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WorkAway – Ringstad (Part 2)

Ringstad Part 2:  Cooling swims at local lakes, foraging for berries on local islands, midnight camp fires and mountain hikes.

Ringstad - (Seahouse from sea)

Ringstad - (island across still bay)

Our work continued day to day, with each day a simple variation on a theme.  The weather stayed bright and clear, the views out to sea remained spectacular, the beauty never diminishing with familiarity.  The restaurant was busy and the house and apartment turnover high, so there was always plenty to be done.  I chipped in with cleaning a house when required, but managed to avoid the kitchen or restaurant in favour of more outdoor gardening work.  Each night Nicky and I drank and chatted late with Karina, learning more of the history and future of their busy lives and business.  The more we heard of the wild beauty of the Vesterålen islands in winter, its pristine snow glistening bright under green aurora skies, the more we vowed to return.

Ringstad - (setting sun over sea)

Ringstad - (barbecue hut)

Ringstad - (pink clouds)

One night, after closing the restaurant, we all walked a short way around to a comfortable timber shelter and spent the remainder of the late evening barbecuing on an open fire.  The site was kitted out with woolly blankets, cushions and lots of seasoned firewood, all we needed for a good night.  The sun turned the sky pink over the barbeque place, reflecting the lines of coloured-in clouds on the still, dark water of the adjacent sea.  When the flames died down a little, we devoured tender slabs of steak and pork straight from the metal grill, with sides of various potato salads.  Afterwards we sat around the dying fire sipping red wine, chatting into the small hours under the midnight sun.  Nicky and I were the last to leave, reluctantly abandoning the fire and the mesmerising pink skies around 2.30am.

Ringstad - (firestarters)

Ringstad - (barbecue hut chat)

The next morning, after a few hours work, the full group of Workawayers decided to take kayaks out to visit a few small islands to forage for berries, and perhaps wild mushrooms if they were ready.  We all paddled as a group out to a nearby spit of sand joining two small islands and exited our kayaks, with empty tubs in hand.  We walked through the low, springy bushes searching for ripe cloudberries, but we were a week or so early, as we could only find hard red fruit on each plant.

Ringstad - (view from beach)

Ringstad - (foraging beach spot)

Ringstad - (a kayaking on calm sea)

To compensate, there were many ripe wild blueberries, so we picked those instead.  We then kayaked to another grassy island, again landing on a small sandy beach between pointed rocks.  We all foraged for blueberries and found there to be an abundance, and ate many as we picked.  The collected blueberries were later made into very enjoyable sweet dumplings by our lead kayaker and resident chef, Xervin.

Ringstad - (A & N kayaking)

Ringstad - (second beach stop)

Over the week, we had a few short sea dips to cool off from the heat of the day, lasting only a few minutes each time but we emerged from the chilly sea water cooled and refreshed.   One afternoon we had a quick cycle to a popular sandy beach set on the end of a local lake.  It was only 3km away, an easy free-wheel down past a few other small lakes, huge expanses of wild lupins and a neat strawberry farm.  The tiny stretch of beach was packed with families, the parents sunbathing and the kids playing raucously in the water.  We slumped onto the short grass at the side of the sand and lazed a while, then tried to have a swim in lake.  The only issue was the shallowness of the water, and we had to walk a long way out to get deep enough water to cover our knees.  It was perfect for small children to splash around in, but not ideal for a proper swim.  Still, it cooled us down very nicely in the warm afternoon sun.

Ringstad - (sunset on seahouse)

Ringstad - (pre-dinner drinkspot)

On our last day in Ringstad, we worked through the busy morning shift to help out, even though it was a scheduled day off for us. Mid-afternoon we borrowed our host’s battered old jeep to drive a short way around the coast to where we could begin a climb of a nearby peak.  The 467m high hill, Vetten, had formed the solid backdrop of our stay and we had long talked of standing on its top to look down over the islands we had kayaked around, and the time was now.  It was a short walk, around an hour and half up to the top, with an initial steep climb turning into easy walking for most of the well-worn route.  We passed and examined a neat green cabin available for hikers to use before continuing up to the top of the hill where another small hut had been built for walkers to seek shelter.  We sat inside out of the chilling wind to eat our lunch, signing the scrappy visitor book as we took in the expansive view.

