*** DENMARK 2019 - WEEKS 1~3 ***
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CAMPING IN DENMARK 2019 - Jutland:
Good to be on the Road again, thanks to Autosleepers: as the Harwich overnight ferry for Hook of Holland drew away from the quay, we took our customary seats by the ferry's lounge bow windows, savouring the moment for the launch of our belated 2019 trip to Denmark. This long-awaited moment brought to an end a long, frustrating early summer of waiting for repairs to the raising roof of our beloved VW camper, George, damaged back in April just before the start date for our originally planned trip to Scandinavia. We therefore raised our glasses to toast our thanks (see left) to Alan Curry, Customer Services Manager at Autosleepers and his Service Engineer Paul Oliver. Autosleepers not only no longer produce the solid-sided, raising-roof VW Trooper but regrettably also no longer convert VW campers at all; components therefore for repair to George's damaged roof were no longer available. Despite this however, these two valued friends at Autosleepers managed, against all the odds and with supreme ingenuity, skill and craftsmanship, to find the means of sourcing or fabricating the necessary parts, achieving a remarkable repair to George's raising roof. Our VW Trooper has been the whole basis for the travelling life style we have enjoyed during the many years of our retirement; its unique solid-sided raising roof design has enabled us to camp in some extreme and sub-zero weather conditions during our travels, and for that reason it is for us irreplaceable. The excellent work carried out by Alan and Paul at Autosleepers in carrying out such difficult repairs has therefore restored our ability to continue our travels across Europe, and for that we are truly grateful to them. Thank you.
See Campingplatz BUM near Borgdorf in Schleswig-Holstein: a long day's drive of 370 miles across Holland and Germany, with many autobahn hold-ups due to congested traffic and road works, brought us with further delays past the landscape of dockyard and container cranes at Hamburg, and under the Elbe Tunnel, for the final 100kms on the A7 into Schleswig-Holstein. 5kms around the lanes from A7 Junction 11 we finally reached See Campingplatz BUM near Borgdorf. Since our last stay here in 2017, the lake-side camping area had been further enlarged and terraced with additional power supplies. Weary after today's long drive, we sat in the late afternoon sunshine, enjoying crisply fresh German beers (see left) (Photo 1 - See Campingplatz BUM), revelling in being able once more to enjoy George's companionship. We woke to a bright morning and breakfasted outside at the lake's edge in lovely warm sunshine to enjoy a relaxed morning in camp (see right). The family that kept See Campingplatz BUM were friendly and hospitably welcoming, and the charge was a very reasonable €18.50. It was an altogether good site rated by as +5, so convenient to the autobahn as a staging camp on the way up to Jutland.
Crossing into Denmark near Tønder in SW Jutland: re-joining A7 northwards, we shortly crossed over the impressively wide Kiel Canal which cuts through the Schleswig-Holstein peninsula connecting the North sea and Baltic Sea. At the northernmost German city of Flensburg, we turned off the motorway and followed back lanes to cross into Denmark on the south-western side of Jutland (click here for detailed map of route). Observing the relaxed Danish speed limit of 80kph (50mph) for trunk roads, we drove into the nearby town of Tønder to shop for provisions, getting our first experience of the Danish high cost of living.
The Wadden Sea and Vidå Sluice at the Forward Coastal Dyke: from Tønder, country lanes through flat coastal farming countryside led to the village of Højer, where we continued out towards the Wadden Sea coast across polders (reclaimed former marshland) and the Højer Dyke, following the Vidå River to where it now enters the Wadden Sea through the Vidå Sluice at the massively impressive Forward Coastal Dyke.
The Wadden Sea, stretching around the coasts of Holland, North Germany and SW Jutland, is extremely tidal, with a tidal difference of up to 2m between high and low tides every 25 hours. The reclaimed polders of the fertile Tønder coastal marshlands had always been settled and cultivated, but farms and buildings had to be raised on mounds and land protected by dykes, from the constant hazard of flooding by sea-water during storm tides, and by river water during winter~spring high flow periods. In 1861 the Højer Dyke was built protecting the then line of the Wadden Sea coast and the outflow of the Vidå River controlled by Højer Sluice. With more intensive exploitation and settlement of the Tønder reclaimed marshlands during the 20th century, the threat of flooding of the coastal area, most of which lies at sea level, became more critical. A severe storm tide in January 1976, which threatened to overspill the existing coastal Højer Dyke, led to a Danish parliamentary decision to construct a new 8m high forward coastal dyke to protect settlements and agricultural land in the Tønder area. The Forward Coastal Dyke was constructed between 1979~81, 1.4kms west and seaward of, and parallel with, the old Højer Dyke, creating an extended new coastline. The Vidå is the third largest river in Denmark, draining a 1,400km2 catchment with its source on a glacial ridge near Aabenraa in SE Jutland. During the 19th century, the river regularly flooded the low-lying Tønder marshlands during winter high flow periods, leaving dry only dykes and buildings on mounds. During the 1920s, the lower Vidå was canalised with protective embankments and water pumped from marshes into the river. Prior to construction of the Forward Coastal Dyke in 1981, the Vidå River flowed into the Wadden Sea through Højer Sluice. It is now controlled at its extended outflow at Vidå Sluice in the Forward Coastal Dyke. The sluice consists of 3 chambers with a total width of 20m. Facing the sea on the outward side are 3 pairs of automatic sluice gates, with 3 pairs of storm shields on the inland side of the sluice facing up-river. Water levels are monitored on both marine and inland sides, in order to forecast storm tide warnings. During prolonged high tides in the Wadden Sea, the sluice gates are kept shut. Accumulating water in the Vidå River then overflows into the Margrethe Kog polder and reservoir on the inner side of the Forward Coastal Dyke. On the outer seaward side of the Forward Coastal Dyke, a number of sedimentation pans were created to promote the formation of new fore-shore and enhance dyke safety.
We followed the lane out from Højer village across the polders grazing lands towards the old Højer Dyke. The road rose and dog-legged over the dyke towards Højer Sluice which formerly controlled the River Vidå's outflow into the Wadden Sea (see above left). The lane continued alongside the now canalised lower course of the Vidå for 2kms,and in the distance we could see the control tower of the 1982 Vidå Sluice. Towards the end of the lower Vidå, the river forked into the area of reservoir into which the river now overspills when prolonged high tides make necessary the sluice gates' closure. Extending leftwards beyond the river's lower course, the Margrethe Kog polder stood landward of the line of the new Forward Coastal Dyke and the saltwater lake. At lane's end, we parked by the small restaurant and Vidå exhibition house, and walked over to explore the sluice, climbing up onto the apex of the Forward Coastal Dyke which stretched away into the distance north and south along the new outer coastline. From here we could look inland up the lower length of the river and across the Margrethe Kog polder and overflow reservoir to its right (see above right). We were surprised at the shallow angle of the dyke's outer seaward face which sloped gently down to the shore-line and the fore-shore sedimentation pans (see above left). Older dykes were built with more upright faces on both sides, which were battered by the full force of tides on the outer seaward face. Modern dykes such as the Forward Coastal Dyke are now constructed with more gently sloping outer face towards the sea; this forces storm surge waves to release their energy slowly instead of hitting the dyke wall with full force. Many of the older dykes have now been modified with more gently sloping outer faces.
From the sluice control tower at the dyke apex, we walked down the gently sloping outer face to stand above the sluice's seaward storm gates (see above right), beyond which the Vidå River flowed out into the Wadden Sea. We walked down alongside the outflow over the mudflats for photos looking back towards the sluice and gently sloping dyke (see left) (Photo 2 - Outflow of Vidå River into Wadden Sea). Back over the high dyke, we found the Vidå exhibition which gave more information on Wadden Sea tides, storm surges when powerful westerly gales force water several metres over its normal level inland into the river's mouth, and bird- and wild-life of the Wadden Sea coast.
Rudbøl Camping on the line of the Danish~German border: by now its was 5-00pm and we drove back around the lanes to Højer village turning south on a lane which ran along the crest of the Gammel Højer Dige (Old Højer Dyke) alongside the Vidå River which meandered through the reclaimed polders farmland where sheep and cattle grazed. In 3kms we reached Rudbøl village, and in the heart of the village found tonight's campsite, Rudbøl Camping. We were greeted in friendly and welcoming manner by the lady owner who showed us round; the charge of 210kr seemed high for a modest campsite, but this was markedly cheaper than most of the larger and over-luxurious Danish holiday-camps which we should try to avoid. The site was large with many statics in the central area unoccupied mid-week, but with plenty of spaces further over. Having filled George's fresh water, we settled into a deserted open area where we had total privacy and access to power, and relaxed with beers in the evening sunshine (see right) (Photo 3 - Rudbøl Camping). The sun set behind a line of poplars and the evening grew cool. Today had been a shorter and more relaxing day, but we had learned much about life on the Wadden Sea coast of SW Jutland and the measures taken to protect against storm tides. And tonight we were camped at what must be Jutland's southernmost village, exactly on the line of the Danish~German border formed by the Vidå River, drawn in 1920 with the post-WW1 partition of South Jutland and Schleswig-Holstein.
The Danish~German border: after much rain in the night, which successfully tested George's newly repaired roof, we woke to a much cooler weather and heavily overcast sky and spent a relaxed morning sitting out the frequent heavy showers. Before leaving Rudbøl, we drove through the village to the line of the Danish~German open border and crossed the Vidå bridge at the point where the river swells out into another flood lake. Having crossing the border into the neighbouring German village of Rosenkranz simply for the sake of it, we turned back into Denmark by a surviving border barrier and sat at a lake-side picnic table for our lunch sandwiches by the combined flags of the Nordic countries which proudly signified the border (see left) (Photo 4 - Danish~German border).
Crossing the tidal causeway to the Wadden Sea island of Mandø: we returned along the crest of the old Højer Dyke across agricultural polders countryside riddled with drainage channels, and through Højer village we continued north on Route 419 following the Wadden Sea coastline with the German holiday island of Sylt and Danish island of Rømø lining the western horizon (click here for detailed map of route). With the sun bright, a brisk westerly wind from off the Wadden Sea created an impressive cloudscape. Into Skærbæk, we shopped for 2 nights' provisions for our time on the offshore Wadden Sea island of Mandø, which is connected to the Danish mainland by a 6kms long low gravel causeway and only accessible twice daily at low tide. Continuing north on the main Route 11, we turned off to the twee, des-res village of Vester Vedstad, and the UNESCO World Heritage Wadden Sea Centre. We had earlier tried twice to telephone to confirm our tide tables information for safe early evening low tide crossing times to Mandø, but inevitably got no reply. From our past experience of such places, UNESCO status is symbolic of the ultimate in negative attributes: high on pretentious glitziness and entry cost, low on value as a source of substantive detailed information, and the Wadden Sea Centre was no exception! With zero expectations, we enquired with the girl at reception about earliest safe crossing times to Mandø this evening with low tide presently set at 8-20pm. As expected, she was utterly unhelpful and evasive - no tide tables, no information, no help, nothing to justify the place's costly and pretentious status! Instead we phoned the shop-cum-campsite on Mandø and were assured that we could cross safely up to 2 hours before and after low tide time.
