Cycling

Cycling Europe: Schleswig-Holstein And Denmark

As we probably all know (even if we’ve never had the chance to visit the country), Denmark is a great place to cycle. So is northern Germany, especially the one-time Danish territory of Schleswig-Holstein. The facilities on offer, the topology, the attitude of road users… it’s all, well, very hygge. In 2015 I had the opportunity of cycling across northern Germany and Denmark en route from Spain to Norway and the book, Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie, was published by Summersdale in spring 2017.

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The story of that adventure is divided into the 35 degrees of latitude that I crossed as I cycled from Tarifa – Europe’s most southerly point – to Nordkapp – its most northerly. As my journey was not in a straight line, some of my degrees were somewhat longer than others. The 7th degree (42º to 43º north) took me a week as I pedalled across northern Spain but the longest of all was the 19th degree that straddled the border between Germany and Denmark. It started on June 7th in the northern suburbs of Hamburg and continued until I arrived at the eastern end of the island of Møn on June 15th. Indeed so long was the 19th degree that it is the only one in the book to be split into two chapters, the two chapters which you can read below. On a cold day in February, they bring back fond memories…

The book itself – including the other 34 degrees of latitude – is available online and from all good bookshops. More details here.


The Nineteenth Degree (1): 54°–54°50 North

7–10 June

The good news as I cycled through the northern suburbs of the city towards the border with Schleswig-Holstein was that Reggie was being uncharacteristically quiet. There was the purring of a cleaned chain passing smoothly over the rear cogs but nothing else. No clicking. I was once again riding a bicycle that was only making the noises it was designed to make, and that made me a very happy cyclist.

The Vía de la Plata that I had followed in Spain had been built by the Romans, making it about 2,000 years old. Schleswig-Holstein (and Jutland in Denmark) could beat that by some margin with the Ochsenweg, or the ‘oxen way’, an ancient cattle track. It claimed heritage going back some 6,000 years. That was a lot of resurfacing. Of more relevance here is that the EuroVelo 3 – the route to Trondheim in Norway – chose to follow the Ochsenweg cycle path from Hamburg to northern Jutland. My plan was to cycle along it until Flensburg, the last town in Germany, and then head east across the islands of Denmark to Copenhagen and beyond.

I found my first Ochsenweg cycle path sign in the small town of Langeln. Thereafter, as the route guided me along its angular course down country lanes, across railway tracks and past great wind turbines, I couldn’t help but think that the cows of olden times might have adopted a more direct itinerary. It was distinctly reminiscent of following the HH-HB cycle route from Bremen to Hamburg: well signposted, pretty views but far too much faffing about.

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After a lengthy cycle approaching 100 km, I arrived at a campsite by a lake near Borgdorf-Seedorf. It had been a chilly day, with a strong wind from the north removing any hint of warmth from the sunlight. As I waited for the campsite reception to open, I looked forward to pitching the tent in the large patch of empty ground beside the water, pulling on my newly purchased thermal jacket, sinking into my camping chair, putting on my slippers and smoking my pipe. Well, some of those things anyway, but it was that kind of evening and that kind of view.

However, it wasn’t to be. When the reception opened, I was processed in a manner akin to being admitted to a remand facility. The man was polite but formal and extremely to the point. I was handed half a roll of toilet paper, although no criminal charges were read out and, after paying a deposit for the shower smart card, I was free to go. My allocated pitch had a view of lots of caravans but, alas, no lake.

Until mid-afternoon, cycling day 52 was very much a repeat of cycling day 51. The Ochsenweg was just as angular, the wind turbines just as majestic and my ability to follow the signs successfully for an entire day just as poor. I learnt a little more about the cattle route; it had first been used in the Bronze Age and later considered part of the Way of St James to Compostela, although I doubted the cows ever got that far. I even came across another surviving transporter bridge, one of the remaining 13. Just 11 to go.

