The Ahja River
The nature reserve of the Ahja River Valley starts at the Koorvere watermill near Tartu-Põlva road and that’s where our first canoe trip started in 1992. It was a true adventure and discovery for us. The Ahja River is like North and South Estonia – totally different types of landscape on such a small territory. The middle part of the ancient river valley full of beautiful sandstone cliffs (rising like giant walls from the river) and mysterious forests have attracted people for centuries. It has been a protected area for about half a century, being noted for its natural biodiversity and archaeological, historical and cultural values. Its special charm is its “wild” look – in parts it looks like a real jungle with its fallen rotten mouldy tree-trunks and a winding archway of greenery for the canoers to pass. And – lucky us!- it’s just a natural setting, as the fields, farms and civilization are right there, up over the “edge” of the valley, only You don’t see it.
Then the river turns again, and for a second it looks like a sunset at sea – but it can’t be that, of course. It’s the first of the many sandstone cliffs, special for its colour. The colour may vary from bright orange with purplish stripes to greyish white.
And the small rapids – which our canoers like most. Feels like going downhill on a sledge. That’s also where the problems started – during our first seasons we saw that the beginners couldn’t manage quickly enough to do well in the first rapids. It was the river that carried them downstream, not their own paddles. Thus we decided to start a bit upstream, to give the beginners a chance to feel and learn and think how to paddle and steer. It was a lucky discovery again, as the river is incredibly winding there. No stones, no rapids – just the trees and turns. We didn’t want to spoil the wild natural beauty of the river, that’s why we have sawed openings for the canoes (as wide or as narrow as a canoe), but the tree-trunks are all there – felled by wind, water or beavers. It seems the beavers do not mind the canoers at all, as they start their nightly routine when most of the canoers have left – unfortunately, maybe, as the dim nightlight and mist on the river is something to be seen.
Thus, the first part of the trip on the Ahja River is a chance for the beginners to practice and for the experienced canoers to test their skills, as canoeing on lakes or wide rivers is quite different from canoeing on a narrow and winding waterway. Also, the nature here is spectacular and special, so it’s hard not to notice it. Besides (or foremost?), you’ll learn how to steer with great precision and that’s a skill to be used on real wild rivers and quick rapids – in Finland, for example.
Emajõgi River in Tartu