Page last updated at 09:42 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 10:42 UK

Finns yearn for snow in Tampere

While some may count a mild winter as a blessing, residents in a city in southern Finland are holding their breath for a heavy snowfall this winter, as James Luckhurst reports.

Frozen lake in Tampere (file photo)
Memories of seasons past: Finns complain winters are now too mild
From my vantage point, high up in an observation tower in Tampere, I look down on the amusement park on the shores of a massive lake, and make mental notes as to which rides I might attempt if pushed, and which I will point-blank refuse to get on, whatever pressure my companions may put me under.

It is midday, and down there I can see the park gates have opened. A modest trickle of visitors makes its way towards a choice of white-knuckle rides and other less challenging attractions.

I have agreed to join them later - after all, I am told, the park will be closing for the winter soon, so I must not miss my chance.

The Pyynikki observation tower is situated in a leafy suburb just a short walk from the centre.

It offers a splendid view but more important for me is the news that the tower's coffee shop sells the best doughnuts in town.

Encouraged by Pirjo Puukka, who is showing me around, I gaze away from the rides and stare northwards across the lake.

Tampella Linen Factory, Tampere, (file photo, 1950)
Tampere is dubbed the 'Manchester of Finland' for its industrial past
Try as I might, I cannot see the other side. The light shimmers brightly on the vast expanse of water in front of me.

As far as the eye can see there is water, peppered with islands of all sizes.

Pirjo points in the other direction, to the big industrial cotton mill in the city centre.

It looks as though it has been lifted straight out of a northern British city and dropped right next to the fast-flowing Tammerkoski Rapids.

The mill was in fact built in 1820 by James Finlayson, a Scot who arrived in Finland via Russia and it is, apparently, Finland's first industrial establishment.

Wet and miserable

We glide graciously down from the top of the tower in a lift that must have been an original part of the building when it opened in 1929.

No crisp September days, no crackle of October frost and no ice on the lakes in November
With a heave, I get the concertina doors open and we make our way to the cafe. The sun is shining, the weather is warm, and it is hard to believe that soon everything will shut down for the winter.

I ask Pirjo about winter. Is it like it used to be? Not at all, she says with a gloomy expression.

Like every Finn, she is unsettled by recent developments that seem to have turned the natural order of things upside down.

We grew up with an entirely predictable yearly round of harsh winters and spectacular but short summers, she said. But last summer was wet and miserable - and it felt as though winter was more or less a continuation of summer.

No crisp September days, no crackle of October frost and no ice on the lakes in November.

The only way of knowing that it was winter was the darkness. Otherwise it was just mild and wet.

And to make matters worse, that is how it seems to have been during this past summer too.

Swimming ritual

The worst thing for Pirjo was that there was no snow until January.

She is an enthusiastic contestant in local winter swimming competitions, where it was usual to sweep the snow off part of a frozen lake, and then break up a decent section of ice to make it accessible for swimming.

"We swam last winter", she says, "but it was terrible."

Most of the time there was no ice to break and no snow to sweep - and this, she adds, actually made the water seem much colder.

Now everyone is worried that we will never get the old winters back.

I surreptitiously lick sugar off my finger-tips, as Pirjo announces it is time to head down to the amusement park.

I walk up to a particularly stomach-churning ride. A boy of 12 has just disembarked after a two-minute long experience which sees him thrown left, right and upside down as the carriage he is travelling in gyrates wildly through the air, suspended from a metal rail.

The boy appears to be arguing with two members of staff. I do not understand the conversation, but the hand gestures make clear the boy's side of things.

There is no queue, so why can't he just stay on board for one ride after another?

That is not the rule, say the assistants. You have to get off, leave through the exit turnstile and come round to the entrance. As long as you do that, you can ride as many times as you like.

And so he does, time after time, grinning triumphantly as the carriage hurls him once again through space.

So, the summer is now formally at an end. The covers are being hauled over the rides until next May, and Pirjo - along with all her ice-swimming friends - will watch with bated breath for signs of the coming winter, hoping that this year they will have need of their ice-breaking tools and that a healthy fall of snow will once again make their swimming ritual feel somehow more wintery.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 9 October, 2008 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

Country profile: Finland
08 Jul 08 |  Country profiles

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