After 65 km, I arrived in the pretty town of Schleswig – where quaint, one-storey houses surrounded an unbelievably well-kept graveyard and white church – with the intention of finding a local campsite and bedding down for the night. Schleswig was situated on the banks of what my guidebook referred to as a fjord – the term was clearly not exclusively Norwegian – and suggested a ferry might be required to get to the campsite, so I sought out the tourist office to check.

The two affable girls running the place lacked the essential skill that tourist office employees require: local knowledge.

‘Can I catch the ferry to the campsite after 4 p.m.?’ I asked.

The girls exchanged blank looks and there ensued a scramble of searching activity. This only ended when I picked up a leaflet with a picture of a ferry on the front marked Fähren and asked for translations. The last ferry had gone.

‘There’s another one tomorrow,’ one of the girls suggested in good faith, but ultimately unhelpfully.

There was a second camping option but this was further along the fjord. Did I have the energy? Here too a ferry would be required to cross a narrow channel feeding the fjord. Was it still running late in the afternoon? A second frenzy of searching activity started until one of the girls had the brainwave of googling the question.

‘Yes. It leaves at 9 a.m.’

‘I’ve missed that too then.’

‘No. It goes…’

The girl started to move her finger backwards and forwards.

‘…all day. I think.’

To make them feel a little better about our encounter I asked one final, easy question. In all but one key respect they had been model ambassadors for their town. It would be good to end on a high.

‘Is there a supermarket on the road to Missunde?’

I left the building none the wiser but with a smile on my face.

Via a wrong turn into an industrial estate, 10 km of winding country roads, a ferry attached to a chain and even a small supermarket, I arrived close to Camping Haithabu. Things were looking up. Now, where was the site? Online search… Err… 10 km back near the centre of Schleswig. This level of incompetence would surely get me a job at the tourist office. There was, however, a third site marked on the map, where I thought Camping Haithabu had been. I would at least check it out before setting off again. Camping Haithabu had sounded perfect…

But so was Campingplatz Wees am Ostseefjord Schlei. Indeed, I seemed to have stumbled rather inadvertently on a campsite that was about to rocket itself into my top five of the trip so far. It had everything that the previous night’s site hadn’t had: friendly welcome, free (and untimed) shower and a stupendous view over a wide lake upon which a handful of small yachts bobbed beside a band of yellow reeds. Magnificent. But it was cold so I wrapped up, sat down next to the tent and heated a can of beans to a temperature that began to compensate for the lack of warmth in my body.

Early the following morning I crawled from the tent as soon as I could detect sunshine streaming over the horizon. I took up a meerkat-like position and stood for perhaps ten minutes to allow my body to warm up. Despite the lack of heat, I couldn’t have wished for a better location in which to spend the first hour or so of my final full day in Germany.

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I fell into conversation with my neighbour, William from South Africa. He was 70 and explained he was spending the summer renovating a sailing boat moored nearby. I recounted my own mid-life summer adventure.

‘You’re doing the right thing. My children are 40 and 45; they’re burnt out with the stress of their jobs. I can’t understand it,’ he explained, adding that the elder of the two had already suffered a heart attack.

William had moved to Germany with a new partner and had an eight-year-old son, although he no longer lived with the mother.

‘I think here in Germany he has a much greater chance of living a better-quality life than his brothers in South Africa.’

It was difficult to disagree with him. I was coming towards the end of my two-week journey across Germany and had found it to be a land where the hard edge of Anglo-Saxon capitalism had yet to tread. Yes, they worked hard and, yes, they liked to make money but they managed to balance things out with a quality of living that so many in the English-speaking world seem to have cast aside as inconsequential. When my knees are knackered and my work finished, I too want to come and spend my summers renovating boats in an out-of-the-way place like Campingplatz Wees am Ostseefjord Schlei. Perhaps one day I’ll be back.

It would be a short but hilly cycle to Flensburg, on the Danish border. The Danish influence was increasingly evident, and I passed many houses flying the Danish flag and numerous Danish schools. Here was the Schleswig-Holstein Question on display for all to see.

Only three people,’ said Lord Palmerston, British prime minister to Queen Victoria, ‘have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business— the Prince Consort, who is dead— a German professor, who has gone mad— and I, who have forgotten all about it.

