You can choose to listen to just one of the episodes or all of them, but we recommend that you start with the episode called The World Heritage Gateway – Replot Bridge.
You can listen wherever and whenever you like: at home on your sofa, in the car or bus on your way to the Kvarken Archipelago, or while strolling around one of the destinations.
We recommend that you use headphones, as that makes the experience better, especially if you are in a bus or outdoors.
The script of the audiofiles can be found further down this page (transcripts).
This audio guide was produced by the Kvarken Archipelago World Heritage Association as part of the project “The people and the land uplift”
Research and script: Liselott Nyström Forsén
English narrators: Jennifer Connolly and Lee Passmore
Swedish narrators: Jan Holm and Liselott Nyström Forsén
Finnish narrators: Tiina Hautala and Vesa Heinonen
English translation: Liselott Nyström Forsén and Jennifer Connolly
Sound editing and production: Stefan Backas
Music: Epidemic sound
World Heritage Gateway
01 THE WORLD HERITAGE GATEWAY CENTER – REPLOT BRIDGE
Once upon a time, there was a landscape of only ice and water. For thousands of years, enormous ice masses stretched out as far as the eye could see… although at that time, there were no eyes here to see them. During the latest Ice Age, all life kept far to the south, beyond the edge of the vast continental ice sheet. At the peak of its existence, the ice stretched from the northern coast of Norway to Ireland in the west, to Berlin in the south and via Moscow to the Ural mountain range in the east. But of course, there were no cities then.
Beyond the ice, only woolly mammoths and sabertoothed tigers roamed the Central European tundra, along with maybe a small number of Stone Age humans. Here, the ice was, at its thickest, about three kilometers thick. You can get a sense of how much that is If you stand on Replot bridge: Three kilometres is the distance between the mainland and the large island of Replot. An ice mass that huge was so incredibly heavy, that it pressed down the ground you’re standing on as far as one kilometer! If the inland ice was still here where you’re standing right now, you would have one kilometer of ice below you and two kilometers of ice above you. (That’s almost) scary, right? It probably looked a lot like the continental ice sheets in
Greenland or Antarctica today. Windswept and desolate, glistening and white when new snow had fallen, but mostly with a turquoise hue – and quite dirty from all the rocks and gravel that it carried with it. It actually never lay completely still, because it was continuously growing outwards from its own center. Like a gigantic slab of sandpaper it scraped along the surface, grinding down hills and tearing off boulders. Under the ice, a mix of meltwater and stone material – ranging in size from boulders to sand – rushed along, forming hills and valleys, islands and skerries.
But then, more than a hundred thousand years after the beginning of the Ice Age, it finally got warmer. The ice started to melt faster from the edges than it grew from the center. About ten thousand, five hundred years ago, the edge of the ice sheet had retreated this far – and then it began melting fast. It moved back hundreds of meters each year. When the pressure of the ice eased, the Earth’s crust could begin to gradually spring back towards its original level. At first, this happened so quickly (at a rate of about ten centimeters per year), that it caused earthquakes in the sea floor – and there was nothing but sea here. Only one
third of Finland was visible above the surface. All the land you can see around you now, was still covered by two hundred and fifty meters of water. But the land continued to rise and rise – and the Earth´s crust still hasn´t reached its original level yet. The land uplift still continues today by nine millimeters a year, or ninety centimeters per century. According to scientists, the Kvarken Archipelago could still have about a hundred meters to go – if it has enough time to do so before the next Ice Age, that is.
The land uplift phenomenon is one of the main reasons why this area is so fascinating and special, that UNESCO decided to nominate it as a World Heritage, as an extension of the High Coast area in Sweden. Together, these two areas are the best places in the whole world to experience and understand this particular chapter of Earth´s history. Another reason is that the Kvarken Archipelago is filled to the brim with many kinds of traces and shapes that the inland ice formed in the landscape. In some areas, these were deposited so thickly that they are mixed, or even lie on top of each other. And Earth´s not done with them yet. The sea continues to shape them – while you´re watching!
