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Estonia Report – Joseph Waterfield

“Heritage is not something that should be kept behind closed doors, it is something that should be shared. Folk heritage is valuable for its own sake, but we only protect it by using it, and we can strengthen it by sharing it. Teaching other people our dance moves, helping other people to love our poems.” Joseph Waterfield RBBM



Description of the placement, content and timetable

This could be like a diary but should include locations, names of speakers and guides and an account of what you did …

How can I disseminate the skills, knowledge, experience gained, and how can I use the things I learned in my own country

Is there a situation, either now or in the future, that you can put what you learned into action. This could be in a general sense, or very specifically.

What future co-operation I would suggest with the country/host I visited …

Co-operations are usually dependant on funding issues, this should not be forgotten but neither should it stop you making suggestions. Constraints to co-operation might be personal ones, you are not expected to give very personal information but we want to hear about you as an individual and your views. If you cannot envisage yourself being further involved, suggest persons or groups of persons who might want to be.

Min: 2000 words

Estonia report

Day 1

We all met at Glasgow International airport, most of us had only met for the first time several months ago, so we were lucky to recognise each other! Our short flight from Glasgow to London was almost scuppered as one of our party discovered that her name was not on her boarding pass! In fact, the passport also had a different owner. This had all happened because Claire had thought she had dropped her passport and boarding pass in a branch of Boots the Chemist, whereas in fact she had just picked up the travel documents of some unfortunate fellow traveller. Luckily everyone concerned was travelling to the same place, so the mess was sorted out painlessly. We travelled down to London Gatwick, and after a rejuvenating coffee, were presented with a check-in queue of epic proportions (pictured). After finally getting checked in and making our way through the duty-frees and restaurant concessions, we got to our flight to Tallinn Airport.


What we left behind

Tallinn Airport could not have been more different to London Gatwick. After passport control we each opened the door to the airport, and the effect was of being invited into Estonia’s living room. The chairs were all covered in the striped material that we were to see so much of on the rest of our trip (pictured).


Welcome to Estonia

We met Maarikaa, our guide, host, and friend for the week outside the airport. During the short drive from the airport to the Hotel Dzingel, Maarikaa told us that the hotel had been built as accommodation for the builders working on the USSR Olympic games. The Hotel Dzingel is one of the only hotels I have seen with a sentry-box in its car-park (pictured). The exterior and the interior were both committed to the ideal of function over form, although the dining room was an intoxicating mixture of disco and zen.


   The Hotell Dzingell                              The intriguing mixture of styles at the Hotell Dzingel

After a healthy portion of pork and boiled potatoes, we all went to bed, to prepare ourselves for our first day in Estonia.

Day 2

The Hotell Dzingell is in the suburbs of Tallinn, not far from the main town, despite this, it only took us 10 minutes to drive out of the city. Tallinn is a small capital for a small country; Estonia has a population of around 1.3 million, whereas urban Glasgow by comparison, is home to around 1.7 million residents.

As we drove through the suburbs, we passed buildings showing the different layers of Estonia’s history. On the right, beautiful wooden villas surrounded by trees, built for wealthy Estonians during the 1930s. On the left, tenement blocks from the 50s (“Stalin’s time” according to Maarikaa), these blocks of tiny apartments were politically designed. The kitchens in these buildings were small, in order to discourage people from eating as a family unit. The tenements were also designed so that they could block the road if they were demolished; this was to prevent a potential invasion of Tallinn by road.

We are driving to Virtsu today; this is the harbour from which we will get the ferry to the island of Muhu, before driving across the causeway to the island of Saaremaa. As we drive through the flat Estonian countryside, we see brightly coloured frameworks. Maarikaa tells us that these are swings, made for around four people to stand on. Maarikaa also tells us that there is a sport where Estonians of sturdy constitution tie themselves to the swing and swing all the way around, we ask her if she’s joking, but Maarikaa insists she isn’t.