All the tractor-buses, which at great expense convey tourists across the mud flats for day trips to Mandø, returned, and at 6-00pm we set off around the lane to the coastal dyke to begin the crossing of Mandø causeway, the Låningsvej (see right). The brisk westerly wind kept the showers at bay, and driving into a magnificently dramatic Big Sky cloudscape (see above left and right) (Photo 5 - Crossing Mandø causeway), we crossed the 6kms of wet, muddy gravel causeway. 5kms over, the lane became tarmac again, rising over the higher, grass-covered salt-marshes to reach Mandø island and its farming village. Here we located the small campsite and settled into a quiet corner, looking out across the pastureland towards the island's eastern side (Photo 6 - Mandø Camping).
Mandø island: Mandø is one of the northernmost of the line of glacially deposited islands, sandbanks and mud-flats lying along the length of the North Friesian coastline stretching from Holland, North Germany to SW Jutland, which separate the shallow Wadden Sea from the North Sea beyond the continental shelf. This chain of islands forms the remains of a pre-Ice Age coastline before sea levels rose creating the Wadden Sea. Mandø covers an area of just over 7 square kms. Extensive mud-flats and tidal marshes surround the island, providing breeding grounds for multitudes of sea birds and Common and Grey Seals. There are currently 60 permanent residents on Mandø and the islanders have traditionally made a living from fishing and farming; nowadays tourism provides a secondary source of earnings. An earth dyke was constructed around the island's perimeter set back from the shore-line, to protect the cultivable land from storm tides for cereal crops and for sheep and cattle grazing.
An afternoon's walking around Mandø's western coastline: we woke to a bright sunny morning and breakfast outside (Photo 7 - Breakfast at Mandø Camping) (see right), spending a relaxing and peaceful morning in camp enjoying the sunshine and solitude. We packed a day sac and set off for an afternoon of walking around Mandø's western coastline. Just around the corner from the campsite by the village's central 'square', where the tractor buses deposited today's bevies of tourists, we found the little Brugsen shop and settled up our 2 day's campsite rent, thanking the lady for her help with causeway low tide crossing times. Strandvej led out over the western line of dunes and down to the island's western shoreline where the Stormflodssøjlen column indicated record heights of storm flood tides over the years since the disastrous tide of 1691.
With a crisp westerly wind blowing and bright afternoon sun sparkling on the Wadden Sea across the sandbanks, we walked down to the water's edge for photographs along the shoreline (see left) (Photo 8 - Mandø's western shoreline). A track around the western foreshore led just below the line of dunes, northwards parallel with the coast. Here massed thickets of wild roses (Rosa rugosa) (see right) (Photo 9 - Wild Roses - Rosa rugosa), so characteristic of Denmark, blossomed along the foreshore, covered with huge rose-hips and their dusky pink and white flowers mostly over but still enough of them to fill the air with their familiar scent. We ambled along the beautiful foreshore pausing frequently to photograph the flora, which included Toadflax (see below left), Yellow Rattle, Slender Centuary, and Restharrow. The path curved around under the line of dunes, gaining a little height to join the roadway that ran around in the lee of the NW section of the massive dyke which encircles the island, protecting the village and farmland from tidal storm floods. This entire centrally enclosed area of the island is criss-crossed by a cleverly constructed network of drainage dikes which all feed into a main dike running transversely E~W across the island's centre to outflow through a sluice on the east coast.
Once we had passed from the open west-facing foreshore out of the wind into the lee of the huge dyke, the afternoon sun felt warm. We followed the roadway northwards past a long, linear flood reservoir either side of the island's central drainage dike. Grazing sheep stared down on us from the crest of the dyke. The roadway curved round past ponds where many birds gathered to reach the island's northern point. Here a side-track ran down from the dyke towards the northern shore-line at Skelbankerampe. At the water's edge we could look out over sand flats where at low tide colonies of seals bask and oyster beds form on the mud banks (see right). Back up to the dyke, we returned through sheep pastures on the more gently sloping outer seaward face, and along the dykes crest high above the roadway. Dropping down the dyke's steep inner face, we returned along Klitvej to the village, as the last of today's tourists were departing in the tractor-bus. Today's 7kms walk had been thoroughly rewarding, giving us a fuller understanding of Mandø's topography and the flood protection and drainage that over time had made farming life on the island possible.
A change of weather for our return to the mainland: more cloud gathered late evening foreshadowing the change of wind direction to south which would bring tomorrow's forecast rain. The following morning duly brought heavily overcast sky and cooler, wind-driven persistent drizzle; it was going to be a thoroughly unpleasant day for our return to the mainland. We had been very fortunate in having such a fine day and clear light for yesterday's shore-line walk. We needed to be away by 10-30am latest for a safe crossing of the causeway with low tide being at 9-30. From Mandø By (village) we headed across the farmland to cross the northern peripheral dyke and began the return crossing of the gravel causeway, passing a tractor-bus ferrying out the first of today's tourists for a wretchedly wet day on Mandø.
Tipperne Bird Reserve at Ringkøbing Fjord: back across at the mainland, we headed north on Rte 11 with the attractive view of Ribe's ancient medieval church towering over this former Viking port-town (click here for detailed map of route). Rte 11 crossed the Esbjerg~Kolding motorway and continued north to Varde where we re-stocked with provisions at a Kvickly supermarket in the centre of town. As we turned off onto Rte 181 through Nørre Nebel, the sky darkened dramatically and the forecast pouring rain began. Our plan this afternoon had been to explore the bird-watching potential of the Tipperne Peninsula Bird Reserve which extended into the southern part of Ringkøbing Fjord, but in this driving rain and poor visibility, the chances of seeing much seemed limited. We had been told that the gate into the Tipperne limited access conservation reserve was only open from 9-30am to 3-30pm; despite the adverse weather, we had an hour today for an exploratory foray. The lane leading to the Tipperne conservation area gate soon became unsurfaced, and driving along the 2kms of gravelled approach lane, we disturbed a number of birds from the surrounding moorland long grass: Snipe (recognised from having seen so many 2 years ago in Iceland), Grey Heron and Curlew. In pouring rain and poor light we reached lane's end at the bird observation tower, but in such weather it simply was not worth a purposeless soaking attempting to climb the tower today; we should have to return in the morning in better weather.
Bork Havn Camping on southern shore of Ringkøbing Fjord: back along the lanes, we turned off to find tonight's planned campsite, Bork Havn Camping on the southern shore of Ringkøbing Fjord, which we had first used in 2007 and again on our return from Norway in September 2014. As always, the long-standing owners greeted us with a warm and friendly welcome. The site was well priced at 195kr (plus extra for showers) with clean, modern facilities and well-equipped kitchen, and was divided by hedges into a number of bays mostly now filled by statics. In peak summer time, Bork Havn would be insufferably noisy, but most of the statics were empty at this late stage in the year; even so the noise of TVs in caravan awnings was an irritating intrusion.
A day of bird-watching around Ringkøbing Fjord: the sky was clearing with a bright sun when we departed the following morning for our day of bird-watching around Ringkøbing Fjord (click here for detailed map of route). We returned firstly to Tipperne, and at the peninsula tip, climbed the bird observation tower to scan the fjord and reed beds through binoculars (see above right). On a sunny day, there was less bird-life in the approach meadows than in yesterday's rain, but Oyster Catchers were feeding on the shore-side turf and in the distance a flock of geese could be seen, with swans on the fjord. Swallows flitted around the Tipperne Reserve building, nesting under the thatched eaves. Before leaving Tipperne, we diverted down to another observation tower overlooking the Fugletårn. This was a wonderfully peaceful place, and an ideal secluded spot for a wild camp. From the tower overlooking the lake shallows and reed-beds, we recorded seeing a Grey Heron, several Greenshanks, a Curlew, and two unidentified birds of prey soaring over the meadows where reeds cut for thatching had been stacked.
We drove around to Lønborg from where a road ran north, crossing the Skjern Å (River) which here at its outflow into Ringkøbing Fjord spreads into many channels and lagoons. We pulled into a parking area where a raised hide looked over one of the lagoons and reed-beds. Many Mute Swans glided around the lagoon with their wing feathers raised, flocks of Lapwings flew over or stood on the turf banks in their characteristic manner all facing the same direction. Through binoculars, their head-crests were clearly visible. In amongst the Lapwings were a few Golden Plovers, a Yellowhammer pecked on the ground just below the hide, and a Heron stood among the reeds. Again Swallows flitted around the hide, even swooping inside through open windows and perching on rafters where a nest still contained young birds. We crossed the bridges towards Skjern and turned off around lanes to Pumping Station Nord which had once pumped water from the then drained meadows into the Skjern Å. The roof-top viewing platform gave views over the meadows and river, but there was no bird-life to be seen here.
We followed the fjord-side road northwards, passing though attractive villages around to Ringkøbing at the head of the fjord. Bypassing the town, we continued north and turned off beyond Vest Stadil Fjord to find hides shown on a map-leaflet we had from our 2007 Danish trip. From a parking area, a path led across the meadows to a hide overlooking another small lake. A pair of Marsh Harriers soared over the meadows, and from the hide we could see a number of Cormorants standing on islets in the lake, and Terns flitting over and dipping in the lake. To the distant westwards, the line of coastal dunes were visible along the West Jutland coast whose deposition over time had trapped the enclosed inland lagoons which now form Ringkøbing and Nissum Fjords. Out to the main Route 181 coast road behind these dunes at Husby Klit, we clambered up over the dunes where sweetly scented wild roses flourished, and down to the deserted West Jutland beaches which stretched away mile after mile north and south backed by the line of dunes (see above left). The light was perfect for photographs from high on the dunes (Photo 10 - Husby Klit dunes) and down by the water's edge, where wind driven surf crashed onto the shore (see above right).
Ringkøbing Camping: back south on Rte 181 passing farms whose cattle grazed the fjord meadows, we turned off at Søndervig to Ringkøbing to shop for provisions at the Brugsen supermarket, and 2kms east beyond the town in woodland, we reached Ringkøbing Camping. It was a large site with a range of pitches scattered among the woodlands, and not unduly crowded. After a long day, we quickly settled in and the barbecue was lit for supper in spite of threatening rain (see above left). In fact it poured all night, and was still raining the following morning, giving George's new roof a thorough testing. The campsite facilities were good, with two blocks of modern, clean WC/showers and kitchenette/wash-ups. By the time we were ready to leave, the sky was at last beginning to clear and sun breaking through (see right).