In the episodes of this audio guide, we´ll accompany you through this amazing chapter of natural history. We´ll tell you stories of the newborn primeval forests, of the rocks that have traveled for hundreds of kilometers and of the mysterious bogs that were once great sea bays. We´ll also tell you stories of the people of this everchanging landscape, the innovative, patient and hardy people who have lived here since the first skerries emerged from the waves over two thousand years ago. In this landscape, where nothing ever stays the same, a wealth of stories, superstitions and mystical legends was born.
In the 1880’s, the county sheriff in Replot saw a real life sea monster here in Kvarken. Yes, right here, behind the small island of Bergskäret. It was a huge snakelike creature, almost twenty meters long and with a head shaped like a horse´s head. The terrifying beast was a brownish color, had a mane that glistened wet in the sun and winglike fins in the middle of its body. Just like the leviathans of old map and pirate stories! The sheriff couldn´t believe his eyes, he thought he must have gone mad. Most people would probably just say he had seen a dolphin or a whale that had taken the wrong turn somewhere off the Danish coast
and got lost in the Baltic Sea. That had been known to happen, although only on extremely rare occasions. For a long time, the sheriff kept silent of his sightings. But when more and more people told him that the sea monster had been spotted around the Kvarken Archipelago, he felt it was his duty to report the whole thing to the governor of Vasa county. And the sheriff even gave the leviathan a name: Confusarius Maris Baltici – the Baltic Sea Monster.
Welcome to the audio guide of the Kvarken Archipelago World Heritage site! We hope you´ll
be just as amazed as we are.
02 NORRA VALLGRUND, VALLAN
This is where it all began, the story of the people of this beautiful, ever-changing landscape. This is also where the first tiny part of what was to become the Kvarken Archipelago World Heritage site rose from the sea spray two thousand, two hundred and fifty years ago, as a windswept skerry. It wasn´t until the thirteenth century that it had become big enough for people to live on, and to be named Hallonback, or Raspberry Hill. The first settlers probably came from Sweden, across the Gulf of Bothnia to the Ostrobothnian mainland. After a generation or so, they moved out here to the archipelago, with its sheltered bays, rich in fish. This village had probably already been established by the fifteenth century. We know
this from the oldest written record from the Ostrobothnia region. In the deed, dated in 1407, Larens Hemmingsson states that he has sold his farm called Nårnäs in Wallegrundom village to Josse Lax. The Nårnäs farm is probably the same as the Norrågrd farm, right here in the middle of Vallgrund – and a kilometer and a half away from the present shoreline. Josse Lax was very pleased with his purchase. This would be a grand place to live. The farm, with its simple gray buildings surrounded by small fields for growing barley and hop, was situated on a small cape along the eastern shore of a shallow bay. That was good, since the eastern shores of this archipelago usually weren’t as rocky as the western shores, where the
waves of the west wind had washed away the soil between the rocks. And in spring, this bay would be practically teeming with fish. The villagers called it Viken, which is simply the Swedish word for bay. And they had told Josse Lax, that people from the mainland had been coming here for centuries, to fish in the summer and to hunt seals in the autumn.
People from the villages of Juncksund, Gerabyn and Solffuo – even from as far inland as Laijhala –
still owned land out here. Apparently, they had used the small, bare skerries in this area to dry their fishing nets on. By this time, the same skerries had already become islands, or had even merged with each other into bigger islands. Across Viken was an island called Holmen, which in turn means islet. Hm, maybe there were squirrels on Holmen? Josse was in need of squirrel pelts to pay his taxes to the bailiff on Krytseborg, nowadays called Korsholm Castle. Although it was really just a hill with a palisade of wood around a few simple log houses. At least the place would be peaceful, now that the pirates of the Gulf of Bothnia were gone. The widely feared German Victual Brothers had surrendered to King Eric and Queen Margarethe the first. Well, Josse might go on a squirrel hunt tomorrow. It would soon be time to sail to the autumn market in Mustasaari, too – he was almost out of salt for conserving fish.
