Trip Report Forest Knights May Trip to Finland

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tim_n

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Feb 8, 2010
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Last year, wanting to make some time for my son and get him out in the wilderness a bit, I contact Wayne Jones of Forest knights (well known on the forum) to see whether his canoeing trip in Finland would be suitable.

After a bit of too’ing and fro’ing, the details were finalised & a couple of friends decided to join me and my 6 year old son.

I won't go into packing details, but I did my best to keep it minimal.

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First off, we flew with Norwegian from Gatwick, meeting Wayne and the gang at the airport before flying out. The experience of check in was almost pleasurable with less than 10 minutes between the electronic check in desks and dropping our bags off at oversize baggage – rucksacks it turns out, of any size, have to be dropped off at oversize and best of all, no queue.

Arriving in Finland, we took possession of two hire cars and travelled north north east. We stopped at a service station for dinner (a much different proposition to UK based service stations) to & through Antolla to some cabins in the woods to spend the nights. The trip took about 3-3.5 hours.

Tina, renter of canoes and owner of the cabins showed us round, first was the traditional & beautiful old Finnish cabin and the 2nd, the modern cabin with slightly more room for many of us to bed down in. The modern cabin had recently had electrics installed and a water filter – both of which Tina appears to consider pure luxury. They’re a hardy bunch those Finns. What is amazing is that almost half the house is given over to Sauna. On arrival the Sauna was on and hot and it was lightly raining. For some, the outside WC was a new experience, being the first of the weeks composting toilets. A good sauna and a dip in the spectacular lake was our introduction to our forthcoming week.
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The following morning we packed up and headed out. If there’s any advice I can offer is to take plenty of dry bags. The more the merrier. I ended up leaving my rucksack in the car along with a change of clothes. Everything else came with us in dry sacks. Tina does provide barrels which are needed for the massive amount of food which went with us.

We carried our canoes down to the docks from the back of a trailer, loaded up the gear and set out.

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Saimaa is vast – lots of patches of open water, thousands of islands – most of them I assume are privately owned, but a few are run as public campsites, free of charge and contain at least a fire area, axe, saw, small wood store, composting loo and bins. As this was the May expedition, we rarely came across anyone else, but this also meant that in some places the wood store was running a little low. Pitching a tent can be challenging, but hammocks are dead simple and we didn’t lack for hang space.

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The first island we stopped at was also to be our final island on the return trip. It was quite exposed with minimal shelter and probably the most basic. It also was the only one which has a little uphill walk to the camping and fire spots. We didn’t stay for the night, this only being about an hour away from the setoff point and we pushed on to “sauna island”.

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Sauna island’s unique selling point is, unsurprisingly, a sauna. The site has a very large wood store, lots of camping and hammocking spots, a couple of loos and gets very popular in the summer. Usually the expedition stops there just for the night and pushes on to a couple of other sites. The trip there was wonderful – the water was flat as a pancake and the canoes glided through the water almost silently. The ominus black cloud drifting over however belied this and I stopped paddling, a mere 15-20 minutes from our end point to get both my son and I into ponchos. Just as we pulled them on, the heavens opened and I was glad for dry bags and my poncho. In the distance, the group was also scrambling for waterproofs and on arrival at the Jetty, one of my friends made what can only be classed as “a critical boating error”. The error is quite simple, if your boat moves away from what you are gripping, let go of either the boat or what you are gripping and ensure you are on whatever surface the majority of your body is. Make this decision very quickly.

After becoming the first person to fall in on an expedition in 10 years of running these events, we pitched camp. Wet gear got dry in the sauna and Joel got the first meal of the week on. The food was hearty and excellent and it was fairly clear we were not going to starve in any way.

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I’ll confess at this point, I must have looked completely exhausted, I probably complained a bit as well as the reality hit home – I was going to not only be doing the majority of the canoeing (turns our 6 year olds don’t enjoy the paddling, just stopping the canoe by sticking their paddle straight down) pitch and strike both hammocks, as well as hassle him in and out of bed each day. I couldn’t have done this sort of expedition with his age if I was cooking as well – it just wouldn’t have been possible. Wayne proved that the trip was fairly flexible – after all, you’re not booked into sites, you can meander around as much as you like. So we stayed pitched on sauna island for a few days. The next day we went off for a paddle to one of the islands which had a fairly substantial hill on it. As part of the trip we portaged over sauna island (for those who don’t know, portaging is carrying your canoe over ground to cut out a substantial paddle or untraversable section of river). On arrival, we had lunch and a long walk up, round and over this hill. The circular route brought us up and out onto stunning vistas and gave my son plenty of time to tell me all about the virtues of Minecraft in explicit detail.

