Monthly Archives: May 2017

Denmark – Løkken & Rubjerg Knude

Løkken & Rubjerg Knude

We said our sad goodbyes to all at the WorkAway in Solbjerg, before driving off to explore the north of Denmark.  We headed north, first through Aalborg, before turning left to reach the west coast at Løkken.  This stretch of coast was quite built-up and spotted with holiday cabins and campsites, obviously a popular holiday destination for locals.  With little in the way of aires or wild-camping opportunities, we decided to continue our recent lazy indulgence by checking into an ACSI registered place a few miles south of Løkken, where we had most of the site all to ourselves.

Lokken campsite pitch

Lokken deer at campsite

We slowly tidied our van, sun-bathed and read all through the afternoon, having no particular plans to be anywhere.  Later in the afternoon we undertook a quick walk to the local beach, which was not the 700m away that we were told by reception, but turned out to be 2.4km distant.  It was a lovely, if longer than expected, and quiet wander to the wide stretch of white sandy beach that was so flat it doubled as the local coast road.  We saw several cars driving along on the hard sand, with a few others parked up where a group of paragliders were testing their rigs and harnesses, readying for take-off.

Lokken paragliders

Lokken beach walk

We walked a little way along the beach, watching the test flights of the paragliders with their colourful parachutes pulling hard in the strong beach wind.  There were several motorhomes on the sand and we considered whether overnighting was possible here, but later saw signs prohibiting it.  We returned home the same straight path and enjoyed a lazy evening overlooking our local lake with swans and deer in residence.  The next morning we decided to stay put another night, enabling us to cycle up the coast to visit an abandoned lighthouse in a drifting sand dune, at nearby Rubjerg Knude.

Rubjerg Knude on the dunes

Rubjerg Knude approach path

The sun was out today, a bright and clear sky with few clouds, although the ever-present wind was still keeping close company. We cycled through clusters of holiday camps and row after row of similar timber cabins, most of which were empty but looking primed and ready for the summer influx.  We had a few attempts to forge shortcut paths through the dunes, but the dotted lines shown on our GPS turned out to be narrow, deep sandy paths that were all but unpassable on bikes, so we ended up back on the road on each occasion.  We found a short forest trail that we followed through the trees, before we locked our bikes to a convenient tree and continued on foot.

Rubjerg Knude climbing dunes

Rubjerg Knude approaching lighthouse

We walked onto the deep, white sand, noted as one of the largest sand dunes in northern Europe.  (similar to the Dune du Pilat we visited in France last year).  There was a huge drop to the beach on the coast, with wild waves crashing into the flat sands below. We were south of the lighthouse, taking a little used route for our quiet approach, with the busier main car-park positioned to the north.  We saw no one else on the way, except for more colourful paragliders passing overhead, until we reached the abandoned, decaying lighthouse that the encroaching sands were slowly swallowing.

Rubjerg Knude a at lighthouse

Rubjerg Knude coastline

Another outbuilding or tower must have previously stood on the site that was now littered with thousands of individual bricks, looking messy and forlorn.  We climbed the empty shell of the tall, white lighthouse, now with steel stairs added internally for visitors to take in the view. People had utilised the multitude of loose bricks around to write messages or their names in the surrounding dunes, but the overall impression was sadly of neglect and mess.

Rubjerg Knude up close mess

Rubjerg Knude top of the dunes

Rubjerg Knude dune top

Everything looked much more impressive and grand from a distance, where the clean white dunes dominated the skyline and all human intervention was kept to a minimum.  We ate lunch in a sheltered hollow out of the wind before we returned to our bikes for the trip home.  We varied our route south, finding some forest trails and more off-road tracks that added a variation and additional interest to our 46km cycle.

Rubjerg Knude lighthouse and dunes

Rubjerg Knude bike stop

We had planned to follow the coast north, but we had an issue with leaking water on our kitchen floor, so we prudently decided to use a day to return south of Aalborg to visit the only large motorhome service dealer we could find, to see if they could resolve the issue.  After an initial look, they ascertained the problem lay not with the condenser on the fridge as we had suspected, but with the connection to the base of the tap.  They had no suitable replacement tap in stock, but could order one in, so we decided to spend the night locally and revisit the following day.