By studying the placenames in the World Heritage area, you can understand what certain places must have looked like when people first started visiting and populating them. Due to land uplift, you can find names with skär in them even in the middle of a forest, although skär is Swedish for skerry, meaning small, rocky island. The name of a small brook can also include the word sund, which means a strait of water. A look at a map of the area can therefore be a voyage of discovery in itself, offering clues to the past. Today, Hallonback
skerry lies twenty meters above sea level. Now it´s a part of a one hundred and fifty square kilometer island, one of the five thousand. six hundred islands in the World Heritage area.
Each year, this area grows by a total of one square kilometer. This is due to the flatness of the archipelago. Along a beach with a really small incline, the shoreline can move outwards by tens of meters during a single decade, even though the land has risen by only nine centimeters during the same time. So the whole of Ostrobothnia, or rather, the whole of Finland is still growing bigger every year. One of the greatest Finnish storytellers of all time, Zacharias Topelius, described it as Finland acquiring a new principality every century. And he should know. He was a geography professor in the late nineteenth century, and the land
uplift was his favorite topic.
The reason why this area is so flat is a story that goes back hundreds of millions of years. This
landscape has been worn down by many ice ages. But the most recent one couldn´t have shaped the boulders, rocks and gravel into low-lying hills, ridges and valleys precisely in this way if the landscape hadn’t already been flat. Depending on their shape and how they were formed, the mounds are called drumlins, flutings, megalineations, ribbed moraines or De Geer-moraines. In the Swedish part of the World Heritage, the High Coast, the mountains are much higher and the bays much deeper. There, the ice, the land uplift and the sea could together form different traces, such as tunnel caves and till-capped hills.
In a landscape that continues to rise from the sea, even the flora and fauna are affected by the changing shoreline. You could say that it´s as if the plant and animal life here stands on a conveyor belt, moving ever outwards to cover the newly dried up sea floor. The bay where Josse fished eventually became pretty good farming land, although Viken was probably used more for collecting hay and fodder. We know this from the number of small, sun-bleached grey hay sheds in this beautifully preserved cultural landscape, which is one of the many pearls of the Kvarken Archipelago.
03 BJÖRKÖ, SVEDJEHAMN
The Inuit people of the Arctic region are said to have a hundred different words for snow. Here in the Kvarken archipelago, the islanders have at least eightyeight words for different kind of ice! It may be difficult to imagine what a huge part ice has played in the history of this region, if you visit Svedjehamn on a warm summer’s day. But in reality, all the land you see around you was shaped by ice.
During the final phase of the most recent Ice Age, these long, narrow and low-lying islands in front of the harbor were formed. They are called De Geer-moraines after one of the pioneers in the science of postglacial land uplift, the Swedish geologist Gerhard De Geer. You can see them even better from above, from the observation tower, Saltkaret. When the inland ice had melted over the Kvarken Archipelago, this whole area still rested deep down on the sea floor. Under the bottom of the enormous ice sheet, meltwater mixed with gravel and rock rushed along the sea floor. When the meltwater reached the edge of the ice, the pressure ceased and all the gravel and rock gathered in long ridges. When the ice continued to melt, and icebergs broke off, the edge was pushed backwards and a new ridge of rock and gravel formed there instead. This happened several times per year, with a slightly bigger ridge forming each winter.
Right here in Svedjehamn, you can see how the De Geer-moraines rise from the sea thanks to the land uplift. And you can watch while the waves wash out the finer gravel and sand from the ridges. You are actually watching right now, as this landscape is still forming. An important part of Earth´s history is unfolding here, right in front of your eyes! The whole harbor area is built on De Geer-moraines, that have been filled out with rocks, dirt and clay. The villagers have actually dug up parts of the sea floor to make the harbor deeper. The harbor was moved here in the early twentieth century when the old harbor at Bodback had become too shallow. And now Svedjehamn is too shallow for the fishing boats, too, so they use the new harbor at Vikarskat, a further two kilometers to the east.
