Sunday, 15 January 2017

Göteborg and Jutland

I enjoyed strolling around Göteborg in the rain. It was Westpride weekend. All the public buildings were draped with flags and there were bands playing in the square near the hotel for a small crowd huddled under umbrellas.
Rainy concert
The next day was Sunday so I checked out the bike shop locations, visited museums (the design museum is very good) and spent time wandering around the cafes and junk shops of the Haga district. On Monday I was at the bike workshop at 10.00 when they opened and a very helpful mechanic called Jon spent over an hour removing the cable from my shifter and fitting a new one. Then he decided to adjust my brakes, the ones I’d had trouble with back in Bergen, and told me he thought my forks were bent.
It's in there somewhere
I wasn’t too worried about that. I’d just ridden a long way with bent forks and I’d got used to the bike pulling slightly to one side. I spent the last of my Swedish krone on a tasty lunch in a deli and cycled down to the terminal to catch the ferry to Denmark. It was vast, and cost ten times as much as the one from Norway to Sweden.  It worked slowly down the river past docks, marinas, cranes and bridges, then out past rocky islands and lighthouses, and finally out into the open sea.

In Frederikshavn everything seemed brighter; there was so much light and the roads were smooth and empty. This northern tip of Denmark seems to be made mainly out of sand dunes, a long, sandy promontory narrowing rapidly to a point at Skagen. It felt like being on an island. There was sand in the streets.

The following day I cycled north to Skagen, past a church buried in the sand, and then walked a few kilometres to the place where Denmark disappears into the sea. The wind was cold, from the north-west, and despite the sunshine it didn’t feel much like summer. Skagen was a interesting small town and port, with arty shops and galleries and potteries, but also with a working harbour which made the place (much featured on postcards because of its yellow fisherman’s cottages with their red roofs) feel more grounded than it might have done with all those tourists milling around.
Sct. Laurentii church, abandoned to the sand in 1795

On the campsite in Skagen they asked for my camping card and I had to admit that I didn’t have one. In theory you need one in Norway and Sweden, but in those countries no one cared that I didn’t have one.  In Denmark it was different. The lady in the office tutted when she heard that the campsite in Frederikshavn hadn’t insisted.  She made me fill out the forms and buy one. She said it was essential, and she was right. Everywhere I went in Denmark they asked for the card.

The most northerly people in Denmark
Nest morning I was up early. The forecast was for rain from 6.00, so when I found it wasn’t raining yet I hurried to pack the tent away dry, checked out and set off. The rain actually began at 8.00, just after I’d bought cakes and rolls for my lunch in Skagen. It was gentle at first as I cycled along forest tracks with the cold wind more or less behind me.  After about 30km a small town appeared, and a signpost to a café.  It was closed, and I noticed that I was getting very wet. I ate a cake in the entrance of a supermarket and set off again towards the port of Hirtshals. The rain grew heavier and the gravel of the track started to cake on my wheels and under my mudguards, so I took to the road and arrived an hour or so later in Hirtshals, very wet indeed.

I sat and dripped in a small restaurant for a while, eating lunch, before riding a few hundred metres to a very welcoming campsite where I pitched my outer tent, shoved everything inside and put all my wet things into a dryer.

The beach at Hirtshals
I should say that you could, if you wanted to, camp wild throughout much of this journey around the North Sea. You wouldn’t have access to dryers though, or places to charge your phone, or wifi. When I first went on long bicycle journeys I camped secretly, cooked on a fire using an old saucepan, and washed in mountain streams. It is great to know that this is still possible; that you don’t need to have a lot of money to travel on a bike. Plenty of people are out there doing it, (see Tom’s Bike Trip) but these days I enjoy a little comfort at the end of a long day’s ride.

In the evening the rain stopped and the sun tried to come out.  I went down on the beach and it felt like winter had returned. From the harbour a ferry sails to Kristiansand in Norway. It was almost two weeks since I'd been there, sitting in hot sunshine outside my tent. It seemed like a distant memory.

Links to maps: To Skagen; To Hirtshals

  • The bike workshop in Göteborg is at Sveagaten 27, 413 14 GÖTEBORG.
  • You will need a camping card in Denmark, but most campsites can print one out for you.
  • There is a Norwegian weather app called YR which is very good.  It's still my favourite weather app.  (works for any country)
  • Avoid gravel tracks in the rain unless you're a mountain biker who likes mud, grit and sand all over everything.

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