On the southwestern archipelago of Finland, right at the gate of the open sea in the heart of Bothnian Sea National Park, Säppi lighthouse island has guided sailors for centuries. It’s been its task long before the current lighthouse rose on the island almost 145 years ago.
Säppi lighthouse island holds thousands of stories. Some of them are proved to be true, but some of them remain mysteries. Stories that every lighthouse visitor will remember months after their trip, pondering was there a seed of truth behind the legend.
Like the story about how Säppi Lighthouse got its name.
The common belief is that Säppi Lighthouse inherited its name from Sibbe, a person who once lived on the island. There’s a good chance this legend is true, as over the years Säppi Island has been referred as Säbben, Säbbeskär, Sebbskär and Säbbskär, among many others. We have an expression in the Finnish language that goes: ‘A beloved child has many names’. It seems to apply also with Säppi lighthouse island.
Thanks to its shape, Säppi Island is often referred also as ‘The Iceland of Finland’.
The facts we know about Säppi lighthouse island
Even if there are stories we can’t be sure of, we know as the fact that Säppi lighthouse, as well as the other buildings in the lighthouse village, were built and ready for daily use in 1873. Even so, Säppi Island has been guiding seafarers long before the light lit on the top of the lighthouse for the very first time.
Säppi Island used to stand along the important route to the merchant ships. Watch fires have been burning on the coastal rocks already hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
The first structure that even remotely resembled a lighthouse was made of tall spruce poles in the 1700s. The structure was 18 metres high with a wooden barrel on the top. After it fell apart, a hexagonal daymark that looked like a lighthouse but didn’t feature a light on top rose on Säppi Island. This daymark was directing the seafarers towards Reposaari, a harbour in front of the town of Pori.
Säppi lighthouse lit the Bothnian Sea for the very first time in 1873, that’s a fact. The staff with their families and farm animals, a cow and a pig, inhabited the island until 1962 when the lighthouse was automated.
The pilot station that also housed Säppi Island was abandoned in the 1920s. Until then, there was a lively community living on the island. A community that left thousands of fascinating stories behind. Some of those stories have remained to this day, and they’ve been collected in a book published in 2008. The book title would translate as ‘Säppi, the gleam of the Bothnian Sea’. It’s important to mention this, as I’ll refer to some of those stories during mine.
It’s a pity that the book, as well as the website of Säppi Lighthouse, are only available in Finnish. The history and the stories are an interesting read, but there is too much of it to cover in one single blog post.
Säppi lighthouse island today
The tall, white lighthouse is the heart of Säppi Island, but also the surrounding buildings are original and still standing in their place. The staff apartments, warehouse, sauna and an old cattle shed that today serves as a sheltered campfire spot form a rustic courtyard. Together with the lighthouse, all the buildings are standing inside an electric fence.
But why electric fence? Even if the lighthouse staff left the island behind ages ago, Säppi Island still has residents. On average 40–50 wild mouflons are living in Säppi all year round. The first sheep were brought to Säppi from Corsica in 1949, and over the years the herd has learned to survive through rough Finnish winters.
In the summertime, also a herd of Highland cattle pastures in Säppi Island. And that’s the main reason for the electric fence. Inside the fence, the visitors are safe from bulls, even if the current residents of Säppi lighthouse island are so shy they hardly ever step on visitors sight.
If you do meet a bull, in Säppi they say you should spread your arms wide open. The bull thinks he has faced someone bigger and stronger and steps out of the way. What do you think, is this true or false?
Only in rare cases, you’d meet a bull in Säppi, but you might come across with some other animals. Säppi Island is part of Bothnian Sea National Park, and it features versatile and unique nature, which is the main reason why Säppi is a perfect destination for an outdoor addict like myself.
In Säppi you’ll find a short, well-signed nature trail that takes you to the shore with smooth rocks inviting for a picnic, listening to the sounds of the sea. Next to the rocks, you’ll find an old pilot house that looks like someone would still live there. The trail itself is relatively easy to walk on, but you should pay attention what to wear on your feet; Besides the mouflons and the Highland cattle, also a high number of snakes inhabit the island.
