Tampere, the bustling regional hub and capital city of Finland’s Pirkanmaa region. Nestled at the heart of Pirkanmaa, where the two majestic lakes unite at the Tammerkoski rapids, meandering through the city’s core, with Lake Näsijärvi to the north, and Lake Pyhäjärvi to the south.
Behold the ‘Pyhä: Koko kierros’ – an adventure that beckons with the promise of ‘Pyhä, the complete circuit.’ A journey that aptly charts a full circumnavigation of Lake Pyhäjärvi.
This grand body of water, Lake Pyhäjärvi, stands as one of southern Finland’s largest lakes, outshone only by Lake Näsijärvi in the Tampere region. Formed in the shape of a graceful “C,” its picturesque shores are adorned with lush forests, rolling hills, and fertile farmland. As the sun caresses its surface, the clear blue waters shimmer, revealing a sandy bed beneath. A haven for diverse aquatic life, the lake teems with perch, pike, and whitefish, captivating anglers, and nature enthusiasts alike. In these tranquil waters, fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, and, indeed, cycling find their perfect sanctuary.
Pyhäjärvi – a name carrying a profound meaning, for it signifies the “holy lake” in the Finnish tongue. Across Finland, such names are common, testament to the country’s deep-rooted connection with Christianity. In the early days of Finland’s embrace of Christianity, lakes were revered as sacred sanctuaries, many embracing the revered name Pyhäjärvi – a grand total of 39 such lakes, each with its own ethereal charm.
Beyond its spiritual significance, Pyhäjärvi embodies the essence of Finnish culture, celebrating the irreplaceable role water plays in their lives. A cherished resource, water has sculpted the nation’s history and economy. Thirst-quencher, transportation route, sustainer of livelihoods through fishing, and a playground for recreation – lakes have woven themselves intricately into the fabric of Finnish existence.
The spiritual start of the journey lies at Laukontori, nestled in the heart of Tampere, a mere 9 kilometres from my home. Close enough to embark on this ride from my doorstep, adding an extra 18 kilometres to today’s adventure. It happens to be Sunday, June 11, 2023, coinciding with the annual Pirkan Pyöräily event. Alongside the longer ride around Lake Näsijärvi, a shorter one is organized around Lake Pyhäjärvi, resulting in a bustling crowd on the initial section of my route, urging me to exercise greater caution. I relish the sight of people pedaling their bikes, preferring the vibrancy of human activity over a zombified screen gaze. Alas, I’ve witnessed the combination of both, yet the coastal embrace of this first leg, primarily on gravel roads shared by cyclists and pedestrians, remains captivating. With so many fellow cyclists, young and old, not accustomed to such daily rides, vigilance becomes paramount.
Passing through the Aboretum, I immerse myself in the allure of flowers, trees, and their enchanting fragrances. It reminds me of the timeless adage, ‘Stop and smell the roses,’ which gently nudges me to slow my pace. This is no race, and though I occasionally sprint uphill, simulating a high-intensity workout, time is abundant, and my priority is to savour every moment rather than seek a Strava PR.
This part of Tampere is not one I frequently traverse. My journeys to Pirkkala, Nokia, and beyond favour alternative routes. Yet, the lush greenery, proximity to the lake, and diverse architecture keep my mind engaged. Surprisingly, the Pere section boasts houses with piers, an unexpected sight so close to the city. Not to mention the complete countryside ambiance just a few hundred metres further. The variety of landscapes in this stretch resembles a kaleidoscope, where images blur into one seamless, perfect experience.
Pedaling through the bustling heart of Pirkkala, with its few shops catering to all needs, I venture onto ‘Ratsutilantie,’ greeted by farmlands and horses – a stark contrast to my usual path along the adjacent main ‘Naistenmatkantie,’ which I prefer to leave behind swiftly.
With the ‘Rajasalmi’ bridge leading to Nokia on my right, I follow the winding road that delves deeper into what I consider the countryside. I’ve ridden here countless times, starting from ‘Pirkkalankylä,’ and two highlights have always intrigued me, prompting the same lingering questions – the answers, I’ve never bothered to seek, fearing they might dispel the allure.
Soon after the cycling path ends, and I must ride on the road, stands a yellow building accompanied by a two-story dark wooden ‘shed.’ The structure appears too grand to be a mere residence, and the wooden shed features the remnants of a clock high above. I imagine it was once a school building, but perhaps I am mistaken.
About 600 metres further, the peculiarly named ‘Villa Matilda’ comes into view. Normally, such a name wouldn’t catch my attention, let alone hold it. Yet, every time I pass, I can’t help but wonder why it shares its name with that of my daughter when, in my mind, it would be better suited to be called ‘Villa Villekulla,’ due to its resemblance to that house with its high second-floor balcony.
On the road between Pirkkalankylä and Säijä, I’ve journeyed many times – a recurring segment of one of my training rides, albeit a shorter one. In 2014 or thereabouts, during a hot day, I rode this path for the first time after undergoing chemotherapy. Then, as now, a charming little ‘info-shed’, which used to be a ‘Maitolava’ – a storage shed for milk churns – stands opposite some kind of local heritage museum – a place that evokes fond memories. Every time I pass by, I halt my ride, savouring the tranquil surroundings and seeking refuge from the sun’s rays, whenever they make a rare appearance. If you find yourself here, do take the time to read the signs and descriptions.
