The sun came up over the sea and shadows and colours began to appear. The island began to take shape and draw in its claws. Everything began to shine, and the chalk-white gulls circled over the point. … But right across the island lay the shadow of the lighthouse like a broad dark ribbon stretching down to the beach where the boat was.
That was an extract from the Finnish children’s book Moominpappa at sea by our beloved author Tove Jansson. It’s a wonderfully emotional story of the Moomin family starting a new life in a lighthouse on a remote island.
In recent years, visiting lighthouses around our coastline has become widely popular. We are lucky to have quite a few that are open to the public, some even with accommodation facilities. It is already three years since I and hubby spent one night at Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse on the western coast of Finland, off the lovely little town of Rauma.
The lighthouse is easy to reach from the Poroholma camping site in Rauma from where comfortable water buses transport visitors to some of the islands and islets off the coast daily in the summer months. A return ticket only costs around €30 per person for the 1-hour-long crossing. In good weather, the best place to sit is on the sunny upper deck, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the sea, and watching the lighthouse getting closer and closer in the horizon.
Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse was constructed in 1952, and in its time had as many as 12 pilots working on the islet. Coast guard operations have since been discontinued, and today the whole islet is only for tourism. There are 13 rooms in the actual tower, a restaurant downstairs, a summer café and a souvenir shop, as well as sauna facilities, so no need to bring your own provisions unless you want to. One night in a double room costs around €130.
In the good Finnish way, it is all perfunctory – simple and rustic but with nice little marine touches in the decor. For example, our room was called ‘Sarastus‘ (meaning ‘first light of dawn‘ in English). The restaurant serves an archipelago style menu, with various fish dishes, of course. I’d recommend sleeping with the room window open, to be soothingly lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves and the sea wind. Another thing worth experiencing is getting up at night to look at the lighthouse light go round in the darkness. Well, this depends on which part of summer you visit. In June, with the almost “nightless night”, it would probably be less spectacular. We went in August when the nights are already getting dark, and thoroughly enjoyed the strangely eerie sight of the rotating light.
What’s there to do then? Not that much. It’s a quiet place for appreciating the natural environment on one of the outermost islets before the open sea towards Sweden. It’s very sparse, with not a lot growing there. I must say I couldn’t imagine living in a place like this for long. Hats off to the tough, persistent folk who still do! Winters especially must be an ordeal, let alone getting through storms. There must be regular strong winds, judging by the small conifers all bent in one direction – good reminder of the forces of nature.
There is one plant, however, that seems to thrive in the archipelago: the sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). During our visit, the thorny shrubs were heavy with their orange berries, which have many health benefits. They are used to make juice or jam, rich in vitamin C, in particular. The oil extracted from the seeds is also said to efficiently lower cholesterol levels. Quite a super berry, in fact!
Once you get tired of soaking in the surrounding views, or admiring the wider panorama from your high-up room window, you can hike around the whole islet. It is quite a challenge on slippery rocks and boulders, without any proper paths, but well worth the effort in the end. During birds’ nesting times you need to be extra careful, though, as the future bird parents tend to defend their eggs and young rather aggressively. We saw quite a lot of seagulls and Canada geese, and even managed catch a brief glimpse of a sea eagle in the evening sky (no luck with a picture of it, unfortunately!). If you are adventurous enough, you can, of course, go swimming. Hubby ventured for a dip between the rocks, I chickened out. Bracing and exhilarating, according to him. I wouldn’t be so sure!
What surprised me, however, was how quickly the restless, urban mind starts to calm down, and you get the idea of the whole experience: spending some down time in the lap of Mother Nature, in absolute, respectful awe. Your senses wake up, and you start noticing the tiny, miraculous details around you – how centuries, after centuries of waves, winds and all kinds of weather have shaped the environment. It’s as though suddenly time stands still, and there you are, an insignificantly small human being in the midst of natural history.
During this lighthouse visit, I realised what great inspiration artists can find in such an environment, and why, for example, author Tove Jansson must have loved spending long periods of time in the Finnish archipelago. Sit or stand on the rocks to watch the day become night, the changing light transform all the colours and the scenery around you, eternity and infinity right there in front of your eyes! Breathtakingly beautiful! And then, in the morning, it all starts over again.
He came to the edge of the water and stood watching the breakers. There was the sea – his sea – going past, wave after wave, foaming recklessly, raging furiously, but, somehow, tranquil at the same time. All Moominpappa’s thoughts and speculations vanished. He felt completely alive from the tips of his ears to the tip of his tail. This was a moment to live to the full.
When he turned to look at the island – his island – he saw a beam of light shining on the sea, moving out towards the horizon and then coming back towards the shore in long, even waves.
The lighthouse was working.
For those interested but unable to visit, why not check their live webcam.