Tag Archives: bridge crossing

France – Alzon, Uzès and the Pont du Gard

We crawled through the busy centre of Millau continuing south-east, to overnight in the village of Alzon. We easily found the aire and settled in for the night. There was a local pétanque game in progress opposite and we sat with a glass of wine and enjoyed watching in the soft evening sun. After dinner we had a stroll through the village, the four storey buildings flanking the central shady square displayed a tired grandeur. We paused here and enjoyed the peacefulness and the quintessential French feel of this hillside village, allowing the flow of history to wash over us.

Alzon - (shady square)

Alzon - (allotment view)

Our onward road clipped the bottom portion of the Parc national des Cévennes. Grand red poppies lined our route, growing like weeds in unlikely places, but splashing colour and warmth wherever they were. The countryside was becoming more Spanish in our eyes, with wide gorges, limestone bluffs, deep lush greens, and steep stone terraces overflowing with olive trees and pink flowers. The road followed the low-flowing river, snug between high cliffs and a sharp vertical wall dropping to the riverbanks below. We saw nothing but blossoming nature for miles, then suddenly got trapped in a wild swarm of human commerce, hugely busy pockets of life and noise we thought from the map would be only tiny, sleepy villages. Just as suddenly we escaped back to peaceful, empty countryside.

Uzes - tower

On leaving the park the scenery slowly transformed into expanses of olive trees and vines. The route was straighter, flatter, offering a more expansive view across to distant hills. The only animals in the fields were horses, all land was given over to the cultivation of high end products. Tall cypress trees and squat lime-coloured cactuses began transforming the land into a more Mediterranean feel; we were closing in on the coast. We passed hundreds of local domaines offering direct sales and degustation. Each was either a ramshackle collection of rugged stone buildings surrounded by scruffy yards or beautifully finished, immaculate visitor centres dripping with wealth.

Uzes - domaine approach

Our first stop this morning was at one such farm store selling olive oil, wines, honey and jams, in the town of Uzès. Missing a turn, we did a slow loop around the town, enjoying the casual beauty of each street in turn. From our slow-moving vantage point the town was replete with cafés and shiny shops, old stone churches and tiny cobbled streets. (You could say it Uzè’d charm). After a complete circle of the wonderfully vibrant town centre we finally turned off and found the Domaine St Firmin. We had read the place was a popular stopover, and true to word we found it absolutely full, with around twenty vans in rowdy residence. We parked awkwardly in their yard and had a quick degustation of a few summer rosés, purchased a bottle of our favourite, then got back on with our journey.

Pont du Gard - (approach side)

Pont du Gard - (far side)

Another hour of beautiful, empty roads, their verges sprinkled with bright flowers, brought us to the busy outskirts of Remoulins. We found the aire near the bridge (43.938068, 4.558423) and picked out a corner spot between some badly parked cars. We scoffed a quick lunch then packed our swim gear and began, under a strong sun, the 3km walk to the Pont du Gard. We were thankfully shaded most of the route by plane trees and stretches of light woodland. We reached the gates to the park and walked in along the voie verte, immediately facing the famous three-tiered Roman aqueduct. There were de-clothed bodies scattered everywhere we looked, soaking up the sun’s heat. Large groups of visiting American students paddled in the shallows of the river, chatting loudly. We crossed the lower tier of the bridge, taking in the immense scale of the ancient build. The size of the each carved individual stone in the pillar bases was incredible, the organisational undertaking and size of the workforce must have been a sight to see.

Pont du Gard - (nicky swimming)

Pont du Gard - (beach time)

We dropped off the left hand side to reach a pebble beach where we flopped down by the calmly flowing river’s edge. Groups of kayakers idly floated by as we eagerly readied ourselves for a cooling swim. The water was warm and we played and cooled off, swimming across the river and climbing rocks to jump back in, like children. We lazed in the sun, reading and relaxing. Occasionally we would glance up and re-see the aqueduct in all its glory. We would again marvel at the Pont du Gard’s domineering size and the privilege we had in being able to casually swim in its giant shadow. By 4pm we were satisfactorily cooked and took our leave, with the firm intention to return later that evening to witness the colourful June light shows that were projected onto the structure.

