Jouni Laaksonen 6.4.2020
This is the eighth post of a twelve post series. See index here.
We are an inventive species, we Homo sapiens, aren’t we? Think about new innovations like cell phones and computers. If you are over 40 years old, could you have imagined portable phones when you were a child? Or if you are over 30, could you have imagined that a cell phone can also act as a TV, or that it can show on a map exactly your location wherever you are, and whatever?
Think also about wheel, matches, compass and other great inventions. What a new era started when wheel was first discovered! Or when making a fire became easy, not requiring a lot of time and skill, or preserving glowing embers through the night.
One great invention was water mill. Consider a life where you had to grind the grain to flour by hand stones or other laborious process. Then someone came up with the idea of letting flowing water do the hard work!
Water mill at Peurokoski rapids. You pour grain through the wooden funnel to the center of the grinding stones. The stones are rotating, because under or outside the mill water rotates a large wooden paddlewheel. As a result you get flour, and no human labour (or electricity, or any kind of a motor) is needed.
It has been recorded that in 1885 in Oulu province (which covered about 1/5 of Finland) there were over 1200 water mills. There were about 168 000 inhabitants in the area at that time, which means there was one water mill per every 140 persons. And indeed, there was a water mill, or several, in every village.
Oulu province, and especially the eastern parts of the area, Kainuu and Kollismaa, were very suitable for small water mills. There are countless streams and rivers with enough relief. And, the area was very sparely populated and distances were long. If you needed something, you had better do it yourself.
In other areas a similar innovation was wind mill. For example The Netherlands is famous for wind mills. In Finland there are lots of picturesque wind mills in Åland Islands. And I’m now talking about old wooden wind mills that ground grain, not the modern high wind mills that produce energy.
Water mills today
When modern times arrived, with more efficient mills and also grocery stores with flour bags on their shelves, water mills were slowly abandoned and forgotten. Most of the old mills are ruins now, but luckily dozens have been restored. Most of these restored mills are sights, like Komulankönkään mylly, Peurokosken mylly, Lounatkosken mylly, Levän mylly or Koivarovan mylly.
Komulanköngäs is a special place. There are two waterfalls, and on top of the right-hand waterfall there is an old watermill. This mill was the most efficient of all in Kainuu region. It has been recorded that in one hour this Komulanköngäs mill ground one and half sacks of grains (75 kg) to flour. A typical mill built on top of a small stream took nine or ten hours to produce the same amount of flour. There is a parking lot next to the mill, and a lean-to only a couple of hundreds of meters from the mill.
Lounatkoski water mill is a sight in Hossa National Park. You can reach it by walking, or by canoeing, as this group.
Some few water mills have also ended up as wilderness huts. If you hike one of the most famous trails in Finland, Karhunkierros, you will visit two wilderness huts that used to be water mills: Myllykoski and Porontimajoki.
This is Myllykoski rapids, and the building is an old water mill now serving as a wilderness hut. Myllykoski is a very popular destination for both summer and winter.
Karhunkierros is the very first longer trail I hiked as a boy, with my father and brother. I can still remember how exciting it was to sleep at Porontimajoki: The hut, old mill, is built on top of the rapids of river Porontimajoki. When you lied down you heard the rush of water below the floor.
Porontimajoki wilderness hut is an old water mill. It is built on top of the rapids.
Also Tulijärvi wilderness hut along Itärajan retkeilyreitti trail is an old water mill, though it has been moved from it’s original place.
Water mills are a great memorial of the era of self-sufficiency. At Rautiaisen mylly there is a sign (in Finnish) telling about the building of the mill, in the 19th century: The timber for walls was taken from the forest surrounding the mill. The planks for floor were sawed from that same timber, without motorized help. The birch bark for roof was taken from the same forest. The mill stones were crafted from local stone. The iron parts needed for paddlewheel and door were forged locally, using iron made from iron ore lifted from the bottom of a local lake. There were no hardware stores, and none were needed.
Rautiaisen mylly is a water mill built on top of a small stream.
Nowadays this Rautiaisen mylly is a sight, and there is also a lean-to next to it, so you can build a campfire and enjoy your lunch.