Category Archives: Cycling

Posts that include cycling day-trips

Denmark – Odense & Nordborg

Our final days in Denmark  – A city visit to Odense before returning to Jutland and driving to the island of Als, to spend a few rainy days near the town of  Nordborg.

From Fyns Hoved we drove to the outskirts of Odense where we glamorously parked up outside the closed gates of a large caravan store in an industrial estate.  It was an aire provided by the store, and proved to be a decent, flat and quiet place for a stopover.  Its proximity to the centre enabled us to browse the store in the morning and then easily tootle in to visit the city, only 6km away.  Odense is best known as the home town of Hans Christian Andersen, famous purveyor of many now-classic fairy-tales and some less famous but no less literary plays, novels and poems.

Ordense (church)

Ordense (timber buildings)

The city was in the midst of some major changes, so navigation was complicated due to several closed roads and rerouted pedestrian walkways.  A motorway once ran through the centre and this was in the process of being replaced along its entire length by a far-reaching masterplan that incorporated pedestrian routes, cycle paths and parklands.  We found the carnage was also exacerbated by the Odense marathon being underway, with marshals, runners and spectators blocking central roads.  We stopped and cheered on a few competitors as they struggled by.

Ordense (Andersen house sign)

Ordense (colourful cottages)

The hoarding for the construction works was clearly planned to be in place for quite some time, as a lot of thought and design had gone into making it interesting for passers-by.  A row of individually printed boards denoting the long history of Odense lined one side, beautifully illustrated in a graphic-novel style and filled with interesting local stories and humorous anecdotes.  Other hoardings had photographs, artwork and paintings applied, all related to this ancient city.  We followed the diversions past tall brick churches and narrow cobbled lanes to find the centre. We passed St. Albans Priory, where the last Viking King Canute IV was murdered by peasants during a revolt in 1086.

Ordense (museum design boards)

Ordense (walking backstreets)

We reached the H.C. Andersen museum building, where we saw the plans for the extension of the museum in his honour, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, and set to be completed at the same time as his Tokyo Olympic stadium in 2020. We walked wistfully around the colourful back streets, passing the exterior of Andersen’s rather humble home, one of many small cottages with bicycles set against the front wall.  With no particular plans, we kept walking, finding a statue of HC Andersen standing in a beautiful small park in front of St. Canute’s Cathedral, on neatly tended grassland with a formal garden still bright with flowering plants. It was a wonderful town to explore.

Ordense (town hall)

Ordense (church park and statue)

From Odense we drove west, leaving the island of Funen across another tall suspension bridge to make our return to the contiguous shores of mainland Europe, on southern Jutland.  We turned south at Kolding and followed the east coast towards Germany, before turning off again east to cross over to the island of Als at Sønderborg.  We made our way along to the north coast through the main town of Nordborg and checked into another off-season ASCI campsite on the beach at Augustenhof.  We were hoping for a few nice, sunny days to end our time in Scandinavia, but no such luck.

Augustenhof (n walking into sun)

There had been heavy rain the night before, and who knows how many days before that, and turning off the gravel road onto the grass field to reach our designated pitch, we got only a few metres before Benny sunk into the grass and stalled, stuck fast.  We tried in vain for a few minutes to drive out, using mats and chocks as leverage, but to no avail.  Our would-be (if we could get there) German neighbours came to the rescue, fussing around, chatting and gesticulating loudly in German, as they organised an instant rescue party with all nearby fellow campers.  With borrowed heavy door-mats under our wheels and eight welcome volunteers rocking Benny from the front, we finally managed to pop free of our muddy prison.

Augustenhof (A posing on beach

We were wary of trying again to reach the pitch, but optimistically decided if we kept our speed up all would be fine, so we did and this time we managed to get across the sodden grass to the much harder-set pitch, finally settling in for a cuppa.  We couldn’t shake the thought that we’d be facing a similar issue when leaving our pitch, as there was nothing but more rain forecast for the coming days.  We were graced with a short break in the clouds and walked a length of the local beach, watching fishermen stand out in the shallow sea as the sun began to set.  Everything was suddenly calm and still, the sea a reflective silver plate lightly dimpled with tiny waves.  We posed on rocks for arty photos, happy to experience a rare dry and windless moment.  We returned to Benny and soon after the rains exploded again, so we settled in for a blustery battering with the accompanying soft patter of rain on our roof.