That doesn’t give me much of a chance but basically… It was a dispute over what belonged to whom: the Danes, the Austrians or the Prussians. In the end, they had several fights about it. The long-term outcome was that Northern Schleswig is now in Denmark and Southern Schleswig combines with Holstein to form the German region of Schleswig-Holstein – the one through which I was about to finish cycling.

By cycling the 15 km along the fjord to Missunde, I had moved away from the Ochsenweg. So, rather than double back to Schleswig to find it, I decided to make up my own cross-country route by cycling from small town to small town along country roads. It was a strategy that worked well and I arrived in Flensburg before the clocks struck 12 after just 40 km of cycling. I was now only 5 km from the Danish border but would not be leaving Germany until the following morning, as I had arranged via WarmShowers to camp in the garden of Franziska and her retired Lutheran priest husband Klaus.

I needed to be at Franziska’s house at around 5 p.m. This gave me plenty of time to explore the city centre, although much of it was spent sitting beside the harbour and simply watching the world go by. As harbours go, it was a good one and, from my position at the southern end of the fjord, there was much to see. On my left was a wide promenade and beyond that the pretty harbour-front buildings. To my right was a hill smothered in greenery and large houses. In the near distance was a sharp steeple. I wondered if this was where Klaus had tended his flock. Immediately in front of me, on the water, was an eclectic mix of small boats: pleasure cruisers, sailing boats, yachts and colourful fishing boats. None were vulgarly large and it all appeared to be rather, well… Scandinavian. I could say with confidence that I was now in Scandinavia in every respect apart from actually having arrived there.

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The cold night in Missunde had got me thinking about how suitable my sleeping bag would be further north, so when I finally dragged myself away from the thoroughly relaxing position by the harbour, I was on the lookout for an outdoor shop. I found one in the Groβe Strasse and went in for a browse. Before I could make it anywhere near the sleeping bags, I noticed a familiar face: Javier, the Argentinian who was also cycling to Nordkapp.

Our routes since Maastricht had been remarkably similar but they were about to diverge, with Javier continuing north through Jutland and me heading east to Copenhagen. Putting aside our respective purchasing plans, we found a café and sat outside in the sun, chewing over the trials and tribulations of our journeys to Nordkapp. Although I didn’t know it as we chatted, it would be the last time I would see him. Upon arrival in Norway he decided to find work and delayed the final push for Nordkapp until later in the summer. I left the search for a replacement sleeping bag until another day.

I found Franziska and Klaus’s house not far from the spire I had noticed. It had indeed been the church where he had been the Lutheran pastor prior to retirement. They were both keen touring cyclists and able to pass on a considerable amount of good advice about cycling to Copenhagen. From what they told me, travelling by bike in Denmark couldn’t be faulted. I did hope that it would live up to all my expectations.

We continued to sit, sip wine, eat Scandinavian chocolate and chat long into the evening. Klaus talked about his experiences growing up in post-war Germany and he certainly had a tale to tell. He was born in 1945 in an area along the Baltic coast that subsequently became part of East Germany. At the end of the war, his parents became refugees but the family was taken in by a local aristocrat who lived in a large house, where they shared two rooms for six years. Despite the tragedy of the situation, Klaus explained that, from the perspective of a young boy and with many other refugee families also living in the house, it had been great fun. I suspected that this kindness shown to him during his formative years had been instrumental in his choice of career.

The following morning Franziska escorted me on a short tour of her favourite local places, including the nearby Sankt-Jürgen Straße: a row of now-much-gentrified fishermen’s cottages painted pale yellow, green or blue and many with flowers tumbling from the boxes beneath their tall windows. We then cycled the short distance to the meticulously restored merchants’ courtyards in the centre of Flensburg. Here, as we stood in a narrow alley beneath black timber-framed houses, Franziska explained that the cattle being herded along the Ochsenweg would rest overnight before continuing their journeys to the markets further south. It seemed as fitting place as any at which to end my own journey along the route.