Thyborøn ferry across mouth of Limfjord to Agger: we headed north on Route 181 (click here for detailed map of route) following the line of the West Jutland coast, along the sandbar whose narrow strip of high dunes stretching for miles down the coast separates the North Sea from the inland Nissum Fjord. The road passed through Thorsminde village and its harbour which have developed around the sluice which now controls the Nissum Fjord's outflow. With time now pressing, and just an hour to reach Thyborøn in time for the 3-00pm ferry across to Agger on the far side of the Limfjord outflow, we drove at pace for the remaining section of peninsula up to Thyborøn. We reached the ferry dock with just 10 minutes to spare, and joined other vehicles waiting to board for the 10 minute crossing (see left); the brisk westerly wind raised white horses in the choppy waters of the mouth of Limfjord. Ashore on the far bank, we drove north up the length of the desolate Agger Tange sand spit, and turned west by Agger village's little harbour on Nissum Bredning. At Vestervig church, Route 527 led north towards Thisted to reach Route 26 at Sundby; we turned SW-wards, crossing the huge girder bridge over Vilsund Sound onto the large island of Mors (Photo 11 - Vilsund Sound bridge) (see right). Route 26 was a confusing road, busy with traffic, and alternating stretches of 90kph highway with sudden poorly indicated shorter stretches of 80kph speed limit, and one of only two speed cameras we encountered in the whole of Denmark.
Island of Fur in Limfjord: the entire span of Jutland's northern region is in fact an island separated by Limfjord, a body of water which stretches from the west coast at Agger to the east coast beyond Aalborg. Across the width of Mors, a wider bridge spanned the Salting Sound, with Limfjord's ubiquitously pervasive spread stretching away to the north like an inland sea (click here for detailed map of route). Back onto the NW Jutland 'mainland', we turned off across the Selling peninsula, winding a way on back lanes to reach the dock at Brandon for the 5 minute ferry crossing over the narrow channel to the Limfjord island of Fur (Photo 12 - Fur Island ferry) (see left). We wound a way around the island's lanes over to the north coast, ending at Fur Camping. The grassy camping areas were tiered up the steep hill-side, but we managed to find a pitch that was not unduly sloping or vulnerable to noise from holiday-making Danes in the many statics. The place had changed drastically from the straightforward and untamed wooded campsite recalled from our 2007 visit to Fur; it was then called Råkilde Camping, with a charactersome back-woodsman owner. In contrast however, it was now very much a Danish holiday-camp, extended in terraces up the hillside, with a different atmosphere, different clientele, and very different owners as we were shortly to discover.
Offensively ill-mannered owners at Fur Camping - a place to be avoided: our plan had been to stay a second night at Fur Camping, and to undertake the coastal walk around northern Fur's moler cliffs. But when Paul went over for his shower at 10-30am, he discovered that the WC/showers were closed for cleaning until 11-30, peak demand time. Not prepared to waste time like this, he persuaded the cleaner to let him use one of the showers, but Sheila was unable to get her shower. We packed our kit for today's walk, but before leaving, went over to reception to raise the issue of closing WC/showers to paying guests at peak times to suit management convenience. Both the owner and his wife now turned insultingly rude, and demanded we leave immediately for presuming to question the way they ran their campsite. The more we remonstrated, the more offensive they became, obdurately insisting we leave immediately, with no payment required for last night. In over 40 years of camping, this was the most grotesquely ill-mannered behaviour we had ever encountered from campsite owners; not prepared to accept such uncouth attitudes towards paying guests who kept them in business, we did indeed depart, vowing to ensure that the world knew of their intemperate lack of any grace or civility. We urge all other campers to avoid Fur Camping like the plague, so that such ill-mannered people learn to their cost the commercial consequences of treating customers in such insulting terms.
Fur moler cliffs: we drove around to the parking area at the Fur northern cliff-top for the start of today's walk around the moler cliffs, and here found an ideal spot for a wild camp tonight: the parking area was labelled on the Fur tourist map-leaflet as a Primitiv Overnatningplads. Assured by this, we set off for our cliff-top walk.
The cliffs of Mors and Fur, islands set in Limfjord, show a unique geological feature, being composed of moler-clay, a sedimentary rock laid down some 50 million years ago in a shallow sub-tropical sea which then covered Denmark. It is formed of a mixture of fine clay particles and Diatomaceous Earth (kieselgur), the fossilised siliceous remains of diatoms, hard-shelled single cell creatures. Here on the northern cliffs of Fur, the moler-clay is interspersed with strata of grey volcanic ash deposited during the clay's formation. The seas in which the sediments were formed were rich in plant and animal life, and the deposits of moler-clay now reveal a wealth of fossilised remains. The moler-clay was quarried extensively during the 20th century, and used for thermal insulation and industrial absorbency applications, including the manufacture of cat litter; Nobel made dynamite by absorbing nitro-glycerine in diatomite. The remains of former moler-clay extraction quarries still exist in the northern hills of Fur just inland from the cliffs, and the strata of moler-clay interspersed with grey volcanic ash, thrust up and contorted into vertical planes, are exposed on the high cliff faces of northern Fur where we planned to walk today.
From the parking area, we followed the clearly marked cliff-top path which rose and dipped through woodland, with occasional views over the cliff-edge. Inland from here, but unseen among the dense woodland, were the remains of Fur's former moler-clay quarry pits. The cliffs gained in height, finally emerging clear of the trees at the highest point of the cliff-line; here at Knudeklinterne, the most impressive view of the cliff-face became visible, revealing the alternating strata of creamy-coloured moler-clay and grey volcanic ash (see above right) (Photo 13 - Fur moler cliffs). Huge gashes in the upper part of the cliff-face suggested that these had been quarried out. Beyond here, the cliff-top path was ablaze with purple Heather (see above left) and Sea Buckthorn bushes laden with orange berries. The height of the cliffs gradually reduced as we approached and rounded the NW tip of the island, dropping down towards sea level at Lille Knudshoved. Along the shore line, past dense thickets of sweetly-scented wild roses, we turned inland to Fur Brewery where we paused for glasses of the micro-brewery's beers (see above right). A path led through the former moler-clay quarry pits up through the woods to our start-point on the low cliff-top where wild Honeysuckle flourished (see left) (Photo 14 - Wild Honeysuckle)
Wild camp at Fur moler-cliffs: back at the cliff-top parking area just behind the shingle beach, we set up camp just in time as the forecast rain began in earnest. With the heavily overcast sky, dusk seemed to fall earlier on such a gloomy evening. We were undisturbed at our peaceful wild camp spot, and woke to a bright, sunny morning interspersed with downpour showers brought in by the brisk SW wind. Before leaving, we walked down to the beach for photos looking along the line of Northern Fur's moler cliffs and out across the inland sea of Limfjord (see left). This had been a magnificent spot to camp (see right) (Photo 15 - Fur wild camp).
A return visit to Nørre Vorupør on the North-West Jutland coast: with the squally showers continuing, we crossed back from Fur on the ferry to Brandon on the Selling peninsula through a network of lanes and small villages to rejoin the main Route 26 over the wooded, hilly island of Mors (click here for detailed map of route). Re-crossing the Vilsund girder-bridge, we turned off northwards alongside Thisted Bredning into the town of Thisted to shop for provisions at the Brugsen supermarket. From here we headed west on Route 539 through the Thy heath-land across to Nørre Vorupør on the NW Jutland coast, to buy smoked fish and the best fish-cakes ever tasted at our favourite fish smoke-house (røgeri), with its sign promoting Alt Godt fra Havet (Everything Good from the Sea) (Photo 16 - Nørre Vorupør Røgeri) (see right). Klitmøller and Nørre Vorupør are two of several Jutland fishing villages without a harbour, where boats are still dragged up and launched from the beach, and we had to make a nostalgic re-visit to Nørre Vorupør beach to photograph (yet again) the fishing boats drawn up on the sands (see below left) (Photo 17 - Fishing boats at Nørre Vorupør beach). Even on a sunny day, the enclosed bay receives the full force of the brisk westerly winds which blow constantly on this magnificent coast-line, driving huge breakers pounding towards the beach, and attracting kite-surfers who hurtle across the bay taking advantage of the wind and surf.
A day in camp at Krohavens Camping at Stenbjerg: just down the coast road from Nørre Vorupør, we turned off to Stenbjerg to find Krohavens Camping, tucked away behind Stenbjerg hotel-restaurant. We had first discovered this homely site on our return from Norway in 2014, and had stayed there again on our way to and from Hirtshals for the crossing to Faroes and Iceland in 2017. Concerned now that the place we had such fond recollections of might have changed, we turned into the campsite. Opening hours at reception late in the season were limited, and a notice advised us to select our pitch and book in later; round at the camping area, all was thankfully as we remembered, other than the inevitable increase in statics. The large, flat grassy pitches were enclosed by hedges of sweetly-scented wild roses, and with the brisk SW wind still blowing from across the open heath-land to the rear, we tucked George into the shelter of the hedge at our usual place (Photo 18 - Krohavens Camping at Stenbjerg) (see right); it was good to be back. The stiff wind off the sea continued all evening bringing in heavy cloud and a lot of overnight rain.
When reception opened the following morning at 8-00am, we went up to pay with the pleasantly welcoming owner Henny Mortensen: prices had remained constant at 155kr (plus 5kr coins for showers) for as long as we could recall, making Krohavens Camping surely one of the best value and pleasantly located campsites in the whole of Denmark. The facilities were first class with well-equipped kitchen/wash-up and cosy common room (newly fitted out in 2017 and still as good as ever), homely, modern and spotlessly clean WC/showers, and to top it all one of the few Danish campsites with full, site-wide wifi; Krohavens was a first site rate campsite and worthily rated by us at +5, a Danish favourite. Today the sun shone and we spent a much-needed and productive day in camp in such a pleasant and peaceful setting at Stenbjerg.
A day's walking in Thy National Park: we woke to a heavily overcast morning with cool breeze, but the forecast was for a sunny day for our planned day's walking in the Thy (pronounced as in French Tu) National Park dune heath-land. The coastal area of NW Jutland such as the Stenbjerg Klitplantage (dune plantation), where we should walk today, is largely seafloor uplift created during the post-glacial land rise. It is therefore mostly sandy with the terrain ranging from flat heath-land to extensive areas of dunes. The coastal cliffs of the ancient pre-land uplift sea are still visible but now 6kms inland. Eastward of this line, the soil changes from sand to clay and gravel on chalk, with completely different vegetation, with the tree species and their growth giving clear evidence of more fertile growing conditions. When coastal settlements in Thy such as Stenbjerg began to develop from the end of the 17th century, the drifting sands of the coastal strip covered fields, making it impossible to cultivate the soil, and farming was driven eastward inland. Those who did not own land managed to settle in the coastal area of drifting sands, and eked out a survival living from fishing and whatever could be cultivated on the poor soil. In the early 19th century, as part of the constant battle against drifting sand, local people began planting trees in the otherwise treeless landscape of the coastal strip dunes. From the late 19th through 20th centuries, the sand drift along the coastal belt was gradually consolidated by rolling out a plantation carpet of Mountain Pines across the landscape. Gradually, as the plantations of trees provided shelter from winds and frost, other species such as Spruce, Scots Pine and deciduous trees (mainly Oak) could be introduced.
