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Europe » Finland » Lapland » Rovaniemi
July 23rd 2005
Published: September 4th 2009
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BirdingBirdingBirding

much like the Norfolk Fens
Motorhome News from Europe 27.

Finland. 12th July 2005
Kussamo, Oulanka National Park, The Arctic Circle and the Midnight Sun, Santa at Rovaniemi, Talvascero and Inari, Lapland.

A visit to Santa, north into Finnish Lapland - and snowchains


It’s my birthday on Thursday and we have a wager. Janice says I’ll get 3 emails-worth of greetings and I reckon I’ll get about 15! Meanwhile, we’ve been researching the birding hereabouts.

Page 77. Where to watch Birds in Scandinavia.
‘Valtavaara. This 10Km sq area of taiga is world famous as a site for red flanked bluetail’.

Page 281 Lonely Planet Finland. ‘Valtavaara Hill is the best place in the region for birding: some 100 species nest here’.

Now, is that tempting, or what? After a successful 6am start at the hides in Kussamo town, we set off for Valtravaara Hill full of hope. We walked on spongy peat paths reminiscent of the Norfolk Fens for two hours, through some of the most beautiful woodland imaginable in anticipation of some really special sightings: but we saw only three birds - all redstarts! There you go; you win some, you lose some. With 24 hour daylight the
Finland Finland Finland

.....decorated stones. Now, why didn't we buy some of these?
birds start singing at 2.30am and, like us, they’re knackered by 10 and fast asleep! The walk though was superb, the views were absolutely amazing and the temperature soared towards 30C so it was all worth getting up early for.

Nearby Ruka is a resort and prime skiing centre with a couple of magnificent ski-jumps and a good choice of moderate ski-runs on somewhat modest slopes. The Good Lord didn’t deal out many mountains to Finland; perhaps he just forgot. Most of those that were here have eroded over the last few billion years to what we might term large hills. Many of the older generation of local women in the town were wearing headscarves and frocks, evidently getting another airing as they have each short summer since 1965. Others, tucking into the irresistible ice creams, were clearly in training for the next ladies Olympic hammer-throwing championships.

As many of you will know, I’m a founder member of the ‘expose yourself to the risk of something happening’ club. With this in mind and conscious of our disappointing birding day earlier in the week, we took on a five-hour hike in the Oulanka National Park a bit to the
Rope bridge Rope bridge Rope bridge

on our hike through Oulanka National Park
north. Our reward was an excellent hike through ancient Scots pine, Siberian spruce and birch forest beside mirror still lakes, across rope bridges over thundering rapids, steep rocky canyons and marshes rich in orchids (we photographed one which we have been unable to identify). Parts of the trail were quite busy. The holidaymakers had crept out of the woodwork at last! However, there were some birds about and rather special ones at that: crossbill, magnificent waxwing foraging in the birch tops, Siberian jay at last, and Siberian tit to name but a few. The sun gave us another scorcher, around 30C again, I guess. It’s still too hot to sit outside in the direct sun at 9.00 in the evening. Oh! for a bit of snow! Apart from one almighty thunderstorm whilst shopping at the market in Kuusamo a few days back, we’ve had a great few weeks. They were selling peas in the pod by the litre on the market; very expensive, but the memory of real peas before the days of the freezer was wonderful!

Oulanka National Park lies very close to the Russian border and notices in the Information Centre recommend that you stay out of
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Santa Land!
the ‘Frontier Zone’, marked with suitably coloured poles. There appears to be no love lost between Finland and those across the red line and diplomatic confrontations are to be avoided. Martin Greenwood from Bedford visited the park at the beginning of the season it seemed. His name was the only other English one in the Visitors Book when Todd and Ronnie Foster from Norwich (as we are known in all visitors books) signed their names. The main attraction there was Finland’s most spectacular falls on the river Kemijokki, chasing its way through the red dolomite canyon towards the White Sea in Russia. We loved this area for its gentle hills, its botanic splendour and the walks in ancient forest. The Finns seemed to love it too; they were there in good numbers, many in family groups, making the most of their very brief summer.