Pont du Gard - (in trees underneath)

Pont du Gard - (sunset)

When we arrived back at Benny, the subtle heat of the day had a sudden change of heart and brought forth a storm of sticky humidity and, following that, heavy drops of rain. We soon decided to forgo our return, but after the rains dried up and with the delight of an intensely bright red sunset later, we began to regret not returning to watch the light show illuminate the Pont du Gard as planned. We could still have made it, as the show was not expected to begin until 9.30pm at the earliest. But we were both still feeling tired from all the jobs at home and this trip was about recharging. We need to learn to slow down and accept that rest is a part of life and not every moment needs to be filled with activity. The choice to remain in Benny came with a sigh, but was likely the right call for us.

A&N x

Switzerland – Zermatt’s Matterhorn & Randa’s bridge

After the successful completion of the TMB hike, we rested up at Le Grand Champ for a further two rainy nights.  We tasked ourselves with the necessary jobs of laundry, photo-sorting and rest.  But we also had an eye towards our next mini-adventure, so were cooking up a few ideas.  After some deliberation, Switzerland was put on our agenda.

Zermatt (church in Tasch)

We left on a quiet Sunday morning, stocked up in a busy SuperU then headed east towards Switzerland.  We drove back through Chamonix, Argentière and Trient, spotting many places we had recently walked, before climbing up towards Martigny.  A few kilometres and many hairpins later, we were duly summoned into Switzerland with a bored look and a casual swipe of the arm at the nominal border point.  Tall stone terraces bursting with vines and soft fruits, predominantly apricots, lined the steep valley sides. We dropped drastically to the valley floor and on long straight roads made easy progress.  This part of Switzerland was more business than pleasure.  Dominated by light-industrial sheds and strips of garishly-coloured store fronts heavy with parking areas accessed by over-wide roads, it looked much more American than European.

Zermatt (on route from campsite)

Zermatt (on cycle route to town)

We turned off towards Zermatt, heading south through a series of villages on the only road into the valley.  We considered stopping in a cheaper aire in Täsch, nearer to Zermatt, but on inspection it was only the back corner of a car-park, behind a garage on a busy section of road, so we passed on it and doubled back to Campsite Attermenzen to overnight.  The site was an open field, so siting was entirely at your own discretion.  We picked out a quiet spot on a small plateau behind the main field and set up a cosy camp.  As it was only 2.30pm we had a decent portion of day left, so made the decision to quickly grab our bikes out of the garage and go see Zermatt immediately.  20 mins later we were organised and away, assuming the 9km route there would be a simple jolly along a cycle-path by the river.

Zermatt (us at Matterhorn)

Zermatt (Matterhorn and cloud)

It started well, in bright sunshine, rolling through the centre of Täsch, but soon after the track crossed the railway and rose steeply up through the forests on the opposite slope.  We faced a steep, difficult and technical ascent, a narrow dirt trail with gnarly roots, large boulders and overhanging nettles.  Whilst we thought we had had a decent, active summer, filled with swimming, running and hiking, we soon found our fitness for this type of off-road cycling was sadly lacking.  With lungs bursting and legs screaming for mercy, we had to dismount and walk portions of the trail on several occasions, decrying our inability to get up the track on our bikes.  We had underestimated the cycle, judging it by the short distance and not thinking of the height differential.  But we made it into Zermatt eventually.

Zermatt (walking bikes through centre)

Zermatt (happy chappie)

Our first impressions of Zermatt were not great. We had visualised a cutesy ski-resort, wonderfully car-free, all stone, timber and glass, in a comforting cauldron of snow-speckled mountains.  Instead we entered by a rough, debris-strewn building site, both sides of the road lined with dirty piles of stones, discarded bent materials and desolate-looking buildings.  It was a disturbing and rather grim first impression, but we were very soon distracted from it all by our first sighting of the incredibly imposing Matterhorn, standing tall behind fast-moving clouds.  We followed the river and cycled straight through to the southern edge of town for a closer look, stopping near an Activity Park to take in views of the iconic mountain.  Yet even here the parks were lined with red builder’s tape, degrading the view.

Zermatt (central streets)

We pushed our bikes through the glitzy, kitschy, touristy centre, the busy streets lined with top-end branded stores and expensive hotels.  We passed neat churches, almost apologetically nestled into tiny corners, their importance lessened in the face of the new, dominant religion of commerce.  Visitors mingled with quirky locals in national dress, popping in and out of cafés and souvenir stores selling the usual T-shirts and tea towels.  We heard mostly German being spoken, but smatterings of French, English, Spanish and Japanese completed the cultural melting pot.  At one point a herd of long-haired goats were driven through the streets by young teenagers, dodging the constantly buzzing electric hotel taxis, looking more like a scene from Nepal than Switzerland.  We cycled on, passing yet more hotels and shops in traditional timber and stone, with an ever-present snowy mountain backdrop framing each view.

