Back to Weirdness

You can’t imagine how pleased we were to find that we were about to return to those bits of Finland that the atlas obscura website has something to say about. Beautiful as the wilderness was, after days of seemingly endless forest we were starting to feel trapped in a sort of three-dimensional barcode land as all we could see around us was an infinite series of vertical lines, some thicker than others…

Now, though, we were about to encounter the Silent People. OK, not much chattier than the trees when all was said and done, but far more interesting to wander through. The artist who created them followed the example of his creation and remained silent over the meaning of his artwork, so to this day nobody (apart from him, presumably) has any real idea of what they stand for. The most likely explanation seems to be that they’re intended to be a memorial for the Finnish and Russian soldiers who perished in a nearby battle during the Winter War of 1939-40. To add weight to this theory one of the atlas obscure writers has pointed out that if you took all the clothes and heads (which, by the way, are made of peat that is cut anew each year) away then you’d be left with over 1,000 plain wooden crosses. It’s an eerie place, but we felt curiously uplifted after our visit.

Pure blind chance led us past another eye-catching display an hour or two later on. It was on similar lines to the Silent People, but large rocks – or perhaps small boulders – had replaced the figures. Arranged in a large circle centred on a wooden construction with four curved arms supporting around 150 small bells, it was a memorial to all those killed in the Winter War. The Finns must have found themselves in an impossible position at that time – flanked by a neutral power and invaded by their erstwhile Russian overlords, they could have had little choice but to ally themselves with Germany.

That night found us close to a tall wooden viewing tower, itself on top of a hill.  Since there was a small wooden Räsävaara (at least, that’s what the notice nailed on to the front of the thing said) close by, we lit a fire and cooked supper in a proper old fashioned outdoorsy kind of way before retiring for the night, replete with raw hot meat and charred carbon.

We broke our normal routine the next morning and were up and about well before 8:00 am so that we could get a look from the top of the tower.  The views were spectacular and most of Finland seemed to stretch out below us.

Feeling emboldened by our early start, we turned to the east and made a beeline for the Russian border. We stopped several hours later having travelled as far to the east as it’s possible to go without leaving the EU. Ignoring the all too obvious political point-making opportunities offered by this fact, we toddled off through the woods to the official easternmost point. Sure enough, there was the closest point on the Russian border just 150m away. Un-guarded. Largely because it sat on a small island, in quite a large lake, while the rest of the border stretched out on either side with little but sand and fish for company.

Whoops – nobody warned us about the need for a special permit.  Just as well we came and went without making much of a fuss…

The dog looks a bit edgy – must have been the lack of special permit…

The Finnish side of the border was marked by a blue and white striped post, the Russian one was largely red.  The small white bit in the middle is the actual border, accurately placed to within 10cm, apparently.  We scanned the far shores with binoculars, but saw nobody and nothing. Feeling slightly cheated, we withdrew into the cover of the trees before moving back a bit more – just to be on the safe side – and parked up for the evening, leaving the dog on sentry duty.