Augustenhof (stubble fields)

We awoke after a night of broken sleep, filled with partially-remembered dreams of flooding and sinking, to be greeted with yet more torrential rain, and gusting harsh sea winds rudely rocking us.  After a few hours it finally gave up and the clouds dissipated, so we booted up and walked into nearby Nordborg town centre, along empty roads.  Many of the streets looked dead, with shops closed down, forgotten or unloved, and the town looked close to commercial death. We stopped into one bright shop that was the exception, a book and arty shop that, whilst it was selling lovely things, we couldn’t see a happy future for.  Or maybe all the recent weeks of constant rain and grey skies have washed away our cheery optimism and clouded our outlook with a muddy nihilism.

Nordborg (castle school)

Nordborg (church)

Nordborg (tower)

We walked through the town, seeing the church, the castle that is now a posh school, and a stand-alone tower, Nordborg Vandtårn, standing tall in a residential area. Despite their different shapes and usages, the construction materials for each were all very similar, with stone plinths, white rendered walls and red tile roofs throughout.  We ate lunch at a picnic table in a small park by a lake then wandered back home the same way.  Our walk was slightly over 10km in total, a nice stretch of the legs given how much we’d been confined to Benny recently.  We passed another night under a thick blanket of mottled cloud, like a dirty dishcloth, that occasionally wrung itself out over us.

Augustenhof (cycling past corn)

Augustenhof (countryside cycle)

Augustenhof (Universe building)

The following day, with rain mostly holding off, we cycled a lovely 36km on empty country roads or off-road gravel tracks, getting totally muddied up on the latter.  We rolled past Havnbjerg strand where we paused for a moment to walk on the stony beach, contemplating a quick dip.  A sole fisherman stood staring out to sea, examining the waves. The countryside rolled along, with little hills and fast downhills, looking all the while just like the backroads of Northants.  We saw road signs for The Universe, and with our curiosity unleashed we finally tracked it down, to discover a theme park and adventure centre with some interestingly-sculpted building.  Entry was by appointment only, so we could only look from outside the fence as bussed-in gangs of school kids entered to explore the wonders we imagined lay within.

Augustenhof (beach stop)

Augustenhof (picnic stop)

Augustenhof (lighthouse)

We returned through the town of Nordborg and continued straight through to reach another area of the coast beyond, before following a small track back along the edge of the beach.  This led us around to reach Lejrskolen Fyret, the lighthouse we could see from our campsite but couldn’t quite work out how to walk to.  It looked like the ancillary buildings adjacent were in use as a small local school.  We rolled back around to camp, and later we got told off like naughty school-kids for hosing down our muddy bikes over rain-filled puddles on the grassy site, as if the small amount of extra water we added was somehow the primary cause of the extensive flooding.  Duly chastised, we retreated to Benny and raised a few glasses to say our farewells to wonderful, wet Scandinavia – tomorrow, Germany.

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Denmark –  Tisvildeleje beach, Nyborg & Fyns Hoved

Where we visit Tisvildeleje beach, cycle the rural roads and lanes around Nyborg & a bracing walk around the interesting headland of Fyns Hoved.

From our quaint farm aire by the raspberry bushes, we drove up to Tisvildeleje beach on the north-west coast of this area of Sjælland.  It was mentioned in our ‘Wild Guide to Scandinavia’ book, but following the GPS coordinates in the book almost ended in disaster.  The road led through tiny residential streets, made narrower by huge mounds of recent tree and hedge cuttings that had been left uncollected on the verges, before arriving at the ‘car-park’ which was a single space on the narrow roadside.  It looked much more like a passing place than a usable lay-by, and the road ahead was a dead-end.  We had to reverse back 50m to the last junction, being watched by bemused locals, who then helpfully informed us where suitable beach parking was.  We sheepishly made our way there to find a massive beach-front car-park that could easily accommodate 400+ cars; there were five on site, so we had a little more space to fit into than on our previous stop.

Tisvildeleje - a on beach

We parked up and walked barefoot along the beach away from town, dipping our toes in the lapping water as we went.  The sun was bright and strong, feeling very warm on our skin when not concealed by cloud. There were a few other walkers with their dogs doing the same paddling, along with a couple of nude swimmers calmly braving the Baltic waters.  We walked slowly down the sands for a few kilometres, paddling in the shallows, before crossing into the raised dunes behind for a different perspective.  The beach was long and clean, and with the sun joining us on occasion our walk was a lazy delight.  We returned back along the sand, soaking up rays and thoroughly chilled.

