A touch of wilderness in Kuhmo

13.5.2019

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Production and export of pine tree tar was a staple of the Finnish economy from the 17th century till the early 1900s. Demand for tar dwindled as wooden sail boats were replaced by steam-powered steel ships. In the North Eastern region of Kuhmo tar production peaked in the 1860s. From Kuhmo tar barrels were transported through inland waterways to the sea harbour in Oulu. An English lady, Mrs. Alec-Tweedie, who travelled in Finland in the late 19th century, gives in her travel book a detailed description of tar production and transportation.

A statue in modern-day Kuhmo depicts an oarsman in a section of a tar-boat.

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The journey from Kuhmo to Oulu and back took 2-4 weeks, depending on weather conditions. One or the oarspersons was often a woman who doubled as the cook. The numerous rapids presented a challenge for boat transport.

In early days the boats were less than 10 metres long and carried a limited number of tar barrels. Removal of the largest boulders and constrctution of lock systems in some rapids allowed bigger tar-boats. The largest boats were some 14 metres long and one metre wide and carried up to 30 barrels of 125 litres each. For the most dangerous rapids, the services of a professional helmsman were required. The helmsman navigated he tar-boat through the rapids, then returned upstream to wait for the next one. Some rapids remained non-navigable and had to be bypassed by land.

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The hardest part was the return journey upstream when the men often had to go ashore and pull the boats with ropes past the rapids. In some rapids a möljä was constructed to ease task. It was a narrow wooden pier built along the shore from which one person would pull the boat while others would use poles to prevent the boat bumping against the pier.

In Kuhmo, a möljä built in 1870 in the Pajakkakoski rapids is used today by fishermen. The elevation drop is only 2,4 metres but with a length of 450 metres the rapids are impressive enough.

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A tar-boat with barrels has been preserved in Tuupala museum not far from Pajakkakoski. The former homestead of the Tuupainen family can be visited from June to August.

Other sights in Kuhmo include the wooden church designed by Jacob Rijf, constructed in 1816 after his death. Jacob Rijf was the first Finn to study in the school of architecture of the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm.

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The Kuhmo Arts Centre (Kuhmo-talo), designed as a concert hall in 1993, is the main site for the Kuhmo Chamber Music festival held yearly in July. With some 150 musicians and an audience of tens of thousands the festival is a boost for tourism in Kuhmo. Accommodation is available in a couple of hotels as well as camping sites, cottages and private homes.

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The main attraction in the Kuhmo region is the nature rich with forests and waterways. A taste of wilderness is offered by the Hiidenportti national park (Hiidenportintie 86, Sotkamo) at one hour’s drive from Kuhmo centre. The park has a 30 km network of trails for serious trekking but already a 3-5 km half-day hike enables to experience a variety of sceneries.

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The impressive Hiisi’s Gate canyon (Hiidenportti) below, after which the whole park has been named, is said to be the result of rock-throwing by Hiisi, the badass troll of the Finnish mythology.

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The Hiidenportti Park does not have an on-site visitor centre but Petola centre in Kuhmo (Lentiirantie 342, Kuhmo), open from May till October, offers information on the park and on the Finnish predators – bear, wolf, wolverine and lynx.

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