Rold Skov - trees

We retired to a spacious aire in the grounds of a large hotel, where we were welcome to overnight for free.  It was on the edge of forests we had previously visited, Rold Skov, so we had an afternoon stroll through the beautiful woods.  The quality of light catching the gnarled and twisted trunks of the old forest trees meant it was a delight to walk through.  We saw many deer roaming silently through the trees, alongside fenced paddocks housing small flocks of sheep with still-tiny lambs in tow.

Rold Skov - forest deer

Rold Skov - lake

We returned to the motorhome dealer the following day at the agreed time to find the tap ordered and couriered especially for us was the wrong one, and they could only fit it with a proposed bodge-job involving bending lengths of copper pipes and cutting out side panels.  We refused the work and decided to live with the leak until we found a registered Benimar dealer in Norway who could perform the work correctly and under warranty.  We can catch the water in a small tub under the tap, now knowing that it only leaks when the tap is in use, so it is not too vexing.

Rold Skov - panorama

After our unproductive maintenance detour we headed north again, passing Aalborg for the third time in as many days.  We kept on right up to the tip of Jutland this time, stopping just short of Skagen in the region of Råbjerg Mile; the very north awaits.

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WorkAway – Solbjerg & Øster Hurup

WorkAway – Solbjerg & Øster Hurup

After visiting Aggersborg Viking fort and having our lovely walk near Skørking, we drove on to a quiet, rural location near to the east coast of Denmark.  The nearest town was Bælum, but we were to be based around 5km away, just south of Solbjerg.  With nervous anticipation, we met our hosts, Synnøve and Jens, and their dog Ollie, in late afternoon.  We made our introductions and felt instantly at ease with this friendly couple, and suddenly felt eager to be involved with their ambitious renovation and art project.

WorkAway (walking Ollie)

WorkAway (alfreso dining)

We walked the large gardens and workshops of the old saw mill they owned, and were shown the progress that previous WorkAwayers from Chile and Austria had assisted with.  The project was explained to us and we started to formulate ideas of how we could best support.  Later we had beers on the terrace as we chatted about each other, our travels to date, the project and the help required from us. We also learned that we would be joined the following day by two fellow WorkAwayers, young brothers from the USA.

WorkAway (the garden project)

The concept of WorkAway is a simple one; hosts, who require some assistance with their business or a special project, offer meals and lodging to registered WorkAwayers who wish to visit, in return for 3-5 hours of work each day.  This arrangement is generally targeted at young backpackers as it offers a way to visit foreign countries very cheaply, whilst having worthwhile interaction and learned conversations with your hosts. The reciprocal curiosity between travellers and locals allows a powerful cultural exchange to arise, alongside the practical help given.  The freely given labour of the visitor is exchanged for a peak into the world view, and cuisine, of the host country; it’s a win-win for both parties.

WorkAway (leafy shed)

WorkAway (shed cleaned)

Our first full day in Solbjerg was a Sunday, and we were not expected to work.  So, with well-received local advice, we decided to cycle to the coastal town of Øster Hurup then north to Lille Vildmose, a nearby nature reserve.  We saw the quiet harbour and long, flat beach before cycling to the visitor centre built just south of Dokkedal.  It was filled with information and exhibits on local wildlife that we enjoyed browsing.  We spent a long while learning about the reserve, before cycling on to the village of Kongerslev to buy some supplies and then back to Solbjerg on a cycle path that ran directly past the WorkAway property, closing our 44km loop.  Even though officially a day off, we couldn’t resist completing a few small jobs around the property, along with providing a few initial sketches for consideration.

WorkAway (top view)

WorkAway (completing benches)

We spent our first true work day cutting back intrusive long grass and painting the vertical planks of a large timber barn in bright sunshine.  It felt good to be out in the sun, working under our own initiative to help our hosts and to earn our dinner.  We enjoyed the hours of painting and watching our progress, feeling the low burn in muscles not often used in our normal travel lives.  This was a large and slow job, and one we returned to a few times during our stay, but we still only managed to complete one full façade.  The welcome monotonous nature of painting gave us time to fully consider other portions of the works and to plan out how best to help recreate the host’s vision.

WorkAway (completed chair)

WorkAway (sketches)

The following day there was rain in the air, so we switched to dismantling, sanding down and re-staining or painting some old benches.  An inside job with periods of drying involved, this was again one that got spread out over several days as we wanted to ensure a proper, thorough job was done, rather than rushing.  We took some pride in making sure the works were completed correctly, as we would if the bench was our own.  When our arms ached too much from the sanding, we sat in the garden and sketched out plans for planting, pathways and timber cycle shelters, as per the brief.  This was where our professional experience could really offer the greatest value work to our hosts.