Tisvildeleje - n on beach

On our return we were approached to undertake a survey by a guy representing VisitDenmark, so we chatted a while as we completed his many questions.  We made him a tea and had a long chat about our impressions of Denmark, and learned of his unfortunate dismissal from journalism at the hands of new ruthless American owners, leaving him currently stuck doing jobs well below his qualifications and experience.  We overnighted in another aire in a large family home garden, offered to passing travellers by the owners who themselves are keen motorhomers.  They asked for a small contribution from those who consume any services, either electricity, water or bin bags, which is more than fair, but simply stopping overnight is entirely free.  We were joined late, after sunset, by one other motorhome, who was gone again before we opened our blinds.

Bridge to Ordense island

Kongshoj - forest trails

We moved on again, this time to Kongshøj camping, where we planned a few static days.  We seemed to be stuck in Groundhog Day with the weather, constant high winds and stormy days keeping us safely hunkered down inside.  Our booze supply had been depleted, so we made plans to pick up more.  We noted there was a craft brewery at a farmhouse about 12km away, so we decided to brave the weather and cycle there.  We followed an off-road portion through a forest park, parallel to the sea coast heading north.  The weather brightened considerably, becoming sunny and dry.  Decent compacted gravel paths led through beautiful fir-heavy parkland to reach Holckenhavn Slot, a private manor house built in red brick in a late Renaissance style.  The castle, otherwise private, can be rented out for private functions and events, but the 12 hectares of parkland gardens surrounding it are open to the public.

Holckenhavn Slot - n cycles by

Holckenhavn Slot - a at castle

The surrounding countryside was very familiar to us, so similar to the rural midlands of England where we have so often cycled.  We passed over rolling hills with planted corn, blonde stubble fields and long stacks of gathered hay. Lumbering tractors turned over soil in preparation for the next crop, while nearby fields were full of neat rows of sun-bathing onions, left to dry. Small islands of trees stood tall in the centre of wide seas of short grass or muddy turned soil.  Other than the busy main arteries we were forced to cross occasionally, the country side-roads were traffic-free and constructed from clean, smooth tarmac; just perfect for sight-seeing and leisure cycling.

Refsvindinge - brewery shop

Refsvindinge - a at brewery

We reached the brewery, Refsvindinge Bryggeriet, and abandoned our bikes outside to explore their extensive range of, by Scandinavia standards, very cheap craft beers.  Some low-strength lagers were only 3DKK per bottle, Pilsners and IPAs under 5DKK, stouts and porters at 8DKK.  With around 9DKK to the pound, we could happily sort ourselves out with a few decent beers.  We were kindly offered tastings of whichever we wanted, so we sampled a wide range before buying as many as we could safely carry, with assurances we’d return in Benny the following day to stock up with more.  We completed our 32km loop, mostly sheltered from the blustering winds, but we got hit by a huge gust or faced a strong head-wind occasionally.  The bright sun appeared from behind the grey clouds in short patches, and on a few happy occasions this coincided with a pause in the wind; in those rare moments cycling these rolling roads was simply glorious.

Kongshoj - onions in field

Kongshoj - yummy beers

After our return, we spent the afternoon relaxing around the campsite. Nicky undertook a bit of experimental photography, testing out various techniques and settings down on the beach in high winds, as I drank tea and finished another book, Graham Swift’s Waterland, a poignant reflection on the importance of history in terms of our understanding of the present, set stark against the flowing waters of the flatland Fens – well recommended.  We then spent our evening ensuring all of today’s purchased beers were fully up to scratch, in anticipated advance of the larger beer purchase we would make the following morning.  They were indeed, every last one of them.

Kongshoj - beach pier

After checking out and returning to Refsvindinge Bryggeriet to pick up a crate full of select beers, we drove north under wet, grey skies.  We first headed through Nyborg and then onwards, to visit Fyns Hoved.  This was the most northern point of the Hindsholm peninsula, a rather distinctive feature of moving sand spits, strong currents and sheltered beaches comparable to Skagen in north Jutland.  Geographically speaking, it is considered a bight rather than a bay or sound.  We parked up where the tarmacked road ended, rather than in a car-park further on at the end of the gravel track.  From here we walked along the stony beach between the marina and the headland, where we followed a circular route around the point on well-worn pathways.