Zermatt (bikes and goats)

We’d been lucky with the weather, as the forecast had suggested thunderstorms in the afternoon.  But grey clouds were now gathering overhead and the air changed; rain was brewing.  We decided to stick to the road going back, and found it a fantastically long, sweeping downhill for most of the way.  We reached Täsch in minutes, flowing at over 50km/hr, definitely enjoying this direction more.  Large, slow drops of rain plopped on us and the smooth road surface as we passed through the town, threatening much more.  We pushed on to reach our campsite with only moments to spare before the main deluge finally arrived, with us safely back under cover.  We packed away our bikes, made tea and chilled for the rest of the evening, feeling glad we had decided to make the effort to quickly visit Zermatt.

Randa (the path upwards)

Randa (mini cairns on path)

We set an early alarm, had a quick breakfast and got our boots on before 8am, as the forecast was for more storms.  We wanted to complete a circular hike, from the nearby village of Randa, and to visit and cross what was reported to be the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world.  It was still chilly when we left, the sun slow in rising and not yet having warmed the air.  We first passed through the traditional timber buildings of Randa, enjoying the colourful vegetable patches and hanging baskets decorating the houses.  We filled our water bottles from a spring in the village then started our ascent via a narrow street between ancient timber hay barns.  We rose quickly on steep, rooted paths through the woodland, our legs dealing easily with the gradient after the gruelling miles of the TMB.

Randa (first look across the bridge)

Randa (n + a on bridge)

Randa (Nicky on bridge)

We were all alone when we reached the 500m long Charles Kuonen Hängbrücke, the suspension bridge, so we had the fortunate opportunity to play around and take a few photos and videos.  We then crossed over, apprehensive at one short portion that looked only loosely connected and rather shaky, but made it safely across.  From there we walked further up the mountain to the Europahütte refuge at 2220m, guarded by a huge resting black dog that eyed us suspiciously.  The view from their verandah was quite spectacular, but we didn’t linger.  Instead we climbed a further few hundred metres through a boulder field to reach a classic picnic spot with an unbeatable view of three separate glaciers.  We sat a while, eating apples and soaking up the view with only the sound of calling birds to distract us.

Randa (nicky and mountains)

Randa (picnic with a view)

There was the possibility of continuing around the mountain and returning to Randa by a different route, but instead we retraced our steps past the Europahütte and down to the suspension bridge, this time passing under the northern end and dropping quickly downwards.  Another steep woodland path led us down past a few groups of walkers now struggling upwards, until eventually levelling out in rolling grassy meadows back near to Randa.  We paused a while on a lonely red bench to eat sandwiches and take in the overview of the village.  We said goodbyes to neighbouring horses and descended to the village church, circled the beautifully kept cemetery, then continued back to camp. Our wonderfully fresh morning walk was a hilly 12km, taking the best part of four hours, with almost 1000m of ascent.

Randa (village view from red bench)

Randa (Benny at campssite)

Our afternoon was spent doing little more than people-watching and gentle stretching on the grass, until the dark clouds rolled back in overhead and drove us inside.  It was here we made the decision that it was best for us to move on, and that meant a return to France.  We had business to attend to back in Limousin.  In less than two weeks’ time, our new house purchase would complete, so our slow march westward now begins and our new responsibilities await.

A&N x

France – St-Cyprien, Belvès & Monpazier

We left the stunning Jardins de Marqueyssac and arrived in St-Cyprien, our chosen spot for a few days of, relatively, nothing.  We parked in the designated motorhome area in a large mixed parking car-park on the edge of the town, with a direct view up to the central church.  We bought a 24hr parking ticket that included usage of electricity points, so plugged in and cranked up our heating, as whilst the days were bright and clear, the nights were getting very cold.

st cyprien (benny in aire)

st cyprien (church tower)

We didn’t even manage to walk the few hundred metres into town on the first afternoon, but did visit late morning the following day, for a brief look.  We passed the church and a few pretty squares, and enjoyed the valley view from the steps leading to the hilltop cemetery.  We called into the tourist office and found a local riverside walk and decided to follow the route later when the day warmed up a little in early afternoon.  We crossed an old steel-lattice railway bridge, now a pedestrian and cycle path, across the Dordogne River and walked along the southern bank, east towards Allas-les-Mines.  We passed swans on the river, walking between strips of thin, managed woodland and along dark leafy paths, chilly without the sun.  We walked fast, with purpose, to keep ourselves warm with effort.