All that remained of the Bundesrepublik was a climb up a hill to a supermarket, where eager Danes were filling their cars with cheap beer, and then a freewheel cycle back down to the border. A large expanse of tarmac, once home to border guards and sniffer dogs, was now only host to a small collection of flags and one solitary sign reading: Danmark.

The Nineteenth Degree (2): 54°50’–55° North

10–15 June

Close your eyes and imagine the shape of Denmark. The image in your mind is probably along these lines: a big bit that sits on top of Germany and then a handful of islands on the right. But you’ve missed the detail…

The big bit on top of Germany is Jutland, of course, and quite straightforward. That said, you probably placed the border with Germany a tad further south than where it actually is. I’ll forgive you but the Germans might not appreciate you reigniting the Schleswig-Holstein problem. As for the islands on the right, there are, in fact, about 400. My job over the next few days would be to fathom a route across them as far as distant Copenhagen. Rather fortuitously, the ability of the natural world to fragment a country into islands is directly proportional to that country’s ability to buy ferries and build bridges, or so it seems. Denmark had lots of them and I would be using many to hop from Jutland to Als to Funen to Tåsinge to Siø to Langeland to Lolland to Falster to Bogø to Møn and, finally, to the biggest of the lot: Zealand. Geography lesson over; let’s get on with the cycling.

Remember how, at the supermarket on the German side of the border, the Danish had been filling their boots with cheap alcohol? The first thing I encountered on the Danish side of the border was a sex shop. What could the Germans be filling their boots with in there that they couldn’t get back in the Fatherland? I had always considered both the Germans and the Danes to be very liberal when it came to such things but clearly the Danes were even more broad-minded than I had imagined. I could be in for an interesting week.

Spurning the opportunity to go inside and have my question answered definitively, I cycled on, and almost immediately turned right and headed east. My journey over the next few days would see me make almost no progress north but, as that – now knackered – crow would fly, 200 km along a line of latitude to the most easterly point of Denmark at Møns Klint. The plan on this first day was to follow a route along the northern edge of the Flensburg Fjord and over a couple of islands to the town of Fynshav, where I would stay overnight before catching the ferry to Funen the following morning.

Initial impressions of Denmark weren’t great; they were exceptional. A long, straight road guided me down to the and presented me with sublime views over a large expanse of clear blue water. Short wooden piers poked out from the shore with a few rudimentary boats tethered to their vertical supports. The road hugged the coastline and large, well-maintained houses with enviable views were scattered across the slope to my left. The gardens came in many shapes and sizes but, almost without exception, they all had a flagpole. Hanging from each one was a thin strip of material sporting the white cross and red background of the Danish flag. It was a sign of national pride with which I would grow increasingly familiar as I made my way through Scandinavia.

I had decided to follow Danish cycling route 8, the Sydhavsruten, or ‘south sea route’. It stretched from Rudbøl near the west coast of Jutland to Møns Klint in the east and was signposted, somewhat sporadically, with blue-and-red panels. The lack of signs, however, didn’t concern me. Why would it? All the roads were of good quality, with a wide and clearly marked cycling band on the right. Where a segregated cycle path had been built, its surface was never ravaged by the roots of trees and, unlike in Germany, pavement cycling was almost non-existent.

Upon arrival in Sønderborg, I paused to change some euros into kroner (DK) and buy food. People had warned me of two things that would shock me in all three Scandinavian countries: the cost of food and, especially, the cost of alcohol. In the first supermarket I found, I purchased some crisps for 10DK (almost exactly £1), some digestive biscuits for 5DK and a can of beer for 9DK. Expensive? Hardly. It didn’t appear that even the cost of keeping myself fed was going to dent my growing appreciation for all things Danish.

The final 20 km of this first day in Denmark took me away from the shores of the fjord to the ferry port at Fynshav. From my pitch on the campsite – itself a shockingly modest 75DK – I could see the ferry come and go a couple of hundred metres away. After pitching the tent, I eased myself into the camping chair and toasted my good fortune at having found a country that delivered as promised on so many levels. Could it possibly continue to do so all the way to Helsingør? Irrespective, it had been a great way to spend my birthday, which I celebrated with an inexpensive crisp in one hand and a warm, inexpensive beer in the other.

