Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

How did the great spit at Skagen come to claim so prominent a space in the Danish imagination? We navigate sand dunes and heathlands to visit the point where waters of the Skagerrak meet the Kattegat.

article summary —

Who doesn’t love a long peninsula that tempts you ever further away from civilization, with the sea slowly closing in on each side? Or a distinct headland? We have ventured to many spots where we were lured by geography. In the unlikely event that we ever visit Cape Town, our top priority for an out-of-town excursion will most certainly be the drive south past Simon’s Town and the Swartkop Mountains to the Cape of Good Hope. That rocky headland breaks no records for anything, for it isn’t even the southernmost point of the African continent. That honour belongs to Cape Agulhas. No, the appeal of the Cape of Good Hope is surely something different: it’s the tempting lie of the land and that sense of venturing out to an extremity — in the case of the Cape of Good Hope, one which is so deeply inscribed in nautical culture and the history of exploration and discovery.

Geographical curiosity has taken us to the very ends of Europe. We’ve been to Cape Finisterre in Galicia and to Landsendi in Iceland. We’ve made it to headlands and peninsulas that jut out into the Barents Sea, the Adriatic and the Gulf of Cádiz. Perhaps this is an obsessive compulsion that comes naturally to those with an interest in maps.

But for all those travels to far-flung places, it was only recently that we visited a geographical extremity which is not so far from our base in Berlin. Ask any Dane about the most compelling feature on the Danish coast, and they will almost certainly mention Skagen Odde, the long, sandy peninsula that extends out from North Jutland and divides the waters of the Skagerrak and the Kattegat. The word odde is Danish for ‘spit’.

To the very end of Denmark

The point at the very end of Skagen Odde is called Grenen; it’s a place where the land merges almost imperceptibly with the sea. This is quite the opposite of the Cape of Good Hope, with its fierce waves and dramatic cliffs. Grenen has theatre of another kind, something much more subtle, as the last ripples of sand are eventually engulfed by the modest currents around.

So while the Cape of Good Hope is there obstinately challenging the ocean, Grenen is meek, unassuming and always able to compromise. In that respect, we see in Grenen something which is quintessentially Danish. The appeal of Grenen is in its ephemeral nature; here is a landscape which is subtle yet ever-changing. Yet, as in more dramatic coastlines, there is still that essential tension between land and sea, at Skagen made all the more notable by landscape changes in recent history. The spit, and the sand dunes on it, are constantly on the move.

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About the authors

hidden europe

and manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.

This article was published in hidden europe 69.