Category Archives: In Denmark

6 months touring Scandinavia in our motorhome – how much did it cost?

6 months touring Scandinavia in our motorhome – how much did it cost?  A look at our spending, activity and overnights stats by month and by country. 

So, our 2017 Scandi trip; it wasn’t quite six months, but close – We had a total of 170 days away, from late-April until mid-October.  We left the UK via Harwich to Hook of Holland and travelled through the Netherlands to Germany before reaching our first Scandinavian country, Denmark.  A month there (to the day) and we ferried over to southern Norway to drive a wiggly route by fjords, mountains and tunnels to reach Trondheim, where we headed east to Sweden.  We crossed to the Baltic coast before turning north to eventually reach Juoksengi and our midnight time-travelling Arctic Circle Swim. From here, a straight run north to Tromso was followed by a visit to the Vesteralen and Lofoten islands, before turning sharply south all the way to Oslo.  We crossed back to Sweden and, via many lakes, we reached Stockholm then followed the coast to Malmö and back into Denmark.  A few further weeks exploring then led us back into northern Germany and the Netherlands, before heading home by the same route.

Our route map (sketch)

SCANDI TOUR - Route map sketch

Our Scandi trip overview in key figures:

Length of trip – 170 days
Countries visited – 6  (Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland)
Overall expenditure – €5419.37
Average daily cost – €31.88
Miles driven – 9087 ( Aaron – 4452 [49%], Nicky – 4635 [51%] )
Miles per gallon – 31.3
Cost per mile – €0.17p
Distance cycled – 596km
Distance walked – 619km
WorkAways undertaken – 4
Time-travelling swims – 1
Scandi Skinny dips – 16

Our Trip costs by category

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

The above image outlines our spending for this trip.  With the distance driven (9087 miles), it is of little surprise that diesel for Benny (29%) has been the biggest expense we encountered, closely followed by food shops (inc. booze) at 27%. The next largest cost, at 18%, has been our campsite fees, with many more stops in ASCI campsites than on previous trips.  Transport costs also featured highly, at 12%, as driving through Norway brought with it the necessity of many ferry journeys and also 953 NOK (billed so far) of road tolls.  Several bridges between neighbouring Danish islands also carry a hefty cost.

Our trip costs by country (with daily averages)

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

Note: Germany and Finland costs are not indicative of travel in those countries as both were transition countries where we filled up with diesel and undertook large food shops.

Our trip costs by month, with accommodation, exercise & driving stats

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

Our Accommodation / Stopover synopsis

We stayed in free aires where we could, but on this trip we were a lot more inclined to slip into the comfortable ease of a campsite when the opportunity arose.  Certain key places demanded it (Råbjerg Mile, Flåm, Melkevoll Bretun) but others we chose over available nearby free stops as we were passing during ASCI-applicable dates. We still only paid for around one third of our nights away, the rest being either wild camps or free aires.  Our take on the difference may be specific to us, but we only rate it as a true wild camp if we have found it ourselves without the CamperContact app (or similar).

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

Accommodation pie chart – percentage of stays in each type of overnight stop

Almost two-thirds of our overnight stops were free (65%, or 111 out of 170 nights), with the remaining stays averaging out at a cost of €5.63 per night.  (a €957.07 total spend).

In summary, for the entire trip, from when we left home to our return all those months later, we spent a grand total of €5419.37, for an average daily cost of €31.88.  At current exchange rates that means the entire 170-day trip cost us around £4825.00, or, simply speaking, under £5000 all-in, which is much less than we had expected after all the horror tales of scandalous Scandinavian prices.  Back in our salaried years, we had on occasion spent more than that on a special two week holiday, so to be able to experience over 24 weeks of such varied, interesting and fun travel for a similar amount – bargain.

Germany – A stormy traverse

Germany – A stormy traverse

We left our damp campsite on Als next morning, careful to ensure we safely got off the very wet pitch, to head south out of Denmark to northern Germany.  We spent the next two days struggling through Germany, cursing the volume of traffic, only later realising that the whole of northern Germany was being battered by a storm named Xavier, with a state of emergency being declared in several cities.  The traffic was entirely solid, and every detour we took offered only brief respite before we were stationary again.

Even with our ability to be anywhere, with no time constraints and with a constantly changing target aire to head for, we were still firmly stuck in the web of fallen trees, closed roads and tens of thousands of vehicles all desperately trying to be elsewhere.  We drove for five hours making all of 77 miles, most of them before leaving Denmark, before calling it a day at a quickly selected fourth-choice aire in the town of Itzehoe.  We sat out the continuing deluge in a huge gravel car-park behind the town centre under opaque sheets of rain, but at least the town had free Wi-Fi on offer to help entertain us.

