on Lake Jamasjarvi, paddling several miles across glassy calm water, not another person in sight. To be honest, the silence was pretty eerie, just the splish splash of our paddles and occasional bird calls from the surrounding forests. Half way through, we pulled up at a tiny island that had a Hansel and Gretel-style wooden hut with bunk beds and bedding, cooking pots and firewood. There was even a separate hut with an environmentally friendly toilet complete with a wooden, hand made toilet seat and loo roll! As part of the Everyman's Right code, facilities like these are provided throughout Finland free of charge. All you're required to do is leave them clean and tidy, ready for the next traveller. It really is a wonderful way of life and after cooking sausages over the open fire and drinking home made berry juice, the thought of returning back to London filled me with dread. I could easily have spent another week or two living the life of the Famous Five! But before we headed back to the smog, we had one last activity to master, white water rapid swimming. This involved donning a bright orange dry suit complete with rubber gloves, boots, and crash helmet and plunging into a freezing cold river, and hurtling down rapids feet first. Completely barmy but totally invigorating and such a good buzz, I did it twice!
Finnish summers offer such a variety of things to see and do and the midnight sun means it's possible to continue hiking or cycling or what ever you may be doing into the early hours. The summer is also the perfect time to sample Finland's natural culinary delights; wild mushrooms, blueberries, cloudberries, fresh peas, potatoes, crayfish and herring. Make sure you taste the traditional dishes on offer such as lingonberry pastries, rye bread filled with rice, vegetables, reindeer, and rainbow trout baked in a sour dough loaf, and of course the Finnish Vodka flavoured with cranberries!
Summer in Finland is truly amazing and I recommend a stay here for anybody who is into adventure and outdoor life. Despite not seeing any bears, my four-day break was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done. The combination of exhilarating sports, unspoilt wilderness and stunning scenery with fantastic food and fabulous hospitality was second to none. I cannot wait to experience Finland's alternative snowy charm this winter!
If you've visited Finland, I'd like to HEAR FROM YOU
BARE IN FINLAND
Amanda Hudson joined the Travel Channel at the beginning of 2006 as Head of Production and looks after all our in house productions and the production team. She's travelled extensively around the globe and recently fulfilled one of her life long ambitions - horse trekking through the Andes from Argentina to Chile. When she's not writing, producing, directing crew or dealing with budgets you'll find her on a hockey pitch scoring goals for West Hampstead Hockey Club.