The large areas of sandy heath-land are a characteristic feature of Thy National Park, with distinctive flora and fauna adapted to this habitat of sandy dunes, heath-land, heather and bog. Typical plants are Ling, Crowberry, Bog-bilberry, Cranberry and Sundew. Today many of the sandy dune areas need regular management to avoid overgrowth of vegetation, with clearance of Mountain Pine and other non-native species which invade from the older plantations. In the outer dune seaward areas, another man-made problem has been the invasion of thickets of the wild Rugosa Rose. In the 1950s this hardy species, introduced from its native eastern Asia, was planted as hedges around holiday houses, and has now invasively spread so uncontrollably to surrounding natural areas of dune habitat that it threatens the original dune character and unique natural flora. While we associate the sweetly-scented wild Rugosa Rose thickets with coastal areas of Denmark, it has now become necessary to carry out large scale cutting back to control this extensively invasive spread.
Our day in Stenbjerg Klitplantage, Thy National Park: from the parking area just off the Route 181 Kystvej (coast road), we set off on the circular Bislet Trail through the heather-covered sandy heath of Stenbjerg Klitplantage (dune plantation). This forested sandy dune heath included areas of plantation which illustrated the progression of plantation periods throughout the 20th century, and so included a number of Pine and Spruce species and later plantation of broad-leafed species, mainly Oak. We had walked this circuit through the dune heath woodland on previous visits in late September, but being slightly earlier this year in mid-August, the Ling was in full bloom, carpeting the sandy ground with purple (see above left and right) (Photo 19 - Heather in full bloom). It also showed how the planted trees so rapidly spread, with many low Pine and Oak young seedlings among the ground cover of scrub vegetation. On a sunny afternoon, this was a truly delightful walk through the sandy heath landscape that illustrated the history of taming and managing the Thy coastal dunes. A side-path climbed to the top of a particularly high dune, giving extensive views over the tree-tops of older planted tall Pines. The dry, nutrient-deficient sandy slopes of the dune hill supported the growth of flourishing patches of Reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiformis), previously seen by us growing in the Arctic. Butterflies (Peacock, Painted Lady and Red Admiral) flitted around us as we continued around the circuit, revelling in this sunny wonderland carpeted with scented heather and bright yellow Toadflax (see above left), following the path to the reed-beds of Bislet lake (see above right) where the flora changed to that characteristic of wetter areas.
We drove around to Route 571 Stenbjergvej to the parking area for the circular Løvbakke and Embak walking routes, again through 20th century plantation forests of the Stenbjerg Klitplantage sandy dune heath-land. Although similar to the first walk, this terrain was more densely planted, an obvious plantation with less variety of flora and wetter ground. But among the Ling here, Cross-leaved Heath (Erica tetralix) grew (see above left) with its delicate pale-lilac lantern-shaped flowers closely resembling those of Bearberry (another Ericaceae species).
We drove back to the coast at Stenbjerg Landingsplads where on a sunny September afternoon in 2017 we had sat to enjoy lakrids (liquorice) ice cream from the National Park information hut. But disappointment: this year the kiosk had closed at 4-00pm. Instead we walked down to the deserted beach, where once fishing boats had been dragged up onto the sands (see above right) (Photo 20 - Stenbjerg Landingsplads). The conserved fishing huts at Stenbjerg landing place alongside the Stenbjerg life-boat station were built by Thy fishermen around 1900 to provide cover for storing and maintaining nets and tackle. This was the time when the advent of motorised vessels made possible the transition to fishing by nets replacing line-fishing. Commercial fishing by larger boats ended at Stenbjerg Landingsplads in 1972, but the huts were restored and conserved and are still used by anglers. Today had been a truly enjoyable day of walking in the Stenbjerg dune plantations; tomorrow we continue our Jutland journey, around the northern shore of Limfjord for a return stay at Løgstør.
North to the fishing port of Hanstholm: on a heavily overcast morning with a cool wind as always blowing from the SW, we began today's drive northwards up the Route 181 Kystvej (coast road) towards Hanstholm (click here for detailed map of route). This led initially through the tree-covered Tvorup Klintplantage (dune plantation) of mature Pine and Spruce, the oldest plantations in Thy dating from the late 19th century, bordering the sea to the west and extending eastwards to the inland agricultural land. The road then reached the broad areas of sandy dune heath-land (klit hede in Danish), bare of trees and covered with rough grass in contrast with the klit plantage's covering of Pine, Spruce and Oak through which we had walked yesterday. The dune heath-land is mown and burned to keep it free from unwanted trees. We continued through the Hanstholm dune heath-lands to turn off into the major fishing port of Hanstholm. Ironically the town's main tourist attraction today are the WW2 fortifications and gigantic gun-emplacements built by the German occupiers in 1941 as part of the Atlantic Wall. High German wages tempted Danish workers to participate alongside Soviet POW slave-labour in the construction of this huge complex. Hanstholm's civilian population however suffered a cruel fate with homes and livelihood destroyed by evacuation to hastily-built camps, enforced by the collaborationist Danish government in compliance with German demands. We saw from our 2007 visit that the WW2 museum presents a curiously ambivalent message about the fortress and the shameful role of the Danish authorities; the bunkers remain what they have always been, an ugly and evil intrusion into an otherwise peaceful landscape. Hanstholm was totally destroyed during the German retreat in 1945, making necessary complete post-war rebuilding of the town.
Our reason for today's return visit was to buy more smoked fish from the røgeri (fish smoke-house) down by the port, known to us as the Happy Smoking Cod from the emblem on its sign (see above right). Along past the industrial port and all the fisheries support industries, we turned off to find the røgeri again. The familiar sign still stood at the corner; how we originally found the place in 2007 now escapes our recollection. Today the place was full of visiting Danes lunching here, and we bought a further supper of warm-smoked salmon fillets and smoked cod roe (see right and above left).
Bird watching at Vejlerne Wetlands: leaving Hanstholm on Route 29 (click here for detailed map of route), we headed SE towards Limfjord to join the main Route 11 from Thisted. Along the northern shore of one of Limfjord's islets, Spoonbills could be seen feeding in the shallow waters with the characteristic side-to-side sweeping movement of their spoon-bill. Reaching the hide at the Vejlerne Bird Reserve, we pulled in; looking out over the wetlands (see left) , swallows flitted around and a large flock of starlings swarmed across the meadows. Over at the hide, first impressions were of little bird-life being about, but by patiently scanning around with binoculars, we were able to see a numbers of birds: Mallards swam around the ponds immediately in front of the hide, constantly up-ending to dabble; Dunlins pecked in the shallows further out; over on a distant bank beyond the water, a line of Cormorants stood with wings outstretched, and Lapwings fed among them; in the far distant meadows, Great White Egrets and a flock of Greylag Geese were visible; a Sea Eagle soared over stalking and bothering the geese which flew off.
We were joined in the hide by a couple of Danish bird watchers who told us of another hide 6kms along a side lane from the main road, and we drove around to find it. A footpath led along a wind-break line of trees through meadows and fields of barley for 650m to reach the Kraptårnet bird-tower hide which overlooked the Bygholm meadows and eastern side of Vejlerne Wetlands. By now rain was beginning and in the overcast conditions and poor light, the distant view was misty. Through the hide's in-built powerful binoculars, a huge flock almost 30 Cranes was visible standing in line in the distant meadows. In the very far distance, only just visible even through the hide's powerful binoculars, 3 Great White Egrets (in Danish Sølv Hegre - Silver Heron) and a flock of Greylag Geese could be seen, and an Osprey (in Danish Fiske Ørn - Fish Eagle) perched on a fence post. By now visibility conditions were miserable, and in drizzly rain, we returned to the parking area. This serendipitous meeting with the Danish couple had enabled us to identify far more bird-life at Vejlerne than ever before.
Løgstør Camping: in driving rain we now set course around the lanes through farming countryside to the Limfjord port-town of Løgstør. Our plan had been to call in on the way for a return visit to the Viking ring-fort at Aggersborg, but in pouring rain this was pointless today; we should have to postpone the visit for better weather in the morning before continuing north. We crossed the girder-bridge over the Aggersund narrows, and shopped for provisions at the Brugsen supermarket in Løgstør. Then out to Løgstør Camping to be welcomed again with his quietly reserved hospitality by the owner Ole Vang and his wife Hanne, who had just taken over the campsite when we stayed here on return from Norway in September 2014. There were even more statics than on our last stay in 2017 on return from Iceland, most of then thankfully deserted mid-week; even so the few that were occupied still managed to produce irritating noise of TVs playing over-loudly from dawn to dusk in caravan awnings. We selected a pitch as far away as possible in the farthest corner and settled in (see above right) for a gloomily wet evening. Facilities at Løgstør Camping were slightly old-fashioned but perfectly functional, and the price remained unchanged at a very reasonable (for Danish campsites!) 185kr.
Viking ring-fort at Aggersborg: the following morning's weather was brighter, and we re-crossed the Limfjord narrows to return to Aggersborg. Here on the hillside over-looking Limfjord stand the scant remains of the Viking ring-fortress of Aggersborg (see above left). All that survives of this monumental construction are the restored low circular earthworks which once enclosed the fortress, now peaceful farmland. In its original construction, the ring-fort's 4m high turf rampart walls were timber-clad on the outer base, topped with an oak palisade, and surrounded by dry moat, as we had seen in the partially reconstructed Viking ring-fort at Trelleborg in Swedish Skåne. The fortress spread across the hill-top slope, enclosed by the ramparts 240m in diameter, was divided into 4 quadrants by internal roads connecting the fort's 4 gates at the cardinal quarters, and was once occupied by 48 long-houses which were thought to have accommodated a garrison of some 5,000 troops. Aggersborg was the largest of Denmark's 6 ring-forts built around 980 AD by King Harold Bluetooth or his son Sweyn Forkbeard. The fortress' key strategic position guarded one of the key crossings of Limfjord at Aggersund for the Hærvejen (army road) land route north~south; even more importantly, with Limfjord then open to the sea at both ends, it commanded both sea routes into the North Sea west to England and the Kattegat north to Norway. With no archaeological evidence yet available, it is a matter of speculation as to whether the Aggersborg ring-fort's main function was as a stronghold to control trade routes or, more likely, to reinforce Harold Bluetooth's control over rival chieftains in the then newly unified kingdom. Another tempting interpretation of Aggersborg's purpose was as a garrison/training ground in readiness for Sweyn Forkbeard's forthcoming expeditions to England in the first decade of the 11th century which led to Viking domination of England.