Ringstad - (view from Vetten)

Ringstad - (hut on Vetten)

Even on this rather dull, cloudy day, the setting was incredible; below us there were calm, protected bays scattered with rocky islands covered with green vegetation and nesting sea birds. It was an eye-opener to see the scale of the area in one vista.  Ringstad, where we had based ourselves, was visible on the end of a small peninsula, and we could just pick out Benny awaiting our return in the car-park behind the main house.  Ringstad was positioned on one of many small inlets scattered throughout this small tongue of the mighty fjord, with many other stretches of water and tall dark hills stretching to the horizon and beyond.  We could see why boat traffic and travel was so important here; a thirty minute jaunt on a fast boat to cross the fjord could be a three hour drive around the difficult, winding coast road.  Our high overview literally gave us a different perspective on the terrain we had immersed ourselves in.

Ringstad - (climbing Vetten)

Ringstad - (from top of Vetten)

Our ten days in residence in Ringstad proved to be a wondrous experience.  We worked hard, and played just the same, taking all kayaking opportunities, swims and hikes whenever possible.  The eagle viewing on the rib-boat nature safari was a visual treat, and the calm, ever-changing views of the surrounding inlet and far-away mountains were a constant delight.  We enjoyed the long chats with our hosts and our quiet, contemplative row boat trip under a cloudless sky.  We were hesitant to leave but equally hesitant to stay on, as we could easily have become trapped by the visual enchantments of such a place.  It was sad to drive away, but life is but a series of meetings and partings, that is the way of it, as a wise frog in a muppet movie once reminded us all.

Norway – Gratangsbotn & Årstein

Enjoying a few restful, lazy days around Gratangsbotn & Årstein, on the banks of a calm fjord.

We moved on the next morning from Senjatrollet, again following the tourist route road.  We first called into the tiny hamlet, or rather the hotel and fishermen apartments, of Hamm, and had a short walk around their pretty marina front, watching a few beginners have kayaking lessons in the still, protected water. From here we drove all the way to Gryllfjord, just to have a look.  As we arrived at the end of the road, staff on the about-to-leave ferry wildly gesticulated to us that we could quickly sneak on if we wanted.  We didn’t, although annoyingly if we had wanted to, we’d no doubt have been patiently waiting in the queue from several hours ago.

Hamm - apartments

Senja - (parked by the water)

We returned the same way, as the only way forward was that ferry to Andenes.  Instead we drove inland, to the town of Finnsnes where we paused for a bite of lunch.  After lunch we went hunting for LPG, and at a junction near Bardufoss we found exactly what we were after – 11kg propane –  and they even accepted our old, empty Spanish gas bottle in exchange (Norway and Spain have the same top connection) so it only cost us €25 for the refill.  This was our first gas purchase on this trip, and a happy result for us given the high prices we’d been quoted in Sweden.

Gratangsbotn (n with view)

Gratangsbotn (Benny parked)

After a few more hours driving, through mostly built-up townscapes and unusually scruffy countryside, we arrived in an aire at Gratangsbotn, a picnic spot set in front of a rather empty and sadly neglected looking hotel.  There were other motorhomes around when we parked up, but one by one they all disappeared down the hill and left us to enjoy the beautiful view over the fjord all by ourselves.  The sun set slowly into a pink bath as we enjoyed the peaceful quiet of this stop.

Arstein - (at the fjord)

The next morning, with the sun brightly lighting up the view below from a cloudless sky, we rolled down the hill about eight miles to another nearby aire in Årstein.  We parked up right on the edge of the same fjord we had been admiring from afar, on an area of rough gravelled ground by the base of a bridge.  There was a line of motorhomes already in residence, haphazardly parked along the edge, all bar one looking out over the water.  We had arrived in our chosen aire very early and now planned a very lazy down day, sitting in the sun and relaxing as we watched the light slowly change on the distant peaks.  Our one exertion of the day was to wander slowly across the bridge to the town of Årstein, where we found a Spar and bought some fresh bread.