Once, this harbor was buzzing with life. Almost all villagers had their own sheds here, for boats and fishing equipment, and this is where you could take the passenger steamer to the city of Vasa. Fishermen with boatloads of Baltic herring docked at The Saltery – the largest red wooden building here, by the water. There the fish was either gutted and packed in salt to be conserved, or put on ice to be sold fresh at the market square in Vasa. So here, ice played another important role. But where did they get the ice from, before the era of electric freezers? Well, you see, in winter, all the water you see before you was frozen solid, forming a vast white plain. During a cold winter, the sea ice could be up to half a meter thick. So, when you needed ice, you simply walked out on it and hacked out blocks of it. The ice blocks were then stored in an ice cellar. They were packed in sawdust that insulated them, and with any luck, they lasted all year, until the following winter.
On a warm summer’s day, the thought of the sea being covered in a thick layer of ice can seem almost unreal. But the ice can be so thick here in winter that cars, and even trucks, can drive on it!
The young guard was shivering so violently that his teeth rattled in the icy cold wind, where he stood at his post at the harbor, listening for the sound of engines. The Swedish drivers probably drove with their headlights off, just as they had been ordered. But the night wasn´t completely dark, the white expanses before him were bathed in moonlight. “Please, don’t let the Russian airplanes spot the lorries out on the sea ice of Kvarken!” The Russians had so many airplanes, and tanks and machine guns. And soldiers! Tiny Finland was at a serious disadvantage. The Finns desperately needed the weapons and ammunition that were being secretly transported the one hundred and twenty kilometers from Umeå, by way of Holmön and Björkö, to Vasa. But it was a dangerous journey for the long convoys of trucks. Most nights, sixty or seventy lorries drove by the guard´s post, loaded with a total of one hundred tons of weapons, ammunition, anti-tank guns and gasmasks. They drove in the same tracks, but carefully spaced out after each other, to minimize the strain on the ice. Some nights, the drivers could barely see the tracks in the blizzards, just about struggling their way through the snow drifts. On those nights, the journey lasted until morning instead of the usual five hours. Hopefully the guard wouldn´t have to wait all night this time. The horrifying thing with the ice, though, was that it couldn´t be trusted. The guard had heard of the snow plow truck that sank through the ice near Holmön. The driver had gone down with the truck. And the other night, huge cracks had opened in the ice and five trucks had sunk to the bottom of the sea. Luckily all of the drivers had made it to safety. The guard shuddered – from more than the cold wind – and stamped his feet to stay warm. He was grateful for the boots made from seal fur that he had borrowed from a villager. Wait, wasn´t that the sound of an engine…?
In recent years, the winters in the Kvarken archipelago have become warmer, and few people dare to drive a car on the sea ice anymore. If climate change is allowed to continue unhindered, the sea won´t freeze as much in the future. According to the worst case scenario, the sea ice could diminish by eighty five percent. That´s just an estimate, but what is certain is that IF the sea levels of the oceans continue to rise at the same rate as they have been during the past decades, they will partly counteract the effects of the land uplift. If the sea begins to rise the same amount, or more than the land rises, no new De Geer-moraines will be born. In essence, that would mean that this particular chapter of Earth´s history would get a different ending than we thought it would. So while the Earth is still evolving in this fascinating way, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to observe and appreciate it.
04 VÄSTERÖ, SANDSKATAN
On the hilltops, deep in the forests of the Maxmo archipelago, there are mysterious cairns. They haven´t been examined by archeologists – no one can even say for certain if they are manmade or if they were formed by the inland ice during the most recent Ice Age. But according to some theories, there might have been safe harbors here during the Viking era – Protected, deep bays, where ships sought shelter from storms and bad weather. A thousand years ago, these hills were part of a much smaller archipelago, just outside the World Heritage area. But according to historians and archeologists, people sailed along the Finnish coast much earlier, during the Iron Age, to trade for furs and skins – and maybe even to abduct some of the locals to make slaves of them! There have been two isolated finds dated to the Viking era in both Replot and Vallgrund. But whether or not Vikings actually landed here, and if they in that case buried a fallen friend or two here, well only the old Gods know for certain.
