From Copenhagen we head on in a zig-zagging fashion across Zealand and Jutland, from sea to sea. It’s a route filled with Denmark’s history. We start with Helsinborg, or – as the English speaking world knows it, Elsinore. “Hamlet’s Castle” is actually Castle Kronborg, a mighty fortress guarding the narrowest passage through the Danish Straits – the connection between Baltic and Atlantic is no bigger than a large river, with Sweden seemingly a stone’s throw away.
We speed on to Roskilde, to the first Viking site on our way: the Viking Ship Museum, holding not only remains of five different vikings ships (built all over the Viking world – from Ireland to Norway – and then deposited at the mouth of Roskilde fjord as blockade) but also their accurate, working reconstructions and a small “viking village”. The temporary exhibition at the museum is worth the ticket alone, an inspiring true story of three 9th century travelers, whose interlocking paths trace the early Medieval globalisation, and an emerging common market ranging from Suzhou in China to Lofoten in Norway and beyond.
A ferry takes us to Aarhus; a fairly big city (by Scandinavian standards) and pretty-looking, which we pass by, not wanting this trip to be all just about sightseeing cities. Our destination for the night is Danish Lakeland – not terribly impressive as lake districts go, a couple of small ponds and a few 100m tall hills. But like everything else in Denmark, it’s compact, convenient and very pretty – and very crowded on (yet another! Do Danes ever work?) bank holiday weekend.
Continuing the north-westerly zig towards Vorupor – a small fishing village lost among the North Sea dunes, and the farthest point from Copenhagen on mainland Denmark – we pass through barrow mound country. There are more barrow mounds in Jutland than we’ve seen anywhere in England; small clusters, big clusters, tall, low, single person burials, group burials… the mounds are perhaps the most common and distinct feature of this otherwise featureless, flat landscape, apart from the Tuscany-reminding white-washed church towers. It’s as if, for the lack of natural hills, the ancient Danes decided they would more than enough of their own.
Vorupor is in Thy, a region (and a national park) we’re now familiar with as the one whence the best Danish dairy comes from. Indeed, we pass herds of healthy-looking cows roaming freely on salty marshland – which no doubt gives their milk the distinct flavour. Thy coast is wind-swept, desolate, full of small fishing boats and Germans. Always flocking together, the Germans chose Vorupor and its neighbouring villages as their favourite spot on Denmark’s coast, and we get by with out smattering of German far better than with English.
The Danes, uniquely, can choose two seas to holiday on – Baltic and Atlantic – and so do we; our north-easterly zag from Vorupor passes by the bird-watcher’s paradise of Limfjord. We stop at a random hide, chosen because of its thatched roof; it’s right on the highway, between two lakes, and we don’t expect to see much other than Greylag Geese that come here to breed. Spotting a couple of avocets is reward enough (we haven’t seen even one all last year), but then a flock of what we dismissed as egrets turns out to be… EIGHT spoonbills.
You’d have to be a UK birdwatcher to understand the flutter of our hearts. We’ve seen ONE in all our years in UK, an accidental tourist in the Norfolk marshes. Here there were eight of them, wading unperturbed no more than a hundred meters from the edge of a busy motorway. Really, life’s too good for the Danes.
We pass two more remnants of the past Viking glories as we approach the eastern coast: the largest of Harald Bluetooth‘s round forts (Ring Castles) at Aggersborg, and an immense burial ground of Lindholm Hoje, near Aalborg, where for nearly 600 years men were buried in ship-shape stone graves. The remains track the line of Limfjord’s natural canal, linking the two seas: these were important waters in Viking days, allowing the ships to pass safely from Baltic to Atlantic and beyond.
We reach the eastern coast near Fredrikshavn, for our last night in Denmark. The beach here is formed of debris and detritus thrown across the straits from both seas. Half of it is golden sand, half – heaps of tiny, crushed seashells, foot-deep. Walking on it barefoot is the oddest sensation.
There’s one more stop to make tomorrow before we board the overnight ferry to Norway – but that’s for another post.