The dark grey, rock solid base. Exposed beds of strong colors. The shimmering in the touch of sunrays. Blue is the best known toning, but it exists as green and purple too. It includes all shades in the color spectrum, and even more. This stone is Spectrolite.
Kuva: Esko Hämäläinen
It can be said to be the most beautiful form of labradorites, for the same reason it got its name from: the strong color changes the minerals pose.
This is the national gem stone of Finland and it can be found only in Ylämaa region. Hence, I’d say, it is worth a visit. And that’s what I did!
Let me tell some backgrounds first. This so called Highland got its name from its hilly terrains contrary to lowlands in the areas nearby. The lows must be seriously low, since the highest point of Ylämaa is only 100 metres above the sea level! Ylämaa is best known for its Spectrolite, which was discovered when the stones of Salpalinja were being hewed in 1940. This gem stone is only 75 years young, whereas the first labradorite was found already in 1770.
Ylämaa arranges yearly the Gem Stone Market, and the event is widely known around the world. It has gathered visitors from e.g. China and Africa to name a few furthest places. The market takes place at the Gem Stone Village, which could be seen as the center of Highland area. It is situated right next to the road so it cannot be missed. I visited the Village for the first time, even though I have lived in Lappeenranta for 20 years. It was high time for a trip here.
At the village there is a museum with a large collection of different kinds of gem stones from around the world. That’s where I met my guide, Esko Hämäläinen. He is the one to give credit for establishing the museum: therefore he has tremendous amount of information concerning all the gem stones there. He was happy to introduce me to the world of gems in Ylämaa. I was lucky and got to join a small group with their guided tour.
At the museum children, and why not adults as well, can seek for gem stones from a sandpit for a namely price. I got to try it, and it was fun! I was given as a souvenier a beautiful piece of stone called the Tiger Eye.
Our group left for the quarry to see the spectrolite in real. We were lucky: it was raining! The colors of the mineral appear strong when they get moist. We could see the gems all around the pile of stones made for us to find treasures. We could bring as many pieces with us as we could carry. Our guide advised us on how to choose the right pieces with large minerals in them. Seeing the quarry was exciting. Not until now I could understand the beauty that nature conceals and shares.
After leaving the quarry we visited the Salpalinja, the Bolt of Finland, in Highland area. It is the largest construction in the Finnish history, and it was built after Winter War from the north all the way to south, providing a block against the Russian army. We saw the bunker and the structure of the bolt. Here it didn’t feel as lucky as at the quarry for the rain. However, I did get to remind myself with Finnish history by reading the information board, see the impressive construction and even take some pictures!
Our guided tour ended there. I decided to visit the grounds of the House Museum on the way back to the Village. It was closed for the summer, but seeing the place and the buildings left me wanting to come back next summer to visit them from inside. The atmosphere at the quiet yard breathes old times’ life!
I returned to the Village, and visited the Store. I met a pleasant man who told me he was the one honing and preparing the stones for smiths to turn them into pieces of jewelry. He showed me different samples of labradorite from various parts of the world, just to see the difference between them and spectrolite. He also told me a story of a rare purple toned stone, and how each mineral was different. Visiting the store left me mesmerized: all the pieces made of different stones were so beautiful and well made! I liked the best the clocks made of spectrolite.
The tour so far had taken time so I felt like having lunch. Luckily there was a restaurant café at the Gem Stone Village, where I got the best salmon soup in a long time! The restaurant had a calm atmosphere, and it was a pleasant break from the investigation of Highland. After having my stomach full, I could continue the journey to see the church of Ylämaa. It was beautiful with all the flower plantings outside and statue before the church.
My last pit stop was rather distant: it took me around 20 km more south near the Russian border. I was looking for the birdwatching tower of Väkevänjärvi. Before finding the right place, I came to a crossroads where there was a small cottage building. It was a border station: a plate stated that further entry without permission was forbidden. I started to doubt my whereabouts, but decided to follow my navigator’s advice, and finally I found what I came there for. The way there had been beautiful, no question about that! Ylämaa region has many lakes and water areas, so those who wish to get away from the restlessness of the city should definitely visit this place, so quiet and peaceful it was on top of the tower. And the views, a description wouldn’t give them any credit but they need to be seen oneself!
I was amazed of what Highland had to offer. Even though it is a small region, there are a lot of beautiful places to visit. Many travel away to become a tourist, but I have now learned that one should most definitely become a tourist in their hometown as well. That way only can you really get to know where you live. What’s more, you might learn a lot, I know I did!
The highlights of the trip were: finding stones from the sandpit; finding spectrolite from the quarry; admiring all the beautiful pieces at the store, having the delicious lunch, seeing the beautiful nature before finding the birdwatching tower.
I have to admit that I got interested in the world of stones. After the visit I already started to read more of spectrolite. I think I have to go back to buy some jewels, or the clock I fell in love with…