Denmark (Scandinavia 5)

Published on 11 September 2022 at 15:37

It just isn't right. When the loading ramp of the ferry opens, the cyclists are the first to disembark. That's already weird; we usually experience it differently. We have not yet seen that it is pouring heavily behind that tailgate. After leaving the ship we stop directly under a half canopy to get us in rain gear. In those few meters we are already practically soaked and after the stop we have lost the lead on the motorized traffic. We cycle in the pouring rain between the motorbikes, cars, trucks and (of course) a lot of campers. Where are we? We are in Fredrikshavn, a harbor town in the north of Denmark. Fredrikshavn is the proud owner of Denmark's most beautiful beach: Palmestranden. The weather on arrival doesn't fit palmtrees at all.


Because we are halfway through our journey (and there will be a strong headwind for the next two days) we have chosen to allow material, clothing and ourselves some maintenance. We do that in an AirBnB apartment. On one of the following days at a better time, we walk to Palmestranden. The rain has gone by then, but it is cool with about 18 degrees and the wind is blowing hard. The palm trees are moved to this beach every year and overwinter in warmer places. Basically the same as what many Scandinavians do.


We are curious about this for us new and quite unknown country. What is striking are the differences with Norway and Sweden. Denmark is part of Scandinavia, but it looks more like the Wadden Islands in the north of The Netherlands here: dunes, grasses and houses made of bricks instead of wood. Many national banners and flags, just like in Norway and Sweden. The supermarkets are all open on Sundays and even sell beer and wine. 


The TV In the apartment is connected to Apple TV and that gives us the opportunity to ignore the rain, cold and wind and watch two series and do not much more than sit on the sofa. 'Defending Jacob' and 'Blackbird' are penetrating stories and we enjoy not cycling for a while and being a coach potato. The town is a bit dull, sleepy, sluggish. The Danish women seem to have a predilection for formless dresses with floral prints. Roelie actually wants to go to a hairdresser, but the shapeless, unflattering dresses of the hairdressers stop her.


The first stage in Denmark is promising. We soon pass through beautiful areas and alternate asphalt, cart tracks and single tracks. Everything seems all nice, nice and good until we get into open terrain and can see that rain is on the way.

Not much later and without any shelter it starts to rain. The temperature shoots down. We put on the rain gear too late and quickly get cold. We soon soak in our shoes, partly thanks to the high, soaking wet grass. Then we get a path for the tires that cannot be cycled due to the rain: the top layer sticks and the wheels don't want to turn anymore. Just like us. Due to the screeching and screeching of the chains and derailleur, we fondly remember the closed gearbox of Pinion or Rohloff in combination with a Gates carbon belt: no cleaning and never a crunch. In addition, Fredrikshavn's bicycle repair shop has said that Harry's chain needs to be replaced after only 3,000 km. We replaced the belts after 30,000 km and not even because we had to. Speaking of that bike mechanic, he confirmed what we already suspect, Harry's derailleur can't reach the smallest gear (the largest blade). The chain will then be too slanted.


Back to the delusions of the day of heavy rainfall. We choose to leave the route, the European Divide Trail (EDT), and take the shortest route to the nearest coffee shop. Northern Denmark is sparsely populated but much denser than previously crossed regions in Norway and Sweden. A coffee shop is never very far away. That turns out to be a Spar supermarket in the village of Tversted. Half an hour later the rain has turned into drizzle and we slurp on a mediocre cappuccino in front of the supermarket. A little further on is Hirtshals, another port town, and the Spar seems to be a magnet for long-distance cyclists who come in with varying degrees of drowning and numbness. Belgians, Danes, French and Dutch and a lot of cyclists passing by. It turns out that this Spar is on route 1, the popular route along the North Sea coast. We doubt what to do, if we look at the weather forecast, we would actually like to look for a place to stay nearby. But we firmly believe in Murphy's Cyclist's Law: if we stop it will stay dry and if we continue the pouring rain will continue. Not that this law helps with decision-making, by the way. A lot of deliberation and two cappuccinos and half a wienerstange later, we decide to continue the route.


We largely continue the EDT on the common national cycling route number 1 to the port town of Hirtshals. Fortunately, the Danish cycling routes and certainly this route through the dunes also have a lot of gravel. We are still cold and we decide to look for a roof over our heads and check in at BenB at sea and we enjoy a lovely warm shower. The bicycles are also cleaned of all rubbish and sand with the garden hose and the chains are lubricated again.


