Position: 57°39’03.9″N 10°24’33.1″E
Denmark’s Jutland peninsula is, along its western shores, essentially one big sand dune. And it’s on the move. Steady winds off the North Sea push the perfect white sands eastwards. Ever eastwards. Some of the bigger dunes have acquired names. Perhaps the best known is the Råbjerg Mile. Kind of like Steve McQueen’s nemesis the Blob, the Råbjerg Mile is about two square kilometres in area and reaches heights of 40 metres.
Driven by the winds, it is moving east northeast at almost 20 metres a year, swallowing everything in its path. For the Danes this poses a dilemma. Do you save the houses, churches, and other property in the dune’s path? Or do you declare it a conservation area and support the course of nature? Thus far planting grasses and trees has made no difference. The giant sand blob keeps moving along.
We walked on the dune as the wind howled and sand debrided our shins. Watching our footprints disappear behind us in a matter of seconds as the sand filled them in reminded me that humans have yet to tame nature. No matter how hard we try, nature is still top of our existential hierarchy and if she wants to bury northern Denmark in sand, she will.
Down the coast the Rubjerg Knude lighthouse is also battling the wind and shifting sands. While most of the outbuildings are lost, the lighthouse was moved back from the cliffs four years ago. The move is expected to last until 2060, although that sounds optimistic based on how much sand was blowing off the cliffs when we visited. Look closely at the photos you can see some of the old bricks arranged into names. A form of graffiti, I guess.
Grenen and Skagen
Grenen is a long sandbar at Jutland’s northern tip. Here the North Sea (Skagerrak) becomes the Baltic Sea (Kattegat). The turbulent waters meet, but don’t mingle, on either side of the spit. Currents tear through here making swimming foolhardy. They also bring fish and the big sea mammals that feed on them. The light here is remarkable. It turns the sea a pale bottle green and turns up the colour intensity on everything else to 11.
I’m not surprised the Skagen Painters wrought their finest impressionist works here starting in the 1870s. Skagen remains the preferred spot for Denmark’s rich and famous. Each year at the end of July, the well-heeled descend on the place making life intolerable for everyone else. For the middle class, this is camping territory. Legions of Danish families escape Copenhagen and Aarhus and settle in for a week or two under canvas with their children and every bicycle they own.
For our first foray into Denmark, we decided that Copenhagen at the end of July would be full of Americans. (Three weeks later we were proved correct.) Aarhus, Denmark’s post-industrial second city, on the other hand was nearly empty. The students had found summer work elsewhere, and the few tourists we saw appeared to be Danes or Germans. After 24 hours, the place grew on us sufficiently to make us want to return in October when the jazz clubs and dive bars are in full swing.
Not far south of the city is the Marselisborg Palace, the summer residence of Denmark’s Royal Family. On a rainy, grey and blustery day we spied not one great Dane, royal or otherwise. Built in 1899, the palace was undergoing repairs. The grounds were lovely, though, laid out in the English fashion of broad lawns and herbaceous borders. A small battalion of robot lawnmowers keeps the grass trim. I became quite taken with their slightly hypnotic diligence as they purred back and forth across the 32-acre park.
Moesgaard and Jelling
Even further south of Aarhus is MOMU, the Moesgaard Museum. A wonderful trip through Denmark’s prehistory up to the 15th century. Here you can find everything from a Viking boat to the preserved remains of Grauballe Man, who was sacrificed in a bog 2,400 years ago. Although, one of the local women insisted it was her ex-lover that she’d killed in 1930. The museum building is quite splendid, too. Cut into a hillside it angles acutely upwards. In the right conditions, the roof should come alive with local fauna. It looked in need of some gardening TLC when we toured it.
Our last notable stop was with the massive Jelling runestones. Carved in the stones is Denmark’s origin story and conversion to Christianity. The stones date from the 10th century and involves a cast of characters that beg for puns. There’s King Gorm the Old, his son (Gorm-less) Harald Bluetooth, who connected Denmark and Norway. Meanwhile, the town of Jelling deserves a spot in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Places.