WorkAway (Aarlborg street)

WorkAway (Aarlborg centre)

On another day off from work, we gratefully accepted a lift into the nearby town of Aalborg with Ronja, the oldest daughter of Synnøve and Jens.  After being dropped off in the centre near the bus station, we walked into the historic centre and on to the harbour.  We walked along the waterfront, passing a Jørn Utzon building, his last.  It was more modest, grounded and robust than his iconic Opera House in Sydney, but the roof forms were equally inspired by maritime endeavours that similarly reflected his deep love of sailing and the ocean waves.

WorkAway (Utzon centre)

WorkAway (Aarlborg church)

We passed large sailboats moored along the sea edge as we meandered to a pedestrian bridge, built adjacent to a railway line, that led across Lim fjord to the northern portion of the city. From here we walked several miles to visit the Viking burial site at Lindholm Høje. An active Viking site from 400CE to 1000CE, the entire area had been buried below several metres of drifting sand until excavations in the 1950s uncovered its extent.  We looked around the visitor centre and walked amongst the ancient standing stones, trying to imagine how life was here 1500 years ago.

WorkAway (Aarlborg bridge)

WorkAway (Lindholm Hoje field)

WorkAway (Lindholm Hoje)

One evening we experienced the generosity of a post-dinner ice cream trip, where the younger family members, Ronja and Holger, got involved and drove all four of us WorkAwayers to the beach at Øster Hurup.  They got to practise their already excellent English, we got exposure to the attitudes and music of a different generation whilst enjoying typical Danish treats.  The queue for the ice cream was long (the Danes eat more ice cream than any other nation) but the wait added suspense and the topping of guf, a sickly and sticky marshmallow-like coating, completed the tasty showcase cones.  We chatted and walked to the marina to take in the sunset as we ate through the multiple flavours and layers.

WorkAway (Ronja and Holger)

WorkAway (Oster hurup marina)

WorkAway (sunset ice creams)

Nicky spent a free afternoon baking cakes that were soon devoured by grateful hosts and guests.  Another evening after work I went for a run, with Nicky in tow on her bike for company, around the local forests trails.  We had remarked more than once that it was so quiet in the location, and the run encapsulated that fully, where nothing other than birdsong disturbed us.  It was a little like being at home again; pottering in the garden, undertaking cleaning and maintenance where required, fitting in runs and cycles where we could before enjoying a glass of red and watching the sun go slowly down.  They were relaxing but still full days, shared and open, lived well and with a smiling heart.

WorkAway (running)

WorkAway (before and after)

We felt we experienced the spontaneous kindness of strangers, and were building easy friendships through our shared experiences.  We walked into Solbjerg one evening under a setting sun with Will and Eli, the other current WorkAwayers from Michigan, US. We talked of inconsequential things, exploring our experiences and the subtle differences between our cultures and that of our hosts.  Rural Denmark has so many similarities to midlands England, down to the beech hedges and the gently rolling fields of luminous rapeseed.  Eli said the same, that the villages and countryside here reminded him of the rural upstate Michigan that he was so familiar with; it truly was a home-from-home for all of us.

WorkAway (Solbjerg church)

WorkAway (setting sun)

There is a transformative power in constant curiosity-fuelled travel, but an equal interest and energy exists in standing still, taking a lasting interest in local people and the everyday details of their lives.  The eight days and nights we spent volunteering in Solbjerg was the longest we have stayed in one place since we began our travels nine months ago.  We had previously spent seven nights in Serre Chevalier when skiing in the Alps earlier this year, but this stay topped that.  Interaction with passionate and knowledgeable people and being an active part of something beyond our everyday circle of experience was a welcome prompt that we should all slow down sometimes, to listen more intently, and re-learn the restorative value of change.

WorkAway (family)

There is such a different dynamic and feel to knowing you will be stationary for an extended time, and a guest rather than a customer.  It offers a welcome break from the usual daily schedule, filled ordinarily with packing up to travel, research into where we could stay and how best to get there, as well as what to see along the way.  Several weeks into this tour, the break and the change of focus for us was very welcome.  The challenges of completing our designated tasks, finding inspiration and formulating ideas to assist future WorkAwayers was a timely reminder of the simple joy and satisfaction that can be found in honest application and endeavours.

