It’s a hot morning with clear blue skies as I pull the kayak off the ferry at the port of Hirtshalls. I’m followed by articulated freight lorries, motor homes, caravans and bemused drivers. The first thing I notice is a marked cycle route leading straight off the ferry and several touring bikes wheeling down the ramp behind me. This flat sandy landscape creating the perfect terrain. The second thing is the amount of flags flying, the Danes seem to love their red and white banner and nearly every house had a flagpole, either a sign of an identity crisis, proud nationals or lots of wind. This strange dune landscape, a big contrast to the mountainous Danish overseas territory I’ve just left. I’ve been here before, about a week ago, as I landed briefly from the Faroe Islands and made my way to Norway. I leave the kayak in the ferry terminal and wander through the deserted streets to the harbour. Concrete bunkers lining the road are slumped and sunken in the sand, shrouded in a veil of greenery, slowly claimed back by nature. It was a quiet, hot and slow Saturday. So quiet that I can hear the rustle of leaves as they circle around on the pavement and the chattering of birds in the foliage. The houses are noticeably different, made of bricks, with tiles on the roof. The availability of clay and process of shaping and baking, more common here and the climate warmer. The houses are low to the ground and relatively modest, hunkered down to shelter from the wind. A scattering of people are clustered around a fish restaurant which advertises a ‘shooting star’ as it’s special. Several Herrings, fish cakes, pieces of thick cut smoked salmon, slabs of heavy bread and fried fish balls later and I’m feeling fairly lethargic. Groups of people drift by on bikes and some fishing boats potter around the small harbour. I walk off the fishy lunch on the way to the lighthouse on the dunes and get my first view along the coast from the top. Surfy and sandy. Ambling back, I cross a barren expanse of sand and look back to see a large red and yellow sign marked ‘KWIKSAND’ and promptly pick up the pace.
Returning with North Utsire and South Utsire under my belt and the calm of the early morning, I’m keen to launch as soon as I can. There’s a small amount of surf and a guy on a stand up paddle board playing in it, his van’s parked on the beach. We chat briefly and he confirms my understanding from the forecast that the wind will be picking up further south. The low cloud of the morning unfolds into a beautifully clear afternoon. I’m relieved when a sandy cliff marked by the leaning tower of a lighthouse, rises up in the distance giving a break to the continuous line of dunes and sand. Sharp shadows of paragliders are projected onto the carved and sculptured surfaces of the compacted grains. Their colourful kites swooping and soaring like graceful birds. The sea is a turquoise blue as the light reflects off the sandy sea bed. I head south over the next few days, Sea on one side, sand on the other. From a distance, the clumps of stubbly grass poking through the dunes make them look like soft velvet. Strange headlands rise up and poke out abruptly from the sandpit. The tapering forms of stripy red and white towers mark bathing beaches and add a sense of fun to the landscapes. The Danes seem to love the beach and it’s not uncommon to see the glinting reflection of cars and vans driven right to the water’s edge. On more than one occasion, sleeping in the dunes, I’m surprised by the sudden flash of naked bodies darting out and plunging into the warm sea.
The wind changes speed and direction after a few days. There’s a quartering sea with crossing swells throwing the boat around. The relentless noise of the wind rushing past my ears is like sitting in a room with an loud, untuned radio. Occasionally, I stop and turn my head away for a break but the wind pushes the kayak backwards, loosing ground. It’s a slow slog to the wind turbines I can see across the bay in the far distance. The wind has increased to a force 5 westerly, right in my face. I battle with it but have the feeling that I’m not getting anywhere. I realise I’m quite far out and loosing energy fast. Paddling closer in takes ages and I need to push hard to make progress. The Repeating rhythm of deep troughs and peaks sets in making the boat jump and slam onto the water, giving me a periodic soaking. Sun cream dribbles down my face stinging my eyes to the point of crying, my bum is sore from hours in the boat and I struggle to shift myself out of a whimpering stupor. Despite the conditions, I feel a sense of pressure to round the corner that I’ve spent the whole day staring at. I land briefly and refuel and refocus, launching back into surf and staying close in to the beach. I run the gauntlet through a flock of windsurfers and kites zooming around and jumping off the sharp, clean surf wave that’s formed at an angle to the harbour wall at Hantsholm. Rounding the end, I’m met by a big, choppy sea rising and falling where the Skaggerak meets the North Sea and throwing the yellow poles of the special marker buoys into a drunken swaying dance. The water smashes and rebounds off the edge of the harbour as I change my course to head south. A view down the coast ahead slowly reveals itself as endless dumping waves. I think I can see Klitmøller or at least something poking out along the coast but don’t have the energy to get there and am worried about landing. The weather is closing in and I know that wherever I stop, I’ll be there for a few days. I decide to take my chances and head in whilst I can.
