DENMARK 2007 - East~North Jutland
WEEKS 6~7 NEWS - EAST & NORTH JUTLAND:
wind blows constantly across Jutland from the cold North Sea, always
brisk, often in gusty gales; with the highest point of land being little
over 300 feet, there's nothing really to stop it.
With cool misty mornings, mellow sunny days and chill dewy nights, we camped at Holmens Camping near to By in the Danish Lake District. The River Gudenå, now fuller flowing than at our earlier encounter, winds around low hills through a series of peaceful lakes, the trees now cloaked in their golden autumn colours. It was an inspirational time of year to be out walking.
Moving north to Silkeborg, the town's museum displays an impressive collection illustrating local history from prehistoric to medieval times, but pride of place goes to one of the most macabre finds of our travels: the corpse of a 350 BC Iron Age man recovered from a nearby peat bog, Tollund Man. The body is that of a 30 year old male, wearing only a leather cap; he had been throttled by a leather thong which still remained around his neck, and placed in the peat bog as a sacrifice to the deities of such fearsomely mysterious places revered as a source of fuel and iron ore. The acids of the peaty water had preserved the corpse almost intact, tanning the skin waxy black and the hair a ruddy brown. If this reads like an autopsy report, that's exactly how it felt, gazing with ghoulish fascination at a 2,300 year old body (Photo 2). This was not the stuff for the squeamish: the flesh was shrunken, hands and feet remarkably preserved and features clearly discernible with even stubble on his chin. Despite his horrific ordeal, Tollund Man had a certain timeless serenity. Another similarly preserved 'bog body' of an Iron Age ritual sacrifice victim, Garuballe Man, was displayed at the Moesgård Museum near to Århus, along with a wealth of other exhibits showing stages of human development during prehistoric and Viking times in this region of East Jutland.
Despite being Denmark's second city, but memorable only for its impressive cathedral, a Viking museum in the basement of a bank and a heartily good value biksemad lunch, Århus seemed an over-promoted, under-whelming disappointment; better to continue around the bypass towards the Djursland peninsula with its rolling hills and deserted beaches. The main town of Ebeltoft is a modest gem with cobbled streets and brightly painted houses, and the harbour is now home to one of Denmark's naval treasures, the Frigate Jylland (Photo 3). Launched in 1862, this flagship of the Danish navy stood at the transition of maritime technology from sail to steam power, the last of the great wooden warships. It became a symbol of Danish national pride at a time when such sentiment was in short supply, having scored a decisive naval victory off Helgoland as German armies invaded Jutland in 1864. It had later served as royal yacht for Christian IX, and now stands proudly at Ebeltoft harbour, degraded to the status of 'tourist attraction'. We clambered around the decks, rigging and cannons of the Jylland, admiring the vessel's scale but horrified at the condition in which sailors had lived and died. Ebeltoft Strand Camping was both welcoming and provided a memorable beach-side location for our camp, with a flaring sunset across the bleak grey waters of the bay (Photo 4). And to conclude our time in Djursland, we spent a golden autumn day among the hills of Mols Bjerge, and around the coast of Helgenaes, looking across to Fyns Hoved where we had camped 4 weeks ago; in Denmark, you are never far from anywhere, with sudden views across water of the most unexpected places.
Continuing north, we were welcomed hospitably at Fladbro Camping near Randers, and camped on a high wooded plateau overlooking a tributary of the Gudenå river. The view from this memorable location was stunning, as was the flaring autumn sun-rise the following morning across the mist-filled valley. From here we visited another of Harold Bluetooth's Viking ring-fortresses, Fyrkat near the small town of Hobro at the head of the Mariager Fjord. Like Trelleborg fortress, Fyrkat was built around 980 AD as a tax-gathering garrison to finance Harold's expedition to unify Denmark under his rule, hence his claim on the Jelling Stone to have "won all Denmark". The 200m wide circular fortress was enclosed by a 8m high oak-reinforced turf rampart and filled with 16 long-houses for the garrison of 500 troops. Today, the site was totally deserted and silent, apart from cows grazing alongside the reconstructed long-house. Here was another fascinating glimpse into that crucial stage of Danish history with the evolution from pagan tribal society to early Christianised royal-led medieval statehood; Harold Bluetooth and his part in this transition was becoming a familiar figure to us.