 

 

Denmark – Thy National Park & Aggersborg

Thy National Park

After our 3km walk around the lake in Silkeborg we had a quick walk to a local shop to pick up a few items, then we spent the rest of night in Benny, under attack from heavy rain.  Large drips bounced on our roof all night, their awkward percussion accompanied by falling twigs and the occasional booming acorn, giving us a rather restless night.

Silkeborg - A walks around lake

In the morning we drove into town and parked by the bus station.  We walked the short distance into the town centre, in persistent light rain, it a fine misty drizzle but exceptionally wet.  There were only a few people around and we found nothing much inspiring to see, outside of boutique and standard chain stores, but we aren’t much for shopping.  We returned and sat a while in Benny hoping the weather would abate, stealing Wi-Fi from afar from the passing buses.  We had planned to mountain bike in a nearby forest, but we had little desire to ride heavily churned up muddy tracks when we have no means of properly cleaning our bikes before packing them away for onward travel.  Or we could be drifting into the territory of being picky, fair-weather bikers.

Skive - local church

Skive - farm stop

Instead we drove north-west to near Skive to stay on a dairy farm run by a friendly family of keen travellers who are happy to accept motorhomers as guests for free in their cobbled yard.  The lady of the house told us of how they had experienced kindness on their travels when younger, and now wished to return the favour to others; a very noble gesture, and most welcome to us. We rested up here until the rains abated, listening to (and smelling) the cows in the nearby sheds.   During a rain break we quickly went for a local walk, to see a lovely, tidy church with a neatly tended graveyard.  From checking out the headstones, most people buried there lived long into their 90s; it must be a very healthy part of the nation.

Nørre Vorupør - N on beach

As it was a working farm we had an early wake-up call, from the constant mooing of cows from the shed opposite.  We chatted with the owner again as we organised to leave and thanked her again for her generosity.  We drove north through Skive, across several large bridges joining islands to reach Thy National Park, where we stopped at Stenbjerg Landingsplads to look around the mostly closed buildings on a short street leading to the beach.  There were huge sand-drifts blown into doorways and along the street, giving the impression that the road had been abandoned for a long time, but given the strength of Danish winds this could have happened overnight. We decided to park here and cycle to another area of the National Park where we knew of some single track MTB trails through the forests.

Thy National Park - N on beach street

Thy National Park - fire tracks

We passed through Nørre Vorupør village, where we poked our heads into the museum before we stopped briefly at the beach and marina to look at the colourful fishing boats high on the sand. The cycle path soon cut left through sandy moorland on a smooth gravel path, leading into the forest and we dutifully followed.  We rode on neat fire tracks for a few miles, passing small lakes and lovely ‘Nature Areas’ allowing free camping, campfires and providing mono-pitched timber shelters for cycle tourers, a hugely popular pastime in the flatlands of Denmark.

Thy National Park - N cycles in moorland

Thy National Park - single track

The most surprising item of the day was the complete lack of others; we had the entire forest to ourselves, not having seen any other cyclists, or indeed anyone, since we turned off the road in Nørre Vorupør.  We found the MTB single track we were looking for and joined it, running over tree roots, burns and fallen pine cones.  The narrow trail was built with lots of bumpy steps, steep hills, bone-shaking holes and the occasional plank bridge to cross; we absolutely loved it.  The changing light in the trees as we rushed by lit up our heightened senses, with only the sound of bird calls and our groaning tyres for company.

Thy National Park - lunch

Thy National Park - return to benny

We returned, tired but happy, through the forest by different fire tracks, re-joining our outward route back near the village of Nørre Vorupør.  On the way home we passed a field with a feisty, sandy-coloured horse that excitedly cantered right alongside us, head dipping and rearing, it looking so happy to have someone to run and play with; a picture of pure joy.

Oslos - beach parking

We had hoped to overnight at the lighthouse further north in Hanstholm, but found that it was having works completed and the car-park was full with construction vehicles and building materials. So we moved on, to near the small town of Oslos, where we could wild camp by the beach in a very nice grassy lay-by with picnic tables and a well-kept WC. We passed a pleasant and quiet night as the only visitors on this stretch of stony beach; an ideal wild camp spot, with our own picnic table and beach frontage.