The waves are steepening and are close together, the wind is howling and pushy, the kayak is heavy. Bigger sets are coming through and I need to choose my timing carefully. I watch as one after another the waves rear up, start to break and foam, dropping and picking up again before smashing down violently onto the steep shingle. The sound is incredible, tiny pebbles and sand are dragged out from the shore by the retreating water, churned, pummelled and spun before being thrown back onto the beach. A dumping beach is a kayakers nightmare. There’s a real danger of serious injury, loosing or breaking kit and boats. I’m apprehensive but see no benefit in carrying on. I will have a long drag up the beach and then need to pitch a tent, cook and make a plan for the morning. The dwindling energy reserves I have will be needed. Watching closely, I choose my moment, turn the kayak to face the beach and start to paddle in. The white water of the collapsing peaks surges as I paddle backwards to gain control and get onto the back of one of the smaller dumpers. In a split second, the one behind jumps quickly on my tail. It lifts the back of the boat up and pushes forwards fast, the boat rises and I lean back hard, pushing on the foot pegs to lever myself upwards and counterbalance the force. I’m practically standing upright, propelled towards the gravely sand when the nose of the boat digs into the beach and I’m sure I’m about to be catapulted over it. I dig harder and brace as the wave breaks and violently sheds its anger and shrapnel onto me, the kayak and the beach. I rip my deck off quickly and the next wave fills the boat with water. I grab it and pull hard up the beach away from the roaring monster. The force of the sea has ripped the lining out of my helmet and I’m lucky not to have broken anything else.
Beyond the shingle, the beach is sandy and backed by a margin of grassy dunes with spiky goarse bushes that are interrupted by a road running along the coast, behind this, the dunes continue in peaks, hollows and hillocks and as I find out later are the start of Denmark’s last wilderness. I’m exhausted and pitch my tent in the sandy grass, eating whatever I have that doesn’t involve cooking. It rains overnight and the pegs come loose on the tent, I emerge, soggy and tired into the rising sun. The wind has picked up as forecast and the sea has become more violent overnight. There’s no way I’m kayaking and after a bit of scouting I decide to move everything across the dunes to the road and trolley the kayak the 12km to Klitmøller. I’ve heard about this ‘Cold Hawaii’ and although I’m in spitting distance of Hantsholm have it on good authority that it’s not top of the list of places to stay. 3hrs later, I wheel the kayak into a busy campsite, pitch the tent and collapse on the ground next to it exhausted but happy to be there. It’s 11 in the morning and I’ve been up since 5. In celebration I crack open a Bottle of Cold Hawaii beer, the ziggurat blue and white waves on the label reminding me of the sea I’ve just left.