If you don’t like walking, forests, fishing, wildlife, local culture, wilderness or lakes, then Finland is not for you. We just love all that of course, but there is little else for the casual holidaymaker. We particularly loved Finland’s National Parks.


Red clover and rosebay willow herb were coming into flower accompanying buttercups
Walking the line Walking the line Walking the line

..at 66 degrees 32' 35'' Rovaniemi
and white campion alongside the road in a blaze of colour as we headed west later in the day. There were two good reasons for our traipse across the country all the way to Rovaniemi. July 7th was our last chance to observe the Midnight Sun at the Arctic Circle (66’34”) and we were able to camp right on the banks of the mighty Ounaskoski river that night to watch the spectacle in the company of house-martins excitedly fly fishing, skimming the surface on outstretched wings. The whole blazing red sun remains above the horizon, having worked a full 24 hour day, though from our vantage point there were a few buildings in the way spoiling the ultimate view. I sat outside under the awning, reading Tom Clancy’s ‘Mirror Image’; not his best by any means, in broad daylight at midnight. In the north the sun doesn’t set for 66 days, from the 20th May to the 24th July.

The other reason for travelling to Rovaniemi is that old man, Father Christmas. Sometime, soon, I must finish my book, ‘Santa’s Seven Secrets’ and I’m in need of some serious research. Santa’s Post Office is manned by elves of course,
 Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park

hiking the barren hills to the summit of Talvaskero.
merrily taking money from the tourists. Cards posted there are stamped with Santa’s special 'Arctic Circle' postmark. There must be at least a dozen souvenir and gift shops in Santa’s Village, full of quite tasteful odds and ends nobody really needs, but they were all doing good business. There were a few Americans and Japanese buying everything from reindeer socks to reindeer hides! I can’t imagine a tour route that would bring them here, but then the same goes for Tallberg, the village miles from nowhere mentioned a week or two back. At this time of the year, all you get for your money in Rovaniemi is gift shops, but it must be a real picture in winter, up to its ears in snow, with husky rides, reindeer sleds, jingling bells, snow-mobiles, pretty lights everywhere, louder Christmas music and dark for most of the day. Then, there’s Santa Park, the fun bit for children, which must be magic to see. I believe in Father Christmas, don’t you? Of course you do - silly me. Rovaniemi is a modern City, rebuilt in 1944 after it was totally destroyed along with most other towns and villages in the north of Finland and
DotterelDotterelDotterel

on our hike upTalvaskero
Norway, as the Germans retreated.

‘Time is a great healer,’ I suggested to the middle-aged lady who had imparted this information.
‘We don’t forget,’ she responded. ‘And in Norway, they will never forgive.’

Shopping here in Finland is a bit of an experience. Little or nothing is in English and it’s left for the pictures on the tins and cartons to provide the clues. We have tried Reindeer steaks, though we thought they were pork initially, (it was the horns that gave it away). One of our recent coups was a pack of kitchen roll - made, printed and packed in England, doubtless from Finnish wood-pulp. That’s coals from Newcastle isn’t it?

They say that the mosquitoes are a bit of a pest here. And often they’re right no doubt, but we manage to keep them at bay with sprays and roll-ons and we don’t sit outside for too long when they’re about - which is a bit of a shame in all this sunshine.
Some campsites in resort areas further south have restaurants, swimming pools, tennis courts, showers and toilets, saunas, elaborate games areas and hundreds of cabins as well as space for motorhomes, caravans and tents; making huge complexes. As a general rule we try to give such sites a wide berth and head for the rural areas where it's quieter; the facilities are somewhat less but perfectly adequate. Every site in Finland has its sauna and, on occasions, the opportunity to leap straight into the freezing lake starkers afterwards. We have yet to try it!