st cyprien (crossing old railway bridge)

st cyprien (bridges over river)

We rose steadily upwards through the trees then descended into the settlement of Allas-les-Mines, grown around a cement works that dominated the landscape and local economy.  We crossed another much smaller bridge over the river to return along the north bank, cutting through scruffy fields that looked deliberately ignored, possibly forming part of a managed defensive area to stem the river flow in times of flood.  Passing over one small hollow here we both let out a synchronised ‘woahh’ as the air temperature dropped significantly, like we’d suddenly entered a walk-in freezer.  A few steps later we returned back to normal ambient air, slightly shocked by the chilly pocket of air we’d passed through.  It had been good to get in a walk, covering around 14km on our loop.  We passed a lazy evening around the aire, listening to the ringing church bells and watching the busy flow of traffic in and out of the car-park.

st cyprien (riverside trails)

st cyprien (town vew)

With two days of doing very little happily achieved, we drove off south. Unable to stop ourselves, we soon stopped again for a town explore, parking in a designated aire that was little more than a waste ground gravel-patch with bins, and walked into the centre of Belvès.  This was to be our penultimate visit to a beau village, at least for a while.  Set on the River Nauze, the village sits elevated on the side of a small rounded hill, surrounded by hordes of chestnut trees in the valley below.  We arrived at the stone church first, then followed a casual perimeter path that allowed a wide overview.  We reached the central market square where a few stalls were still open for business, the only place that looked busy between the empty, scruffier surrounding streets. We may have been suffering from beaux villages overload, but even on this bright, blue-sky day, with the stone lit up, we saw precious little that truly inspired us.

belves (town view)

belves (market square)

Moving on ever-southward, we arrived in Monpazier and parked in the town’s free aire, set behind their salle de fêtes and fire station, very close to town.  We walked the few hundred metres into the town, entering by one of the many arched doorways through the protective perimeter wall of the bastide rectangular plan.  In 1284 King Edward I of England, also then holding the title of Duke of Aquitaine, was responsible for establishing this specific model bastide settlement we were now visiting over seven centuries later.  We reached the central market square, surrounded by its stone colonnades of low arches, definitely the town’s main attraction feature.  An ancient looking timber covered market stood tall at one corner, with the 13th century St. Dominique church set a short way behind on another.

monpazier (market square arches)

monpazier (main square)

After our visit, we spent the afternoon lazing around the aire, sketching in the sun, where the air temperature felt at least triple that of the shade.  A French van arrived later in the afternoon and, after looking around a while to choose their spot, they decided, in classic French fashion, to park on the sliver of road serving six designated spaces, blocking them all entirely should any other van arrive.  We had another walk into town after dark, to experience the market square and church façade lit up with moody, atmospheric lighting.  A week-long harvest celebration had just finished in the town the day before our arrival, but our stay over the weekend was still to prove a noisy one as the nearby party room was still in full use, finishing off all the party spirit, especially late and loud on the Saturday night.

monpazier (night shot)

monpazier (az at covered marker)

We decided to spend a second night in Monpazier, rather than move on again.  We had less than an hour to drive to our pre-arranged meeting with our house-sitting hosts, so we didn’t need to be closer.  It was a bright, clear day but very cold.  We braved the chilly air and walked around the village perimeter, this time beginning with an external loop that took in small portions of the nearby countryside on quiet roads.  We later sat at what was becoming our favourite spot, a picnic bench just outside the south façade of the city walls, near the pétanque playing areas and overlooking the yellowing, tree-covered rolling hills behind.  We passed a quieter Sunday night in Benny, reading, chatting and watching movies, feeling relaxed and rested without the all-embracing need to plan any more travels.

monpazier (church and arches)

Monpazier (n wanders streets)

Leaving Monpazier we said goodbyes to all our sight-seeing, for a little while at least, as we headed off to undertake more static responsibilities – we had two almost back-to-back house-sits arranged, to take us through Christmas and New Year, and then all the way through to March when we return to the UK for annual servicing and maintenance.  This, we hoped, was going to be a different, and warmer, winter experience in the south of France than last year’s.

France – Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne & Carennac

Moving on from overnighting in the Domaine de Chirac’s farm, we continued with our now familiar theme of visiting beautiful French villages.  The next we planned to go and see, only a few miles away, was Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.  We parked easily in the town’s spacious aire down by the river, conveniently payable overnight but not during daylight hours.  A short distance from the aire we saw a bustling trade fair was underway and watched as unimpressed cows were bought and reluctantly loaded into trucks, with three men desperately pushing, pulling and otherwise bullying them.