When I emerged from the tent in the morning, Denmark had taken on a different feel; it was cold and the sky grey. The ferry – a large roll-on roll-off-type ship – edged its way to the side of the dock with its bow door wide open (I failed to cast aside memories of The Herald of Free Enterprise), and then deposited me, Reggie and the handful of other island hoppers at the end of a long causeway. One of the first signs I noticed was indicating cycle route 8 which, if nothing else, confirmed that the ferry captain had chosen the right island from the 400 on offer.

The landscape of Funen may have been flatter than that of Jutland and Als on the previous day but the pretty views were quintessentially Danish: modest, tidy and meticulously well-ordered. Much time was spent stopping, pausing, gazing and taking photographs, and as the afternoon progressed, the clouds began to break, allowing everything to be bathed in sporadic floods of Scandinavian sunshine. The signs – often sporting directionally challenged arrows and almost always absent in urban areas – weren’t playing ball, but as most of my route hugged the southern coastline of Funen, the reassuring presence of the sea more than compensated for any frustrations.

Perhaps the cycling signs in and around Faaborg and Svendborg – the two main towns – had simply been hidden beneath the hundreds of political posters. It was election time in Denmark, a fact that was hard to ignore. The general election was due to take place on 18 June and Denmark’s first woman prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, was hoping to lead her Social Democratic party to a ‘red’ coalition victory against a tide of ‘blue’ conservative opposition[1]. I wouldn’t like to cast aspersions upon the morals of the Danish political elite but from the perspective of this casual observer, bringing the voters over to your way of thinking appeared to rely significantly upon the distribution of free pens and bottles of water. As a cycling writer, these were most welcome and as I pushed Reggie through the pedestrian precincts, I built up a small collection of both items, despite my initial protestations that I wasn’t eligible to vote.

Notwithstanding the best efforts of a series of roadworks, I eventually managed to work out the complex algorithm preventing all but the most determined of cyclists from crossing the high bridge to the island of Tåsinge. Upon arrival, a short climb through Vindeby brought me to a T-junction. It was that time in the mid- to late afternoon when I was beginning to fight the temptation of following the main road – especially tempting in Denmark, where I knew that a good quality cycle path would be provided for me. But no, I would persist with route 8, so I turned left along a longer route via the coast.

I was immediately rewarded with a cycle along country lanes and past quaint, single-storey thatched cottages with colourful front doors and gardens that wouldn’t have looked out of place at the Chelsea Flower Show. But an even greater delight was in store. For several kilometres I had been noticing signs for Valdemars Slot – a Gothic-sounding castle, Danish style? Frankenstein meets Hogwarts meets Lego?

‘What is it?’ I asked the only person I could find upon arrival at the large, red-brick (and decidedly un-Gothic) building. She was running a canoe hire shop incongruously located in the gatehouse to what was clearly a stately home. Perhaps my question should have been more specific.

‘It’s a stately home,’ she explained. ‘It belonged to the wife of the nephew of the man who wrote the Sherlock Holmes books.’

‘Conan Doyle?’ I suggested.

‘No…’

‘Arthur Conan Doyle?’

‘No, he’s not the author. He’s the nephew of the author.’

This was getting comical. Then she had a brainwave: ‘Fleming!’

‘James Bond?’

‘Yes, James Bond – not Sherlock Holmes.’

It can be so easy to confuse your British literary superheroes. By this point, I’d forgotten my original question so I let her continue.

‘It was owned by the wife of Rory Fleming, the nephew of Ian Fleming.’

It turned out that the person who now owned the was an aristocrat who had given the place to his daughter when she married the lucky Rory. When they divorced, he promptly bought it back from her and she went to live in divorced bliss in London. The ‘baron’, as the canoe shop woman described him, was still alive and lived in a modest house close to the slot, which was now a museum dedicated to big-game hunting.