We parked and walked over to stand again atop the earth rampart, looking out across the fortress' central enclosed area towards the distant Limfjord (see above right) (Photo 21 - Aggersborg Viking ring-fort). Having taken our photos of the surviving fortress earthworks, we walked back uphill to re-visit the starkly beautiful 12th century Aggersborg Church which stood protectively behind us at the hill-top. Standing here at this peaceful spot by Aggersborg Church, looking out across the ring-fort remains down towards Limfjord, as always gave the same feeling of awe that this sacred place had served its local settlement for 900 years (see above left). Preparations were in hand for a Viking festival that was taking place this weekend, and we had learned from one of the participants of a Viking era hogback stone grave-marker which had been excavated at Aggersborg Church. In the neatly maintained graveyard, we found the hogback standing along with other ancient gravestones by the church porch (see above right) (Photo 22 - Aggersborg hogback grave-marker). This form of stone grave-marker is found mainly in the once Viking controlled area of northern England and southern Scotland. Hogbacks were carved Anglo-Scandinavian sculpted stones dating from the 10~12th centuries, and take the form of recumbent monuments with outwardly curved sides and upwardly curved ridged roof decorated with carved shingles, modelled on a Viking long-house, implying a representation of a stylised house for the dead. The ends of the hogback are often gripped by carved, squatting bears. They are thought to have originated among Viking settlers who occupied northern England, but are not generally found in the Viking homelands of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The presence therefore of the hogback grave-marker found here at Aggersborg Church suggests the ring-fort's maritime links with England. We took our photos inside the church (see above left), including the runic graffiti, carved in the plasterwork of the church wall (see right) perhaps by bored 12th century parishioners during lengthy sermons.
North up Jummerbugt coast to Rudbjerg Knude lighthouse: it was time now to resume our northward journey towards Skagen, and we headed eastwards on minor roads to join the main Route 11 (click here for detailed map of route), turning north onto Route 55 at Aabybro. Reaching Løkken, we turned off across farming countryside to the Jummerbugt coast to the parking area at Rudbjerg Knude lighthouse. The lighthouse had been built on the 60m high cliff-tops at Rudbjerg Knude in 1899, originally 200m from the cliff edge atop a further 30m depth of sand dunes. From the start however, a combination of drifting, wind-blown sand and wind~tidal erosion of the soft, sandy coast caused problems. Eventually the migrating dunes became so high as to block access to the lighthouse and make its light invisible from the sea, and the lighthouse closed in 1968. The sand-engulfed lighthouse became nothing more than a tourist attraction, but the drifting dunes and rising sand threatened totally to overwhelm its tower. Our photo taken on our 2007 visit shows just the top three storeys' windows still standing clear of the rising sand (see left for 2007 photo). During the intervening years, the lighthouse area was cleared of sand as the dunes drifted northwards, again giving access to the tower which then stood in a hollow surrounded by high dunes (see right for 2017 photo). An internal staircase was constructed allowing access to the top platform, and in 2017 we were able to climb to the tower's top for views over the dunes and along the fragile coastline (see left) (Photo 23 - Rudbjerg Knude eroded coastline). But since then, coastal erosion has threatened to cause the tower to fall into the sea; a structure that 100 years ago stood 200m from the cliff-edge is now in danger of crashing over the cliff through erosion of the soft sandy coast. As a result, the Danish government has invested in moving the tower 80m back from the cliff-edge.
When we arrived today at Rudbjerg Knude, we found that the foundations of the once sand-engulfed lighthouse had been further cleared in readiness for the entire structure to be hoisted onto a railed trolley construction, and dragged wholesale back 80m from the threatening cliff-edge; this should be completed by October 2019. As we walked up through the dunes for comparative 2019 photos (see right) (Photo 24 - Rudbjerg Knude lighthouse), we witnessed dune migration at first hand even on a still day with little wind, with the sand swirling around as we clambered up onto the steep dunes.
Mårup cliff-top church and Lønstrup cliffs: we continued north along lanes to re-visit the former site of Mårup Church. When we first came here in 2007, the tiny medieval church was perched in isolation at the cliff's edge (see left for 2007 photo), the fishing village it had served long since washed into the sea 60m below. When we returned in 2017, we found that in the intervening 10 years, this little church had been demolished to prevent coastal erosion causing it to crash into the sea below. Today just the gravestones sadly remain, along with a large memorial anchor from a British frigate sunk here in 1808, to mark the site of the former church and village of Mårup (Photo 25- Site of Mårup cliff-top village and church. The view along the coast beyond where the church had once stood showed how fragile the line of sandy cliffs was and how vulnerable to coastal erosion. Along at Lønstrup, once also a fishing village but now given over entirely to tourism, we clambered up through the holiday homes and Sea Buckthorn bushes laden with ripe orange berries (see below left) (Photo 26 - Sea Buckthorn), for the view along the line of cliffs (Photo 27 - Lønstrup cliffs).
North towards Skagen and an excellent farm-campsite at Ålbæk B & B farm-camping: but by now it was almost 4-00pm and we still had 1½ hours drive to reach Jutland's northernmost tip at Skagen this evening. We were also uncertain about where we should camp this weekend with all the known campsites at Skagen being ghastly, unattractive holiday-camps, over-priced and over-crowded; we faced this prospect with dread after enjoying mostly peaceful solitude so far this trip. Before setting off, we therefore took stock and identified a couple of possible stellplads within 25kms of Skagen. Returning along the lanes past Skallerup church, we turned north on Route 55 towards Hirtshals (click here for detailed map of route). Through the port-town past the Norway ferries and Smyril Line terminals, used by us in 2014 and 2017, we joined Route 597 eastwards across the breadth of this northern projection of Jutland. Approaching the junction with Route 40 up to Skagen, we passed the first of our stellplads options 2kms from Ålbæk; this looked fine but before settling on this, we went into the village to investigate the second option at Ålbæk Havn. This also looked acceptable, but the Ålbæk B & B farm-campsite seemed preferable, and we returned there to receive a lovely welcome from the owner Lotte Thau at Gårdbo Farm. The price was a remarkable value 125kr including power, and after a long drive we gladly settled into the small peaceful paddock to the rear of the farm-house. This was a beautiful setting alongside pine woods, which we had to ourselves. Ålbæk B & B farm-campsite was a real +5 jewel of a chance find, warmly hospitable, excellent value, beautifully sited, with first class facilities, and most importantly a wonderfully peaceful place to camp. It was just 25kms from Skagen: we could drive up to Grenen and return here to camp tomorrow evening. The following morning was bright and sunny, and we breakfasted outside (Photo 28 - Ålbæk B & B farm-camping) (see above right), with just the distant passing traffic to disturb the rural peace of the farm setting. The showers were homely and refreshing, some of the best of the trip with everything thought of, and although there was no kitchen/wash-up, hot water from the hand-basin enabled us to wash up outside on a picnic table (see right).
Northernmost tip of Jutland where Skagerrak and Kattegat opposing tides meet at Grenen: we set off through the heath-land and dune plantations to drive into Skagen where a bypass road led around the town to Grenen at the northernmost tip of Jutland.
Skagen (pronounced Skeyen) is Denmark's most northerly region, and despite its apparent remoteness, is a popular holiday destination during summer months. The entire peninsula of Skagen, extensive heath-covered dunes and woodland planted in the 19th century in an attempt to stabilise the shifting sands, culminates in a sandbar gracefully curving out to the point where two seas meet, the Skagerrak on the North Sea side and the Kattegat on the Baltic; this is Grenen, Denmark's most northerly tip. Even on a sunny windless day, the powerful currents as the 2 opposing tides converge produce a compelling spectacle of upward surging fountains of spray. On our last visit in early October 2007, we had the setting to ourselves, but on a sunny late August weekend, there were bound still to be a number of holiday-makers; there was no chance of our enjoying in peace the natural spectacle of opposing tides converging, as we had done last year at the similar sandspit setting of Cape Kolka in Northern Latvia on the far side of the Baltic.
Reaching the enormous car parks at Grenen, already full with holiday-makers, we set off for the 1.5km walk over the dunes and along the Kattegat side of the cape, passing ugly wartime German concrete bunkers, and the equally unseemly sight of holiday-making hordes; the numbers thinned as we walked further out around the curving sandspit. Standing here on this narrowing strip of wet sand at Denmark's northern tip, we could gaze out at a 270° sweep of horizon filled with shipping; along the misty Kattegat, we counted 16 large container ships, showing what busy shipping channels to and from the Baltic the Øresund and Store Bælt are. Almost at the tip of the sandspit, 2 seal pups lay by the water's edge, seeming in a distressed state, particularly with holiday-makers crowding around. But an information panel assured that mother seals habitually leave their pups to bask on the sunny shore-line while they are out hunting fish (see right) (Photo 29 - Seal pup basking on shore-line).
At the tip of the sandy cape, even on a still, sunny day with little wind, the tidal currents from each side brought a convergence of the opposing tides. What would it be like in a fiercesome winter storm? Even from a distance, this fascinating spectacle was visible stretching way out into the sea showing how the sand bar extended far out from the shore. Unlike our photo taken here in October 2007 (see left) and our experience last year at Cape Kolka in Latvia (see right), today we had to share the spectacle of converging tides meeting at Grenen (Photo 30 - Grenen converging tides) (see below left) with the intrusive presence of holiday-makers. The sun had been clear and bright so far today, bringing the clear light of this northern coastline that had attracted a group of trendy middle class painters who during the early 20th century had transported their easels from the comfortable living of København to set up a similarly comfortable living here; their naturalistic works depict the harsh living and working conditions of impoverished Skagen fishermen. As we drove away from Grenen, Skagen's notoriously fickle sea mist was beginning to drift in, obscuring the lighthouse tower.
Skagen Klitplantage and the sand-engulfed church (Den Tilsande Kirke): south of Skagen town, we turned off into Skagen Klitplantage (dune plantation) to find the surviving tower of Den Tilsande Kirke, the sand-engulfed church. The church of St Lawrence dating from the early 15th century had been built among the Skagen dunes on flat land between 2 of the rural parish's fishing villages. But from the 16th century, the church increasingly was threatened by the migrating dunes blown by the vicious storms that sweep across Skagen. By the late 18th century, those attending services had to take shovels to clear access to their church amidst the drifting sand. By the early 19th century, the 5m high nave was buried under the sand and the church abandoned, leaving just the gabled tower which was painted white as a marker for passing shipping in the nearby Kattegat. Such was the power and intensity of Skagen's drifting sand dunes. We parked at the end of the forest road leading through the mainly spruce plantation and walked out through the heath-covered dunes to where the church's gabled tower still stands incongruously isolated among the dunes (see right) (Photo 31 - Sand-engulfed church). We returned for a second night at Ålbæk B & B farm-campsite, and inland away from the coast the sun was still bright and warm enough to sit out in the shade of the awning (see left).
