This is the first in a series of travelogue posts about an Erasmus+ cultural heritage, study trip undertaken by Jackie Sangster from the Learning & Inclusion Team at Historic Environment Scotland.
What better time to visit this culturally rich country than its 100th birthday! During this study trip, I experienced & participated in Estonian traditions relating to: dialect, food, daily life, costume, craft, fishing, the natural environment and how heritage may be passed to younger generations. Whilst writing this travelogue, I have drawn parallels and made links with Scottish traditions through the various archives and collections found on scran.ac.uk
Day 1 Travelling to Tallinn & Beyond. After an early start departing from Glasgow, via Amsterdam our group of eight, eager Erasmus+ participants arrived in Tallinn to be warmly welcomed by the marvellous Maarika Naagel – who we discovered as the week progressed is a font of knowledge & a powerhouse of enthusiasm for all things Estonian. She chauffeured us, via Virtsu harbour and a ferry crossing, all the way to Värava Farm. We were to reside here at Selgase Village, in Saare County in the western part of Saaremaa Island in rustic fashion for the next four nights.
Day 2 Visiting Vilsandi. Our group had a good sleep as promised on the extensive itinerary for the week – therefore we were prepared for the adventures of the day. We drove to the nearby village of Kihelkonna, where our host also happens to live, to collect our next mode of transport, the bicycle. Off we set to explore the locality in the 30°C heat, no mean feat for a bunch of Scots. En route we passed by Rootsiküla and Kiirassaare. Specifically, we were making our first visit to Vilsandi National Park to meet with the RMK (Riigimetsa Majandamise Keskus or State Forest Management Centre) Maris Sepp and the junior rangers at Loona Manor. Here we heard from two remarkable young people, Karl & Martyn, about their research, achievements and experiences with the natural heritage of the park. I learned a lot about bat maternity colonies amongst other things and remain impressed by the high quality of their presentations, delivered in flawless English.
Incidentally, the park came about thanks to Artur Toom a lighthouse keeper who formed the Vailka Birds Reserve in 1901 & the national park was established in 1993 to protect the nature & cultural heritage of the coastal landscapes on Western Estonian islands. Whilst cycling to & from Loona Park it was plain to see the rich diversity of species surrounding us and the sheer beauty of this corner of Estonia. The landscape, steeped in forest, was also much flatter than anticipated, which aided our progress. This visit was of particular interest to the rangers in our party, whose primary concern was natural heritage.
Upon return to the village, we lunched at Kihelkonna Kool and thoroughly enjoyed our school dinner and a first taste of Sinep Põltsamaa! As a former school teacher I was fascinated to be inside this Soviet built school, observing the details of its architecture & interiors. We wandered around the village looking at the mix of buildings, including vernacular wooden homes, the towering lime-washed St.Michael’s church, the old bell tower and the singing grounds/bandstand. Needless to say, the traditional swing was fun too.
The stark contrast between the traditional Estonian and Soviet era buildings was becoming apparent, even in this small rural settlement.
Next stop, not too far away by Mõisaküla was the Lime & Tar Distilling Park based in a beautifully restored former Moravian church. Resident land expert, Pritt Pannou explained & demonstrated the traditional production techniques employed to create lime from the local limestone quarries. Saaremaa’s geology is predominantly limestone. The lime slaking process demonstration instantly reminded me of the many plaster moulds I once made when studying ceramics at university. However, I now have a much fuller appreciation of how lime is created.
We learned how to use lime and lime products for renovation and building repairs. During our walk about the park we saw a series of long-established lime and tar kilns in varying scales and states of repair, all fuelled by wood. As well as being a centre for learning they are a commercial concern, producing ‘Lubjapasta Saaremaa’ Lubi Ò. Later the same day, we were to see a church which had been freshly painted with Lubi lime & and it shone.
Of course, there is a lime producing heritage in Scotland too, with place names often reflecting this past industry. For example, the existence Charlestown, near the village of Limekilns, in Fife is due to a massive seam of limestone running east/west along the North of the village. Over 11 million tons were quarried here over 200 years. It was processed and distributed over much of Scotland and the works in their day were the largest lime producing complex in Europe.
Leedri, Estonian village of the year 2015, was to be the location of our next appointment at Orbu farm to find out about the slow food production of Saaremaa Kadakasiirup or juniper syrup in the new Kadakakoda facility. This artisan production set up by three sisters began in 2011, in the maternal family kitchen on a domestic scale. Today it has grown into an entrepreneurial success story with the support of EU funding. Again, the basis of the business initiative was taken from local raw materials, in this case the juniper bushes and trees found growing commonplace on the island with its chalky soils. Innovation coming from the natural environment. Juniper is a native conifer in Scotland too, although not so prevalent.
The adjacent family home, Orbu, also offered fascinating insights into the local heritage. Despite an influx of wasps, the group were able sample the produce, which was testament to its success – just delicious. Like satisfied humming birds, we then enjoyed a walking tour of Leedri guided by the mayor namely Maret, a multi-tasking woman. The community has a variety of popular events which take place in the stunning village house or barn. Most recently, a celebration of midsummer which sounded like quite a party. The fabric of the village is well-preserved with a historical road network lined with dry-stone walls surrounded by green fields. The dry-stone walls, or stane-dykes, were tall enough to provide privacy in this close-knit community & similar of those found at home too – such as those in Hirta on St.Kilda.
It was thought-provoking to hear about the removal of villagers who were sent to Siberia following WW2, empty farm plots remain as witness to those who did not return. The tour concluded at the restored, fully functional windmill, a listed cultural monument which appears whimsical. Sadly, what remains of Scotland’s windmills is not so well preserved as you can see via Canmore.
This was the first time I noticed the Kultuurimälestis National Monument sign on a building, however I would soon encounter more. Under the Heritage Conservation Act this designation of cultural monument is given to an object of cultural heritage of historical, scientific, artistic, architectural, religious or other cultural value, which is considered necessary to be preserved for future generations.
We bid our farewells to Leedri & off to Lümanda for our supper. Lümanda Söögimaja or tavern, is a popular authentic restaurant in an old church school, offering what I would describe as Saaremaa comfort food. So, we enjoyed mountains of mashed potatoes with a traditional meat sauce – we did not go hungry. After just one day, I think we all realised that Estonian hospitality is hearty.
In the evening, as an extra-curricular option we had the opportunity to attend a performance Kuressaare Chamber Music Festival. Four of us opted to join Maarika in listening to the mandolin quartet, Quatuor à Plectres de France France. The performance was enhanced further by its atmospheric location, in the refectory of Kuressaare Castle.
But more about that location later…
Archive Images © Charlestown Lime Heritage Trust, National Museums Scotland & Historic Environment Scotland | Licensor Scran