The next morning nothing had changed other than the depth of the puddles that surrounded us, like our own private moat.  We carefully exited the car-park, after facing several rather annoying dead-ends where we had to reverse back out from, where we rejoined the busy roads to again be battered by high winds and rain.  Our second day in Germany’s storm was proving more of the same, stuck with having to use the bottleneck that was the stalled ring-road around Hamburg, replete with all its road works and lanes lost to downed trees and other debris.

We finally broke free and hoped to flow past Bremen, but the road again soon became solid red on Google, passable only with the stoic application of hours of static patience.  We had little, so we jumped off again at the first opportunity, heading back south east away from Bremen to hide ourselves in a small paid aire at a castle in Thedinghausen.  The rains stopped for about a half hour around 6pm and we jumped out to have a quick walk around the sodden gardens and castle grounds, making it back to Benny with only seconds to spare before the skies opened again.  This brief, rushed walk was our only exercise, gentle or otherwise, for two full days.

From here we had to backtrack all the way to and past Bremen, all the while dreading getting stuck again on blocked roads.  But with a few exceptions, we made reasonable, if juttering, progress along the chosen route and finally seemed to have escaped the worst of the traffic as we approached the Netherlands border.  We stopped just short in a town called Bunde to both visit services and to pick up some fresh provisions, then over into the Netherlands we went.  Our German traverse was difficult and potentially dangerous, and went wholly unrecorded, photographically speaking.  So to liven up this otherwise entirely dull blog post, here’s a sketch Nicky did of some penguins – Enjoy.

Nicky sketch - penguin statue

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.

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

Denmark – Sjælland’s countryside & castles

Denmark – Arriving on Sjælland via the Öresund bridge and exploring the island’s rural regions, beaches and castles.

We left our deserted beach-front aire in Kalgshamn, near Malmö, first for a Lidl shop on the outskirts of the city and then straight across the 18km long Öresund bridge into Denmark.  On the Danish side, the bridge suddenly ducked down from high above the ocean into a tunnel running underneath, like a rollercoaster ride in a theme park, before popping out just south of Copenhagen.  We were not after a city visit as we’d visited Copenhagen recently, before our Greenland kayaking trip, so we passed by smoothly and easily, although the ring roads were the busiest we’d experienced for months.  We quickly returned to empty roads just a few miles on, surrounded by rolling countryside with stubble fields, corn and trees beginning to turn in the early autumn that could easily have been middle England.

Oresund bridge - to denmark

Herslev Brygus - brewery shop

We headed west, across the middle of Sjælland island, bypassing Roskilde but turning off soon after to reach the tiny hamlet of Herslev, where we had read reports of a popular local brewery.  We had furtively hoped for a somewhat grander experience, the availability of a brewery tour or a tasting session, but they were by appointment only.  Herslev Brygus consisted mainly of a small café and a colourful farm shop selling their many wares.  We chatted to the owner for a while and, after much deliberation as they had over thirty differently-flavoured or imaginatively-brewed organic craft beers to choose from, we selected a small range for us to sample over the coming days.

Ugerlose (farm aire)

Ugerlose (our private aire)

After our wonderful time at Långasjönäs Camping in Sweden, we had a loose plan to spend another similar week relaxing at another ASCI campsite, and had chosen Holbæk Camping.  But on arrival it was surprisingly packed to overflowing with cars, families and noisy kids, not at all the relaxing nature experience we were hoping for.  So we headed off instead to rest in a small farm aire near to Ugerløse, where we were the only visitors.  We parked up in the end bay, where we would have exclusive use of a covered picnic table.  The aire was beautifully serene, the neat parking in individual hedge-lined bays, water and Wi-Fi included, and free use of services after staying two days.

Ugerlose (beer tasting)

Ugerlose (sunset beers)

We stayed here all weekend, mulling the idea of returning to a campsite on Monday when the weekend crowds had returned to work and school. There were a few local walks from the site into the nearby forest, and we walked a lazy 5km loop through the forest under mellow skies, seeing only two others on the walk.  On our return we lazed around in the afternoon sun and slowly enjoyed our hand-crafted beers sitting at our private picnic table, researching the days ahead.  The next morning we serviced and left with a changed plan, now doubling back on ourselves towards Copenhagen and then heading north to see the fairy-tale castles of the area known as the Royal Sjælland coast.