In the early afternoon, I head to the beach and pick my way through the sharp gravel, crushed shells and pebbles, bone like lumps lumps of chalk are scattered around and the fine sand slows walking down to a shuffling trudge. The onshore wind occasionally whips up the beach and sprays the fine grains around. A cluster of surfers wait in the bay to catch the long clean waves washing in. The campsite is busy with families on holiday and is a bit of a shock to the system after days of wild camping in the sand. By chance, the next day, I meet Thomas and Morten, both Danish kayakers here for the surf. We chat weather, kayaks, routes and conditions before deciding to paddle together in the evening, once the swell has dropped. Morten in on a tour of Denmark and Thomas is a Cold Hawaii regular. We launch from the surf spot ‘Bunkers’ hauling my heavily laden boat to the beach. It’s great to be on the water again and to have company. The pockmarked, graffiti covered surface of the concrete and triangular fins give the bulbous structures an animal like character. Like oversized dinosaur eggs hatched on the beach. Their real significance and use, part of a distant memory. The wind has shifted to the north and died down. We have a glorious evening to surf the dropping swell down the coast to a small fishing harbour and the scene of a notorious brawl between fishermen and bikers. Landing a catch here would have been a tricky job as there are no real harbours, just beaches that the boats would be hauled up onto or unloaded at sea by smaller boats. My push southwards over the ext days is interrupted only twice by the larger outstretched arms of harbour walls. That night, the sky turns pastel pink and blue and the warm, light wind brushes my face. To the north, a cloud of sand dances along the beach and creates a light haze in the glowing evening light. I put up the mesh inner of the tent to stop the flies but leave the fly sheet off. I’m slowly drawn into the spectacle of the setting sun which through the fine gauze is like the most amazing painting, subtly changing and moving. It’s a delicious sensation as I’m enveloped by the sky and drift off to sleep listening to ‘Sailing By’ the song that always plays ahead of the late evening forecast.
A few days pass and I think I’m beginning to get used to the surfy beaches and outlying sandbanks that kick up the salty soup without a moments notice. There are usually two or three lines of breaking waves, the first two are near the beach and the third much further out. I weave a route away from the beach but not so far out so as to run into off shore breaks. The visibility is good and I can generally see things that are starting to pick up infront of me, plan a route through and avoid the bigger breakers. Most of the time, the sea is rolling and doesn’t have much energy, waves peak up to the sides and I feel the boat rise and fall. Occasionally they peak and slap the end of the kayak, up pushing it around or dumping onto the deck. I can see the water changing colour around the shallows and residual foam on the surface showing where it has been playing up. Every now and again, in places where the sea had been calm, it peaks up quickly, rising above the kayak, curling up and breaking across the boat. I know what’s coming when I see this starting to happen but it’s quick and the only defence is to brace and edge into the wave but I’m tired and easily caught unaware. There’s nothing quite like a big slap in face from the sea and having what feels like a bucket of water thrown in your face a few times, to wake you up in the morning. This is what I got on repeat as I tried to dart my way through the surprise waves and sandbanks. One morning this gets a bit relentless and I find myself smashed into the water, quickly grabbing paddle and boat, then clambering on and surfing in on the back deck. It’s a surprise but I’m relatively close to the shore so everything ends up on the beach. Several rolls and some bouncy bracing later and I am without pump, mapcase or frame for my small trolley, the sea having claimed these from my deck. I feel stupid and careless to have lost kit and littered the ocean but ironically at least some of it was as I headed into land to secure and stow it more effectively.
The hostel at Henne Strand is an often used stopping off point for kayakers attempting the XX (red and white band) a circumnavigation of the Danish coast. A formidable challenge that’s only been completed by around 30 people. The hostel is It’s a yellow rendered, simple building with a large, timber lined hall in the middle and framed drawings of Danish ships hanging above the doors to the rooms along the sides. I meet the new and previous owners who welcome me warmly, telling tales of other kayakers they’ve met. There’s coffee and cake laid out by the friendly host, Lizzie and and old man appears to punch out some tunes on the old piano in the corner. I find out that the west coast is seen as the most challenging part of the coast and the area around Hantsholm is particularly notorious. This matches my experience and I’m happy to have made it around. I sit drinking coffee and eating biscuits with them on the timber deck on the sandy road infront of the hostel. The hot afternoon sun beats down on clusters of thatched cottages and crowds of holiday makers and I’m pleased to have arrived in one piece and selected this as the place to end my surfy time in Fisher.