News of the London bombing reached us during the week when a Finnish lady stopped to talk to us on one of our hikes, and later confirmed in an email from Brian and Kathryn in London - via Australia. At that time there were thought to be just two dead though we have now checked the full horror on http://www.bbc/. As we have no television and we cannot get English papers, (we still haven’t found our new Roberts short-wave radio which didn’t work in Spain or Italy anyway) and we can’t read the Finnish headlines on the news-stands, we have no idea what’s going on from one day to the next. This particularly pleasant lady also suggested it was associated with London getting the 2012 Olympics. We didn’t know about that either! Hopefully the London incident will not
RovaniemiRovaniemiRovaniemi

Santa doesn't actually live here, you understand.
escalate into anything even worse. We’ll probably never really know, but my guess is that it’s as a result of Tony Blair’s escapades with his pal George Bush in Iraq. I really don’t like England too much these days.

It’s a long way between towns in this neck of the woods and there are but a few brick-red wooden houses visible en route. 120 Km and a lot of trees north from Santaland we finally reached the first big town, Kittila; population 3,000. There was a four-day market going on - the most exciting thing to hit town for a year! Judging by the crowds, some people must have travelled miles to be there. Here, we were back in the centre of winter skiing, husky sledding and snowmobile wilderness territory, though it serves also as a hiking, river rafting and fishing resort throughout the summer.

We had to get the snow-chains out again during the week. Poor old Smiley sank up to the front axle in soft sand at a turning spot on a remote track whilst birding and it took us an hour or more to extricate ourselves. It was made worse by the fact that we were a mile off the deserted main road where we might get help and there were millions of horse flies about. My legs looked as though I had measles for a day-or two! Thank goodness for the on-board shower. It was really hot there; around 37C, and I just might be tempted to join the singlet brigade if it continues. Those who know me well, will know it’s taken an awful lot of years to get me into sandals - without socks, I hasten to add - and I still don’t own a pair of jeans!

Saturday evening saw us camping by the river at Muonia looking across into Sweden, just 100 metres away. We gave the river rafting and quad bike safaris a miss - at prices only the Finns can afford!



Some days on our journeys are really rather special. ‘I think this hike rates amongst our best ever,’ Janice remarked, on our long climb above the tree line on the barren hills of the Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park to the summit of Talvaskero. At 37 C this was our hottest day yet, but cooled by a stiff southerly breeze, we walked for four hours
Red SquirrelRed SquirrelRed Squirrel

such a delight
across the peaks over rocky tundra blazoned with luminescent citrus-yellow lichen along granite strewn mountain tracks. The craggy landscape brought new birds for this trip. A raven hung on the wind above us, a yellow wagtail perched on a stunted birch, a blue throat sang for us, wheatear and snow bunting flitted past, several dotterel with chicks stopped to admire us from just a few feet away, a cuckoo called on the wind and a rough legged buzzard swept across the ridge. Fantastic!

There’s a little café by the roadside in ‘Goldrush Country’ on the road north from Sodankyla where we stopped for coffee and doughnuts. Its presence was heralded some 10Km before by neat signs by the roadside. The first said, ‘Smoked fish-10Km’, which gave a clue to the only possible excitement along this 60Km stretch of road. The second sign, announced, ‘Café-9Km’. The third said, ‘We speak English 8Km’. The fourth said, ‘We speak German 7Km’. The fifth, ‘We speak Swedish’, and so on. We just had to stop! The coffee was good, the doughnuts OK and the birding from their front porch outstanding; osprey nesting in the tree on the opposite bank of the river and
SunsetSunsetSunset

over the river at Rovaniemi
bullfinches by the dozen feeding at the bird table by the kitchen door. There can be little to compare with the sight of bullfinches in breeding plumage.

Our week ends at Inari (pop 550), in Lapland to the north of Finand. Norway is just 100Km to the north and 60Km to the west. Russia is around 60Km to the east. By the time you receive next weeks news, we should be in the wild wastelands of Finnmark at the most northerly tip of Europe. If we miss it, we should hit the North Pole about Wednesday week. Watch this space!

Enjoy the summer,

David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads





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