The island is full of beautiful, clean nature that reaches beyond the nature trail. If you go off-trail, you should be careful. They say many people have got lost in the woods of Säppi Island. I wonder if this story is true or false?
How to reach Säppi lighthouse island?
In summer 2017, individual visitors have been able to take a trip to Säppi Island from both, Luvia and Pori. Together with my travel companion, a fellow Finnish travel blogger Duunireissaaja, we took the boat cruise from Laitakari harbour in Luvia, organised by a company called Luvian Merihelmi*. The company arranges day trips to Säppi each July Sunday, in case the weather allows.
The boat journey from Luvia to Säppi takes 2 hours one way. Because the harbour in Säppi locates on the side of the open sea, the journey will be blusterous, despite the calm weather on shore. Sometimes it’s even so blusterous that the boat has to turn back or land in some other island instead.
The weather on shore was calm also the day of our trip and yet the boat trip beat a ride on a rollercoaster. There is a short video below that hopefully delivers the atmosphere at sea. But before the video, I made a loose translation of a quote from the Säppi book I mentioned earlier:
“One day, I was heading to the shore with my husband. Besides us (Aili and Kosti Henriksson), only Juho (Jussi) Norhamo and his family were living in the lighthouse village at the time. We drove our boat towards Reposaari when a strong wind suddenly caught us. Norhamo was watching us from the lighthouse tower and told us later that on the high crests, our boat seemed like a grey, floating furry cap. – – At times we had to look the death into the eyes, but eventually, we always made it through.”
A few pages later the book tells how the sea journey to Säppi lighthouse island resulted as Jussi Norhamo’s final one in 1986. Our trip in July 2017 went a little better, as you can see from this short video:
During the summer season, Visit Pori is organising day trips to Säppi with the boats leaving from Pori. The season for scheduled boats finishes on Saturday the 12th of August, but both companies are arranging trips to Säppi for order. For more information, you can contact either Luvian Merihelmi or Visit Pori.
Säppi harbour is a challenging destination, not only for the blusterous winds but also due to the age of the dock. It was once built for the needs of the lighthouse staff, not for the growing tourist masses. The plans for improving the harbour have been made, but the funding is still missing. Hopefully, it’ll be found shortly as Säppi lighthouse island is a destination worth experiencing.
*Luvian Merihelmi provided us with the boat trip from Luvia to Säppi Island.
How about Säppi Lighthouse?
The white-glowing 28-metre lighthouse is said to be one of the most magnificent lighthouses in Finland. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the lighthouse drawn to the cover of one of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books looks exactly like the one in Säppi.
Säppi 2000 Association is taking care of the lighthouse. The door is open at all times when someone from the association or the island guide is present. When it’s open, you can climb to the top of the lighthouse tower along the wooden spiral staircase.
The outdoor viewing platform on the top is nowadays closed for access, but you’ll get a stunning view of the surrounding sea, nature and the endless horizon through the large windows of the tower. There’s a binocular to borrow to get even a better view of Bothnian Sea National Park.
On the website of the national park, you’ll find 360-degree views from Säppi Island. Click this link for the view from the top of the lighthouse. This link takes you to the ground level, to the rustic courtyard around the lighthouse, with birds singing in the background.
Only one mystery is left to solve: how many steps does it take to get to the top of Säppi Lighthouse? Every source tells a different number, and every lighthouse visitor gets a different result. Have you ever tried?
Photo: Hanneli / Duunireissaaja travel blog
More mysterious stories from Bothnian Sea National Park and nearby:
Bothnian Sea National Park + Schooner Ihana = Recipe For a Perfect Summer Day in Finland!
Kylmäpihlaja Island – A Perfect Summer Destination In Rauma Archipelago
The Old Military Island Kuuskajaskari Takes You Back in Time
Discover Reksaari – The Oldest and Most Traditional Tourist Island of Rauma Archipelago
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