Fyns Hoved-benny at beach

Fyns Hoved- n at sandy cliffs

We climbed first to the area’s highest point, marked by a bronze disk cast in the ground.  We could see out over the Baltic sea in all directions, the west all rough and frothing, the east a flat protected bay. There were many fishermen standing still and silent in the shallow waters, with the occasional cast into the sea their only movement.  Others sat on rocks on the beach shore, rods supported on stands rather than hand-held.  We walked across the rounded hills to reach the tall sandy cliffs on the western face, then the most northern point of the land, before returning along the calmer eastern side.  It was an interesting place to see and enjoy a low level 5km walk, a worthy distraction.

Fyns Hoved- hilltop view

Fyns Hoved-beachfront view

Sweden – Långasjönäs Camping

Spending a week in an off-season ASCI campsite in Långasjönäs, our days filled with swimming, cycling, walking and running, interspersed with some quality downtime.

Leaving the nature reserve at Almö, we headed to Långasjönös as planned.  This happened to be the place where our batteries ran out, wound down like the non-Duracell bunny, and we simply had no desire to drive any further.  We availed ourselves of a cheap ACSI deal, with the additional carrot of 7 nights for 6 on top of that.  Then we sat still, almost alone on the edge of the campsite, taking stock. This was to be a week of lazy reflection, under somewhat rainy skies. There were two short road loops within the campsite, the first served area the site of many long-terming caravans, some occupied and some not, but the second area was empty of casual visitors, so we parked up on the only flat site we could find, peacefully excluded and content on our private half of the campsite.

Langasjonas- (our pitch)

Langasjonas- (local trails)

We begin our casual exploration of the area with a 13km cycle around the main lake, following fire tracks and simple off-road trails through the forest.  At one clearing we passed a large gathering of cars and people in the woods without ever discovering what event was occurring, but it was something quite popular.  We rounded the top of the lake and returned south on the western side, more removed from the shore and on a relatively traffic-busy road.  We passed an old 19th and early 20th century drinking water treatment works and reservoir in the leafy village of Froarp, now dry and grassy but with well-preserved stone culverts and a decorative pump-house building.  From here we re-joined the dedicated cycle routes that brought us along gravel trails and home to the campsite.

Langasjonas- (checking the water)

Langasjonas- (swim pontoons)

That afternoon the weather brightened, so we decided on what became a 1.2 km swim around our nearby headland.  We suited up, even though the lake was a relatively balmy 19 degrees, and entered the water at the swim pontoon at a neat sandy beach.  We swam to the left, the smooth, fresh water and my injured shoulder both feeling good.  We hugged our nearest coast, but not too close as the lake remained shallow for a long distance out.  The sun was on our faces and the banks lit up, everything looking tidy and bright.  Turning the corner near to where we would exit the water we surprised two young local girls happily sunning themselves on a large flat rock that stretched from their beautiful home’s garden right down into the water.  I think we were quite the novelty to them as we passed.

Langasjonas- (on the pontoon)

Langasjonas- (ready to swim)

Langasjonas- (n in water)

The next morning we went for a 21km cycle into the nearby town of Karlshamn, to both explore the town a little, and to pick up a few fresh provisions.  We followed the easy bike trails south, mostly alongside the main roads, until we reached the outskirts of town.  From here we skirted around the water’s edge, seeing the more industrial side of town, reaching the tourist office and passing through the cobbled market square.  The streets of the town were set out in a grid pattern, a layout that made it easy to find your way but left something wanting; it felt anonymous, even with neat, pretty buildings all lined up, it lacked the spirit or centre that pervades a typically knotted medieval town.

Langasjonas- (cycle to Karlshamn)

We devised a plan to swim a round trip to a faraway island we could see from the pontoon.  We had walked to it the previous day on a short ramble and thought it would make a good target for a longer swim.  We entered the water, stopping briefly at the central floating pontoon in the centre of the lake that was used more by ducks than swimmers.  The water was sweet and clear, but a tail wind was chopping the surface at our backs and we knew the return journey would be much more challenging.  We reached the pretty tree-covered island, passing it on its left shore, where we spotted an easy place to climb ashore.  We wandered through the trees in our wet-suits, where we found signs of a fire in a small clearance, the island perhaps a popular camping spot for local canoers or fishermen.