Arstein - bridge across fjord

Arstein - (cycling along fjord)

The next morning we had initially planned to move on again, but changed our mind early on.  The day was beautiful, the aire peaceful and we had no place else to be.  Also, it had been 3205 miles, three countries and 51 days since we had last cycled, back at Guldbæk Vingård in Denmark, and it was time to change this; the poor bikes must have thought we’d forgotten about them.  The weather was kind, we had a full day to play, so why waste it?  We removed our bikes from the garage and, after some loving maintenance and a thorough garage tidy, we set off.  We first crossed the nearby bridge and followed the coast of the fjord anti-clockwise and north.  The cycling was hard work, our lungs felt and sounded like old, rusty cylinders being rubbed down with sandpaper.

Arstein - (n cycling fjord)

Arstein - (path down to fjord)

We were rasping and gasping on what were really only minor inclines, amazed at how desperately we were lacking bike fitness after only seven weeks out of the saddle.  Our efforts were being rewarded with a beautiful backdrop of jagged peaks, splattered with patches of snow that sat high above a tree line that formed a solid green band between the bare rock and the sea.  The water in the fjord was a milky green-blue, shimmering in the sunlight when the light wind ruffled the surface.  We rolled through a few settlements until we found a narrow cut path through some high grass, snaking down a steep hill that led, we hoped, to the banks of the fjord below.

Arstein - (aaron post-swim)

Arstein - (nicky swims)

We abandoned our bikes near the top of the slope and walked down, eventually finding a small beach area and an old timber fishing hut – a perfect spot for a sneaky fjord dip.  We stripped off, carefully crossing the jagged stones before gently easing ourselves into the cool water, feeling instantly refreshed.  The slightly salty water was sharp and cold, but clear and invigorating and we splashed around for a few minutes, enjoying the cleansing thrill after our sticky hot cycle.  We quickly dressed to avoid the attention of the persistent flies our presence had intruded upon, and re-climbed the steep path to reunite with our bikes.

Arstein - (a on road back)

Arstein - (n enjoys downhill)

Arstein - (seal watching)

We returned along the same route, our lungs better up to the task this time, and spent the rest of the afternoon seal watching in the bay.  One ‘seal’ we spotted from afar, on closer inspection, became a fully hooded snorkeller, with long fins, slowly making his way along the bay inspecting the bottom – for what, we had no idea.  It was really good to have a few relaxing days of easy sunshine, to recharge and relax.  Our next stop was at another WorkAway project, deep in the Vesterålen islands, where we would hopefully have some fjord kayaking opportunities alongside our other duties, so we wanted to be rested and ready.


WorkAway – Guldbæk Vingård

After a week of gentle exploring and lazing on sunny beaches around the north of Jutland, we again headed back south of Aalborg, to the area near Svenstrup.  It was here we had our second WorkAway project lined up to begin, this time volunteering at Guldbæk Vingård,one of the most northern vineyards in the world.

WorkAway - (the vineyard)

On arrival we were warmly greeted by our host, Jan, and after introductions we were given a whistle-stop tour of the grounds and facilities.  His wife Lone would join us later after her return from work at the local kindergarten. We saw their house, storage rooms and wine production areas, alongside the more public face of the business, their beautiful raised conservatory dining area complete with decked verandah.  We noticed maps of Greenland and mentioned our recent kayaking trip there; Jan was pleased we knew a little of the country and would later regale us with tales of the frozen north.

WorkAway - (approaching house)

WorkAway - (musk ox)

Walking through the door of the main house we were met face to face with a musk ox, staring down at us from the wall.  We later learned how this was hunted in Greenland and saw the very hairy pelt, now a large rug, in our accommodation.  We had offered to live in Benny for our stay, in case other WorkAwayers were visiting, but Jan insisted they have only one couple at a time and that we should use the available separate annex apartment, so we happily agreed.  We could spread out and enjoy the comfortable space in our downtime; perfect.