Nonetheless, some believe that the Vikings brought the tradition of building stone mazes to these parts, from their voyages to the Mediterranean Sea, and there are a few stone labyrinths in the World Heritage area. But with the help of the land uplift rate, among other calculation methods, they have been dated to sometime between the fourteenth and nineteenth century. They can´t have been built earlier than that, because earlier, the small islands they were built on still lay under water.
There was to be a dance on Sunday night, on the broad, flat rocks at the fishing camp on the island of Stora Kolaningen. It was a long way to sail, but Anna’s fiancé wanted to take her to the maiden´s dance circle there. That was what the stone mazes were called around here. He said that if she stood in the middle and he found his way through the maze to her, and out again with her in his arms, without missing a step, they were meant for each other. But Anna had heard her father and the other old fishermen grumbling and muttering that the maze wasn´t just meant to be a place for amusements for the youngsters. The place was
magical! If you knew the right charms to recite you could be granted fishing luck and fair winds. But Anna was scared. She remembered her grandmother whispering about them with the other old women, while they mended fishing nets by the fire during long winter nights.
According to the women, the stone mazes were built to trap restless souls. Those who perished at sea couldn´t find peace, everybody knew that. And since most mazes were built with a Christian cross in the middle, the spirit got trapped in it. There wasn’t a chance Anna was going into the maze if there could be ghosts there! And didn´t the Finns, that came to the Maxmo archipelago during the summers, call the mazes jatulintarha — garden of the giants? No way..! Anna was definitely going to stay home on Sunday! And her fiancé could believe what he liked about their destiny together.
In certain places in the archipelago landscape, under layers of moss and juniper bushes, you can find traces left by the first humans to arrive after the islands had begun to emerge from the sea, one by one. You can see where their boats would have been, and imagine the makeshift shelters built on a low wall of stone and with the sails of the boats or branches of evergreen trees used as a roof. These fishermen and seal hunters probably came from Finnish speaking villages on the mainland. Still today, some villages thirty or forty kilometers inland own tracts of land out here. Up until the 1950’s they still came here to collect timber
or brought their sheep here to pasture.
The place names in this area have also helped us to determine that the first users of these islands were probably Finnish speakers. The islands with names ending in -lot most likely got their names from the Finnish word for skerry, luoto. The -mo ending probably comes from the word maa, which means land, and -sor from saari, or island. So the names actually tell their own story of what these places must have looked like when people first started using them. For example, Pirklot and Ulot must have still been skerries when people first arrived.
But now they have grown into rather big islands, almost merged together with other islands. When Swedish speaking farmers and crofters settled out here, they lived side by side with the Finnish speaking seasonal users. That´s why they simply adjusted the place names to make them sound more Swedish. The settlements here also differ from other parts of the Kvarken archipelago, as the settlers usually built their farms on islands or capes, instead of everyone settling together in a village. If they wanted to visit each other, they traveled by boat or simply walked on the winter sea ice. Today, most people in the Maxmo archipelago live along the lush shores or dried-up straits. That´s why the landscape can seem a bit
desolate when observed from the roads. The roads themselves were built quite recently – for instance, the bridge at Öjskatan wasn´t built until the year 2000. Anna wouldn´t recognize the landscape where she was born any more, so much of it has changed. But the stone labyrinths, or mazes, they are a feature that endures.
05 MOLPE STRÖMMEN
“It´s like another planet!” That´s what the representative for The International Union for Conservation of Nature, exclaimed when visiting Bergö Gaddarna. He was out there as a part of the evaluation process when the Kvarken Archipelago was nominated for the World Heritage List along with Sweden’s High Coast World Heritage site. He just couldn´t believe his eyes. Here by the Molpe stream, the landscape may seem gentle, friendly and inviting, with its small red boat houses, public beach and dance pavilion.