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tim_n

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Feb 8, 2010
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On return, we decided post dinner to have a bit of a fish. The fish appeared to love us washing our plates out in the lake and started a bit of a feeding frensy. I wanted to try out a few lightweight fishing kits which are illegal in the UK, but perfectly fine in Finland – and almost immediately caught two fish off the pontoon – however as I got them out of the water, they slipped the hooks. Having lost two, I went and borrowed the group cooking pot and having cast Steve’s rod (his first fishing trip) proved the 3rd was the charm. Steve landed it in the pot - It looked a little like a giant roach to me. Having dispatched the fish, Steve was taught to gut and descale it and after soaking overnight, we skewered it and cooked it gently over a fire for a couple of hours. The fish, whilst tender, was utterly flavourless sadly – but more on that later.

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The next day we carved – spoons were made, fishes were cooked and we paddled over to another island for a wonderful curry prepared by Joel. It was our last night on Sauna island, everyone fancied a move to another island.

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We set off in the morning for a long trip out. We stopped at “broken ankle island” and it’s easy to see why – it’s quite rocky, but very beautiful.

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We also stopped off at “the beach” (none of these are the real names, these are observational names or given by misfortune!).

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Our final stop was substantially further still. The wind was getting up, but fortunately behind us and we didn’t really need to paddle much. Once we’d paddled round a sandy spit, the water became a millpond and we started to look out for the best camping spots. I found two by the lake and pitched up for a picturesque evening looking out at the calm waters and scenic views. I kept my tarp of my hammock until about 11pm, I’ve not mentioned it before, but the sun barely sets and there’s not much call for a torch except for midnight loo trips. Sadly I had to pull the tarp over the hammock as the next morning rain had been forecast. Even at our most remote point from civilisation, we still had full internet access wherever we went.

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tim_n

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As the forecasters had predicted it was definitely raining that next morning. The wind showed no respite either and going was very slow leaving the island in the morning. Having fought our way across several open sections of water, when we reached a large body, Wayne swapped me out for Joel in the boat – I was already quite tired as paddling into fairly strong winds with myself being the only motor in a two person boat had tired me right out. I’m glad he did, even with Wayne paddling behind my effort was split between bailing out the boat and continuous paddling. It was a long paddle, fraught with learning experiences for us all, Wayne later stated that it was well above our competency level, but we’d handled it well and safely. Whilst soaked, the canoes were nice and stable and we all made it through in one piece.


We made plenty of short stops, arriving back late at Sauna island for our last night. On arrival, we dried out clothing and met our first and last people on our trip – two Finnish fishermen. They’d been unable to make headway in the winds and had turned back after a fairly unsuccessful day. When I told them where we’d started from and that we’d paddled there, they conversed between themselves for some time, turned back to me and said “this is very impressive”, which coming from a Finn made me quite happy.

The Finns also told us that the fish we’d caught was a Hilde. I don’t know if I’ve spelt that right, but the best way to eat the fish is raw, salted and with some light herbs. They had some and it was delicious. I don’t think they were happy to hear that not only had we caught a very sizeable fish, we’d done it from the pontoon they’d moored up to earlier.
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They had a look at our sauna fire, stuffed as many logs in as they could and probably made snide comments about how cold we brits liked our saunas.

Having returned the fish favour with a bit of Kraken rum, we retired for the final island hop of our trip.

Next morning, a veritable bimble to the first island we had landed at – we arrived just as the heavens opened and got ourselves pitched up. It felt much more exposed than the first time we’d visited and I ended up lashing my sons hammock up storm style. As there was no shelter on the island, as the rain returned after dinner, we all headed off for our hammocks having finished off the last of the rum and retired for the night.

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Next morning, the final leg back to the harbour, the return trip via car (stopping for sustenance) and complete chaos at the airport due to all the systems going down – but Norwegian and their digital systems meant we checked in and had dropped our bags off within a few minutes of arrival, whilst others faced tremendous queues and flight delays, we floated through security – probably the easiest transit of a country I have ever faced.

The trip was fantastic. Both Sam and I learnt a lot and when he's a bit bigger, we'll definitely be back. Apologies to Wayne and the boys for not posting this earlier, but hopefully if anyone is on the fence you'd be inspired to book a trip up soon!
 

Van-Wild

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Feb 17, 2018
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Absolutely amazing. What a trip of a life time for you and your son. I will have to look in to it myself.

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tim_n

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Feb 8, 2010
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Great report Tim; thanks for taking the time to do it. Fab trip too; I'd love to do it myself some day.
I'd try not to put it off too long, who knows how long he'll be running them. Attendance hasn't been fabulous either!

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Dave Budd

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I was watching the pictures come up on farcebook whilst you were there. Made me more than a little envious of those that aren't cash and time poor like me! I shall just have to explore the world vicariously through you instead!
 
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tim_n

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Feb 8, 2010
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Essex
I was watching the pictures come up on farcebook whilst you were there. Made me more than a little envious of those that aren't cash and time poor like me! I shall just have to explore the world vicariously through you instead!
You should have said. I'm sure we could have fitted you in a suitcase. Suitably bagged up to make sure you didn't make our clothes dirty.

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