Råbjerg Mile drifting sand dunes: sea mist covered the countryside when we woke, but by 8-00am a hot sun was beginning to burn this off; it was going to be another bright scorcher of a day for our exploration of the huge open area of drifting sand dunes at Råbjerg Mile. Råbjerg Mile is Denmark's largest expanse of drifting dunes, left in their natural unplanted state; while the majority of dunes were stabilised by planting with lyme grass or conifers, Råbjerg Mile was left to allow future generations to understand the problem of migratory sand dune drift. The bare, undulating dunes up to 40m high and covering an area of some 2 km2 were formed on the west coast of Skagen during the 16th century great sand drift, and are gradually moving north-eastwards across the peninsula. The destructive force of this 4 million cubic metres of loose sand, driven by the predominant westerly wind is now advancing at a rate of 18m per year, engulfing farmland and forest (see right for map of Råbjerg Mile).
Returning north on Route 40, we turned off just beyond Bunken Klitplantage forest along to the parking area at the northern foot of this mass of migrating dunes. We threaded a way through the low scrub and ling edging the dunes and clambered up onto the start of the bare dunes of Råbjerg Mile (see below left) (Photo 32- Start of Råbjerg Mile). This sloping barren wasteland of sand was an unnerving, mesmerising sight, with the undulating dune hills stretching away into the distance to the west and south, with tongues of wind-blown sand visibly moving forwards over the nearby heath-land. As we began advancing up onto the dune hills, it was hard going trying to make headway across the loose sand, just like plodding a way across snow fields. Naturally there could be no marked regular paths, just the fleeting footmarks of other walkers which would soon be covered by wind-blown sand (see right) (Photo 33 - Featureless desert-scape of Råbjerg Mile). In such a featureless bare sandy desert-scape, you quickly lost your bearings and sense of direction, as we headed on a southerly compass course for about 1km across the undulating open dunes, heading towards a high-point to the south. On some slopes the sand was so loose that you sank in, on others the loose sand had blown off leaving a surprisingly compacted hard crust. Advancing across the open, bare sand-scape of the dunes, the hot sun reflected off the fine white sand, again just like on snow, had been scorching. As we approached the high-point target, the gradient up onto its summit was much steeper, but we followed footstep routes up its side to emerge onto the open dunes at the point where advancing tongues of sand were encroaching onto forest to the SE (Photo 34 - Advancing tongues of sand) (see left). What an unbelievable sand-scape vista, stretching away in all directions.
Sandmilen migrating dune approaching the Kattegat: 6kms north up the main Route 40 (click here for detailed map of route), we reached the parking area for this afternoon's walk out across the stabilised, forested Skagen Klitplantage leading to the sandy heath dunes of Sandmilen edging the eastern coast-line of Skagen overlooking the Kattegat. Whereas the Råbjerg Mile migrating dunes have advanced only partway on their west~east transit of the Skagen peninsula, the Sandmilen drifting dunes have over the centuries now reached the final stage of this migratory advance driven by the prevailing westerly winds at a rate of 15m per year across the entire width of the peninsula towards the east coast; had the dunes not been stabilised by lyme grass and ling from its bare natural state, Sandmilen dunes would within 50 years be blown entirely into the Kattegat.
We set off through the gate across the railway line into the Pine and Spruce plantations of Skagen Klitplantage. These had been planted during the early 20th century in an attempt to stem the advancing migratory dunes' advance which had already destroyed farms and settlements and engulfed the Church of St Lawrence leaving just the tower standing clear of the dunes. The forest floor was ablaze with purple heather, and in the now hot, clear sun, the trees gave welcome shade. At the eastern edge of the forest, we emerged from the trees to a more open vista of heath-covered dunes stretching away north and south. A clearly marked path traced a way eastwards, undulating through both dunes and open heath-land towards the Kattegat coast (see left) (Photo 35 - Sandmilen dune heath-land). We followed this across the heath-land which was now stabilised with lyme grass and vivid purple patches of heather (see right). Despite the dry conditions, we also passed patches of Bog Myrtle which gave off its pungent aroma when the leaves were rubbed. The path undulated through dune slacks (hollows), some of which were bone dry with loose sand (see below left), others clearly moist where vegetation grew in the hollows. As we moved closer towards the coast, unseen at first behind and eastward of lines of dunes, the distant sound of ships' diesel engines could be heard on today's SE breeze blowing from the Kattegat. We clambered over successive lines of dunes, the path from each then dropping into a further dune hollow, to mount the next line of dunes, and still tantalisingly not reaching the coast. At last, as we broached the last set of dunes, the sound of surf could be heard, and over the top there was the deserted beach stretching away for miles in both directions (Photo 36 - Kattegat deserted beach). In today's almost windless, sunny conditions, the Kattegat surf lapped gently onto the shore. Out in the Kattegat, we counted at least 15 large freighter ships in these busy waters (Photo 37 - Freighters lining Kattegat horizon), and in the misty distance tall buildings of Sweden's coast around Göteborg were just visible. Having taken our photos on this magnificent deserted beach (see right), we retraced our steps back across Sandmilen dune heath-land and through the Skagen Klitplantage forest belt to the parking area.
Tolme Camping among Skagen beech wood hills: having enjoyed 2 excellent days at Jutland's northernmost tip at Skagen, it was time now to begin our return drive, initially to camp 25kms further south at Tolme Camping in the beech wood covered hills of the peninsula's central area. Minor roads brought us across farming countryside, eventually finding the campsite tucked away in more hilly terrain close to Tolme village (click here for detailed map of route). We were welcomed by the helpful, English-speaking owner who told us more about these attractive beech wood covered hills. The campsite was a little more expensive at 215kr (including coins for showers), but the place's most attractive feature was the setting, with camping areas scattered among secluded corners of the rolling, beech wood covered hills. Inevitably this meant sloping ground, but we found a quiet grove among the beech woods, open to evening and morning sun, and managed to level George. Again we had the perfect peace of having this corner to ourselves, and settled in to relax with beers and light the barbecue for supper in the warm evening sunshine after a satisfying day of walking among the Skagen dunes (Photo 38 - Barbecue supper at Tolme Camping). The following morning was warm and sunny, and again we were able to breakfast outside (see right); Tolme Camping was a good find and had served us well.
Iron Age~Viking period settlement and burial ground of Lindholm Høje: leaving Tolme village, we shopped for supplies in the nearby small town of Sindal, then continued south towards Aalborg at the Limfjord eastern crossing. Rather than take the motorway, we followed a series of minor roads through farming countryside and small villages (click here for detailed map of route); harvesting was now well underway with tractors pulling fully laden grain carts. Finally joining the motorway near Hjallerup, in the distance we could see the waters of distant Limfjord, last seen at the Aggersund crossing. Around the northern side of the city, we turned off to visit Aalborg's most noteworthy but little visited feature, the site of the Iron Age~Viking period settlement and burial ground of Lindholm Høje. The first farming settlement grew up here at Lindholm Høje on the south-facing slope of the higher ground above Limfjord in early 5th century AD close to the fjord's important eastern crossing point. Limfjord then divided the northern part of Jutland from coast to coast, edged with swamps on either side; it was only possible to make a crossing where the fjord narrowed, inland at Aggersund and here in the east where the later city of Aalborg would develop. Important north~south land communication routes developed at these two fjord crossing-points. The settlement at Lindholm Høje was occupied and the land farmed from the Nordic Iron Age for over 600 years until the 11th century AD Viking Age.
From ancient times, the area had been covered by a deep layer of shifting sand which drifted constantly on these wind-swept heights, a problem worsened by extensive de-forestation for timber as the settlement at Lindholm Høje developed. The site was finally abandoned around 1050 AD and the site covered with westward drifting sand, which helped to protect and conserve the remains of the site for discovery and archaeological excavation in the 20th century. Some of the grave-marker stones in the burial grounds had been removed and broken up for road construction in the 19th century, but major archaeological investigation of the site began in the 1950s. This revealed some 600 of the known 700 graves at Lindholm Høje, along with remains of the settlement there. Because of its location on both land and maritime trade and transportation routes, the settlement was clearly a significant centre for trade as well as farming, judging from the glassware, jewellery and Arab coins unearthed at Lindholm Høje.
The burial grounds associated with the settlement were in use from around 400~1050 AD, with the oldest graves from the early Iron Age at the northern top of the slope, and the younger Viking Age graves at the southern lower part of the slope (see above left). Some of the early graves were inhumation internments, their mounds unmarked, but the majority of later burials were cremations which became the norm during Viking times. These graves were marked with the placement of stones around the funeral pyre, in an oval or round arrangement for women, and in a triangular or ship-setting arrangement for men, an indication of the importance of water-borne transportation during the Viking Age. The shape and size of the grave-marker outline indicated the deceased's status. Although not as large as the great ship-settings we had previously seen in Sweden such as Blomsholm, Anundshög and Ales Stones, Lindholm Høje constitutes the largest assemblage of well-preserved ship-settings, with larger prow and stern stones and smaller stones representing the ship's outline.
Our arrival at the Lindholm Høje parking area was greeted by the bizarre sound of gunfire from the nearby military shooting range. The museum, which we had visited in 2007, whose displays gave an impressive picture of life in Viking times, detailing Viking society, life-style, farming and seafaring, and burial traditions, was unfortunately closed on Mondays. Instead we walked up to the northern, higher side of the site. From here, by the older Iron Age grave-markers, we could look down over the slope which was covered with the almost 700 sets of grave-marker stone arrangements scattered across the hillside, with the younger Viking Age burials lower down on the southern side towards the modern city of Aalborg whose high-rise buildings were visible through the trees (Photo 39 - Lindholm Høje burial ground). We walked slowly around the site, examining the stone-settings arrangements, giving particular photographic attention to the wonderfully preserved ship-settings (see above left and right) (Photo 40 - Ship-setting grave-marker). Over to one side of the site, remains of the Lindholm Høje village were visible, the post-holes of houses marked by modern stone indications. In the light of a sunny afternoon, this was a truly memorable experience, with just a handful of selectively discerning visitors to this little visited but highly significant historical site.