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Over the course of the next hour, I managed to turn an 8 km end-of-day cycle from the western side of Langeland to its eastern coast at Spodsbjerg into a 20 km obstacle course. This involved a 5 km cycling loop that brought me back to where I started (‘Mmm… That’s a very familiar bridge…’), hauling poor Reggie over deserted roadworks that blocked the entire width of the road and pavement, narrow paths completely encased in small trees but which finished at dead ends, and to cap it all, coming close to running over a man and his snarling dog, who both insisted on maintaining their statuesque positions in the middle of the cycle lane. I hoped he wasn’t fluent in Chaucer but, following a colourful outburst from me, I cycled a little faster just in case he was. With over 400 islands to civilise, the Danish had a job on their hands and I could only surmise that Langeland was still on the work-in-progress list. It had been an odd, out-of-character place.

Cycling day 55 passed in a very similar vein to that of cycling day 54 but with one added attraction: the return of a cloudless sky. The view from the shore where I chose to sit as I waited for the ferry to Lolland was beyond stunning: crystal clear water lapping the rocks beneath me, a horizon that almost imperceptibly melted into the sky and trees tumbling into the water on the other side of the cove, softening the sharp edges of the roofs of the red-and-white houses nearby.

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It would turn out to be a long day, stretching to nearly 110 km, but although my calves may have been straining, in most other respects I was increasingly at ease with my surroundings. Perhaps there was something comfortingly familiar about this country and its people that I hadn’t experienced in any other place since leaving Tarifa. Even in the parts of France where I had lived for many years, as a passing cyclist, I was an outsider. Here in Denmark, however, where I was just as much an outsider as anywhere else, there were hints of home, especially when I watched the people and pointlessly eavesdropped on their conversations. In Maribo, where I had stopped to buy food from a small supermarket, I ate my mid-afternoon snack whilst listening to a group of teenagers who had gathered around the trolley park. I had no idea what they were talking about but I was struck as to how similar they were to their British counterparts: spitting, ignoring old people who dared to collect a trolley, swigging high-energy drinks and subsequently burping loudly. It was all quite endearing.

My initial plan had been to stay overnight in a campsite near the busy coastal town of Marielyst and when I arrived, there were certainly plenty to choose from. Alas, there were also plenty of families with their screaming kids – I preferred those who hung around in supermarket car parks, snarling at old folk – so I continued north along the coast and eventually stopped at an idyllic cliff top site near Ulslev run by a woman who had the financial acumen of campsite owner Josh Fiddler in Carry On Camping.

‘That’ll be 110 kroner for the pitch.’ Not bad.

‘But also 35 kroner for a Danish camping card – it’s compulsory.’ Ah… (Why hadn’t it been compulsory on the previous two Danish sites?)

‘Showers are 5 kroner for 4 minutes.’ All of 4 minutes? Luxury!

‘Washing machine 25 kroner.’ It had been at least a week so going without was not an option.

‘Dryer is 20 kroner.’ Nothing worse than damp clothes.

‘Two beers? That’ll be 1 krone deposit for each bottle.’ At least I would get the money back.

Just like Mr Fiddler, she smiled as she detailed the charges and I was happy to hand over the cash. Had I known at the time that I would fall asleep to the soporific noise of waves gently caressing the beach just a few metres from my tent, I would have probably offered to pay double.

The stretch of coastline north of Ulslev was considerably more wooded than anything I had so far encountered in Denmark. However pretty the countryside had been up until this point, I appreciated the subtle change from wide-open farmland to a more enclosed environment for no other reason than variety being very much my thing.

Touring cyclists, who had been all but absent since my arrival in Denmark, also began to appear again. A naked wild camper waved most of what he could from his pitch near the water, a small train of four young women nodded seriously as our paths crossed (apart from the one at the back who smiled broadly and shouted a warm greeting; I suspected her cheeriness might have been wearing thin on the others) and when I arrived at the ferry docking point at Stubbekobing, numerous cyclists were milling around on the quay.