WorkAway - (relaxing in the house)

Jan and Lone’s house was constructed based on a Swedish design; angular, spacious rooms with light double-height sloping ceilings inside, tall, full gable windows, walls heavily insulated, underfloor heating ran off biomass pellets, with a focal-point log burner.  The rooms were very comfortable spaces to completely relax in, overlooking the garden and nearby woodland, and we loved that they were very generously willing to share the spaces with us.

WorkAway - (n tends vines)

WorkAway - (a in the vines)

We worked stripping the vine trunks of excess growth, to help focus the new growth at the top.  Our first day in the vineyard was a little damp and rainy, but we still enjoyed the experience of moving along the rows, clearing weeds and ensuring that we carefully removed all unnecessary growth on each vine.  We found our own rhythm and personalised technique as we went along, and soon made progress across several large blocks.  It felt good to be contributing, even in such a small way, to something we’re quite passionate about – wine.

WorkAway - (block 3 vines)

WorkAway - (vine wildflowers)

We spent one other, much sunnier, day re-staking new vines that had recently been planted to replace frost damaged ones.  We pushed long twisted-metal bars into the ground near the vine root, and secured this to the existing horizontal wire trellis with a special shaped wire twist.  Once the support was fixed, the stalk was then taped and stapled to hold it in place and to defy the wind.   We progressed along each row of vines, loving the freshness of the warm air and gentle breeze, with the gentle discipline of the work providing a focus that we’d both missed.

WorkAway - (staking new vines)

WorkAway - (working the vines)

Most days we completed 3-4 hours work in the morning, occasionally at their vineyards on the other side of the village.  We’d take ourselves over there in the morning on our bikes, and when lunch time was approaching, we’d cycle out of the vineyards, past the Kingergarten where Lone works, through the village and back home – a simple but fun journey with the anticipation of lunch to come, to satiate hunger earned from working in the fresh, clean air.  A beer was usually offered and enjoyed over our tasty cold-table lunch each day.  Sometimes beer was even brought to us in the fields; a beer-break treat.

WorkAway - (beer break)

WorkAway - (well earned break)

Occasionally we’d nip back over to the vines again in the afternoon, once as we were asked and other times as we were keen to ensure we properly completed a task we’d been working on in the morning.  Otherwise we would have the afternoons to ourselves, and we took to wandering local paths in the nearby forests or simply relaxing, whether in our comfortable annex apartment or in the vineyard’s conservatory and spectacular timber verandah, from where they host functions and tastings, overlooking the lush green valley with the dutifully tended vineyards in the background.

WorkAway - (the glasshouse)

WorkAway - (verandah)

There were great stories told over dinner, as we enjoyed the vineyard’s own wines each night.  We learned of their time in Greenland, Jan working there as a policeman.  Along with two other colleagues Jan was responsible for a jurisdictional area larger than France.  Policing this involved helicopters and light aircraft, many of which were maintained from a civilian compound set within the confines of a US military base.  We heard stories of conflicting legal entities, as contrary to the expectations of most US army bases around the world, local Greenlandic law remained the ultimate authority inside.

WorkAway - (nearby horses)

WorkAway - (icelandic ponies)

We heard tales of an emergency beacon rescue in north eastern Greenland. Unknown at the time, the beacon had been flippantly initiated, due to encroaching timescales rather than a life-or-death situation.  But this put in motion a series of complicated logistics right across the country that, once demanded, couldn’t be reined back in.  Undertaking a helicopter rescue to a remote point thousands of kilometres away, over inhospitable ice fields, led to multiple shuttle runs with regular fuel dumps, a process that can take over a week of constant flying and refuelling to finally reach the isolated destination.  On this occasion the culprit, safe and secure and only hoping for a lift home, was hit by a huge fine for misuse of his emergency beacon call.

WorkAway - (wine-tasting with Jan)

WorkAway - (beef loin)

The generosity and openness of our hosts, Jan and Lone, was boundless.   They cooked the most sublime food for us, such as barbecued Uruguayan beef loin, chosen to complement their own carefully chosen wines.  We felt so spoiled. We started early, as we chatted, tasting wonderful sweet wines served as an aperitif, before enjoying a glass or two of deep, rich reds or a sharp, clean whites, depending on the type of food on offer each night.  We tried their apple wine and bubbly fizz variations, loving hearing the story behind each as we sipped.  It was a real pleasure to relax in vivacious company.