Bramslev Camping overlooking Mariager Fjord, a real disappointment: we now had the challenge of negotiating our way around Aalborg's eastern suburbs and urban motorway, through the Limfjord tunnel (the modern way of crossing the Limfjord narrows!), and escape the Aalborg conurbation to the east (click here for detailed map of route). We joined the E45 southwards in busy late-afternoon rush-hour traffic, and soon were passing under the Limfjord tunnel. Several junctions on the southern side, we turned off onto Route 595 and shortly joined Route 507 for what should have been a straightforward run south. But not only was traffic aggressively busy but we faced congestion hold-up at bridge repairs and temporary traffic lights. Reaching the fjord-side small town of Hadsund at the mouth of the elongated Mariager Fjord, we swung westwards onto Route 541. At the small village of Valsgård, we turned off onto a lane leading down to tonight's campsite on the northern bank overlooking Mariager Fjord, Bramslev Camping. This small campsite's web site said all the right things: a good value price at 158kr/night, peaceful fjord-side rural setting, with an owner who expressed values that we could readily identify with. He greeted us in a charmingly welcoming and hospitable manner; all seemed ideal for our planned rest day here. But walking around to the camping area - horrors! - a geriatrics-ville with sardine-packed rows of statics, line upon line of them with all the materialistic paraphernalia that accompanies such folk, and scarcely any spaces free for visitors. This was an utterly alien camping environment, totally dissonant from all the impressions we had formed and the values expressed by the owner; it looked as if he had become a victim of his own success.
With severe doubts about whether we were doing the right thing, but with no other acceptable options available, we eventually (and reluctantly) settled on a pitch at the end of a row, desperately trying to insulate ourselves from the surrounding acres of statics, most of which fortunately were empty. When the owner came round later on his bike to ask if all was well, our grimly changed demeanours duly expressed our distaste for the place's overcrowded nature, totally out of keeping with all we had been given to expect, and utterly alien to all our values for straightforward outdoor life. After supper the warm evening became dusky, and as darkness fell, we sat with our beers under the awning with candles twinkling on the table (see above left).
Walking in heath-land hills of Rebild Bakker: the following morning, we returned north on Route 180 for a day's walking in the heath-land hills of Rebild Bakker (Hills) National Park (click here for detailed map of route). Through the extensive Spruce forests of Rold Skov, we turned off into the heather-covered hills and dales of Rebild Bakker. At the Rebil Porten information Centre, the impressively knowledgeable and helpful guide provided us with the English language Rebild Bakker information leaflet and map; it was exactly what we needed, detailed with walking routes. Speaking in fluent Americanese from exchange-visits to Chicago (Rebild has strong links to Danish-US emigrant organisations), she supplied us with informed advice on a 6kms circular walking route which took in the main features of Rebild Bakker heath-land hills, returning along a valley edging the Rold Skov forests. From the parking area, we took a path which immediately began climbing up through coppiced beech woods to the National Park's highest point of Sønderkol (102m). From the shady beech woods covering the summit plateau and out onto open heath-land at the hill's highest point, we stood to reconcile the map with the magnificent outlook over surrounding hills, ridges and intervening valleys, bordered on the southern side by the darker, gloomy pine woods of Rold Skov (Photo 41 - Rebild Bakker heath-land hills) (see above right).
Rebild Bakker are actually not hills in the true sense at all: Rebild is located on a chalk-limestone plateau 60m above the present watercourse of Lindenborg River. When the Ice Age ended 12,000 years ago, melt-water eroded this limestone plateau, forming the grooved gulleys and valleys seen today between the residual terraces of moraine and sand 'hills' set on the chalk base rock. The Rebild area was settled early as the sandy soil was easy to cultivate with primitive tools. This sandy soil was however quickly depleted, and heather and bracken took over turning the hills into moorland. The steep moorland slopes of Rebild were used as common grazing land for cattle, sheep and horses. In 1912 a group of Danish-American emigrant descendents raised donations to buy the Rebild area, and donated it to the Danish government on condition it remained in its natural state with access open to all, and that Danish-Americans be allowed to celebrate the 4 July holiday there. The Rebild Bakker heath-land hills area is covered with Heather, Crowberry, Bilberry and Lingonberry, with Beech and Aspen forming the natural woodland. This area of Denmark marks the European northern limit of Beech, and if left, the Beech and Aspen would gradually spread over the whole of Rebild Bakker. In order to prevent this shrouding of the landscape, growth of the trees in the most characteristic gorges and valleys is controlled, leaving them as open moorland covered with heather.
From the vantage point of Sønderkol's high point with its glorious outlook over the full extent of Rebild Bakker, we descended the steep crest of the western slope into the valley of Kovads Bæk (so many topographical terms in Danish are evidently cognate with their Viking-derived equivalents in English eg bæk = beck). From here we rounded the valley between hilly walls covered with purple heather (see above left) to begin up the slope of Rebild Bakker's southern ridge (see above right) (Photo 42 - Heather-covered Rebild Bakker ridges and valleys). The path gained height steadily up the broad moorland ridge, and towards the top entered the welcome shade of beech woods which covered the higher area of the hill (see above left). Many of the beech trees showed the multi-stemmed coppiced appearance characteristic of the deciduous woodland of the older areas of Rold Skov, resulting from being repeatedly browsed by grazing animals or chopped for timber. The path, way-marked by white-painted indicators on trees, gained further height, meandered through the woodland for some 800m, eventually emerging at a highpoint overlooking the linear valley of Stendalen way below (Photo 43 - Rebild Bakker highpoint); edged on the far side by gloomily dense pine forests of the modern planted Rold Skov, this valley would form our return route. The path re-entered the beech woods, turning every-which-way to reach a paths junction to descend along a woodland fence down to the end of Stendalen at the route's outermost point.
A long return trek led along a trackway on this boundary line between the hilly, open moorland heath of Rebild Bakker on one side and the contrasting dark, uninvitingly gloomy pine forests of Rold Skov on the other side. Up above us at the top of the heather-covered moorland slope, we could see the beech wood hill top and look-out point where we had stood 30 minutes earlier. Thankful to have chosen to walk today on the open moorland hills of Rebild Bakker rather than to have followed paths in the Rold Skov forests, we made our way back along the forest edge, and turned back to our earlier way point at the foot of the Sønderkol slope. Our continuing return path, rising up the length of a valley under the down slopes of Kejserbakke ridge was something of an anticlimax: gaining height up the gravel trackway under the hot afternoon sun was a tedious grind. The path eventually emerged at our earlier start point at the foot of Sønderkol's eastern slope to return to the car park. Today's 6kms circular walk had enabled us to sample the best of Rebild Bakker's unique moorland topography, with its classic Nordic flora of Ling, Bilberry, Crowberry and even some Lingonberry with a few late flowers (see left).
The town of Hobro and the value of the European Health Insurance Card: we returned south to the small town of Hobro at the inner head of Mariager Fjord to shop for provisions, before returning to Bramslev Camping for a final night. Again we sat up late under the awning with candles twinkling on the table, but storm clouds were gathering, prefacing tonight's forecast rain and electrical storms. With lightening flashes and distant rumbles of thunder, the first heavy rain began as we turned in, lasting well into the early hours. We spent our planned day in camp at Bramslev Camping, which with most of the statics empty was quieter than feared. The following day we drove back into Hobro to find a pharmacy for antibiotics to deal with an infection. As expected, this required a doctor's prescription, and with little difficulty we found a health centre. Within an hour we had arranged an appointment for consultation and secured a prescription, all without charge on the strength of our precious European Health Insurance Card; the unscrupulous buffoon presently masquerading as British Prime Minister (elected not by public ballot, but by a cabal of the Tory establishment) is doing his damndest to deprive the British public of this asset which is invaluable for European travellers, along with all the other benefits of EU membership.
Viking ring-fort at Fyrkat: from Hobro, we set course for the Viking Age ring-fort of Fyrkat, just outside the town. Built by Harald Bluetooth, and dated by dendrological analysis of timbers from the site to 980 AD, Fyrkat guarded the main south~north military communication route through the newly united kingdom of Denmark. It was also located at the inner reaches of Mariager Fjord close to the modern town of Hobro which would have given maritime access. The fort was constructed on a narrow strip of land protected on 3 sides by marshy land. Fyrkat was similar in design to the other Viking ring-forts but smaller than Aggersborg and Trelleborg: the interior diameter was 120m, divided into 4 quadrants by internal roads connecting the fort's 4 gates at the cardinal quarters; each of the quarters had 4 long-house barracks arranged in a square which housed the garrison (see right for model of Fyrkat ring-fort). The outer earthworks rampart was reinforced with an outer oakwood cladding, and topped with timber palisade. Despite this enormous construction effort, the fort remained in use for no more than a decade.
We drove past the modern, tourist-oriented Fyrkat Viking Centre and continued to the lane's end where the ring-fort's surviving ramparts were visible across a field. Walking up the hill past a 1990s reconstruction of a Viking long-house with its oakwood buttressed planking walls and shingled roof (Photo 44 - Reconstructed Viking Age long-house) (see above left), we climbed up onto the fort's earth rampart crest to examine the inner area (Photo 45 - Fyrkat ring-fort earth ramparts) (see above right). Outlines of the long-house barracks in each of the 4 quadrants were notionally represented by white-painted stones indicating the longhouses' outward curving walls. When we were here in 2007, the area was totally overgrown and grazed by cattle. It had in the intervening years been cleared, and was now clearly on the tourist trail: a group of American tourists were being fed drivel by their guide as their tour-bus waited in the car park to whisk them off to the next 'attraction'.
Tollund Man bog body at Silkeborg Museum: Route 579 took us westward from Hobro to Møldrup to join Route 13 trunk-road to Viborg; around Viborg ring-road, Route 13 continued south towards Silkeborg (click here for detailed map of route), passing through an extensive area of conifer plantations which took over from farming countryside; the dark, densely packed pines seemed so alien in this central part of Jutland. We had first visited Silkeborg in 2007, and again on our drive south through Jutland on return from Iceland in 2017. Our reason for coming to this otherwise unremarkable town was to visit the conserved remains of Tollund Man at Silkeborg Museum.