Continuing towards Lempäälä, I gaze out over the fields, observing farms and occasionally glimpsing Lake Pyhäjärvi. Although I carry ample supplies, including water, it comforts me knowing that there are enough places along the route, or nearby, to replenish if needed.
As I traverse what I call farmland or countryside, my Dutch instincts compel me to search for animals – wild or domesticated. Having grown up in the Netherlands, cows were a ubiquitous sight in such areas. And speaking of my homeland, the thought of raw sugar beets brings back memories of my youth, when I seldom packed food or water on my rides, relying instead on tea for hydration, and, at times, I would pick raw sugar beets for nourishment, savouring their sweet, delicate taste during those memorable training rides.
Road conditions have improved, with the once poor sides finally repaired. I no longer fear roadside potholes and can now relish the surroundings without worry. Past Säijä, where ‘Vanha Rantatie’ turns right onto ‘Pirkkalantie,’ a large dairy farm appears, a delightful sight with its cows. Such scenes exude a relaxing countryside vibe, a reminder to slow down, free from the rush of city life.
Turning onto ‘Koukkalantie,’ just shy of the Hakkari roundabout, the atmosphere shifts. Though I know I’m in a residential area, close to Lempäälä’s centre in the early 21st century, my surroundings transport me back to the late 19th or early 20th century. Museums dot the landscape, hinting at a bygone era. Life slows again, and I take in the views, postponing my museum exploration for another time. And, as if snapped back to reality, a passing Google Street View car captures my smile for eternity.
Through the centre of Lempäälä, past the church, over the bridge connecting Lake Pyhäjärvi and Lake Vanajavesi, and right onto ‘Vesilahdentie.’ Here, the cycling path ends again, requiring me to ride on the road. I am comfortable doing so, but it depends on the time of day. This road seems to double as a bypass between Lempäälä and Nokia, occasionally becoming quite busy.
I know it might sound a bit daft, but I was eager to finally ride through Vesilahti. I’ve travelled this road so many times that I’ve lost count, yet I’ve never set foot in Vesilahti itself. The closest I ever got was a few years back, during the height of the Covid-era, I ventured into the grocery store on the outskirts of town, seeking a sink. In Finland, many shops have a section near the entrance where you can return your bottles, usually accompanied by a sink to wash your hands. However, this particular shop was one of the few that lacked such a facility. Since I had deliberately left my wallet behind, resisting the temptation of sugary treats, I was “forced” to seek out the next available option, but alas, the second shop also lacked a sink; it wasn’t until I entered the third shop that I encountered the sought after sink. Nonetheless, this shop still does not have a sink. Of course, you can purchase water and everything else you might need. Apparently, I found myself in need of an energy drink and a Snickers.
As I ride along ‘Rautialantie,’ picturesque houses, some wooden, some masonry, and the absence of tall buildings capture my attention. The gravel section leading from Vesilahti to ‘Vesilahdentie’ allows for glimpses of Lake Pyhäjärvi.
Narva comes into view, and memories flood back of when I first heard of this place, mistakenly confusing it with Narnia. Today, I pass Narva on ‘Tuulikalliontie’, encountering teenagers joyfully playing with non-electric scooters and bicycles, delightfully absent from their mobile phones – a rare sight that fills me with nostalgia and hope.
Returning to ‘Vesilahdentie’, a road I’ve traversed countless times during my 100-kilometre training rides, I appreciate the ever-changing scenery. Leaving the open farmlands behind, I reach the Tottijärvi church, where I take a well-deserved rest on the same bus stop bench I’ve frequented for half a decade, enjoying some water and a snack.
Moving onward along ‘Tottijärventie’ towards ‘Turuntie,’ the highway from Tampere to Turku, I let the GPS guide me and turn right onto the safer and more scenic route that follows along ‘Sorvatie’ on compacted gravel. Birdsong replaces the sounds of traffic, and the lake on my right lends enchantment to the journey.
Too soon, the gravel gives way to tarmac, and I find myself on a cycling path leading back to the highway, which I follow for about 1.5 kilometres before turning left towards the centre of Nokia. Bypassing the actual centre, I discover a different side of Nokia, a glimpse into its rural past before industry took over the region.
Passing under the Nokia-Pirkkala Rajasalmi bridge returned me to the shorter ‘Pyhä: maisemareitti’ route, the one I had started out along earlier. On this segment, the trail clings tightly to ‘Porintie’ and snakes its way towards the more renowned areas of Tampere – Pispala and Pyynikki – where hills abound, and weary cyclists are put to the test. They nearly got the better of me too, but I pressed on, never once dismounting. With a constant awareness of my whereabouts, I knew exactly where I was – Laukkontori in the heart of Tampere would not be far off. There were no surprises when I finally arrived, marking the end of the route, albeit with the caveat that another 9 kilometres or so lay ahead before reaching my home.
In the bustling heart of Pirkanmaa, lies a realm of diverse views and experiences, easily accessible for those willing to venture forth. The ‘Pyhä: Koko kierros’ route, though at times hilly, especially along the sections close to Tampere, should never dissuade one from the journey. For the contentment it bestows and the grandeur of its vistas, such physical exertions become a small price to pay, rewarded handsomely by nature’s embrace.
As you embark upon your cycling journey around the holy waters of Pyhäjärvi, let its tranquillity and grandeur weave their magic upon you. Discover the whispers of history and the life-giving spirit of the water that have sculpted the essence of this remarkable land.