Langasjonas- (swim to that island)

Langasjonas- (reachng the island)

Langasjonas- (on an island)

After our island explore we re-entered the water, completed our circumnavigation and continued on our way back.  As expected, the rough, choppy lake took more effort to swim into.  There was little respite from the winds on our swim home, having to work a little harder, swallowing more of the fresh, tasty lake than planned.  We returned to the same spot on the beach pontoons and exited the water via steps, feeling good.  The swim back took us less time than going, even though it was into the wind, as without all the heads-up sight-seeing and excitement of our island adventure, we simply got on with it.  It was a 2.5km round trip in total, our longest swim since the Arctic Circle.

Langasjonas- (island rest)

Langasjonas- (swim ending)

During our stay we kept an eye on the night sky.  Even though we had travelled a long way south, the nights were now quite dark, and on days with no cloud cover there was always a possibility of seeing the aurora.  One clear night around 11pm we walked out to the floating swim pontoon, with its wide view north up the lake.  We stared up at the northern sky, seeing a multitude more stars than we ever would in the light-polluted skies near home.  But we were too far south now even to catch the glittering edges of the aurora, so it would have to have been hugely active and us exceptionally lucky to mange to view it here.  We still had a long, peaceful moment under the starry night sky.

Langasjonas- (n at papermill ruin)

Langasjonas- (old paper mill)

Another time we followed a long forest trail walk north, the soft ground heavy with rotting leaf-fall and peppered with a multitude of different mushrooms.  A deep blanket of discarded pine cones and needles covered much of the forest floor, with other areas thick with luminescent green mosses or sun-loving lime-coloured lichens.  We passed the ruin of an old paper mill, built over a weir on a small river feeding into the lake.  We scared a large gathering of ducks by walking across the timber bridge, then in turn they scared us right back with their rapid squawking flight out from under our feet.  As routes led on through more deep forest, we wandered off the paths, marvelling at the quantity and variation of mushrooms sprouting up everywhere and wished we had knowledge to forage properly.

Langasjonas- (exploring forest)

Langasjonas- (forest mushroom)

When we reached the shores of a nearby, much smaller lake, we passed a small opening that led out along some slippy narrow planks, through a bed of reeds, to a small square timber pontoon floating in the lake.  Nicky decided that she needed to have a refreshing dip to help both cool her off from the walking and cleanse her of a minor but niggling hangover.  She stripped off and jumped in, yelling briefly with the chilling shock as she met the water, but was soon luxuriating in the silky freedom of the beautiful lake and peaceful surroundings.  Not to be outdone, I had to have my own lake skinny-dip later on the walk, a brief yet refreshing swim at a small beach area near to our base.

Langasjonas- (small lake swimspot)

Langasjonas- (n gone swimming)

We ate a few times in the service block kitchen and lounge, cooking our meals there and setting a neat, formal table, just for the variation.  There was an area for cooking with lots of sinks, ovens and hobs, an area for dining with many tables, and an area for relaxing with books or TV.  Amazingly, we saw no one else use the facility in the time were there, so it became an extension of our van, our own extra living room area.  There were comfortable settees and a TV with English-speaking channels where we could catch up with the news as we relaxed post-dinner.  One rainy evening we watched a movie on our laptop in the lounge, it suffering much less percussion noise than Benny.

Langasjonas- (a skinny dip)

I completed four books whilst resting here, a reflection of the time we had to simply sit and do what we enjoy. I went for a short run while Nicky walked the nearby trails to find a comfortable spot to sit and sketch a mushroom.  I passed her three times on my short running loops, each time stopping in to check the progress of her drawing.  We had a 1.9km swim on our penultimate day, a wider sweep following our first route around the headland to the right.  This time we crossed the lake first, then skirted the opposite bank, checking out the beautiful properties that lined the grassy shore. The water was much calmer, barely a breath of wind disturbing the surface – swimming perfection.

Langasjonas- (n after last swim)

Langasjonas- (a on rocks)

Motorhoming is such a different life when you stand still, rather than the constant rush of daily discoveries.  No driving, no planning, no sights to see, no moving on.  After a week in Långasjönäs we really felt we had gotten to know the area in detail.  We had walked, ran or cycled most of the local trails, had had three long swims and a few dips in the lake, and had visited the main town of Karlshamn.  This form of static exploration brought forth a narrower but deeper pool of discovery, within which we began to find a greater connection to Swedish nature.  Our extended stay opened the way to living with casual freeness and with easy accessibility to the calm waters we have come to crave.

 

 

 

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.