Oslos - free aire

The following morning we drove back north into the Thy National Park again.  We headed first to Lild Strand where we had a brief look around the town, before retracing our steps to park up on the cliff edge near Bulbjerg. We were directly above the only bird-roosting cliff in Denmark, the sign informed us.  We climbed down the timber steps on the side of the cliff to the beach, where we could see the cliff-face and the many pairs of kittiwakes that mate there.

Bulbjerg - roosting cliff

Bulbjerg - beach walk

Bulbjerg - walking in dunes

We had a long, slow beach walk along the water’s edge to Lild Strand, where we ate lunch, before returning via the dunes on a well-marked national footpath.  We shared the beach with only a few others, walking their dogs.  On our return we visited the Bunkermuseet ved Bulbjerg, an old German war-time bunker now utilised as an information centre with nature displays that tell the story of the complex history, geology and ecology of the local area.  From here we drove to another free aire on another friendly Dane’s farm, to overnight, near the small town of Korum, not far from Løgstør.

Bulbjerg - ecology bunker

Bulbjerg - information centre

Aggersborg – Church and Viking Fort

The following morning we crossed back over Aggersundbroen, the Aggersund bridge, where a few miles on we parked adjacent to Aggersborg Kirke, a typically white Danish church surrounded with wind-swept trees.  We had come to visit Aggersborg’s 10th century Viking fort, the oldest in Denmark.  It was constructed with solid earth ramparts in a perfect circle, complete with an external moat.  The walls were made with four main gates, each on a cardinal compass point, allowing controlled entry and trade. The circle was large enough to encompass 48 timber longhouses in a symmetrical pattern, with twelve groups of four homes each set around a central, shared courtyard.

Aggersborg - ring fort and church

Skørping - woodland trails

From here we began making our way east, in the direction of our upcoming WorkAway hosts in Solbjerg. On the way we paused for a few hours on the outskirts of the large town of Skørping.  The sun was out and the sky populated with fluffy white clouds.  Here we had a very pleasant walk around Vedsted Skov, an area of woodland and parkland punctuated with many small lakes, located just north-west of the centre.  From here it was only a short drive on to meet up with the family at our very first WorkAway, where we would be spending the coming week (or longer), helping out with all that we could.

Denmark – Skovsnogen, Hou & Aarhus

Skovsnogen – Open air Art Exhibition

Heading reluctantly away from our relaxing beach at Blåvand we headed east and north, to visit a forest display of art exhibits we had read about. Despite seeing very few vehicles on the road on our drive, we ended up parked in a nearby lay-by, as the Skovsnogen Art installation car-park was entirely full with badly-parked cars that left no space for us.  We wondered if we had stumbled onto a celebration event or a party, given the numbers, but we saw little sign of people on the path around the exhibits.  We never were sure where all the car owners had gone.

Skovsnogen (creepy statue)

Skovsnogen (N examines the art)

We followed the designated route through the forest, passing many different installations in varied materials, from timber snakes to aluminium bubbles to wiry insects.  As is often the case, those who are passionate, energetic and have the requisite spare time to produce open-air art are not necessarily the most talented artists. We could see time and endeavour in many pieces, but found little inspiration or thoughtfulness. The art may have been rather lacklustre, but the walk was beautiful and the lightly rolling countryside by a tumbling river was a delight to be in, especially as it was a lovely, sunny spring day.  The light penetrating the forest illuminated the lime-coloured leaves so brightly that nature simply outshone the imperfect human additions.

Skovsnogen (A sits on art)

Skovsnogen (n and the ball)

We overnighted at the welcoming home of Karen and Thomas, near Norre Snede, who provide a delightful free aire for fellow travellers, along with a WC, water supply and even a small summer room to use during our stay, if desired.  It is an incredibly generous gesture to open up your home to strangers like they do, with no payment asked for in return other than a greeting, a conversation or an interesting story. We passed a lovely afternoon in the sun, gently exercising and sketching up possible ideas for murals that may be painted at our upcoming WorkAway project.

Norre Snede (danish countryside)

Norre Snede (relaxing afternoon)

Hou Beach

The next morning we continued across Denmark, reaching the east coast at Hou beach only 26 short hours after leaving Blåvand on the west. The weather had turned and the wind had returned with a vengeance; the sea at Hou could not have been more different from Blåvand; spitting white horses topped off rough breakers in five or six foot swells rolling in angrily from the north east.  We had hoped to swim, but there was no chance we were entering the water in those conditions, and even walking the gravel path along the beach edge was a struggle in the biting, high winds.

