King Canute had the right idea. Denmark should really be united with England. It is everything the middle-class, rural English aspire to be, and what they think they could be, if it wasn’t for those pesky proles and/or immigrants: clean, rich, covered in lush gardens, fertile fields and quaint thatched cottages.
Just as expected, the home land of the Angles looks just like East Anglia: flat marshland criss-crossed with canals, dotted with windmills. Even the square cathedral tower of Ribe rises from the sea of green just like that of Ely. The modern borders seem fairly ridiculous to a traveler: East Anglia, Friesland, Lower Saxony and Jutland are all part of the same scattered, marshy, sandy shoreline of the Northern Sea, and if it wasn’t for signs in different languages, you’d be hard pressed to tell where one country ends and another begins.
It’s an impossibly beautiful country, so much so that it’s beginning to feel disturbing. It’s certainly the most attractive countryside in Northern Europe, in early summer; all soft rolling hills, fields of green wheat and scattered poppies. There is not a single ugly building in Denmark. Everything modern – a power station, an office building, a road-side tractor dealership, a chemical plant – whether through planning, public demand, or simply the need to make a statement, is designed to the best modern standard, each a singular work of art made of cold steel, glass, grey stone. Everything old, or pretending to be old, is straight out of a fairy-tale, thatched, half-timbered, painted bright, hidden in lilacs and dark crimson roses. Cobble-stoned streets. Sculpted wooden pillars. Hand-blown glass in windows. All immaculate. All perfect. Even the county logos (above) are sleek and modern.
By the third day we’re getting slightly fed up with the chocolate-box little towns: Ribe, Kolding, Middlefart (sic! also: the signs warning of fartkonrol), Koge – a first world problem if there ever was any. The towns are bright, open and spacious, leafy, calm. The Danes are among the happiest people in the world, and it’s easy to see why. There is very little to stress about in Denmark, once you figure out the recycling; it all feels a bit unreal, like a giant Scandinavia-themed amusement park or open air museum.
After a day strolling about Odense – the district around Andersen’s house is by far the most idyllic we’ve yet seen – we cross the largest road bridge in Europe to Zealand. A slightly busier day: we stop for shopping at Koge (another perfect, fairy-tale town), stop for a photo at Vallo Castle (heart-breakingly stunning drive under the ancient lime-trees, ending with exactly the kind of small, fairy-tale castle you’d imagine in this place) and a brief respite overlooking the Stevns Klint: a rarity in this part of the world, steep chalk cliffs dropping into the Baltic, and a geological curiosity on a global scale: here you can see the Dinosaur Extinction with the naked eye, as a dark line of iridium-rich clay in the rock.
The sea is two-tone: pure emerald where the chalk shines through, even purer sapphire further from the shore. Sweden looms grey on the horizon, and we could be there the next day, but that’s not the plan: tomorrow we head for Copenhagen, and from there, we get back to the mainland, towards the North.