WorkAway - (vine view)

WorkAway - (feeding the cows)

We met Jan and Lone’s two sons, both of whom live locally and are involved in assisting the vineyard business.  They both have their own projects and careers, keeping them very busy.  We met Kim, his wife Helle and their three children first.  They work in IT, keep dogs and chickens as pets, rear a few cattle for meat, along with numerous other side projects.  Dennis and his wife Heidi, along with their kids, run a large farm breeding Icelandic horses, where they also design, produce and sell specialist equine leather products; saddles, bridles, stirrups, all specific for use with Icelandic horses.

WorkAway - (family takeaway lunch)

WorkAway - (Emil & saddle sales)

Our hosts have lived, and continue to live, interesting and full lives; we heard tales of dancing with the Crown Prince of Denmark, being friends with the Prime Minister, hosting important civil parties in Greenland, investigating crimes, of kayaking, sailing and dog-sledging, and they now run a successful vineyard back in Denmark.  Their involvement in the wine industry has led them to travel extensively, to New Zealand and Australia, to California, to Japan, to visit other vineyards, increase their knowledge of wine production and make lots of good friends on their way.  But Greenland was the largest and most formative part of their lives, with over 20 years spent in the insular, patriarchal society.  It was Greenland where their heart lay, the stories most vivid.

WorkAway - (local views)

WorkAway - (tea stop)

WorkAway - (wildflowers between rows)

We have struggled to find words for the welcoming generosity of our amiable hosts; everything was just wonderful and the experience of our stay could not have been better.  We met three generations of this hospitable, happy Danish family and were deeply honoured to have been invited to so closely share in their lives, if only for a short while.  The stories we heard and the times that we had will long linger in our memory.

WorkAway - (us with our hosts)

Thanks so much for everything,  Jan & Lone; skål!

Denmark – Rajberg Mile & Skagen

Rajberg Mile and around the very north of Jutland

We had an easy drive northwards in the hazy sunshine.  We stopped briefly at a picnic place quite near to our destination at Rajberg Mile, to quickly check out Bunken Strand on the east coast.  It was a two minute walk to the beach through pretty, managed woodland, to reach the wide stretch of beach that looked very neat and clean.  The inviting sea was much calmer on this side of the country, and there was no one around – a perfect, private place to return to later.

On the road - n and scarlet

Bunken Strand - east coast beach

We decided on an ACSI campsite, the closest one we could get to Skagen.  The normal price was listed as over €40 per night, but with the ACSI discount card we only had to pay €17, which was cheaper than other aires in the area with no facilities.  It turned out our campsite had two lovely pools, one outside and one inside, so we went for a long swim, followed by a relaxing time in their sauna and Jacuzzi.  The ACSI card was proving itself to be an essential item for leisurely travel in Denmark.

Rabjerg Mile - campsite

Skagen (main harbour)

On our first full day, we cycled north to visit the main attraction of this area; the town of Skagen.  The route was mostly cycle lane adjacent to the road, where we were fully exposed to the high cross winds.  On some stretches we could cut through forest fire-tracks for a bit of shelter and variation.  We rolled into and through the busy tourist town, checking out the large marina ships as we passed.  We continued to Skagen Fyr, the Grey lighthouse, and past until we reached the end of the road at Grenen, where we locked up our bikes and continued on foot.  Suddenly there were people everywhere, flowing out from a large, almost full car-park.

Skagen (busy carpark)

Skagen (poet grave)

We walked over the dunes, where we paused to look at the burial place of Holger Drachmann, a renowned local poet and artist.  We navigated over and around several German-made concrete bunkers to reach the main stretch of beach.  We dipped our toes in the water, The Baltic Sea on this coastline, to test the temperature; cold was the verdict. There was a long procession of people shuffling along the harder, compacted sand at the water’s edge, so we rather reluctantly joined the crowded line, all moving along in step as if in a sombre parade.