We paused on our northward progression for a day's walking in the peaceful hilly heath-land of Rebild Bakker where forest trees glowed golden despite the autumn gloom. Aalborg, another large city and commanding a crossing of Limfjorden, had little to commend it other than its much-hyped nightlife. A far more dignified reason to pause briefly here was to visit a remarkable historical site on the city's northern outskirts. Lindholm Høje was a late Iron Age/Viking farming settlement occupied for some 600 years from 400~1000 AD; preserved under the shifting sands that had progressively covered the hillside are some 600 burial sites with their grave marker stones, many in the shape of a ship's outline which had enclosed the funeral pyre and symbolised the deceased's journey to the afterlife. The museum was one of the best we had seen, with displays (commentaries in English translation) detailing Viking society, life-style, farming and seafaring, and burial traditions. Here was a worthy tribute to Aalborg's Viking roots, throwing an entirely different light on the conventional image of Viking warriors; Lindholm Høje really is worth a visit.
Skagen (pronounced Skein) is Denmark's most northerly region, and despite its apparent remoteness, is a popular holiday destination during summer months. In early October however, most of the campsites are long closed and the nearest was 30 kms distant at Sindal village: Soldalens Camping was a jewel - small, welcoming and peaceful. 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 Skagerrrak 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 converged produced a compelling spectacle of upward surging fountains of spray (Photo 5). What would it be like in a fiercesome winter storm? Standing here on this narrowing strip of wet sand, Denmark's northern tip, we could gaze out at a 270° sweep of horizon filled with shipping. Skagen town is a purposefully busy fishing harbour, one of Denmark's largest, where the dockside is lined with delightful (and expensive) fish restaurants and fish smoke-houses (røgeri og fiskehus) where you can buy the most delicious smoked and fresh fish. Visit the Aavangs Fiskehus web site; it's all in Danish but the illustrations will tempt you, particularly the warm smoked salmon fillets (Varmrøget laks). The local museum is devoted to the works of the so-called Skagen Artists, a group of trendy middle class painters who in the late 19th century transported their easels from the comfortable living of København to set up a similarly comfortable middle class living here among the impoverished Skagen fisher folk. Attracted here by the clear light of this northern coastline, their naturalistic works depict the harsh living and working conditions of Skagen fishermen.
Migrating sand dunes, driven from time immemorial by the ever-blowing westerly wind, have constantly changed the topography of the landscape and coastline of Skagen. Plantations were established to stabilise the migrating dunes and prevent the sands from engulfing farmland and properties; even a church was buried by the shifting sands at Tilsandede Kirke. At Sandmilen, you can witness the final eastward advance of the migrating dunes as the endless sand, despite the covering of heath and marram grass, approaches the Kattegat; it's a chilling sight. Over on the Skagerrak side of the peninsula, an area of dunes has been left in its bare natural unstabilised state at Råbjerg Mile (Photo 6). Here the powerful forces of nature continue to drive the dunes eastward across the peninsula; at the present rate of 15m a year, they should reach the Kattegat coast by 2050 to blow out into the sea. This sloping barren wasteland of sand was a mesmerising sight, with tongues of wind-blown sand visibly moving forwards over the nearby heath-land. The wild coastline stretches for miles along this deserted shore (Photo 7), and from the coastal dunes above, we witnessed a wonderful glowing sunset across the Skagerrak (Photo 8). Denmark was surpassing our other trips in terms of sensational natural phenomena and sights.
As we begin the final stages of our Denmark trip, it was to be downhill all the way now. But that's for next week. Join us again shortly for our continuing journey around the wild wind-blown shores of Western Jutland.
Sheila and Paul Published: Monday 5 November