Fredensborg (changing of the guard)

Fredensborg (palace front)

We first visited Fredensborg Slotpark, an impressive Royal residence still in constant use.  It was a lovely autumn day, the yellowing leaves of the trees lightly murmuring against a deep blue sky.  We arrived just in time to catch a small parade, a changing of the guard outside the palace.  The guards wore tall bearskin hats, similar to those of the Grenadiers at Buckingham Palace, but with the dark and sky blue crisp uniforms of the Danish Royal Life Guards.  They marched sharply down the central cobbles to a nearby yard where they lined up and continued to step in time, sweating profusely under their heavy hats.  We left them in peace and approached the front of the palace, enjoying the view into the courtyard, but we could progress no further in this direction, so we doubled back to the gardens.

Fredensborg (palace rear view)

Fredensborg (autumn pathways)

Fredensborg (tree-lined avenue)

There are over 9km of avenues throughout the palace gardens, many lined with neat rows of lime trees or horse chestnuts.  Golden leaves crinkled underfoot as we walked along these formal avenues, through tunnels formed of bending trees.  We passed several statues and decorative fountains as we walked, seeing the rear of the palace from afar.  We walked on until we reached the shores of the nearby Lake Esrum, before following the water around the quiet, wilder edges of the gardens.  The palace has 300 acres of gardens, with most of them open free to the public.  A small portion of the formal gardens are kept private for the royal family to enjoy, but even that area is open to visitors for a few weeks in the summer months.

Fredensborg (rear palace elevation)

Fredensborg (Norsemen statues)

Fredensborg (valley of the Norsemen)

We next visited the Nordmandsdalen, the Valley of the Norsemen, a formal, tiered, circular display.  There were 68 sandstone statues depicting 18th century local merchants, farmers and fishermen.  Commoners such as them had never previously been depicted in formal Royal garden statuary, that having before been the exclusive domain of ancient Gods or celebrated Royal ancestors.  It was a daring social statement by the then King Frederick V, made seemingly in solidarity with the Social Realism movement of Fine Art that chose to dismiss the Romanticism of exaggerated heroism in favour of the honest realities and messy complications of everyday life.  The statues were an interesting insight into the lives, fashions and characteristics of those citizens living in those very different times.

Fredensborg (kings boarthouse)

Fredensborg (boat access to river)

We reached the King’s Barge house, built tall to allow his sailing boats to float directly from the lake into shelter.  There was an adjoining tea house, but this looked closed for the season.  We passed the side of the private area of the gardens, seeing the recently-added Orangery and a small hill with a spiral hedge called the Snail Mound.  After a picnic lunch on the grass overlooking the lake, we returned past the front of the palace and headed off east to see a second even more famous castle, Kronborg Slot, near the centre of Helsingør.  This was a proper fairy-tale castle, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned as the dramatic setting for the family intrigue of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Kronborg Slot - bridge entrance

Kronborg Slot (approach view)

We parked for free on the marina front, a few hundred metres beyond the huge pay-and-display car-park.  The weather was changing now we were on the coast.  The familiar Danish wind really picked up late afternoon, taking away our sunny day and chilling it down, blowing all the heat out of the air like a giant mouth cooling a cup of tea.  We wrapped up warm as we walked towards the castle, first reaching a large bronze model of the entire site that graced the entrance bridge and helped explain the extent of the fortifications.  We crossed and entered the castle’s perimeter walls, passing lots of craft shops snuggled into old stone buildings set securely within the protected grounds.

Kronborg Slot (seaward view)

Kronborg Slot (against the sun)

The fortress was built in a Renaissance style with delicate copper spires, richly decorated. It grew wealthy from the collection of taxes from ships passing by in the sound. After a devastating fire in 1629, the opulent palace was only considered useful as a barracks for the Danish army, until it was fully restored and able to continue its previous calling, the collection of dues, this time from passing tourists rather than merchant ships.  We passed the rows of menacing cannons set on the high ramparts, built in brick rather than stone.  From the grassy banks of the castle’s rear fortifications we watched many ferries, heading for the now-visible coast of Sweden, leave the busy port.  We didn’t enter the castle proper, but enjoyed our blustery circular walk in the shadow of the high walls.  A small stretch of stony beach sat behind and outside the walls, where many locals walked their dogs, leaning into bracing gusts.

Gilleleje - farm aire

We could have stayed overnight at the harbour for free, but decided to move on as it was quite busy and would likely be noisy even in the small hours. Instead we drove a few more miles north and stopped in another farmhouse aire, where it was 50DK to stay in their very pretty garden.  It came complete with raspberry bushes, a tidy pond and both electricity and Wi-Fi included.  It was a very quiet spot to pass a lazy evening, with no other visitors arriving to interrupt our tranquility.  ( We’ll not mention the rooster. )

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!