Denmark – Arriving on Sjælland via the Öresund bridge and exploring the island’s rural regions, beaches and castles.
We left our deserted beach-front aire in Kalgshamn, near Malmö, first for a Lidl shop on the outskirts of the city and then straight across the 18km long Öresund bridge into Denmark. On the Danish side, the bridge suddenly ducked down from high above the ocean into a tunnel running underneath, like a rollercoaster ride in a theme park, before popping out just south of Copenhagen. We were not after a city visit as we’d visited Copenhagen recently, before our Greenland kayaking trip, so we passed by smoothly and easily, although the ring roads were the busiest we’d experienced for months. We quickly returned to empty roads just a few miles on, surrounded by rolling countryside with stubble fields, corn and trees beginning to turn in the early autumn that could easily have been middle England.
We headed west, across the middle of Sjælland island, bypassing Roskilde but turning off soon after to reach the tiny hamlet of Herslev, where we had read reports of a popular local brewery. We had furtively hoped for a somewhat grander experience, the availability of a brewery tour or a tasting session, but they were by appointment only. Herslev Brygus consisted mainly of a small café and a colourful farm shop selling their many wares. We chatted to the owner for a while and, after much deliberation as they had over thirty differently-flavoured or imaginatively-brewed organic craft beers to choose from, we selected a small range for us to sample over the coming days.
After our wonderful time at Långasjönäs Camping in Sweden, we had a loose plan to spend another similar week relaxing at another ASCI campsite, and had chosen Holbæk Camping. But on arrival it was surprisingly packed to overflowing with cars, families and noisy kids, not at all the relaxing nature experience we were hoping for. So we headed off instead to rest in a small farm aire near to Ugerløse, where we were the only visitors. We parked up in the end bay, where we would have exclusive use of a covered picnic table. The aire was beautifully serene, the neat parking in individual hedge-lined bays, water and Wi-Fi included, and free use of services after staying two days.
We stayed here all weekend, mulling the idea of returning to a campsite on Monday when the weekend crowds had returned to work and school. There were a few local walks from the site into the nearby forest, and we walked a lazy 5km loop through the forest under mellow skies, seeing only two others on the walk. On our return we lazed around in the afternoon sun and slowly enjoyed our hand-crafted beers sitting at our private picnic table, researching the days ahead. The next morning we serviced and left with a changed plan, now doubling back on ourselves towards Copenhagen and then heading north to see the fairy-tale castles of the area known as the Royal Sjælland coast.
We first visited Fredensborg Slotpark, an impressive Royal residence still in constant use. It was a lovely autumn day, the yellowing leaves of the trees lightly murmuring against a deep blue sky. We arrived just in time to catch a small parade, a changing of the guard outside the palace. The guards wore tall bearskin hats, similar to those of the Grenadiers at Buckingham Palace, but with the dark and sky blue crisp uniforms of the Danish Royal Life Guards. They marched sharply down the central cobbles to a nearby yard where they lined up and continued to step in time, sweating profusely under their heavy hats. We left them in peace and approached the front of the palace, enjoying the view into the courtyard, but we could progress no further in this direction, so we doubled back to the gardens.
There are over 9km of avenues throughout the palace gardens, many lined with neat rows of lime trees or horse chestnuts. Golden leaves crinkled underfoot as we walked along these formal avenues, through tunnels formed of bending trees. We passed several statues and decorative fountains as we walked, seeing the rear of the palace from afar. We walked on until we reached the shores of the nearby Lake Esrum, before following the water around the quiet, wilder edges of the gardens. The palace has 300 acres of gardens, with most of them open free to the public. A small portion of the formal gardens are kept private for the royal family to enjoy, but even that area is open to visitors for a few weeks in the summer months.
We next visited the Nordmandsdalen, the Valley of the Norsemen, a formal, tiered, circular display. There were 68 sandstone statues depicting 18th century local merchants, farmers and fishermen. Commoners such as them had never previously been depicted in formal Royal garden statuary, that having before been the exclusive domain of ancient Gods or celebrated Royal ancestors. It was a daring social statement by the then King Frederick V, made seemingly in solidarity with the Social Realism movement of Fine Art that chose to dismiss the Romanticism of exaggerated heroism in favour of the honest realities and messy complications of everyday life. The statues were an interesting insight into the lives, fashions and characteristics of those citizens living in those very different times.
We reached the King’s Barge house, built tall to allow his sailing boats to float directly from the lake into shelter. There was an adjoining tea house, but this looked closed for the season. We passed the side of the private area of the gardens, seeing the recently-added Orangery and a small hill with a spiral hedge called the Snail Mound. After a picnic lunch on the grass overlooking the lake, we returned past the front of the palace and headed off east to see a second even more famous castle, Kronborg Slot, near the centre of Helsingør. This was a proper fairy-tale castle, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned as the dramatic setting for the family intrigue of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
We parked for free on the marina front, a few hundred metres beyond the huge pay-and-display car-park. The weather was changing now we were on the coast. The familiar Danish wind really picked up late afternoon, taking away our sunny day and chilling it down, blowing all the heat out of the air like a giant mouth cooling a cup of tea. We wrapped up warm as we walked towards the castle, first reaching a large bronze model of the entire site that graced the entrance bridge and helped explain the extent of the fortifications. We crossed and entered the castle’s perimeter walls, passing lots of craft shops snuggled into old stone buildings set securely within the protected grounds.
The fortress was built in a Renaissance style with delicate copper spires, richly decorated. It grew wealthy from the collection of taxes from ships passing by in the sound. After a devastating fire in 1629, the opulent palace was only considered useful as a barracks for the Danish army, until it was fully restored and able to continue its previous calling, the collection of dues, this time from passing tourists rather than merchant ships. We passed the rows of menacing cannons set on the high ramparts, built in brick rather than stone. From the grassy banks of the castle’s rear fortifications we watched many ferries, heading for the now-visible coast of Sweden, leave the busy port. We didn’t enter the castle proper, but enjoyed our blustery circular walk in the shadow of the high walls. A small stretch of stony beach sat behind and outside the walls, where many locals walked their dogs, leaning into bracing gusts.
We could have stayed overnight at the harbour for free, but decided to move on as it was quite busy and would likely be noisy even in the small hours. Instead we drove a few more miles north and stopped in another farmhouse aire, where it was 50DK to stay in their very pretty garden. It came complete with raspberry bushes, a tidy pond and both electricity and Wi-Fi included. It was a very quiet spot to pass a lazy evening, with no other visitors arriving to interrupt our tranquility. ( We’ll not mention the rooster. )