Tollund Man is a naturally preserved Iron Age bog body discovered in 1950 by peat diggers in the Bjældskovdal peat bog at Tollund village near to Silkeborg. The excavated body, so well preserved that it was at first believed to be a murder victim, was taken to København for medical and forensic examination. The body was that of a 30~40 year old male; it was discovered crouched in a foetal position, slightly shrunken with arms and hands almost skeletonised (see left and right) (Photo 46 - Tollund Man Iron Age bog body). But the feet and one finger along with the head and face had been preserved completely intact by the cold, acidic peaty water of the bog, tanning the skin waxy black. The eyes and mouth were closed, the hair and stubble on his chin stained ruddy brown by the bog water, and the facial expression peaceful and solemn as if sleeping (see below left) (Photo 47 - Tollund Man's facial expression). His age at death was determined by dental examination. The body was naked apart from a leather belt and sheep skin cap on his head. A braided leather halter noose was tied around his neck which had left a visible furrow in the skin (Photo 48 - Cause of death by garroting) (see below right). Forensic examination confirmed that Tollund Man's cause of death was hanging or more likely garroting with the leather loop, since x-rays showed the cervical vertebrae had not been broken. The brain and internal organs were well-preserved, and examination of the stomach contents showed that he had eaten a last meal of gruel of seeds and grain. After death, the eyes and mouth had been closed, and the body carefully laid in a sleeping position in the bog. This careful handling suggests that Tollund Man was the victim of ritual sacrifice to appease the deities associated with the marshland; for early~mid Iron Age peoples, bogs were mystical places, the source of their peat fuel and bog iron ore. The last meal of grains suggests late winter as the likely time of sacrifice, when meat was unavailable and the bog water still very cold to preserve the body. Perhaps the human sacrifice was by way of appeal to the deities for a return of spring warmth and re-growth of crops. Techniques of body conservation were less developed in the 1950s: the head was severed from the body and preserved intact, but the body was left untreated and became desiccated. What is now displayed at Silkeborg Museum is the original conserved head attached to a reconstruction of the body as it was originally found. Recent examination of bone samples from rib and femur using modern radio-carbon dating techniques have made possible a more precise dating of Tollund Man's death, within a 21 year period between 405~384 BC in the Early Celtic Iron Age.
Tollund Man and other local archaeological finds from Iron Age sites are given pride of place at Silkeborg Museum, displayed in a separate wing together with the less well preserved remains of another bog body Iron Age ritual sacrifice victim, that of Elling Woman, found in the same peat bog in 1938. She was of similar age around 30, and had been garroted with a leather cord before being laid in the bog, wrapped in a sheepskin cape. Little of the body survives except for the head which shows her elaborately plaited hair, stained red by the bog water (see left). In the gallery beyond, Tollund Man is displayed. If this reads like an autopsy report, that's exactly how it felt, gazing with ghoulish fascination at a 2,400 year old body. This was not the stuff for the squeamish: the flesh was shrunken, but his finger and feet remarkably preserved with nails, and features and chin stubble clearly discernible. We were able to spend uninterrupted time photographing the body from every angle, with close-ups of the head and face. Despite his gruesome ordeal and the manner in which he met his death, Tollund Man had a certain timeless serenity with his seemingly peaceful looking gaze. We now knew far more about him, the circumstances of his death and the discovery of his body than we did on our first visit in 2007; in a macabre sense, it was like meeting up with an old friend after a 10 year interval.
Tørring Camping: we continued south on Route 13 (click here for detailed map of route) through further Pine and Spruce plantations, at last reaching the turning to Tørring. Through the village we reached tonight's campsite Tørring Camping, a small site on the banks of the Gudenå River which still attracted canoeists. The place had been renovated over winter 2018~19 with a new facilities building, from the rather time-expired, waterlogged site we had used in September 2017. It was still owned and operated by a voluntary association, and we were welcomed hospitably by the new wardens Betina and Flemming Johansen. We selected a secluded pitch and settled in, concerned about the state of the low-lying ground which, even in a dry summer, still tended to be wet (see right). There was also much noise both from passing traffic and from large groups who congregated in the open central area. But it was good value at 154kr/night and very handy for the historical site at Jelling which we planned to visit tomorrow.
Jelling Church and Rune Stones erected by Harald Bluetooth and Gorm the Old: the following morning, we set off for the 12 kms drive over to Jelling, a place of historical and spiritual significance for the Danes, and parked by the Kongernes Jelling Museum. Jelling had clearly been a site of ceremonial or ritual importance stretching back into the seeds of time. In order to enhance his prestige and status by association with Jelling's religious significance, it was here that Gorm the Old, son of the semi-legendary Viking king Harthacnut, chose to establish his royal enclosure as a centre of power, having gained sufficient control and suzerainty over rival clan chieftains to style himself King of Denmark. He ruled from 936~958 AD with his wife Thyra, founding the dynasty from which the present Danish royal family claims descent.
Gorm's eldest son Knut Danaast was killed in a Viking raid on Dublin in 940 AD, and on Gorm's death in 958, his second son Harald Bluetooth became king, ruling until 987 AD. It is uncertain where Harald was buried, but he is commemorated at Roskilde Cathedral where he is said to have built the first church and named Roskilde capital of the new Kingdom of Denmark. Harald also chose to base his royal stronghold at Jelling to consolidate his hold on power over rival chieftains in a country that was still unstable. It was here that Harald established a memorial to his father Gorm and his mother Thyra in the form of a monumental rune stone proclaiming and celebrating not just the memorial to his parents, but also a propaganda statement of his own achievement in unifying the Danes and converting them Christianity. This style of self-acclamation was an innovation for rune stones, which had normally been set up at prominent places as memorials to the life and works of others, usually close relatives. Harald's huge three-sided rune stone contains 4 lines of runic inscription on the main face which translates as: King Harold ordered this monument to be set up in memory of Gorm his father and Thyra his mother. It was this Harold who won all Denmark and Norway, and made the Danes Christian (see above left) (Photo 49 - Harald Bluetooth's Jelling rune stone). The second face contains an ornamental animal design encoiled by a snake, and the third face contains the first Scandinavian pictorial representation of the crucified Christ. The rune stone still stands by the church which Harald founded at Jelling, and is today revered as Denmark's baptismal certificate marking Harald's unification of the kingdom as a Christianised state. His father Gorm, a powerful and pagan Viking chieftain, had been buried in a large funerary mound at Jelling in the Norse Æsir tradition; the mound has been dated by dendrological analysis of timber from its burial chamber to 958 AD, the date of Gorm's death. But as part of the symbolic political statement of converting the Danish tribes to Christianity, Harald had built a church at Jelling on the site of his royal hall as a mausoleum for his father's Christian re-burial there. The original church would have been a wooden stave church, but the successor stone church, built around 1100 AD, still stands, with Harald's rune stone nearby; alongside stands a smaller rune stone erected by Gorm in memory of his wife with the runic inscription: Gorm made this monument in memory of Thyra his wife, Denmark's adornment (Photo 50 - Jelling rune stones) (see right). This is the oldest reference to the name Denmark (see right). Gorm's original burial mound is matched by a similarly sized mound on the southern side of the church which contains no burial. This whole complex at Jelling, including the outline of a monumental ship setting together with timber traces of Harald's royal stronghold enclosure walls, taken together symbolises the significance of Denmark's transition from Viking pagan tribal society to royal-led Christianised statehood. Even more admirable was the dignified solemnity with which the Danes chose to celebrate the Year 2000 Millennium: Jelling church was renovated and the founding ruler Gorm's remains were re-interred in the church nave which his son Harold Bluetooth, the first Christianised Danish monarch, had built at the time of the first Millennium.
On our first visit to Jelling in 2007, the two magnificent rune stones had stood by the church out in the open with just a dexion-built covering. When we returned in 2017, they had been encased in glass both to protect them from further weathering and from the modern scourge of vandalism. Today we walked over again to spend time re-examining these timeless 1000 year old runic monuments (see above left). We climbed the southern burial mound for its view overlooking the church (see left) (Photo 51 - 12th century Jelling Church) and the northern mound, presumed to be Gorm's original pagan funerary monument raised by Harald before his re-burial in the newly founded church. Beyond this the line of the palisade wall of Harald's royal stronghold stretched away to the north with the notional markings out of the original large scale ship setting. Across at Jelling church, it was such a joy to stand again in this stately, straightforward and dignified place, with its powerful historic associations and personal recollections for us. The Museum at Jelling, a branch of the Danish National Museum, is free-entry, and a roof-top viewing area gives a panoramic overview of the entire Jelling site centred on the church, rune stones and the two burial mounds (see below left and right), and the notionally marked out original ship setting and outline of Harald's stronghold enclosure walls stretching away to each side. If you go to Jelling Museum, make a point also of asking to see the set of modern reproductions of the rune stones, now tucked away in a conference room; these are coloured in a way the originals are thought to have been, and therefore show far more detail of both the runic inscriptions and the two pictorial designs, particularly the crucified Christ figure (Photo 52 - Jelling rune stone reproduction) (see right). Contrast this with the original stones that are now so badly eroded as to make such detail of the engravings almost impossible to discern (see left).
On our 2017 visit, we had been fortunate enough to meet with one of the site archaeologists, and were able to discuss with him the forms of the runic characters, the normal conventions of runic memorial inscriptions, and the unique character of Harald's stone in the form of a political statement of power and self-proclamation of his own res gestae. He had shown us a model which gave a much clearer impression of the whole site's complexities, showing the church and burial mounds surrounded by the monumental ship setting which pre-dated the burial mounds and perhaps was a surviving remnant of Jelling's past ritual significance; part of the ship setting had been built over by the empty southern mound which was assumed to be contemporary with the north mound, dated to 958 AD from the timber lining of its burial chamber. The surviving excavated stones of the ship setting had been reburied and were now notionally indicated by white stone slabs. At its northern apex, a post hole indicated an original huge wooden monument. The entire complex had been enclosed by a rhomboid-shaped palisade, part of whose timbers survived enabling dating to Harald's time, and therefore assumed to be Harald's royal stronghold at Jelling. The scale of mathematical precision of the enclosure, whose cross-lines coincided with the mound centre, was believed to indicate a statement of power for the new royal court. We were also able to discuss the realpolitik of Harald's much vaunted conversion to Christianity, intended in practice to annul the external threat of invasion from continental Europe by Otto, leader of the Holy Roman Empire. As a pagan Harald was fair game for Otto to attack, but as a fellow Christian ruler he was protected as one of the club! This enabled Harald to concentrate on his vulnerability from within his own still unstable realm, where rival rebellious chieftains were the real threat to his power, led by his own outlawed son Sweyn Forkbeard who finally overthrew Harald. This was the principle raison d'être of the ring-forts built by Harald at strategic points around his kingdom, to contain the rebellious rival chieftains. Harald's real achievement was in enabling the process of Danish unification, giving rise to the Viking Danish state under Sweyn and then Knut to become mainstream European leaders, establishing a northern empire of England and Scandinavia. Our visits to Jelling had prompted much learning about this critical stage of Viking development with Sweyn and Knut as Harald's successors, which touched upon English history between Harald's death in 985 AD and the Norman conquest in 1066.
Crossing the Lille Bælt Bridge to Funen and Zealand: with a final farewell to Jelling, and after a final night at Tørring Camping, we set off to cross the Lille Bælt Bridge to begin the second half of this year's trip exploring the rural corners of the Danish islands of Funen and Sjælland (Zealand). But that's a story for the next edition which will follow shortly.
Second edition from Denmark to be published quite soon