After the short ferry hop to Muhu, we meet Martin Kivisoo at Tihuse Farm. Tihuse Farm is apparently the largest horse farm in Estonia, and was founded shortly after Estonia gained independence to protect the local Estonian horses. The farm offers horse-riding and horse and cart rides, as well as providing catering and accommodation. The heritage trail was added later, and is an additional reason for people to visit the farm. I am not the world’s best horse-rider, and it was during this visit that I was re-acquainted with my allergy to horses, so it was lucky for us that we were driven round the heritage trail on horse and cart. The heritage trail incorporates different aspects of Estonian folklore into a nature trail involving fairy rocks and wishing stones, and Martin, our guide and driver told us a different story at each stop on our ride. These stops also offered an opportunity to be involved in the folklore by, for example, hitting a wishing rock three times. This was an interesting place to visit, Tihuse Farm offers a sustainable and immersive heritage visit experience.

After Martin has plied us with tea and cakes we drove across the causeway to get to Saaremaa. This drive took us to the Poide micro-brewery. Poide ( is the first craft-brewery to have been opened on Saaremaa, and specialises in rye beer, this gave the beer a taste similar to the rye bread that was served with every meal I ate in Estonia.


The next batch of Poide beer

In the evening at Loona Mois – the former manor house we were staying at on Saaremaa – a folk group gave us a display of Estonian traditional dance. The women dancing all wore the traditional West of Saaremaa black and red striped skirts. We were also invited to join in the dancing, and even though the steps were similar to those in Scottish ceilidh-dancing, I cannot say that we were very good!

Day 3

Today we visited the Lime park, this was a series of outdoor nature trails connecting reconstructions of traditional kilns showing different stages of lime production. Estonia is on a bed of limestone, so there is plenty of it to be quarried. Saaremaa in particular had a busy limestone and lime industry during the 20th century. This industry had its boomtime during the 1950s, when the Soviets required tons of limestone to build new barracks in Estonia. Our tour of the lime park culminated in a short film showing how lime was produced and what it was used for. This park presented a good way of mixing industrial heritage with an outdoor nature trail.


On the lime trail

After the lime park we drove to Leedri village, and were invited to Orbu farm to learn about the production of Saaremaa Juniper Syrup. Saaremaa Juniper Syrup is all made and bottled in the homely kitchen of Orbu farm, it presents a great (and tasty) way of using the juniper berries which are so abundant on Saaremaa. At Orbu farm we were also fed a magnificent spread of vegan food, and our hosts had taken time to make provision for my dietary requirements (I have allergies to dairy, eggs, nuts and fish). Of course, this lunch also gave us lots of chances to try juniper syrup, juniper syrup vinegar, hazelnut juniper syrup and juniper syrup with buckwheat, I’d have to say that my favourite was the balsamic vinegar. Our visit to Orbu farm was an example of sustainable heritage/tourism done well: our hosts greeted us as friends; we were invited into the house of the farm-owners; we learned about a sustainable local cottage industry. This visit showed me what tourism can be like if the guide uses their local connections/friends/relatives to give visitors a more realistic view of what it is like to live somewhere. Naturally, this experience was only possible because our group was quite small, it would have been impossible for a large coach party to have crammed themselves inside the kitchen of ‘the syrup mistress’.


The headquarters/bottling plant/factory floor of Saaremaa Juniper Syrup

After saying goodbye to our hosts and their excitable dog, we met the mayor of Leedri in the newly constructed community hall. The mayor told us that Leedri was a very small village, and that families tended to stay in the same house for generations. The village is also unusual in that the homesteads had farmland attached to them within the village, rather than the farms being located outside of the village, each of these farms are separated by dry stone walls.


The new community hall in Leedri

We now had a quick chance to try out one of the wings Maarikaa had mentioned earlier on in our trip, as one was standing right outside the hall. Once we had swung our best – though not all the way round – the mayor took us just outside Leedri to the recently restored windmill. The windmills in Estonia are wooden constructions on a stone foundation, and they have a rudder attached to the bottom of the wooden framework that can be used to turn the windmill to whichever way the wind is blowing. The Leedri windmill had been restored (or rather, built from new) by the people of the village themselves, although they had not been able to secure sufficient funding to make the mechanism work right now.


