Meet Paula – the Lighthouse Keeper
To Finns, visiting Bengtskär lighthouse is almost like going on a pilgrimage. It’s something everyone has to do at some point in their lives. Paula Wilson, the lighthouse keeper there explains the magic.
“It’s probably the biggest lighthouse that was ever built. And do you realize that this is the very last island, nobody lives beyond it – there´s nothing but sea? We’re looking the sea straight in the face, so to speak, and far behind us are all those people who live on islands much nearer to the mainland. It’s a wonderful thought, don´t you think?”
– Moominpappa in Tove Jansson’s “Moominpappa at Sea” (Translated by Kingsley Hart)
A charm of its own
- I first visited Bengtskär in summer 1968 when I’d just got engaged to my husband. It immediately had an indelible impact on me. The lonely island, miles from anywhere, felt like an enchanted place. As if you were out on the open sea, yet with your feet still firmly on dry land.
A new lease of life for the lighthouse
- By the early 1990s, the once impressive lighthouse on Bengtskär had badly fallen into disrepair, having stood empty for 25 years. My husband and I urged Turku University, the owners of the building, to renovate the site and so it gained a new lease of life. We have since restored the edifice to its original condition and we rented the site ourselves to run as a museum for visitors, while we’ve now been living here ourselves for 16 years. We look after the lighthouse and we run a small hotel in the building, with the bonus of a granite sauna built in 1907 that we heat up for our guests in the evenings.
A historically important landmark
- Bengtskär is the tallest lighthouse in the Nordic countries – an impressive, national romantic landmark which has played an important role in Finnish history. The lighthouse was built in 1906 and until the Winter War, five families lived on the island all year round. At the start of the Continuation War, in 1941, a ruthless battle was fought for the place, the traces of which can be seen to this day. You can still sense the atmosphere that its eventful past has left in its wake. The building’s ’s history and the fate of the island’s former residents make a deep impression on visitors and lingers in the minds of the residents.
A bare and beautiful place
- The island Bengtskär is small, treeless and only about 2 hectares in size. Over millions of years the sea has shaped the rock, forming gently rounded curves. Here and there, in small inlets and holes in the rock, you can find birds’ nests, hundreds of them populated in the summer. But what really strikes you is the way the weather is constantly changing, this farout at sea, sometimes it’s completely calm, yet the next minute the rocks are being battered by huge waves.
Open to everyone
- Although Bengtskär is my home, the most important thing is that it’s a lighthouse that belongs to everyone in Finland. It’s an important part of our cultural heritage, a national treasure like our castles and churches. The lighthouse is open to the public every day from June to September.