On the Moomin trail

Finland’s famous cartoon – and an exhibit about its fascinating creator – journeys to Walthamstow, writes Elizabeth Atkin 

Moomins at Walthamstow Wetlands (Credit: Penny Dampier)

As far back as my memories go, the Moomins are there. 

I often watched the distinctive, hippo-like cartoon creatures on their adventures through the whimsical Finnish landscape of the fictional Moominvalley on video as a child. 

And as an adult, I started collecting the books, and my nostalgic interest quickly grew into admiration for their fascinating creator: the late artist, author and illustrator Tove Jansson. 

My love of all things Moomin reached a fever pitch several years ago, on a trip to Finland. Arriving in Helsinki, suddenly there were Moomins everywhere. A café. Shops. Museum exhibits! 

But plans for a second visit were and remain squashed by ongoing travel restrictions. So, imagine my delight to learn an exhibition devoted to Tove and the Moomins was landing on our doorstep at Walthamstow Wetlands. 

The entrance to the Engine House (Credit: Penny Dampier)

The Woman Who Fell In Love With An Island is, first and foremost, about Tove Jansson herself. As Moomin-mania grew during her lifetime, she began searching for seclusion – and was said to be happiest spending time on her remote private island, Klovharun. 

Inside the Wetlands’ stunning Engine House building, we get a sense of Tove’s life there. Displays of personal photographs – including of the wooden hut she built – are real highlights, as is a film subtitled in English, displayed on a projector that is shaped like a sail. 

Inside the exhibit (Credit: Penny Dampier)

This part is for grown-ups. Little ones will prefer the Moomin trail: a walk through the scenic beauty of Walthamstow Wetlands, peppered with surprise characters to spot hidden amongst the nature. A beautifully-designed map will guide them along. 

There’s a clear connection between pristinely-kept Finnish countryside and the protected Wetlands, in that both are an oasis. The Moomin additions are tastefully done – the curators of the exhibit, Mhairi Muncaster and Alison Williams of Acaill & Skye, tell us it is to respect the reserve’s wildlife. 

A subtle Moomin character on the outdoor trail (Credit: Penny Dampier)

Another bonus? An audio guide to the trail: a rare reading of Tove’s essay The Island by her niece Sophia Jansson, and a composition by Erland Cooper. There’s a small fee for the guide, which benefits the Wetlands. 

Mhairi and Alison are also preparing a Moomin-related exhibit at the William Morris Gallery – delayed until 2022 due to the pandemic – which will show artworks by Tove’s partner, Tuulikki Pietilä, in the UK for the first time. 

The Woman Who Fell In Love With An Island is booked up for now, due to its limited timed slots. But as coronavirus restrictions ease further, more slots should become available before the exhibit ends in September.

For fellow Moomin fans, it will be worth the wait. 

To find out more and for ticket alerts, visit The Woman Who Fell In Love With An Island

Follow Elizabeth on Instagram. To see more of Penny’s photos, visit her official website