hidden europe 36

Tussling with the elements: Jutland

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Solid farmsteads are common along the west Jutland coast, and some cultivation is even possible when the dunes have been stabilised (photo © hidden europe).


Survival on Jutland's coast has always been a question of working with nature. Great storms have transformed the sandy coastline and entire communities have come and gone with the ebb and flow of history. We travel north along the Danish mainland's west coast and visit Europe's fogotten island of North Jutland.

The man who comes to our rescue confides that his first love is concrete. It is decent of him to give us a ride. The west coast of Jutland can be famously wild and windy in winter and the road that threads its way up the narrow sand spits that define the coast is not a place to be stuck in a gale. Cue for the concrete fan, who takes pity on the wet and bedraggled by the roadside and offers us a ride to Hvide Sande. “Concrete,” he announces, “has been the basis for social progress. And, by the way, my name is Gunnar.”

The west coast of Jutland can be famously wild and windy in winter and the road that threads its way up the narrow sand spits that define the coast is not a place to be stuck in a gale.

A blast of hail temporarily obscures the road ahead, the dunes to our right and the lagoon to our left both drown to nought, while we ponder memorable concrete moments in less tempestuous times. Images of apartment blocks in gritty Parisian suburbs slip seamlessly to blurred shots of nuclear power stations and Russian sanatoria.

The half-hour drive to Hvide Sande reveals that Gunnar, social progress and concrete make a natural team. “If we don’t actively manage our coastline, we shall eventually succumb to the sea,” explains Gunnar. We have encountered similar evangelical spirit before around the eastern margins of the North Sea — in the delta Islands. But Gunnar’s words cast new light on the western coast of Denmark, where at first sight sand spits and sturdy coastal dunes seem to provide ample protection against even the fiercest onslaughts from the sea.

“Don’t be deceived,” says Gunnar, who tells of how one great storm in 1825 cut through the sand spit between Agger and Thyborøn, allowing seawater to flood into the great lagoons to the east and creating a new water route from the North Sea to the Baltic. “Well, not entirely new,” qualifies Gunnar as we aquaplane gracefully past a sign announcing our imminent arrival in Hvide Sande. “Navigable waterways separated the northernmost part of Jutland from the mainland in the mediaeval period.”

For students of the history of industrial concrete, Hvide Sande is evidently something of a Mecca.

Related article

Return to Eriskay: A Hebridean community

Living on a small island demands a willingness to make compromises. Yet islands still have a special appeal. We make time for one of our favourite islands. Nothing much ever happens on Eriskay, and to be honest there’s not really much to see. But this outpost in the Outer Hebrides has a very special magic.

Related article

At the water's edge: Germany's Wadden Sea

Within just a few centuries, the geography of the Frisian region has been reshaped by storms and tides. Paul Scraton is a regular writer for hidden europe; here he explores Germany’s Wadden Sea coastline. It’s a tale that shows the power of the sea.

Related article

Time and tide: Morecambe Bay

guest contributor David Cawley looks at an ancient tidal crossing in northwest England and meets Mr Cedric Robinson, the 'Queen's Guide to the Kent Sands of Morecambe Bay'