The Mail Road Across Åland

Mail road

Eleven years ago this month I visited the Åland Islands, where I was the only winter cyclist as I travelled from Långnäs to Mariehamn. I bought this book while in the Åland capital of Mariehamn. Åland (which rhymes with my surname but without the R) is an autonomous province of Finland where Swedish is the official language. I do not speak Swedish, and no one I met knew Finnish, so I got by in English. I got the impression however that no one wanted to speak Finnish even if they themselves knew the language. While the countryside was covered in snow when I was there, hidden underneath were the remains of the old mail road.

The Mail Road Across Åland by Jan Andersson (translated by Jocelyn Palmer) tells the story of the road that crossed Åland and served as a link between Sweden and Finland for almost three hundred years. The mail road took a straight east-west route, almost bisecting the main island perfectly in two. As such it was strictly functional, and while its purpose was to link the postal systems between Sweden and Finland, it totally bypassed Mariehamn. The mail road was in service until 1910, and over the past hundred years the original road has been paved over or left to the elements. Sometimes a new road was built, better suited to the automobiles of the twentieth century. This new road often ran parallel to the original road, which was then used for regional traffic or as footpaths. Only a small portion of the original mail road on the largest island has been restored and much of this length now serves as access ways on private property. However as the road travels across the smaller eastern islands in the Åland archipelago, more of it remains in its original state.

Andersson has supplemented his book with many photographs, both from the Åland archives as well as plenty of his own, that document the history as well as the present state of the mail road. A three-panel foldout map was included which I found invaluable. I referred to the map constantly as I followed the route of the mail road. The Mail Road Across Åland is written as a guidebook, and Andersson takes the reader along the entire length of the historical road from west to east. As a lover of both Finland and her Åland Islands, as well as postal history, this was the perfect little book.

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