By the time the boat arrived, most had disappeared, leaving just me, a couple of colourfully clad racing cyclists and a man in his Toyota to board and cross the 2 km-wide stretch of water to the small island of Bogø. I say ‘ferry’ but it was more of a floating platform with sides attached to stop people, their cars or their bicycles, from falling over the edge. In that respect, it did a marvellous job.

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My journey across Bogø was never going to be a long one and, within a few minutes of arrival, Reggie and I were crossing a long causeway that linked it to my penultimate Danish island, Møn. At this point it was very much a return to how the cycling had been up until the end of the previous day: gone were the woods, allowing the ever-strengthening gusts of wind to pick up speed across the empty and ever-so-slightly hillier terrain. In a country whose highest point above sea level is just 171 metres (at a place called Møllehøj on the eastern side of Jutland), everything topographical was on a different scale, so cast aside images of great peaks and valleys. This was a landscape upon which giants could have happily played croquet. But after so many days of horizontal travel, it was a discernible climb towards the high cliffs at Møns Klint.

I was doing myself no favours in travelling this far east. It would have been much easier to cycle the dozen or so kilometres to the bridge between Møn and Zealand than to deviate the 40 km to Møns Klint. But as I knew it to be the easternmost point of Denmark, I felt the urge to include it on my itinerary for the same superlative reason that I had wanted the entire trip to start in Tarifa and end at Nordkapp: I liked points at which thousands of years of geology had cut off the option of onward travel.

It was late afternoon by the time I arrived at the large Møns Klint campsite a couple of kilometres from the cliffs. The owners had gone out of their way to embrace environmentally friendly tourism and the site sported a subtitle: ‘Powered by nature’. At its hub stood a large thatched barn, and all around were fields dotted with tents and motorhomes. Everything was in the open apart from the large free camping area set aside for the likes of me, which was in a clearing surrounded by tall trees. The most visible indication of the site’s environmental credentials was in the communal facilities, which were shared not only with other campers but with high-speed swallows darting to and from their nests in the covered walkway. Somewhat distracting to begin with, but an arrangement between man and bird that seemed to be working well.

This was clearly no big city with a host of attractions; however, I had been yearning for a day off which didn’t involve much effort, so I decided to stay for two nights and take Sunday as my tenth day of rest. For a sunny weekend in mid-June, the campsite and surrounding area were far from busy. Indeed, on the second night I was the only camper within the clearing in the trees; I could almost have imagined I was wild camping.

The cliffs, their wooded paths and walkways, and (according to the T-shirts that were on sale) the 994 steps down to the narrow pebble-strewn beach were marginally more populated but not in any way that could have been described as busy. It was simply a wonderful place in which to sink into nature, stroll, dip your feet in the sea, climb steps slowly, exchange smiles with others, think, take photographs and relax. I took great pleasure in indulging in each activity at length.

I might have been a little less relaxed had I been aware of the unsteady nature of the ground beneath my feet. I had seen the warning signs beside the paths:

ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK

But, as with most people, I dismissed them as an excessive dollop of health and safety nonsense instigated by ever-cautious lawyers. There were, however, good reasons for the concern. In 2007, following the wettest winter on record, two of the area’s 128 metre-tall cliffs crashed into the sea, taking with them some half a million tonnes of Denmark and creating a new 300 metre-long peninsula in the process. Wars have been fought over less. This all happened on the night of 27 January. On 29 May in the same year, a new ‘GeoCenter’, constructed through the course of the winter, was opened by Queen Margrethe only 200 metres from where the collapse had taken place. In order to minimise the visual impact of the visitor centre, most of it had been built underground. Now, I’m no architect, engineer or geologist but could there have been a connection? If so, the authorities were keeping very quiet about it.


[1] The conservative ‘blue’ coalition went on to win and Lars Løkke Rasmussen replaced Helle Thorning-Schmidt as prime minister, allowing her to go off and spend more time with her family. In her case this meant her husband, British politician Stephen Kinnock, son of Neil and Glynis…

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