A swing!

In the evening we went to Maarikaa’s house and cooked a communal meal together: Pork wrapped in cabbage leaves, with raspberry wine to drink and baked apples for pudding.

Day 4

In the morning we went to an exhibition about Vilsandi national park and learned about the large variety of wildlife to be found on the island. Vilsandi is home to several bird species, and due to its nautical connexions is also known as an ‘Island of Captains’. You can also find fossils on Vilsandi, explained in local folklore as different bits of the Devils body, after he was attacked by Suur Toll, the legendary giant protector of Saaremaa.


One of the devil’s toenails perhaps?

Later on we drove to Karala village, recently voted Estonia’s favourite village. There is a big emphasis on being house-proud in Estonia, this has been a feature of Estonian life since the country first gained independence in 1918, and the president will award prizes and flowers for the best-kept villages. For lunch we were given an Estonian dish, cabbage soup with pork meatballs.

In the evening we visited Annalee, one of Maarikaa’s friends. We were taught how to do Estonian finger-knitting, and after numerous failed attempts I eventually figured out how to do it. Once I had spent a good three hours finger-knitting two inches of braided wool, it was time for us to go to Sauna. Sauna has traditionally been a very important part of Estonian life, a place where families went before church; where friends went to chat; where business deals were made and where the sick went to be cured. Sauna is still important, and Annalee had built her Sauna-house and slept in the loft before she had even built her house. We went through the steps of applying home-made body scrubs, jumping in cold water, being beaten by a variety of twigs, and all came out of the Sauna refreshed and ready for a beautifully cooked home-made meal. This was certainly a highlight of the trip!

Day 5

Today we drove to Kuuresaare, the main town on Saaremaa. Despite being a city, Kuuresaare is a quiet place, so much so that none of the roads have traffic lights. Our first port of call was to visit the people involved with the ‘Know Sheep’ project. We talked generally about the problems encountered when you try to run a business that is sustainable to the local community. An example would be the catering industry it is hard to offer food that uses locally-sourced meat and sell it for as little as local people want to spend on them, whereas if you reduce your prices to what local people can afford, then you need to use cheap meat imported from other countries. This is a problem faced in Scotland as well. We also talked about the problem’s faced by sheep-farmers, and the fact that even if there were a breed of sheep that produced high-quality wool, meat and milk, modern people do not have the skills to be farmers, spinners and cheese-makers! This made me think about my work at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, where we teach children about the jobs that would have been done at the Burns cottage, and the animals that lived on the farm. The Burns family in the eighteenth century needed to know how to rear animals, grow crops, spin wool and make cheese and butter because they needed to be self-sufficient. This then is one of the key reasons why sustainable heritage is important, and why museums and folk museums are important, we need people and organisations that will retain knowledge about self-sufficiency, to make up for the fact that our current globalised capitalist society encourages high levels of consumption, replacement and waste.


Products in the ‘Know Wool’ shop. These have been made using local wool and local methods in Baltic countries participating in the project.

The most imposing feature on Kuuresaare’s skyline is undoubtedly the Bishop’s castle. The castle was first built at the end of the 14th century, and is an excellent survival of its type.


Kuuresaare Episcopal Castle

The castle also houses the Saaremaa Museum. The museum has a varied collection, a number of stuffed animals make up the natural history department on the ground floor, and there is an impressive exhibition on Saaremaa in the Soviet times in the main tower of the castle. The Soviet occupation of Estonia is one of the reasons why Saaremaa is such an area of natural beauty, as access to (and therefore development of) the island was restricted during this period.


The Soviet times

Kuuresaare Castle is a very impressive building, and its size means that the museum can be accommodated within the halls and dungeons, while still leaving room for people who are only interested in the castle itself to explore.

