This is the second 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.
Day 3 Sõrve Sightseeing
We set off early to see this peninsula, sometimes travelling on dusty unpaved roads to the southernmost section of Saaremaa. Along the way, we viewed the raised Kaugatuma cliffs. The previously wooded landscape gave way to a some more open, exposed terrain with thin soils. Although it seems remote today, pre-war this area was the most densely populated, rural area in Estonia. Our first port of call was another family initiative, the Sõrve Wool Factory.
The Sepp family run a business making use of home-grown fleece from herds of sheep, some goats and even a couple of dogs! The wool factory is a cottage industry with industrial carders in-situ to prepare the raw wool prior to spinning, weaving, knitting and so on. Nothing goes to waste here, as we also had a nibble on some tasty home-made cheese. It was time to get hands on, with the choice of weaving or metal work. Having dabbled in weaving in the past, I opted to join Egon outside for the metal workshop under a tar-soaked tarpaulin. It was explained that the area had considerable military significance in various C20th conflicts. During World War II it saw major battles between Soviet and German forces. As a result, the forests are still littered with ordnance remains, so it can be dangerous to walk in the woods.
However, we were to be using the metal salvaged from a collected shell casing, to create a piece of jewellery. So, after the demo, we set about measuring, cutting, heating, embossing and shaping a ring each, ending up with a unique memento. Not a form of upcycling I’d encountered before.
Thinking more pop-culture that cultural heritage for a moment, Egon Sepp also happens to be the proud father of the recent winner of Eesti Otsib Superstaari 2018 – Uudo Sepp is Estonian’s latest “Pop Idol”. Music is part of Sepp family life, so before leaving we appreciated some folk singing from Maarika & Merika Sepp and were introduced to their herd of Highland cross cattle who sheltering amongst the trees for shade – another Scottish connection.
The Sepp family also produced knitted garments from their home spun wool, using Estonian patterns. The intricate patterns are not entirely removed from the traditional patterns we associate with the northern isles of Scotland, Orkney & Shetland, where of course there are strong Scandinavian connections. Comparisons could also be drawn with Sanquhar gloves.
Scotland has a longstanding relationship with crofting sheep, wool production, fleece, fibre and felt products.
And then to Anseküla south of Salme, to meet Mari Lepik for lunch at Anseküla Teelistemaja, another former schoolhouse re-purposed in recent years. It serves dishes based on old recipes, many from a 1900 cookbook. Mari Lepik is nothing short of remarkable; not only is she a mother of five, holds a PhD but also launched an ABC book of local dialect & lifestyle in late 2017 – this promptly sold out by Christmas of that year & it is now in its second print run. She spoke to us all about the research for the publication and her active work to keeping Saareema heritage alive. Through her activities, she aims to engage children and young people with their past traditions. We walked about the village, past the lighthouse to a ruined church. Being unfamiliar with the place, it seemed odd to have a lighthouse in the forest, but we were informed the sea was only a few hundred metres away as we were at the narrowest point of the Sõrve peninsula.
By the church was a memorial stone to Martin Georg Emil Körber, Mari informed us about the significance of this C19th pastor and his legacy of songbooks and his influence on proud tradition of choir singing in Estonia. Then, we were caught up and joining in local songs, dances & children’s games with Mari and her two daughters. Mari had brought along her research into local traditional costume, which I found intriguing and examples of homemade garments too. We also met her youngest baby son, who she dresses in hand-sewn, traditional shirt dresses – she is undoubtedly passionate about & embraces her heritage in every possible way. She has the conviction of wearing a heritage headscarf when it may be regarded by many Estonians as old-fashioned or a backward-looking statement. It could be said this was a retro look however, I think Mari’s appearance is more than a fleeting trend.
This immersion into Mari Lepik’s life wasn’t over yet though, we were warmly welcomed into her mother’s home for a cooking class. At the family home, we all joined in picking a selection of redcurrants, raspberries & gooseberries which were boiled with sugar, cooled to a jam & then whipped-up with semolina to create the yummy Roosamanna ehk mannavaht or semolina mousse served with cold milk.
Under the direction of the Lepik women, we also dug potatoes, chopped vegetables from the garden and crafted dumplings for a satisfying soup. Some of the group tried their hand at spinning wool, others leant against the haystack and joined in more traditional songs. After our communal dinner, we bid our farewells to the family and a menagerie of cats. On our way back to base, we passed the Salme Viking ship burial place.
Just another epic day in Estonia.
Archive Images © National Museums Scotland – Scottish Life Archive, Hulton Getty & Historic Environment Scotland | Licensor Scran