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (fountain square)

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (la maison renaissance)

It was a dreary, cold day, with little colour or light.  There was a curious salmon-fishing or capture-and-storage point built into the side of the bridge, trapping them as they navigated the river.  We followed the banks in the direction of the village, walking through a stone archway under a bridge to reach the tight medieval centre.  It was yet another slightly shabby but rather beautiful village.  We passed an old well set on a cobbled street, where we could easily visualise the grime and noise of carts and horses rolling through in times past.  The next open space was at a large five-storey Renaissance house, decorated with caricatured statues of scenes from the Garden of Eden.  The huge, delightful property was listed for sale, but we didn’t enquire – no Benny parking.  Through tiny alleys we reached the large church with tall bell-tower, set in a trafficked square, with various timber-fronted shops set around the edges.

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (medieval centre)

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (church entrance)

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (church square)

From here we wandered through more winding passages to reach the more modern side of town, where the roads were suddenly full of cars, people and noise.  We crossed over to a large square where quite harshly pollarded trees provided the main focal point, with lots of busy commerce around.  Tall residential properties lined two sides of this main square, with wildly steep gardens set behind them.  All the buildings were built from a cold white stone that was set off nicely by the myriad of varied colours on window shutters.  We found a tourist office but it was shut, as is generally the case at this time of year.  Having decided we’d seen enough, we purchased a baguette and returned to Benny to continue our way of gentle discovery, but it was about to all unravel into a long and rather frustrating trek.

2m wide bridge - no good for Benny

We left Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne thinking we had a twenty minute drive to visit Carennac.  With only one minute left, so we thought, we were suddenly hit with route barrée signs on the only bridge across the Dordogne into Carennac.  So close, but no way across.  We followed a few nominal deviation signs, but they soon disappeared so we headed to the next bridge along, about 20km away.  The road approach to this bridge was shrinking with each turn, with weight limits reducing from 9t to 7.5t to 3.5t, and when we hit 1km to go we were suddenly informed the bridge was only 2m wide. We hoped, if careful, we could possibly sneak across so we continued on, but on lining up at the entrance to the bridge we found it to be so tight, with high foundation stones each side, that it really wasn’t worth the risk.

The bridge we couldn't take

We parked under the bridge and had lunch and a short walk along the river before we re-planned again. The next bridge along would add yet another additional 30 minutes to our travel time.  We talked about changing our plans and heading elsewhere, but decided to persevere with our original plan.  The road along the river was one of the prettiest we’d driven, a tight snaking path with bubbling water on one side and high stone cliffs on the other, similar to those skirting around Loch Lomond, so this was of some small consolation.  We finally reached the village of Gluges and crossed our third bridge of choice, and ten minutes later we passed by the opposite end of the 2m wide bridge, less than 200m from where we had lunch, with a few choice words for whomever decided to build the narrow structure.

Carennac (village view)

Carennac (stone courtyard)

With one more stretch of narrow, winding riverside road behind us, we finally made it into Carennac.  We had a slight panic on arrival at the immediate tininess of the local roads, but we slowly made it through the outside loop of the village and safely out the other side.  There was good signage to manage modern day traffic flow for the safety and longevity of the historic village, with each road clearly marked if it was not suitable for buses or camping-cars.  Some village roads were barely large enough for tiny French cars to squeak through.  We parked up on one of the village’s several aires, the free one, a wide area of sloping gravel surrounded by high trees, just fine for day parking.  From here we walked into the historic centre, packed with neat, traditional medieval dwellings, all beautifully kept.

Carennac (approaching church)

Carennac (church entrance)

The cold, lime-washed whiteness of the overcast skies persisted, so we never had the stunning panoramic views from the village’s elevated position. With no particular plan, we just kept moving around and through the twisty narrow streets, enjoying the easy exercise and fresh hillside air.  We occasionally had to swiftly dodge, with our backs tight to the stone side walls, as a confident or reckless car rushed through much too quickly for the available street width.  Tucked away, we found small artist shops selling their artisan goods in bright displays.  We had our obligatory visit to the local church, found through a tiny archway that led into a wonderful cobbled courtyard.

Autoire (town aire)

Leaving Carennac, we decided to head for the hillside village of Autoire, where there would be more beaux villages to see and, more importantly, expansive hillsides to walk in, to give ourselves a short break from stone and reconnect with more leafy pathways.

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. )