I recently got invited to hike the St. Olav Waterways with Kathrin and I felt very excited: I’d get to try a longer hike again, and especially one I felt a bit of a connection to! I used to live on the countryside right next to the St. Olav pilgrim path and a few years ago I hiked part of the St Olav trail.
The St Olav Waterways just opened up to pilgrims in May this year and takes you through the Finnish archipelago until you reach Sweden where it joins with the one I hiked that starts outside of Sundsvall and takes you all the way to Norway.
Day 1: Turku – Pargas, 18km
I took a train to Stockholm and then got on a boat, and I arrive in Turku early in the morning. At the train station I sit down to have coffee and breakfast and read a little bit. Kathrin is on her way on a train coming in from Helsinki and once we’ve met up we walk together along the water. The sun is shining through the trees and fallen leaves are crunching under our hiking boots and it feels great to be out on an adventure again.
Eventually the views open up and we stand before the big cathedral where the pilgrim path begins.Here we get our pilgrim passes along with our first stamp, we re-tie our shoes, make sure our backpacks are comfortable and secure, and then we start hiking.
All photos you see of me in this post are taken by Kathrin – thank you!
I love my Gneik so much! I’ve learned to pack it well now, it fits all I need and the suspension system is great so as soon as it’s on and all the straps are adjusted it feels weightless. I had no issues what so ever feeling like the pack was to heavy. I’ve written an in depth review about it that you can read here: Backpack review of the GNEIK 34 RS from Lundhags
We leave the city and to my surprise there were no pilgrim signs, that we could see, leading the way from the cathedral. But it’s kind of like mushrooms, they’re hard to spot at first until you’ve trained your eye but once you’ve seen one they’re so easy to spot! But we had to use our maps + phones for a little bit bit as we got out of the city and when we where on smaller streets they were suddenly just there. Seeing them meant putting the phones and maps away, relaxing and enjoying the hike more, talking and looking at our surroundings as we walked.
It feels strange at first, to think that all I will be doing is walk. But it doesn’t take long before you get into the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other while you just talk with your friend, listen to nature and let your mind wander. After a while we reach a beautiful forest and I feel myself take a deeper breath and slow down a little. Nature. This is where I want to hike. We take it slow and stop to look at mushrooms and eat a few berries. As I bend down to pick blueberries of a bush I get surprised by a little adder hiding amongst the leaves. We take some photos before letting it be and continuing along. Later the forest opens up to fields and we leave the small path for a bigger countryside road. I enjoy the mix of city to dense forest to this open landscape. And all day the fall colors have been just beautiful and the sun kept on shining. What a day!
What I like about the St. Olav Waterways is that you can choose to hike all the way, carrying a tent and stove but you can just as well take it a little easier by finding good accommodations along the way and civilisation is never far away so you can stock up on food and snacks as you go, thus allowing for your pack to be lighter. And you can absolutely listen to your body and take a bus if you need to, or if you feel that you want to focus on walking slowly along the most beautiful parts of the hike. We all have our own ways of hiking and that’s okay. I can’t help but think about Angeliqa (rest in peace my friend) and her philosophy around hikefulness – taking it slow and really enjoying it, stopping often to have some coffee and chocolate. That’s such a good way to hike in my opinion.
We’ve chosen to only do parts of the trail in order to experience some of the most beautiful sections of the path while enjoying the wonderful feeling that is hikefullness and the lovely autumn colors and crisp air of the archipelago.
Kathrin got a bad cold a few days before this hike, and she was still battling it and staying strong while we hiked, even though her cough keeps her up at night. So after walking for about 18 km we hopped on a bus that took us the last bit to Pargas and our accommodation for the evening. If you were to hike all the way here from Turku it’s about 29.6km, so that would be a very long day (but doable), and I am okay with us taking a bus the last stretch.
Visit Pargas has a very good electronic map over the entire hike, and all of it’s sections here that I can really recommend. It shows the trail with elevation and when you’re on a dirt road or nature trail and where along the way there are things to stop at, places to camp etc.
Once in Pargas we check in at Matmalmen @Eva, a new tavern and B&B. I’t such a cozy little house! If you end up not staying here I can highly recommend popping in for a coffee, refill of water and maybe having a snack or lunch! It’s such a cozy little place. In the future I think they will have a Pilgrim Stamp for the pass as well.
While Kathrin takes a nap I wander around town. You can clearly tell that the off season is here, it’s very calm and quiet, most streets are empty, the shops are closed and the houses look like they’re in a winter sleep. But it’s such a cute, picturesque little place and I wish to see it in summer when it’s bustling and alive. The evening sun glows, the fall leaves crunch under my feet and with the weight of my shoulders literally being lifted (because my backpack is in our room) I feel inspired and really enjoy wandering around taking photos.
Oh and here in the archipelago most finns speak Swedish so as a swede it is very easy to get around and communicate. Most signs are in Swedish as well!
As the sun is setting I am back at the bed & breakfast and Kathrin is awake and feeling a little better. Together we head downstairs to the restaurant where we enjoy a really nice dinner. Eva wants to avoid any food waste – so you never know what’s on the menu. It’s so nice to see more and more people becoming sustainably aware and making conscious choices like this in their businesses!
After a long first day we are tired and so after dinner we go to bed. I put in ear plugs since Kathrin has a very bad cough, and then it’s so quiet: I sink down into the big bed and sleep like a baby.
Day 2: Pargas – Nagu, 18km
Since Kathrin is fighting a cold, and battling a lack of sleep because of it, we decide to have a slow morning in Pargas. Kathrin got to sleep in a little and then we had brunch at Matmalmen before heading off. The brunch was delicious and because of their food waste policy we recognised some of the ingredients from last nights dinner but it was all presented in a new way and very satisfying.
Eva who runs the place has a friend who’s experimenting with making rowanberry jam and so we get to try a few different ones and give our feedback on which ones we like the best and why. Such luxury, I’d happily be a local jam tester more often!
When brunch was done we packed up our bags, said our goodbyes and left for the busstop. We took a bus and our first ferry over to one of the islands so that we could spend more time out in the actual archipelago. The yellow ferries are free and go between the islands fairly often so it’s easy to get around. Bus departures are not as frequent though so be mindful of that when planning your trip.
As we got off we we’re in a beautiful countryside landscape and were greeted by some cows that eyed us suspiciously as we walked on by. We came across some houses that looked like something out of a Pettson & Findus book and the colors of the trees where just glowing in hues of yellow, red and orange.
After a while the countryside turned into forest and we found a small lake where we stopped for lunch. Two swans were swimming around and Kathrin told me she saw two swans fly next to the train on her way to Turku. We joked about them being our pilgrim guardians / travel companions. After some food, coffee and chocolate we continued walking until we left the forest and got out on the main road.
There are parts of the trail where you need to walk along the highway, and it’s important to be prepared for that. It immediately feels very different to be out in the open with cars rushing by and and the hard surface of the asphalt has a huge impact on feet and legs. If they weren’t aching before, they will after walking on this for a bit. So make sure to re-tie your shoes, wear good, double layers of socks and rest often. The walk here felt long, but we finally reached Nagu.
It was late in the day so sadly the little church was closed which meant we could not get a stamp for our pass. A sad moment but there was nothing to do about it so we continued our hike towards our accommodations for the night: Hotell Stallbacken and Grännäs B&B. When we finally arrived it was dark and we were very tired. I had a quick shower and then our host treated us to a nice dinner with local produce and beer.
We ate and wound down and then went to bed pretty early, day two of our adventure already come to an end. It’s amazing how slow and fast time moves at the same time when you are out hiking.