Cooking yourself on our own small terrace with cold and strong wind (but also with an unobstructed sea view) is possible, but we would rather go out for dinner. It seemed like a nice lively village with some activity and many restaurants. The desire evaporates when we are seated at a table in a pathetic raised niche and see the prices on the menu. The simple eatery charges Michelin prices. We leave the alcove without ordering and get a frozen pizza to slide into the oven of the kitchen of the benb. In our opinion, the pimped pizza is worthy of a snack bar for a small price.

On the second day of cycling through Denmark, Roelie adapted the route to cycle past a famous lighthouse called Rubjerg Knude Fyr. The lighthouse was in danger of being swallowed by the sea and was moved a few years ago so that the lighthouse can last 30 years longer. According to users of the Komoot app, it is possible to cycle to and from the Mårup Kirke on the north side. That turns out not to be true! The first photo is still going well, the second less so and after that no more photo was taken, but was frequently cursed. Sandy-shod, thorn-grazed shins, and full of remorse for whoever provided the input to Komoot, we plop down as we reach passable ground again. The chain creaks again.


Spread out in the dunes along the northern coast are countless summer houses with a grass roof.


Part of the cycle route runs along the beach. Usually that means that the tide determines whether there is cycling, but not here. Normal cars are driven as if it were a normal road and there is therefore also cycling. This wide stretch of beach is even part of the national cycling route number 1. Many campers also camp on the beach.


We camp at a nature campsite below the village of Blokhus and wake up in the morning to the singing of the birds. There were none in Norway and Sweden. By the way, there are birds that sound like an annoying alarm bell instead of beautiful singing. The owner tells us that this nature campsite is quite different from the usual campsites in Denmark: the terrain is not neatly mowed and raked and also not systematically divided into plots. There are even trees on this campsite. That is the reason that Danes ignore this campsite and you mainly find Dutch and Germans there, according to the owner.


The cycling route European Divide Trail, which we follow, coincides in many places with long-distance cycling routes, but at a few points we do a part of an MTB route. They are sometimes fine, sometimes technical and sometimes impossible, as in the photos above. We see something of flattened grass but that is the only trace. Fallen trees are so high that it is not so easy to pull the bicycle over them.


When we reach mainland Denmark at Løgstør, we come on a former train track that is now an 80 km long cycle path. Harry thinks it's wonderfully easy to ride gravel bikes and Roelie thinks it's boring. Harry had a tick in his pedal and now Roelie has taken over. This is a common problem and easy to remedy. We stop in Aars and grab the multi-tool, the toilet roll and the grease we got from the bicycle mechanic in Fredrikshavn. The pedals are unscrewed, cleaned and greased and screwed back. Tick gone.


Halfway through the railway track in the village of Aalestrup we camp at a poorly rated campsite according to Goolgle reviews. The sanitary facilities are dated, but everything is there, but for fellow guests. Except for a late and early departing camper, we have the campsite to ourselves.


It is quite cool for the time of year. The temperature during the day reaches a maximum of 16 or 17 degrees and drops further down in the evening when the sun sets. Luckily we brought warm down jackets.


In the morning we clean the creaking chains again and then we can continue completely silently. After another 40 kilometers we reach the terminus of the former railway in the town of Viborg. After Viborg we notice that we are on a route that is signposted as Hærvejen. Internet tells us that it is a historic road from Hamburg across the watershed to transport livestock as easily as possible: by following the watershed crossing fjords and large rivers was avoided. The route is more than a thousand years old and is also a pilgrimage route, a long-distance walking tour and can be walked all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.


For the night we have a shelter in mind. Shelters are a famous phenomenon in Denmark. In Corona time, the Danish government wanted to stimulate outdoor life and built many more. An app tells where they are and what the facilities are. In most shelters you can stay overnight for free. The shelter we are heading for has a pit toilet and drinking water. All we have to do is get something to eat at a shop in Vrads, a village three kilometers away. We first cycle past the shelter and see that three people have already settled down: the shelter is rather full, but there is room for our tent. We stop and chat a bit, while we drink extensively from the cold water. The shop further down (and also quite a lot higher up in this hilly part of Denmark) unfortunately has a very limited range. The only fresh is a matured zucchini, otherwise it is mainly ice cream that the best man sells. We buy an ice cream and look at the options. We choose not to return to the shelter but to continue cycle to Bryrup where there is a supermarket and also a campsite. It is only about six kilometers further but a lot of hills up and down.


