Finland lays at the most eastern part of Europe and is, therefore, two hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). It is Europe’s fifth largest country, covering 338,000 sq km (130,558 sq miles). About 70 per cent of the land is covered by forest (an area larger than the size of England), 10 per cent is under water, and only some 6 per cent of it’s total land is used for agricultural purposes, with barley and oats the main crops. Finland is a country of considerable wilderness. There are vast areas of uninterrupted forests and woodlands, with tens of thousands of square kilometres of untouched terrain.
There are more lakes in Finland than in any other country in the world. The lake land area of the country is an immense tangle of lakes, inlets, islands and peninsulas. There are some 187,888 lakes, 5,100 rapids, 179,584 islands and although the Finns can’t name them all, they are very proud to tell you how many there are. There are some 80,000 islands dotted around Finland’s coasts, the rest are all in the inland lakes. The largest Finnish Lake system, greater Saimaa, is 4,400 sq km wide and has some 13,710 islands. Almost all Finnish municipalities have a lake, and some municipalities have more water than land in them.
Finland is often called the Land of a Thousand Lakes. Most of these were catalogued by an engineer called Toivo Virkkala, who spent his holidays charting the waters. He started in the mid-1930s and by 1956 had managed to catalogue 1,500 lakes. There are slightly more than 30,000 persons whose surname is Jarvinen, meaning “Lake Person”.
To enjoy the unique beauty of this natural environment, you really do need to behave like a Finn for a while. Finns regularly take a walk in the woods in search of wild mushrooms or go berry picking. It is a part of their way of life. The people of this country, from early childhood, have become used to living in close harmony with their rich natural surroundings. These people have a respect for this priceless and irreplaceable gift, and believe it is the only way to enjoy a real relationship with the environment in which they live. The Finns have a great love of fishing, whether it is from the shores of a lake in summer, or from holes in the two-foot deep ice of a frozen lake, in the middle of winter. Whatever you are doing, it will take place in a silence that is broken only by the twittering of birds.
The best way to discover Finland and the quiet beauty of this unspoiled natural environment is either on foot or by bicycle. However, it is said that the best way to see Finland is to see it from an aeroplane, as there are so few mountains or tall hills from which you can gaze out over these wondrous landscapes. Because there are no hills to interrupt the view in many parts of the country, the sky seems enormous and on fine days, in summer or winter, the blue of the sky seems to go on forever. In the south, the gentle rolling farmland slips into the vast forests and lakes of central Finland, and these gradually transform into the peat and tundra of Lapland in the north.
Relaxing on a riverboat cruise is a wonderful way to spend a long summer evening after a hard day at work. These mini-cruise boats offer dinner dances, partying or just a quiet evening on the water.
Virtually the whole of the country is accessible because of the hard work of the Finns in opening up remote areas. Sound Finnish engineering, in the form of good railways and road systems, has criss-crossed the forests and traversed the lakes. Endless roads run through tall trees of pine, spruce and birch. The natural barrier of thousands of lakes, which form the largest expanse of inland water in the world, have been overcome.
Nearly one-third of the country of Finland lies north of the Arctic Circle and here the real beauty of Lapland can be found. The semi-domesticated herds of reindeer roam freely and the remoteness of each farm makes the land seem immense. In summer, this is the land of the midnight sun; and during the awesome silence of the snow-covered winter, the aurora borealis (northern lights) can be seen. Here in Lapland, one experiences 52 consecutive days of 24-hour daytime and 60 days of continuous winter darkness. The highest hills of Finland, tunturi, are located in Lapland, with Halti as the highest point. However, Halti, in the north-west corner of Finland, is only 1,328 m (4,357 ft) high.
The aurora borealis, the northern lights, is the celestial phenomenon of bands, curtains or streams of coloured lights that appear in the sky on cold, winter nights near the Artic. In Finnish Lapland, the number of aurora displays is around 200 a year. In southern Finland, the number is generally fewer than 20. The beautiful blaze can manifest at any time of year when the conditions are right, but unfortunately won’t be seen in the summer months due to Finland’s long, light evenings.
Folklore abounds with explanations of the origins of the spellbinding celestial lights. In Finnish they are called revontulet, which means “fox fires”, a name derived from an ancient fable of the arctic fox starting fires or spraying up snow with its brushlike tail.
Finland has borders with three countries. The border with Russia lies to the east and is 1,269 km (788.5 miles) long. To the far north, Lapland has 727 km (451.7 miles) of border with Norway, whilst the west of the country has a 586 km (364.1 miles) border with Sweden. The Gulf of Finland separates southern Finland from Estonia. The Southern-most point, Hanko, is on the same latitude as Oslo in Norway and Anchorage in Alaska; while Joensuu, in the East, is nearly as far east as Istanbul.
The Finns are taking great efforts to preserve their natural environment and to prevent pollution.
The landscape looks idyllic. Unfortunately, the pristine lakes are not as clean as they appear. The 1997 survey of Finland’s lakes and ocean waters showed them to be some of the most polluted in the EU, failing to meet even EU minimum standards of cleanliness. This has been caused by massive pollution through paper and pulp factories and agriculture. This pollution is the main topic of environmental debate and is a hot political issue. However, much has been done in recent years to make amends and Finland is now quite proud of its efforts to mitigate previous pollution.
Near Oulu, in the north-west of Finland, can be found one of Europe’s most treasured wildlife sanctuaries, Liminganlahti. It was here, in just one week of the summer of 2000, that 300 different species of birds were recorded arriving in the spring.
Wildlife in Finland is rich and abundant. There are about 120,000 elks; Karelia, in the East, has a bear population of 240; reindeer are plentiful, with around 200,00 roaming freely in Lapland. Along with these, the animal kingdom includes the fox, lynx, weasels, hares, wolf and wolverine. There are around 65 species of mammals. There are also 400 species of birds, including black grouse, whooper swans, osprey, black woodpeckers chaffinches and sparrows, along with eagles and owls. And, of course, we must not forget to mention the fish. Finland has an abundance of different fish including, perch, pike, cod, flounder, whitefish, pikeperch, rainbow and brown trout, sea trout and salmon.