In the late Middle Ages, a winter road led around the Gulf of Bothnia; in the summer, a horse path ranged north from Finland Proper, along the western coast to Tornio, and from there along the Swedish coast to Stockholm. The shortest way from the Turku region to Stockholm, the capital of the kingdom, was via Åland. However, during the frost heave, the route around the Bay of Bothnia was the only connection between Finland and the mother country. Charles IX of Sweden travelled around the Gulf of Bothnia along the winter road in February 1602, and Gustav II Adolph in March 1614.


Walking and riding paths connected people living in Ostrobothnian estuaries, trading centres and villages. Small waterways were crossed by ferries or on bridges, and wetlands along duckboards or stone paths. Land routes were naturally often rough. There was some sort of a common road from the Korsholma castle to Kokkola in the mid-1500s, as road disputes are known to have existed already then. In Munsala, the maintainer of a common road was fined for having performed his duties poorly, while another road maintainer was fined in Kaarlela for not having built a ferry. 


The organisation of the church, state and trade required a harmonious and functional road network. When the Crown in the 1600s founded the Ostrobothnian towns of Mustasaari (present Vaasa), Uusikaarlepyy, Pietarsaari, Kokkola, Raahe, Oulu and Tornio, traffic on the coastal road became more regular and frequent. This is when the Crown also established statutory transport and accommodation services along public roads. In the 1660s, it was possible to travel along the coastal road north of Mustasaari by carts and wagons, which means that the route had to be three to four metres wide.


From the 1600s, mail had to be transported in all seasons. In addition to letters, oral information was passed from one "postal peasant" (a farmer assigned by the state to transport mail) to the next, and the postal peasants were in charge of prying as well. The speed of mail deliveries varied depending on, for example, road weather conditions and the diligence of the postal peasants. At least one realised schedule is mentioned in the historical work Kokkolan kaupungin historia: "The judgement book had been sent in regular mail from Kokkola on 16 January 1675, and it arrived in Turku on 2 February."


Peasants had a tax-related duty to build and maintain vicarages, and this duty also applied to roads, bridges and ferries, which had already been stipulated in medieval laws. The task was not easy, especially in more remote areas, and there were disputes among parishes on the responsibilities.


The old coastal road twisted through uninhabited, dark woodlands, adapting itself to landforms and waterways. We can imagine that the postal peasants and other travellers on foot, horse or cart faced various kinds of dangers and difficulties. Weather conditions on the road were sometimes bad. Wild beasts and bandits were common. A shortcut could lead one astray. Accidents happened and diseases spread. In war years, soldiers and deserters caused insecurity. During the famine years, exhausted beggars wandered on the roads, and many of them collapsed without reaching their destination. Many people sought help from magic, chants and prayers. Nevertheless, travelling was also useful and fun.


Travellers, horses and vehicles were burdened heavily by poor conditions on several sections of the road. Crown officials exempted from fees and other travellers able to pay were offered a place to rest and eat at inns (kestikievari). The common people could get a place to stay overnight in a stable, with their horses. A 1649 Diet decree provided that road travellers were to be organised the necessary accommodation, hospitality and transport to the next inn. The distance between inns was to be twenty kilometres. Nearby houses had to assist the inns if there were more travellers than the inns could serve. The horses of people living far from the inns could also be used when needed for additional transports.


The old coastal road was used by a wide variety of people. One famous and even feared traveller in the final decades of the 1600s was Heikki Matinpoika Hakalainen, the executioner of Ostrobothnia from Uusikaarlepyy. Many parishes along the coastal road had special places for beheading and other punishments. Hakalainen’s official journeys covered a large area, and we can imagine that he also needed the services of inns with his horses and equipment. The journeys could take several days. The Crown paid a fee for the work of executioners and covered their travel costs. In her novel Pyöveli, Anneli Kanto describes the journey of an executioner from the perspective of his son:


“Once a year or two years, my father went far afield – to Kokkola, Lapua, Oulu, even Sotkamo, to hang or behead. Then he needed to bring along food, and if he also had to whip, he took along Perttu Rännäri. Father could stay away from home for weeks. He returned dirty and hollow-cheeked, but the leather bag hanging on his chest was heavy with coins. Sometimes he brought me and mother bagels, a scarf, woollen mittens or a piece of lard from his journeys.”


Another coastal road traveller who has remained in history books was the naval architect Fredrik Henrik af Chapman, who was knighted in his later days. He travelled around Pietarsaari and Kokkola at the turn of 1758 and 1759, exploring the forest resources of Central Ostrobothnia and, for example, the boatyards of Pietarsaari and the Jatkojoki river in Ruotsalo, where sailing ships were also manufactured. Chapman considered pine to be suitable for shipbuilding: it was cheaper than oak but of slightly shorter duration. The admiralty carried out Chapman’s proposal a little later, and the hulls of warships could be built from pine and their knees from spruce.


A third famous traveller on the coastal road was the writer, historian and cultural geographer Zachris (Sakari) Topelius Jr, born in Uusikaarlepyy in 1818, who in his student years travelled dozens of times between Helsinki and Uusikaarlepyy. Already as a schoolboy, Topelius journeyed the coastal road north of Uusikaarlepyy: the trip from his home town to his school town Oulu took about three days. Later he undertook expeditions throughout Finland, also along the coastal road. In his non-fiction book with the original Swedish title En resa i Finland (Travel in Finland), published in the early 1870s, he portrays Finland’s regional characteristics and his own travel experiences. Topelius himself travelled rather comfortably in a chaise or sprung cart, but he felt sorry for those who could only use such modest vehicles as two-wheeled, uniaxial carts with no seat cushions: "Try to travel like that for hours on a rocky road and you will have tortured your flesh in a way that is much harder, and thus more praiseworthy, than a pilgrimage to Rome with peas in your shoes!"


Ostrobothnia and Kvarken in the 1860´ (


The inn and transport system supervised by the Crown remained more or less unchanged until the end of the 1800s. Compared with the whole country, the stretch between Vaasa and Kokkola had the third largest amount of transport horses per kilometre in the 1860s. In the early 1900s, bus and railway traffic as well as professional passenger car traffic reduced the role of inns or changed their working model. In the 1900s, responsibility for road building and maintenance was transferred to the state.


The Bothnian Coast Road has had a major economic, administrative and cultural role in Ostrobothnia and the whole of Finland. The cultural heritage route between Munsala and Pietarsaari is an important part of this complex.