This spring, most of Europe has been suffering from exceptionally cold and wet weather but in Finland, for a change, May was unusually warm. In fact, the highest temperature of the months – 30.5°C (87°F) – was recently measured up in Lapland well above the Arctic Circle more than a thousand kilometres north from here. We didn’t quite reach 30°C although it was closer than close (29.9°C).
We’ve been pampered with such lovely summer days for a couple of weeks now that I felt moving our lives into the garden and yard was not enough. I wanted to experience more than our lumpy lawn and the everlasting battle against dandelions. As we had friends visiting over the weekend we took them to enjoy nature in the Nuuksio National Park located only 35 kilometres from Helsinki.
Nuuksio is an area of some 53 square km on the northwestern outskirts of the metropolitan area. It has remained an untouched wilderness thanks to its rocky landscape and swamps that made the terrain unsuitable for farming. Being so close to the capital, it is a popular destination for hiking, trekking and other recreational outdoor activities. Travellers and expats have also found this oasis. We went there on Saturday which was the national day for graduations and closing of schools for the two-month summer holidays. On a quiet afternoon like that the proportion of foreign visitors was rather striking.
Nuuksio offers a number of marked trails plus several cooking shelters and camping sites for anyone to utilize as long as you follow the rules not to litter or otherwise harm nature or disturb the animals. There are more than 80 lakes and ponds in the park inviting you to dive in if you feel like it. You can even hire a cabin in the wilderness or go scout-like trekking in the unmarked backwoods with a map and a compass if you prefer to observe the wildlife on your own.
We walked one of the shorter trails climbing a few rocky hills and having a picnic lunch by one of the lakes. Being such amateur hikers, we didn’t see any of the dozens of endangered or near-endangered species living there, not even the Siberian flying squirrel (Pteromys volans), the emblem of Nuuksio. It is the only flying squirrel in Europe and considered a vulnerable species because of its rarity here. Furthermore, in Europe they are only found in Finland and Estonia, meaning that several construction plans have been wrecked around the country over the years due to – sometimes, it seems, almost miraculous – sightings of flying squirrels.
I am ashamed we never took the kids to Nuuksio during the years they were young and we lived in Espoo where most of the national park is located. There is a lame excuse for the summers: we wanted to ensure we wouldn’t be disturbed from the office and would have the best of weathers so we used to spend the parents’ four-week vacation further south, most often in the south of France. I guess you could argue such holidays may have given my children as valuable memories as a local national park might have. Nevertheless, I hope when they will have children of their own one day they will be wise enough to take their kids to places like Nuuksio, too.
We will definitely start paying more frequent visits carrying a picnic lunch in our backpacks and will also try the other entrances to the area now that we finally got started. One day we may even spot the famous flying squirrel there. To see a brown bear or a lynx we’d only need to stay at our neighbour’s living a few hundred metres away by the forest at the far end of the cornfield behind our place. In a sparsely populated country such as ours you will find the great outdoors at your doorstep most everywhere.