Jouni Laaksonen 20.4.2020
This is the ninth post of a twelve post series. See index here.
Imagine it’s 19th century and you are living in the middle of forest. No road comes to your home, and there are no tractors or other oil-based helpers. Clearing a forest or a rich mire into a field is very hard work, and there is not much field area around your house.
You do have a horse, for hard field and forest labour, and a couple of cows, for milk. You need all the fields you have to produce grain, and turnips, potatoes and so on, that is, to produce food directly to you and your family. There is not nearly enough field area to produce hay for the animals for all the winter. But not to worry: there are lots of bogs nearby. Not all bogs grow hay or sedge (Carex) suitable for winter fodder, but some do.
Valvatti forest ranger’s croft serves nowadays as a wilderness hut. It is an excellent place to experience the old times I’m telling in this post about.
The nearest suitable bogs were naturally always all in use, but they were usually not enough; also bogs farther away had to be used. When a rich hay bog was a day march, say, away from home, a small lodging was built. Sometimes it was just a lean-to, sometimes a small sauna, sometimes a proper log cabin.
In the end of July all the household was reaping hay on bogs, for maybe two weeks. That’s usually the hottest and also driest time of year in Finland. The hay was first gathered into high piles, and when it had dried up, it was shifted to small barns. The hay was fetched in winter, with horse and sleigh.
This hard work was reality even until 1960’s in the most remote corners of Finland.
Where to visit?
There were hundreds of hay cutters’ lodgings throughout Finland’s outback. Most of them are rotten to ruins, or can only barely be seen as a small square clearing in the forest, on the shore of an open bog.
However, some of the huts serve now as wilderness huts, like Pahtavuoma and Kutujärvi in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, Martimo-oja in Martimoaapa Mire Protection Area and Liiveri in Syöte National Park. All of these are small cabins, from two to four persons, but idyllic and full of historical athmosphere.
Pahtavuoma hut on left, a pitchfork on the wall of Kutujärvi hut on right.
Liiveri hut was hay reapers’ cabin. It fell in disrepair after that use ended, but in 2003 Metsähallitus repaired the hut respecting the old style, and since then it has served hikers as an idyllic wilderness hut.
If you decide to visit one of them, do go in July, when it is a hot day and a horde of mosquitoes and horse flies are seeking your blood. That way you can experience something of what the hard work of hay cutting was. 🙂
Kaulus cabin in Salamajärvi National Park is also an old reapers’ lodging, but it is a sight, not a wilderness hut nowadays.
There are many old bog barns, or ruins of them, along hiking trails, and many more outside trails. There are barns seen from trails for example at Karhunkierros Trail in Oulanka National Park, Viiankiaapa Mire Protection Area and Riisitunturi National Park.
There are many old barns in Oulanka National Park. Most of them are situated on the meadows on the shores of river Oulankajoki. The river floods every spring, and therefore these meadows are not forested, but they always produce hay and sedges and flowers. This barn is near Taivalköngäs, along Karhunkierros Trail. The photo is taken from Taivalköngäs camping site.
This old barn is along the nature trail in Viiankiaapa. The pic is taken in July, so it was not unlike this when the reapers cut all this hay in the old days.
There are hundeds and hundreds of old not-any-more-used barns throughout Finland’s bogs. Even if most of them are ruins, like this one along the hiking trail in Riisitunturi National Park, they remind us of the days past.
Collecting winter fodder for domestic animals was so vital that large measures were taken if needed. The water level of numerous lakes in Finland have been lowered: this way fertile land was freed from under water.
Iso-Valvatti, near Salamajärvi National Park, was a lake with a diameter of about 1,5 km. One hundred years ago the stream flowing out of the lake was dug deeper and wider, and this way more water flowed out than in. Slowly the lake drained and transformed from lake to bog. This bog grew hay, and a large number of people from nearby villages came every July to reap the hay.
There was a forest ranger’s croft one kilometer from the ex-lake, and it served as lodgings for the reapers. The lonely life of the ranger’s family got a bustling spirit every midsummer!
One of the rooms in Valvatti forest ranger’s croft. I’m packing my sleeping bag after a night slept in the old bunk on right. The croft was established in 1863, and this building is from around 1930.
Nowadays this Valvatti forest ranger’s croft serves as wilderness hut, and there’s a bird-watching tower beside Iso-Valvatti bog. Valvatti croft is along the 77 km long Peuran polku Trail, and on the other hand it is a very symphatetic destination for a day trip from the nearest dirt road (0,5 km).