Skagen (approaching the spit)

Skagen (on the tip)

There were many more visitors who either couldn’t or wouldn’t walk the 1km from the car-park to the end of the beach, so several tractors with large carriages would instead bring them to the end point. We queued for our turn to take a photo at the apex of the spit where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea meet, standing with one foot in each ocean.  The North Sea was, surprisingly, noticeably warmer than the Baltic.  Walking away, we thought the strange view of the long queue and the tractor-trailer delivering and removing people was an even more interesting phenomenon than the meeting seas.

Skagen (the queue)

Skagen (dunes)

We ate lunch in the dunes further along the beach, away from the crowds, then lay down a while and dozed in the hazy afternoon.  We intermittently watched more crowds arrive and leave by tractor as we enjoyed the sun from our sheltered beach hide.  We walked back along this empty section of beach, following the tractor route, first to visit the on-site Art gallery and then the visitor centre where we bought a few postcards for home.

Skagen (n in the dunes)

Skagen (marina after race)

We visited Skagen again on our return, to see the many sailboats from an Oslo to Skagen race celebrating in the marina.  There was a party atmosphere all around as the crews enjoyed their many beers as they relaxed on board and around the marina front. We later cycled home through scrub woodland on fantastic gravel paths that criss-crossed a railway line, where we saw a church now partially buried in migrating sand.

Rabjerg Mile (buried church)

Rabjerg Mile (local cycle)

Rabjerg Mile (forest cycle)

The next day, after a typically lazy start, we cycled again, this time to the wilder west coast.  Our plan was first to visit the famous migrating sand dune at Rajberg Mile on the way, the largest in northern Europe.  It was a rogue tongue of this dune that had buried the main body of the church we visited the day before.  We left our bikes in the car-park and climbed the sprawling ridge, running and playing like big kids all over the wide expanse of virgin sand.  The four million cubic metres of sand migrates around 18 metres a year in a north-easterly direction; a fascinating place.

Rabjerg Mile (running on dunes)

Rabjerg Mile (on migrating dune)

Rabjerg Mile (dune approaching forest)

We continued on to the west coast beach at Kandestederne, famed for its high dunes.  Because you can simply drive along this extensive beach until you locate your own private stretch, it is very popular with naturists.  The sea was much rougher than we had seen on the sheltered east coast, with rolling breakers crashing on the shore, so it was of less interest to us as a possible swim location.  We cycled along a short stretch on the hard sand, enjoying the different feel beneath our tyres, before returning the same way back to camp for a  restful afternoon in the sun.

Rabjerg Mile (climbing dunes)

Kandestederne - cycling beach

We ended up staying a fourth night, our longest stay in a campsite, because the weather was so good.  We were also enjoying having the pool to use for swim training, in anticipation for our upcoming Arctic Circle swim.  Also, our desire to remain in one place was stronger than the draw to explore any further parts of Jutland before our next WorkAway destination.  The temperature hit 28 degs C on our final day, so we packed a lunch and walked out on a little used route from the bottom of the campsite through a forest to the beach we had seen when we first arrived, Bunken Strand.  We popped out after 2km of pleasant strolling at a sand dune, and climbing over this rise we were rewarded with a wide, clean white sandy beach stretching miles in each direction.

Bunken Strand (walking to beach)

Bunken Strand (a on beach)

There were maybe six people in view on the entire beach, so we walked only a short way along and settled into our own private spot for a long day of relaxing.  We dabbled with the idea of swimming, but the differential between our sun-drenched bodies and the Baltic Sea water temperature was extreme, so a short, chilly dip was all we could muster on each occasion. It was still lovely for a cool-down.  We played Frisbee on the beach, enjoying an almost windless day for the first time in Denmark.  The rest of the time we read or dozed, peacefully enjoying that supremely satisfying feeling of having absolutely nothing to do.

Bunken Strand (panorama)

A wonderful, exploratory and restful stop was most certainly had, but now we had work to do; Guldbæk Vingård beckoned.

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.

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 – 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)