Last weekend I visited the Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve, in Leningrad Oblast, Russia; on the Karelian Isthmus 100 km north of St. Petersburg. I do not often make posts about Russia (where I happen to live), and even less commonly, about Russian nature. Nothing wrong with it of course; it’s just that Russian nature isn’t particularly accessible. It’s not like Finland, where you have national parks, various trails ranging from municipal jogging trails to long-distance ones hundres of kilometers long, excellent topographic maps of the entire country, and a dense and well-maintained road network which make reaching even quite remote locations easy (assuming you have a car, of course). In Russia you’re basically on your own. Designated hiking trails only really exist in major nature reserves and national parks few and far between (which often have entrance fees and/or require getting a permit to visit them), maps are very hit and miss depending on the region, and only the major federal roads can be really relied upon; secondary roads may be in terrible condition, while logging or mountain roads are generally passable only on a 4WD car.
Arguably, of course, this only makes the experience more genuine, as you don’t have anything pre-made for you. And Russia, being the biggest country in the world and all, does have some stunning nature. The “stunning” part however isn’t really uniformly spread. Most of Central Russia and Western Siberia really looks very uniform and bland. And for the most part so is Leningrad Oblast, which is the St. Petersburg region.
Finland, my favorite destination, is a very beautiful country — especially if you’re into forests and lakes! — but truth be told, it doesn’t have much variety too (unless you’re really familiar with it and begin to spot lots of minor details). However its landscapes actually do look a lot more interesting than Central Russia and most of Leningrad Oblast. The reason for that lies in basic geology: Finland is located on really ancient bedrock (Fennoscandian Shield), only thinly covered with soil; the bedrock was cut up by a great glacier in the Ice Age, resulting in innumerable lakes in depressions that the glacier scoured, rocky outcroppings where it scraped off the topsoil, boulders that it moved a great distance, and so on. Central Russia on the other hand is covered with a very thick (3+ km) cover of sediments (Russian Platform), which are very flat and remained very flat even after the glaciation. The boundary between the Fennoscandian Shield and the Russian Platform cuts across the Karelian Isthmus, fairly close to the Russian-Finnish border, approximately following Vyborg (Viipuri)-Priozersk (Käkisalmi) line. Most of the Karelian Isthmus, and the vast majority of the overall Leningrad Oblast lies south of that line, in the “boring” Russian Platform area.
Still of course there are some beautiful places, and Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve is one of them. It’s located on the Karelian Isthmus, and I’m not sure whether it lies north or south of the geological boundary; most probably south of it. It’s still beautiful, with low but steep sandy hills and ridges covered with pine forests, and small rivers and lakes among the hills. So after much deliberation about my day trip destination I chose this place. I knew essentially nothing of it but it seemed fairly easy to reach at least.
The name “Väärämäenselkä” is Finnish; the nature reserve has no Russian name. The name is transribed as Вярямянселькя into Russian, although Вяярямяэнселькя would be more precise. It means “Crooked Hill Ridge”. It can be found in old Finnish topographic maps and texts, spelled as Väärämäen-selkä, and sometimes also as Väärämäen-harju. The regional nature reserve was officially established in 1978.