Hou Beach (sheltering from the wind)

Hou Beach (timber jetty)

We walked into the town, pausing briefly on timber jetties on the way, and returned back through the empty streets, wondering why there always seems to be no one around in Denmark; it’s so quiet.  We drove on to a small commercial aire on a farm on the outskirts of Odder where we met the owner Jørgen and again spent a relaxing afternoon reading in the sun on a nice little patio area provided for visitors, nicely sheltered from the wind.

Moesgård (university building)

Moesgård (forest)

Next morning we headed off again to the coast.  We parked up at the nearby Moesgård Museum.  There were construction works all around and we couldn’t find any way of reaching the interestingly shaped museum; shame.  Instead we passed a University campus building painted pink, with decorative lakes and various artwork installations scattered in the grounds.  We checked a signboard map and followed a local forest trail that took us on a gentle walk through beautiful woodland areas to a sandy beach.

Moesgård (playing)

Moesgård (forest walk)

We walked through beautiful, leafy trees with wonderful light breaking through the tight-knit trunks.  We followed the course of a small river, passing over small bridges to see timber-frame houses painted in black and white with neatly thatched roofs. In one area reenactment actors in medieval costumes were giving history lessons to groups of primary school-aged kids.  We heard wild screaming and charging noises replicating the sound of battle or an ambush in the forest, which could have been quite disconcerting had we not already passed a few actors in full garb.

Moesgård (timber buildings)

Aarhus

We returned from the beach by a different but equally pretty route, before moving on to the nearby town of Aarhus.  The morning’s sun disappeared en route, to be replaced by a mass of grey clouds.  On our approach we were treated to our first traffic jam in Denmark – so this is where all the people have been hiding.  We parked in an odd, inefficient circular car-park at the Botanic Gardens and wandered in to look at their displays of plants and butterflies.  Inside one large dome we climbed a spiral timber staircase to enjoy the view over the tropical plants.  Not quite Kew gardens or the Eden Project in scale, but an interesting distraction on a grey and increasingly rainy afternoon.

Aarhus (rainbow walkway)

Aarhus (art musuen)

We later walked into town where we saw some graffiti and litter, the first signs we’d spotted of Denmark not being entirely pristine and neat. We walked through the centre to the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, the Art Museum, but we did not visit the spectacular-looking rainbow gallery viewing platform on the roof. It was dull, rainy and grey outside, so the views would have been poor, and our appetite for exploration was a little muted.  We looked in the main cathedral and the difficult to find Viking Museum.  It proved hard to locate as there was only a single doorway leading down a flight of stairs to the museum, and on our visit this was mostly hidden by construction hoarding.  The displays were interesting and we read them all as we lingered in the warm, cosy space so as not to have to re-join the dull wetness outside.

Aarhus (cathedral)

Aarhus (viking museum)

We struggled through busy traffic to escape Aarhus and headed to overnight on the outskirts of the town of Silkeborg, where we wild camped by a lake in a gravel car-park.  We enjoyed a lovely walk around the 3km loop of the adjacent lake after dinner, loving the long, bright evenings that will only get longer as we head further and further north.

Denmark – Blåvand and the west coast

Denmark – Blåvand and the west coast

We drove north from Ribe along empty roads, first through flat, cultivated farmland and then neat, managed forests.  We barely saw any traffic, passing more weekend cyclists than cars.  We arrived suddenly into the town of Blåvand and surprisingly there were people everywhere, enjoying a busy, bustling Saturday morning in the resort.  We rolled through the central spine of the holiday town, passing many boutique shops and neat tourist stores, soaking up the sunshine buzz; the day was clear and a very pleasant 22 degrees, out of the wind.  Beyond the town we reached a long stretch of road lined with timber-built thatched holiday homes nestled, rather uniquely, into the deep sand dunes.

Blavand (beach and lighthouse)

Blavand (holiday cottages)

We parked in the end of the road car-park, near a lighthouse that doubled as a tourist information office.  There were many visitors enjoying the sunny day, walking dogs and picnicking on the beach.  We walked along the water’s edge, relishing the simple pleasure of white sand underfoot and the sun on our faces.  We passed large German-built concrete bunkers that still littered the beach from WW2, most of them toppled over and covered in graffiti.  The warm weather and the inviting calm of the protected sea convinced us we must linger longer and enjoy a dip.