Bryrup has a great nice (and cheap for cyclists) campsite. After a pretty tough day with quite a lot of altimeters and also quite high temperatures, we jump in the pool. It is the first time that the swimsuits are used this trip.


Nice name for a village! The area south of the town of Silkeborg is a very beautiful one. It is hilly with forests, heath and lakes.


Near the village of Jelling is a historic Viking fortress from 1000 years ago. Hundreds of pylons indicate where a king once built a large tomb in the shape of a Viking ship. Such a grave guarantees a smooth passage to Valhalla. The ship must have had enormous dimensions and even today it radiates the power that the Danish Viking kings had. We cycle around, read information signs and eat a much too large and fortunately also too tasty sandwich from the supermarket around the corner.


In the village of Beakke we again buy ice cream. While eating coffee is offered to us by the local tourist office. It is clear that the lady is in need of company or at least some run-up. We decline the cup of coffee, but we would like to fill the water bottles. That is okay and we are asked if we want to put a message in their guestbook. We see that on the same day a message was written by Jan and Elma, the cyclists we encountered on the boat from Gothenburg to Fredrikshavn, with whom we had put on the rain gear in the pouring rain. Apparently they have changed their plan to cycle along the coast. The lady from the tourist office tells us that they had only been here a few hours before; how funny! In the village we visit a shelter. This is just in built-up areas and that feels strange to us. Plus, there's some youth hanging around. In the end we choose to continue cycling.

We eventually leave the route briefly to cycle again to a campsite that is rated low on Google. We liked the previous one. This one is okay too, though we have no idea how much we're paying for it. Paying by phone and debit card like we did everywhere so far, doesn't work here. It doesn't seem like we are being approached practically in any way by the (new-fangled) owners. Referred to an ATM again 10 kilometers back. Suddenly Harry remembers that we still have some euros in the passports and the Danes are willing to accept them. We give them a €50 note and get some coins back. It looks like this campsite is going to be one of the most expensive of our trip, but the next morning we get even more coins back. It turns out that our shower passes had credit that we barely used. We add up the coins and find that in the end we paid €27.50. That is not expensive by Danish standards. Compared to the Netherlands, Denmark is also quite a bit more expensive and comparable to Norway and Sweden.


The route Hærvejen /  EDT gets a bit boring. In the village of Jels we meet a hiker from Sterksel, a village close to our hometown Helmond, who is walking the route from Hamburg and warns us that he does not find the route from Hamburg interesting. We shall see. Fortunately, we can tell him that it will be more beautiful and more varied 100 km to the north. Harry makes the classic mistake of thinking like a cyclist when he tells the walker that things will get better in one day.


Just before the border with Germany, we seize the last chance to use the great Danish infrastructure with shelters. Above the town of Padborg we set up a tent at our first shelter. There is water and a kind of 'toilet' and a little later also two German girls who don't show much social skills. Free, in the middle of nature, but audible close to a highway.


The last few kilometers in Denmark are varied and shortly after we cycle along the Flensborgfjord, we cross the border into Germany. So that was it.


Denmark is especially beautiful in the far north, as is the hilly area south of Silkeborg. The cycle route was at times tough but more often a bit boring. Just like the Netherlands, Denmark is a low country, but certainly not flat: it goes up and down! We have made a surprising number of altimeters in this country. The national cycle routes are largely gravel, which is a pleasure for us and familiar to our bikes, but we can imagine that this can be a problem if you are cycling on narrow tires (<40 mm).


The accommodation options through the extensive and dense network of shelters are simply brilliant, but unfortunately we didn't make much use of them for various reasons.


In Denmark (just like in Norway and Sweden) cash is hardly paid anywhere anymore; everywhere you can pay with your phone or bank card, even small amounts. So we had no idea what the coins look like until we couldn't pay with a foreign bank card at that campsite and got some crowns back from a €50 bill. We still don't know what the Danish banknotes look like.


We hardly had any expectations for Denmark. The country surprised us with its relief, but in the end that is not enough to make us very enthusiastic as cyclists. Good to have been once, but Denmark is not high on the list to return to.