But further out, in the southern part of the Kvarken Archipelago World Heritage site, the view changes character. There, a myriad of rock boulders seems to be rising from the sea – towering at various heights above its surface. Some of them are huge as a house, most of them are sharp and rough. They were deposited when the continental ice sheet melted during the most recent Ice Age. It almost looks as if a huge hand had strewn them at random across the sea floor.
For centuries, ship captains and other seafarers have respected, and even feared these waters. All too often, this archipelago has become their watery grave. Off the coast of Molpe and Bergö, countless shipwrecks lie at the bottom of the sea. In most cases, they ran aground on one or another of the millions of boulders or thousands of submerged banks of gravel and rocks. Severe autumn storms with lashing rain or snow, magnetic deviations and the sea current have also played their part in pushing ships off course. Worst of all, the navigation charts themselves become outdated and inaccurate within just a couple of decades, since the land uplift here causes new rocks to rise towards the surface constantly.
But those who knew the unmarked passageways, who knew where there were no rocks hidden just below the surface, they could use the many hiding places and secret routes offered by this archipelago to their advantage. That was what the smugglers did during the first half of the 20th century. Coffee and sugar, rubber and tin were among the usual contraband, but people were smuggled too! Before Finland became independent in 1917, many activists, fugitives, emigrants and even spies were helped by the islanders to flee to safety in Sweden. The distance between the most western Finnish islands and the most eastern on the Swedish side isn´t more than 25 kilometers here in Kvarken, and there are countless hidden bays and narrow sounds where they could sneak away from the authorities during dark autumn nights.
During the prohibition period, from 1919 to 1932, when alcohol was banned in Finland, this
archipelago was also the favorite hide-out of liquor smugglers. On international waters, freighters from Estonia, Poland and Germany waited with cargo bays full of thousands of liquor canisters. Most often, each canister held 10 liters of 96% alcohol, but cognac and whiskey were also sold to the local smugglers, who came out from the archipelago in fast motor boats. The locals then hid the contraband in the archipelago
before transporting it to customers inland. The hiding places were clever, but above all, there were just so many places to hide things around here. How could the customs officials or police know on which of the thousands of skerries or where along the thousands of kilometers of coastline the liquor caches were hidden? Speaking of rocks, the smugglers even used to dig their own small cellars among the rocks and boulders along the coast and in cobble fields. And even if the authorities found one cache, it was almost impossible to pin it on a certain owner.
Almost all the new land in the Kvarken Archipelago, that has risen above sea level over the last couple of centuries, due to land uplift, is owned not by private individuals, but jointly by whole villages. During the 1920´s and 30´s the liquor war escalated, even when prohibition ended, and these bays here have seen many a dangerous boat chase between the authorities and the local smugglers. Quite often the smugglers owned the faster boats, and more cars on land, but some chases nonetheless ended in shootings with a
deadly outcome. Some smugglers eventually became rich, while others served long sentences in jail. And who knows, maybe there are still forgotten caches of century old liquor hidden somewhere along these shores?
Nowadays everything is peaceful and serene here, and the picturesque summer cabins stand dotted along the shores instead, pretty as pearls on a necklace. In the whole of the Kvarken Archipelago World Heritage Area, there are more than xxxx holiday homes, ranging from traditional fishing cabins to luxurious villas. On the island of Bredskär alone, here, on the other side of the bridge, there are over 230 summer cabins – and more than 160 sauna buildings. The sauna culture in Finland is inscribed on UNESCO´s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. There is a sauna in almost every Finnish household,
but Finns particularly appreciate their beach saunas, as they represent the long summer nights, health, well-being and their beloved summer holiday time. Not all Finns like to swim in the sea, though, since it most often feels too cold. But some Finns actually like to swim in the sea all year round! – often in holes that have been cut in the ice especially for winter bathers. The tradition here is to alternate between an invigorating freezing cold “dip” and the comforting warmth of the sauna, and back again! It definitely gets the endorphins rushing and the blood circulating! Maybe you should give it a try?