Blavand (waters edge)

Blavand (on the sand)

We retrieved our wetsuits and returned for an afternoon swim in the cold, calm water.  The depth never reached more than about 1.5 metres due to an extended sandbank reef off-shore, itself covered with thousands of resting birds. We swam parallel to the shore for five or six lengths of around 100-150m each before the deep cold started to adversely affect our digits; not an excessive distance, but a good first try in the cold waters of the North Sea. It was, shamefully, our very first open water swim of the year; we’ll most definitely have to fit in lots more miles of training to be prepared for our upcoming time-travelling midnight Arctic Circle swim from Finland to Sweden.

Blavand (swim selfie)

Blavand (all suited up)

After checking signs and asking at the tourist office, we confirmed that we were able to stay overnight, as long as no camping activities took place.  We did initially have other plans, but that welcome information made up our mind to stay, so we happily snuggled into a quiet corner away from the day-trippers and relaxed into our lazy beach mindset.  It was so easy to sit in the afternoon sun, drink copious amounts of tea and people-watch as our rash vests and wetsuits dried.  This is the real value of life in a motorhome; the complete flexibility you have over your own travel decisions.

Blavand (drying our gear)

Blavand (ecology display)

We walked to view a local nature exhibition in a small custom-built room near the car-park.  It was lined with rough cut timber to offer the appearance of rugged, handmade authenticity.  The timber decking on the floor was stopped short of both exhibits and perimeter walls, allowing portions of the floor to be infilled with clean white sand, completing the beach-hut natural feel. The exhibits were interesting and informative about the local ecology and birdlife and we felt we learnt a lot.  The building also housed immaculately maintained toilets, very handy for saving our WC while we lingered.

Blavand (n on horse)

Blavand (bunker horses)

That evening after dinner we undertook a long beach walk east to see a line of fallen bunkers that had been transformed into slightly cartoon sculptural horses.  It was around 8km total down to a prominent stone groin and back, taking us around two hours as we meandered along the beautiful, empty beach.  We searched for amber, having read that the fossilised tree resin floated over from the Baltic Sea and was washed ashore by the tides.  We found a dozen or so small pieces of various colours and quality, just ready to be fashioned into Viking jewellery.

Blavand (sunset from bunker)

Blavand (heading west)

We returned the same way, now being slightly blinded due to facing west with the sun slowly setting in front of us.  We slowly approached the most westerly point in Jutland, and thus by default in Denmark too.  There we stood and, with awe, stared at the final death throes of the sun as it disappeared below the watery horizon.  The sky, sea and rippled sands were turned blood-red in the final moments, bringing our first, wonderful beach day in Denmark to a suitably dramatic end.  We scrambled back to Benny over the steep dunes, passing the tall lighthouse one last time.

Blavand (most westerly sunset)

We considered remaining in this small contented corner for a few more days, relishing our languid beach life and enjoying more walks and swims.  But we had plans to criss-cross Denmark and we had other places to explore, so it was back on the road again.

Denmark – Ribe and around

Visiting the historic city of Ribe

After undertaking several large shopping trips, we crossed from northern Germany into Denmark in a heavily laden and well-stocked Benny.  We drove through an unchanging landscape of flat, grey fields lined with low hedges.  No one could match the Dutch for showing off their clean, immaculate countryside, but the Danes certainly push them close with a simple and well-ordered approach.  With little effort and very little traffic, we soon arrived in the town of Ribe, the oldest in Denmark, where we parked in a free aire just a few hundred metres from the historic centre.

Ribe (arriving in centre)

Ribe (cathedral)

We sneaked a spot adjacent to a grassy area and with a personal picnic table, then walked the short route into town.  Ribe, established early in the 8th century, celebrated its 1300th anniversary in 2010.  We were immediately impressed with the tailored beauty and aesthetic quality of the remaining timber frame buildings.  They looked all the more impressive for being framed by a wonderfully bright blue sky and warm, glowing sun above.  The huge oak frames, painted black, had weathered and twisted over the centuries, leaving some doorways having lintels sitting 30 degrees off horizontal. The infill panels between the oak frames were neatly painted in varied, subtle colours.

Ribe (cathedral towers)

Ribe (cathedral interior)

We passed a modern building that we thought was wrapped in weathered copper from a distance, but up close we found it was constructed from thick, kiln-fired overlapping ceramic tiles, set on a steeply pitched roof and down the vertical face.  It had a wonderfully solid appearance and sat beautifully into the ancient cityscape adjacent to it.  We later learned it was called Kannikegården, designed by Danish architects Lundgaard and Tranberg, and housed, amongst other things, the ruined footprint of a 9th century monastery that was discovered during renovation works.

