Monday, 16 August 2010

Natural Highs

Written 13th August

Although it is no Norway, Denmark is not flat. No absolutely not. In no way. Not flat. Afterall, as I have been told by an actual, real Danish person, it's not Holland! And you shouldn't let the fact that we've visited the monument on top of Denmark's highest point - a dizzying ascent on a hill which is itself 17,086cm above sea level, fool you into believing anything otherwise... :) and moreover, it is a hotly contested and highly controversial spot, as you will see...

We had a surprisingly pleasant ferry crossing.

The weather was nice, the sea calm. All jolly lovely. Not as good as being able to sleep in our own little van of course but we are experienced ferry-ers now so we well know that sleeper seats are anything but. So, forearmed with our duvet, blanket, two sleeping bags, the laptop and film collection and a box of pre-cooked pasta for dinner, we shunned the seats and made a little nest on the floor at the back, behind the last row of seats and between the wall and the lockers. Perfect. In fact, by the time we woke up, the majority of our fellow dorm mates were also on the floor with varying degrees of pre-planning in evidence. I don't really know why ferry companies go to all the bother of seats to be honest. A set of rolly mats on the floor would be both cheaper and easier to clean, let alone more comfortable for the passengers. And they could run yoga or pilates sessions in there during the day. Why not?

Our Danish destination of Hirtshals was not a terribly inspiring introduction to the beauties of Denmark, being, as it is, mainly a ferry and container ship terminal with a stretch of beach and a small low-rise town attached, but it provided us with a much needed laundry and best of all, we were welcomed with a very timely email from Ulla (Danish wife of Yorkshire Brian whom you will remember we met in Ronda) with a fabulous list of tips and Danish things to do and eat and an invite to call in and see them when we get to Edinburgh. Fantastic!

Sadly, looking at the map, our budget and the distance we have to travel between now and our next ferry from Belgium, we won't be able to fit all of them in this time round - including the art gallery at Skagen, Denmark's northernmost point which is apparently amazing - but we'll have a jolly good go at those we can!

So, washing done, back on the road and heading south, down the motorway past endless rolling field of corn. Bit like east anglia really, not that Denmark is flat you understand...

Our destination was the Danish Lake District which also contains its highest peaks. A stop at the very helpful tourist office in the pleasant town of Silkeborg - which, incidentally, is the home of the both the oldest paddle steamer in the world, the Hjejlen, which will celebrate its 150th birthday next summer and the famous Trollund Bog Man, the best preserved of his race who is more than 2,400 years old - set us on the right track for finding the Himmelbjerget, the Heavenly Mountain.

Too expensive to park at the actual mountain (well, for freeloading van dwellers anyway) so we found the nearest free layby and had a very pleasant peddle back up. A week or so ago, Will foolishly let me ride his far superior bike as we couldn't be bothered to get both of them off the back if it was just me setting off somewhere and I have discovered just how much easier cycling on his bike is.

All this time I was lagging way behind thinking I was rubbish and genuinely it was the bike! Well partly the bike anyway and as it was free, a rescue bike kindly donated by Uncle Jim and Auntie Elyssa for our trip I can't really complain. So now we have swapped and I am merrily cruising along at a cracking pace whilst Will is cursing the brakes and the gears and the saddle and the fact that it doesn't freewheel very well. He still arrives at our destination first of course but the difference between arrivals and our combined journey time is much less... :)

The Heavenly Hill has a nice view over some undulating hills and a large tranquil lake and is a very pleasant stop but we were soon back on the road and heading for the big one, Denmark's highest point at Ejer Baunehoj.

The top of the hill used to sprout a warning beacon but is now home to a fine triumphal arch monument, which you can climb to the top of via a spiral staircase - I told you it was a dizzying ascent ;)

it also has a lift with the most fabulous Thunderbirds-esque arrangement at the top to preserve the square-topped silhouette of the tower.

Hopefully there will be a video here...

And a fine 360° view over the absolutely not flat surrounding landscape.

In fact, as we later learned, there are more than 20 peaks within the immediate surrounding area and accurately measuring which is the highest has been a matter of hot debate for over 200 years.

Originally, it was deemed to be the Himmelbjerget, measured to be 125m above the level of the lake. Then in 1830, the measuring task was passed to the military and their superior instruments, who, in 1847, declared it to be Eger Baunehoj (lit. The Hill topped by the Beacon of Eger).

Nearly 100 years of peaceful agreement went by, during which time a monument was planned and erected on top of Eger Baunehoj. But then, crisis! In 1941, an independent scientist took new measurements and declared that nearby Yding Skovhoj was actually the highest point, thanks to its ancient burial mound, Eger's burial mound having been destroyed in the building of the very monument which had been erected to commemorate its highest point status!

Well, controversy reigned. The debate was hardly out of the papers. Which was actually the highest? How could this ever be satisfactorily resolved?? Would they have to move the tower??? (I am speculating somewhat here, it was certainly in the papers)

In 1953, someone finally settled the matter by declaring that only natural elevations should taken into account and the measurements should not include any man made interventions in the landscape (ie ancient burial mounds). A recount was done and Eger Baunehoj was found to be a whole six centimetres higher. Phew!

