11. OLD RIVER VALLEY


You have now reached the Hiiumaa "Grand Canyon". This canyon has been carved out by a small river over a period of about 1000 years. As Hiiumaa rose slowly out of the sea, a part of the sea was trapped a few kilometers behind the sand dunes on which you are now standing. Rain and runoff from other parts of the island gradually diluted the sea water until it was turned into a fresh water lake. As the land underneath continued to rise, the water began to try to find ways to get back to sea level. A little over 1000 years ago, water began seeping through the sandhills. This flow slowly increased until it became a trickle and then a small stream which quickly began eroding away the soft, sandy soil. As the depth of the canyon increased, so did the flow until it stabilized after most of the water was drained out of the inland lake. All that remains of the lake today is a swampy area with one or two small lakes that are Hiiumaa's largest bodies of fresh water.

The local legend about the origin of the river goes this way: A man was walking home after a hard day's work. He was very tired and was also in a bad mood because his boss had made his day quite difficult and now he had to walk several kilometers home carrying a heavy shovel. He decided to stop for a rest and, still thinking about his boss, angrily thrust the shovel into the sandy soil so hard that it went about halfway up the handle. After a short rest, he tried to pull the shovel out of the ground but it would not come. He pulled on the shovel, kicked it, cursed at it and finally the shovel came out and water began to flow from the hole. The man walked off towards home grumbling to himself, never realizing that he was responsible for the beginning of this beautiful canyon.

The church was built in 1867. Emmaste also has the only dairy on the island. Another interesting sight to see is the huge oak tree about two kilometers south which was a place where the followers of Estonia's ancient religion made sacrifices and observed holy days. These places are not marked in English but you should have no trouble finding the church and the tree. If you contact the info center, it may be possible to organize a tour of the dairy.

If you are a little bit adventurous and want to get off the beaten path, go southwest to Soru harbor. You will find a nice view of the sea and a very rocky coastline. You will also find one of the largest Soviet border posts on the island. The post has been closed for a few years and is likely to stay that way now that Estonia is not under the watchful eye of the Soviet Union. Near this post are some gun emplacements that were built in World War One.

If you then take the gravel road north along the coast you will pass by two small concrete lighthouses built in the 1930's. Shortly, the road turns to dirt near the villiage of Tohvri but stick with it because at the end of the road is a small clearing where you will find the remains of some concrete gun emplacements that were built in World War Two. The place was shelled from the sea and bombed from the air by the approaching German forces. You can still see one huge crater near one of the bunkers. When it became apparent that their position was about to be overrun, the Russians dynamited one of the gun positions. You can get an idea of the force of the blast if you notice the huge piece of reinforced concrete which was thrown about 15 meters.

Kassari island has long been a favorite vacation spot for Estonians. The Finnish-Estonian writer Aino Kallas had a summer house here that is now a museum. Many other famous artists, writers, poets and musicians have come here to gain inspiration from Kassari's natural beauty and isolation. The island used to be completely seperate from the rest of Hiiumaa but a land bridge was built on the spot you are now driving across in the 1700's. Now it is difficult to tell exactly when you leave Hiiumaa and enter Kassari. A second land bridge was built in the 1860's near Vaemla to make it possible to enter Kassari from one end and exit from the other end. As you follow this paved road through Kassari you will pass by Orjaku which is now a popular yachting harbor. In the summer it is possible to rent boats here. Orjaku harbor has been around for about 300 years and at one time was a stop for a shipping line that ran between Saaremaa and Tallinn but this line was discontinued years ago. Shortly before World War One, the Czar of Russia decided to expand and deepen this port so it could be used for refitting battleships which were quite new technology at the time. However, the war started before work could begin and the plan was abandoned.

The origin of the name "Kassari" is not certain but there are three theories about where this name came from. First, that the island was inhabited at one time by a large number of cats and the island was given the name "Cat's Island" (Kass is the word for cat in Estonian). Second, the island has a large number of birch trees and this gave the island its name (Kask is the word for birch). The third theory is a little more involved and is based on a legend told by local people. Long ago, there was an especially fierce storm and some of the locals were sitting in a small inn on the coast of Hiiumaa, drinking homemade beer and waiting for the weather to clear. One of them happened to look out the window and noticed that Kassari appeared to be floating away from Hiiumaa. At first he thought he had drunk a little too much beer but his friends also saw that the island was moving slowly away from Hiiumaa. The men hurried to the town of Käina and spread the word that Kassari was about to float away. The villagers quickly gathered several teams of oxen and drove them into the shallow bay that separated the two islands. Working quickly, they hitched the oxen to the island using big ropes tied to the biggest trees they could find. Then, with all the oxen and men pulling together they finally managed to pull the island back to its original position. They then firmly anchored the island in place with large stones. To confirm that Kassari was never to be separated from Hiiumaa they gave it the name "Kaas Saar" which means co-island. Even though the island hasn't moved for centuries, sometimes on stormy nights people in Käina who have been drinking too much homemade beer still raise the alarm that Kassari is once again floating off into the Baltic Sea.