Ribe (park seats)

Ribe (dusk walk view)

The construction of the cathedral began around 1150 CE, on the site of a previous church dating from around 860 CE. Many changes and extensions have been added over the following centuries, with a southern portico added in the early 1900s.  The interior was less decorative than the external, simply adorned with painted walls above and exposed stonework arches below, with the primary detail added from intricate carvings on the high-backed wooden pews.  The eastern end had unusual stained glass windows that looked like they had been recreated faithfully from the winners of a primary school competition to draw a Biblical story, mistakes, unusual colours and all.

Ribe (Nightwatchman tour)

Ribe (N with tour group)

Later that evening we had a long walk around the outskirts of the city, through parkland and along riverbanks, before returning to the centre where we joined a tour of the city given freely by a storyteller in the guise of the city’s Nightwatchman.  He took us around various parts of Ribe, singing loudly to inform citizens of approaching bedtime, telling stories in both Danish and English, and providing informative titbits about serious and irreverent parts of local history.  We learned there was a large fire in 1580 where 231 houses in the centre were lost, after which a law was passed decreeing that thatch was no longer allowed to be used within the city limits.  We heard wild stories of plagues and pirates, of rich merchants and poor monasteries, and of a war with Sweden that sounded like a Game of Thrones plotline.

Ribe (river at dusk)

Ribe (boats on river)

The following morning I went for a run around the same marked path we had walked, a route of around 8km, as a pre-breakfast wake up. It was delightful to have been in a town for less than 24 hours, and feel relaxed and already knowledgeable enough of its layout to enjoy a multi-terrain run.  We ate breakfast on my return, retrieved our bikes from Benny’s garage and headed north and west, to follow the noted ‘panoramic cycle’ route.  Once away from town, we passed only one vehicle in the next 12km leading to the coast. There was a whole lot of very little in the flat and empty countryside, including the notable absence of people.  We were accompanied only by the ever-present wind, the cyclist’s nemesis.

Ribe (coastal cycle)

Ribe (flood gates)

We reached tidal flood gates that looked much like a very large canal lock, and climbed their steps to look out to sea.  We passed an island, Mandø, with a built causeway that was inaccessible at certain tidal times, similar to that connecting Holy Island.  We considered crossing over, but knowing nothing of the tide times we decided not to risk being stranded for hours on the other side. We turned a corner to return to Ribe and found we were facing a harsh, biting headwind, forward progress much more difficult.  We slowly rolled through small villages, passing quintessential Danish scenes with white square-towered churches and manicured lawns.  We found an off-road bridleway away from the road that was more sheltered from the wind and followed this back. The difficulty of riding the hard, deeply rutted track was fully compensated for by the wind break provided by dense trees lining the route.

Ribe (danish church)

Later we wandered around town stretching our legs after the cycle, then rewarded ourselves with chocolate waffles, as the smell from the café had tantalised us from afar each time we had passed along the main street and could be ignored no longer.  We briefly met up with fellow Benimar owners Gary and John, Facebook friends who were following a similar route to us through Netherlands, Germany and Denmark as they headed north to visit Norway and Sweden.

Ribe (chocolate waffles)

Ribe (backstreets walk)

On return to Benny, we found the car-park had been overrun with well-dressed students readying themselves to attend their prom, all preparing different modes of towed transport in lieu of hired limos.  The vehicles ranged from a speedboat decked out with garlands and ribbons, to a wooden cart fixed behind a bright yellow quad bike.  There were colourful rickshaw bicycles, decorated tractor trailers and a hand-painted horse-drawn carriage.  There were quirky, sweet, funny and posh transport options, each displaying different qualities and advantages, but all capable of delivering their young couples to the dance with smiles on their faces.  It was fun to watch the festivities of what had the ring of revered annual tradition.

Ribe (Student Prom transport)

Ribe (sunset walk)

We had one last wander around the main square and nearby streets the following morning, reliving the sights this time under gun-metal grey skies.  The town was still beautiful, quiet and welcoming; it had become comfortably familiar after a visit of only 42 hours.  It was a shame to leave, but it was definitely time to visit a Danish beach.

Ribe (sunset)