In the evening we had the opportunity to make wooden ornaments at Loona Mois. This was an interesting way to develop skills that I had not used since secondary school, but it was also a good use of the one thing that Estonia does not lack: Wood. Estonia is covered in forests, there are trees right up to the sea on Saaremaa, and the forest even encroaches on Tallinn, so any exploration of sustainable development in Estonia must necessarily look at how Estonian wood can be used effectively and in a sustainable fashion.

Day 6

This was our last day on Saaremaa. On our way back to the ferry crossing to the mainland we stopped off at the Koplimae Farm. Koplimae is an organic farm, and uses methods like crop-rotation and pigs to dig up the ground. These are methods that have been used variously for centuries, but were championed during the agricultural revolution, they are also not dissimilar to the methods that the Robert Burns and his family would have used to grow crops. Where Koplimae differs from eighteenth century Scotland is that they specifically grow buckwheat to cater for the gluten-free market, and they use ‘woofers’ or work tourists, who help out on the farm in return for bed and board. We had a tour of the farm and facilities, and were fed with buckwheat biscuits and coffee. This was another example of a sustainable business that was also a sustainable tourism experience.


Cliff says hello to the pigs

We now drove to the ferry and crossed over to Vitsu, before driving back to Tallinn. We now had a bit of time to explore Tallinn’s beautiful old town. As well as having a number of medieval buildings, churches and towers, the old town also has very extensive medieval city walls. Less mobile tourists are catered for in the old town through the provision of segways and a mini-tourist train (really a brightly decorated buggy), this is similar to the rickshaws that are now to be found on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Tallinn is a good example of a city that has managed to retain its old town, and is now reaping the tourism benefits. Medieval-themed restaurants and performers are not hard to spot, and we ended our evening with a faux-medieval banquet. This banquet was probably the only meal I had during this trip that did not involve pork, cabbage and potatoes, as the attention to authenticity meant that New World crops were off the menu!


The city walls

Day 7

Today was our first and only full day in Tallinn. We started with a visit to the Museum of the Occupations. Estonia gained independence from revolutionary Russia in 1918, but was occupied by the Soviets 1940-41, occupied by the Germans 1941-44 and annexed by the Soviet Union 1944-1991. The museum covers the period 1940-91, and is a good example of a museum dealing with a recent period of history that is still in the memory of Estonian society.


The Museum of the Occupations

The museum uses photographs, objects, video interviews, information panels and images effectively to tell the story not just of the occupations, but also of the mass movements of people in and out of Estonia during this period of upheaval. Rather than being a museum that celebrates the ethnic Estonian, the museum sensitively talks about the trials faced by all the groups who lived in Estonia during the period, including the Jewish community, Roma, Germans, Russians and Estonians and more. Museums certainly have a role to play in terms of collective memory and collective trauma, and this museum fulfilled this role well.



After a walk through old Tallinn and the Toompea hill, we drove to a flea market in the trendy suburbs. As it turned out, we had actually stumbled into a festival, so as well as the usual flea-market there was also food stalls and live music.


The flea market

After an excellent lunch at the hip F-hoohne restaurant, we drove to the Seaplane Harbour Museum. Seaplane harbour was originally built as a massive hangar as part of Tsarist Russia’s coastal defences, but has only recently been converted to a transport museum with an emphasis on nautical transport and naval defence. As a modern transport museum by the water, Seaplane harbour is similar to Glasgow’s new Riverside Museum.

All the boats in the museum are placed at right level relative to the depth they would be on the ocean, for example, the submarine is at ground level, the yachts are floating higher up, the seaplane is suspended from the ceiling. The museum also makes good use of smartcards that visitors can use to scan information on screens that they would like to have sent to their email address, as well as being a convenient and intuitive way for customers to retain information, this also allows the museum to build up a database of visitors’ email addresses that could be used for marketing purposes. The museum therefore finds a way to have a lot of information that people can choose to read, but that does not plaster all the exhibits in signs and panels.


