My friend Liz, an avid cyclist, heads off every summer with her bike on a long trip, retuning with tales of adventures; strange encounters cycling solo through Europe.
This autumn she returned with two pots of honey from her travels. I know how lightweight she packs on these trips, so knowing that she pedalled over hills and mountains with two glass vessels filled with honey (one light, one dark) was a magnificent act of kindness and friendship.
I was thrilled when she arrived to meet me with honey from Estonia and Holland. I’d not tried honey from either place. Wonderful! The first honey we tried was a dark malty rich honey from Saaremaa, the largest island in Estonia, The island is known to have a mild maritime climate (the island is the main barrier between the gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea) and has a variety of soils producing rich flora.
The honey from Saaremaa is made from island nectars including buckthorn, hazels, raspberries, dandelions, white clover and heather, producing a truly rich and diverse flavoured honey. Having eaten a lot directly from the jar, I can also confirm it is great with cheese and crackers and also a tasty sweetner in a vanilla chai tea.
Below is her superb account of finding this Estonian honey on her travels. You can read more about her cycling adventures here Liz Murray.
Honey and Estonia – August 2016
‘I’d been on the island of Saaremaa for less than an hour when a man in a car park presented me with a fish.
It’s a local delicacy, he tells me. Delicious, he adds, handing over a thin plastic carrier bag containing the fish.
I want you to have it.
It is not entirely clear why he wants me to have it, but he has his reasons and I accept them.
And the fish.
We are the only people in a small car park of a farm shop on the side of a quiet road on Saaremaa – an island in the Baltic Sea off the North West corner of Estonia.
I want two things from Saaremaa: a pot of local honey and to see the Kaali crater.
He is a local, in an immaculate white shirt and driving a black sports jeep.
I am a tourist, my socks have seen fresher days and I am leaning against a pannier loaded touring bicycle.
Our paths have crossed and we have exchanged smiles.
I’ve been cycling for nearly six weeks, with Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, in my sights. It is 100km east – just a day away, but I have veered off to the left, off piste, and taken a short ferry ride to the island of Muhu which is connected by a 2.5 kilometer causeway to Saaremaa.
Saaremaa. The name means Island land. It is the size of Luxembourg, which is only helpful if you already know the size of Luxembourg. It is relatively flat, with plenty of agriculture and a lot of forest: there are spruce and juniper trees in abundance. There is also a headwind. A strong one. I pedal into it and it feels like going uphill. I am getting nowhere fast, pedalling just to stay still. Like many islands, Saaremaa has a history both of occupation and independence.
About 4000 years ago a meteor travelling at 20 kilometres a second cracked through the sky and collided with the land of the island that is now called Saaremaa. It reduced everything within a six kilometer radius to ash, denting the surface of the island forever. Irreparably. A perfectly round watery hollow remains, 100 metres wide and 20 metres deep, which, together with eight other smaller craters formed by the impact of fragments of the same meteor, are the physical evidence of this extraordinary event. Decyphered ancient runes describe fire falling from the sky and local mythology telling us about the grave of the sun, are further traces of the aftershock. Interpretations and reverberations through human eyes and that most human requirement: the timeless need to tell and to listen to stories. It is an eversoslightly eery spot.
Cycling is hungry work. Cycling in a headwind, even more so. I stop at the next shop, buy honey and am handed a fish.
I shove the pot of honey deep into one of the panniers, where it sits on top of Michelen maps I no longer need: the Baltic States, North West Poland, North East and North West Germany…
He waves as he drives off.
I have been given a lot of things on my trip but this is the first fish.I peer into the bag hoping it is dead. It is a large, white, smoked fish, head and tail attached. I pick a bit out of the body and taste it.
Having got what I came for, and so much more, I ride back to the ferry and the road to Tallinn. What’s a little extra weight with a tailwind and a gift of honey. And a fish. And a tale that I want you to have’.