But, the tale doesn't end there. Oh no. Not content to let sleeping hills lie, another scientist came along in 2005 and did some digging around and declared that the previously unconsidered Mollerhoj - the former site of a windmill some 200m away from Eger Baunehoj was actually higher!!

After some deliberation, it was decided that, at only 200m away, Mollerhoj did not constitute a separate peak in its own right so the whole Eger Baunehoj massif was declared to be the highest point, standing at 170.86m and the farmer who owned the Mollerhoj land was prevailed upon to allow a footpath between the state owned Eger Baunehoj and his personal geographical high point. The blurb described him as being 'unsurprised' by the new ruling, I like to imagine a crusty old cow man saying something like "eee well of course its the highest point. Stands to reason dunnit, if them there went and built a windmill on it. I would have told 'em if only some bugger would've arsked me" in his finest danish Grundy accent :)

So there you go. Not only is Denmark not flat, it is in fact controversially hilly!

But enough geographical excitement for one day, time for some history. So onwards to Jelling.

With its mediaeval church, ancient runestones and Viking burial mounds, the small village of Jelling is one of the cornerstones of Denmark's history as a nation.

Its prominence starts with the Viking King Gorm the Old (936-959 AD) who erected a runestone in memory of his wife Thyra which says

King Gorm made this memorial stone for Thyra his wife, Denmark's Adornment


The runestone is significant as it is the oldest discovered inscription which refers to Denmark in Danish (well Old Danish anyway) and Denmark's Royal Family can be traced right the way back to Gorm, making it the oldest unbroken royal lineage in Europe.

Gorm himself was buried in Jelling, with full pagan rites in a massive burial mound which today measures 65m in diameter and 8.5m high, and was built on the site of an even older bronze age burial mound.

It was Gorm's son Harald Bluetooth who, having converted to christianity, erected the first of three successive wooden churches at Jelling. Not to be outdone by his father, he also erected his own memorial stone, this time in latin style runes (ie left to right not vertical) and richly decorated, an influence accredited to the illustrated Christian books of the time.

Harald is credited with the unification of Denmark, which at the time included a bit of what is now southern Sweden, and his memorial stone inscription reads

Harald King made this memorial stone for Gorm his father and for Thyra his mother that Harald who won the whole of Denmark and Norway and Christianised the Danes

According to the museum, the stone would have been colourfully decorated and shows an image of the crucifixion, which has been deemed to be the oldest nordic representation of Christ. The stone has therefore been christened, Denmark's Certificate of Baptism, marking as it does, the country's transition from pagan to Christian beliefs.

It is believed that Harald reburied the body of his father in a crypt within his church in a christian ceremony but also built the second and larger mound - 70m diameter and 10m high - possibly in further memory of his mother.

By the time of his death in 987, Harald had fought and lost to the Germans to the south, who claimed some of Denmark's territory - a border battle which was destined to continue for centuries to and fro - but his son Swein extended the reach of the Danish Kingdom as far as England and his son, Cnut the Great, ruled England and Denmark until his death in 1035, becoming the first nordic king to be accepted as equal by Christian royal houses of europe. So there you go. I didn't actually know that!

Back on the road again and heading south once more, past signs for brilliantly named villages. We have seen a Fitting, a Hopballe and a Folding, including the fabulous sounding but sadly unvisited Folding Church. I wonder if it does...?

And a sales outlet called Conga Caravans. Isn't that a brilliantly descriptive collective noun for a group of caravans as they slowly but happily wend their way along the narrow roads of england, in an unbroken nose to tail line, getting in everyone's way way and completely oblivious to the annoyance they are causing because they're having so much fun... ;)

I'm liking Denmark!

And even better. We have discovered that we can afford food again! Real food that isn't just bad or stock cube risotto!!

Yes, thanks to our personal Denmark travel consultant we have found Netto and all the delicious comestibles therein.

So, under instruction, we have lunched on Rugbrod - a very serious thin-sliced dark ryebread - which we can confirm is indeed good with liver pate (with bacon in it, got to be danish!) and cheese. Cheese! I have cheese again! And not just any cheese, tasty cheese, it says so on the label! And simple treats such as oranges and onions. Fantastic!

So here we are, in a rest stop just outside of Ribe. No danish delicacies for dinner though as we still have a portion of our tinned norwegian fiskebolle to eat. It turned out not to be white fish in white sauce, more white fish dumpling things in brine, which was a bit unexpected. But still, they taste quite good with rice and the thai dipping sauce we found at the back of the cupboard. Since we haven't been buying new food to fill the spaces, we have been discovering all sorts of forgotten things brought from home :)

And we have a glass of port for afterwards. How very civilised :)

In fact, our only complaint about Denmark is that Will wanted to do a test run of his newly modified ecu project - I'll do a status update another time - for which he needed a nice flat bit of road and it was just too damn slopey! As I say, Denmark, it's not flat you know, it's certainly no Holland! Even the windmills don't have mice :)

Night x

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