Seaplane Harbour Museum

In the evening we walked outside the museum to take part in the activities that were being held for the Night of Ancient Lights. This is an annual event that sees people across the Baltic states lighting fires that will shine across the sea as a symbol of solidarity. This was a fun and relaxed event that involved fire-juggling, a trapeze artist, live music and communal bonfires.

Day 8

Today was the last day of our trip. In the morning, we visited the song festival arena, and Maarikaa explained to us the importance of song and communal singing in Estonian culture. There is a national song festival in Estonia once every four years, it is always held at the arena in Tallinn, and it is always attended by a healthy chunk of the Estonian population, either as participants in community choirs, or as spectators. Maarikaa was particularly well-placed to talk to us about the song festival because she herself has taken part as a singer and supportive audience member.


The arena

We then drove to the Open Air Museum, and as soon as we arrived were treated to a display of traditional Estonian dancing. This display was similar to the dancing we saw at Loona Mois on Monday, but there were more dancers taking part and more dances were danced. As can be seen from the photo, another difference is that the skirts one by the female dancers have different colours of stripes to the red and black stripes traditional to western Saaremaa. Again, we were invited to take part in some of the simpler dances, and the similarities to Scottish ceilidh dancing were marked.



Another interesting aspect to this folk dancing was the presence of fun in the dancing. In fact some of the dances were more like games than anything else, including one in which one of the men wore a halter and played a horse trying to escape from an encroaching ring of ladies. Another ‘dance’ involved the men using sticks to walk with, like alpine walking, and then using those sticks to knock other peoples’ sticks away from under them.


Fun and games

Once this folk-dancing display was over we had some time to wander round the Open Air Museum before lunch. The museum itself was well-laid out in lovely countryside, yet still close enough to Tallinn that I could see St Olaf’s across the water. Another positive aspect to the museum was that not too much effort was made to direct visitors in a certain way. The absence of an army of costumed interpreters and a hectic timetable of events made the visit to the open air museum a peaceful walk around the park, and I could explore the buildings and read the information panels without pressure. I thought that this was a well-planned folk museum, and offers a good model for other folk museums to follow.

After our trip to the folk museum it was time to go home! Maarikaa drove us to Tallinn Airport and we said our goodbyes before checking in and boarding our plane.


This has been a wonderful trip and a great opportunity to experience how we can use sustainable means to engage people with theirs and other people’s heritage. I have particularly appreciated the informal aspect, having such a friendly guide as Maarikaa has made it feel like we have just travelled around the country, made lots of new friends and been invited into peoples homes. This is not something we could have done en masse as part of a large group, and necessarily the experience we would have had in a larger group and the impression that we got of Estonia’s heritage would have been different.

There are clearly similarities between Estonia and Scotland. Both are northern European countries with fairly small populations and expansive rural areas. The similarities extend to folk culture, the traditional Estonian dances are very similar to traditional Scottish dances.

Regardless of these existent similarities, there are clearly ways that we can learn about heritage engagement and sustainable tourism from Estonia in Scotland:

  1. Invite people into our home:

Scotland is a friendly country, and there is a lot to love about living here, so let’s tell people about that, and let them experience it. Rather than treating our museums and natural environment as stops on the coach circuit, they should be places that visitors can linger and feel at home in, this is the only way that we can expect people to build a relationship with our heritage.

  1. Community is heritage:

Heritage is not something that should be kept behind closed doors, it is something that should be shared. Folk heritage is valuable for its own sake, but we only protect it by using it, and we can strengthen it by sharing it. Teaching other people our dance moves, helping other people to love our poems.

  1. Museums have more than one job:

Museums can and should talk about the uncomfortable past, even if it is the recent past, this was evident in the Museum of Occupations. Museums are for enthusiasts, museumphobes, children, and everyone else, the Seaplane Harbour Museum did a good job of catering for all these audiences, it could provide games as well as information.

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