Denmark 3 | Viking Settlements & Scandinavia’s Oldest Town

After our second night in the cosy barn conversion in Rødvig we awoke to another beautiful morning. Once again I wandered across the field to the little bench perched on the cliff edge, the thin, wispy clouds veiled the entire sky in silver – it wasn’t yet a ‘sunny’ day but everything was exceptionally bright.

We packed up, ready to leave, but  failing to find our host to hand in the keys we decided to have one last visit to Stevns Fyrcentre. By the time we headed out it had turned into an incredible day; the sky was vibrant blue and the sea more so in its varying shades. The short drive to the lighthouse was filled with sunshine which bounced off the sprawling green fields and the mature-leafed trees, filling the scene with yellows and green almost luminous.

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Stevns Fyrcentre stood tall, its white exterior reflecting the sun’s rays brilliantly against the solid blue sky. We had hoped to climb the lighthouse but unfortunately, as it was a Saturday, it wasn’t opening until much later. We decided it wasn’t worth hanging around for as we had some distance to cover and instead found a bench and enjoyed the views from ground level.

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Overlooking the water, Sweden was vaguely visible in the distance. The entire scene was intoxicatingly blue – nature showing off and fully indulging in its use of colour, as she is entitled to do from time to time. The seabirds were fluttering in the air in their usual fashion swooping down onto the undulating water below us. We got talking to a couple of local photographers who were there to spot the ‘raptors’ – apparently at certain times, when the weather conditions are perfect, you can see hundreds, if not thousands, of birds of prey making their way across the water from Sweden to Denmark.

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After soaking up plenty of sun we decided it was time to drag ourselves away, hand in our key and start our journey west. Due to spend our next night in Ribe we had to travel across the breadth of the country – but before leaving Zealand we stopped in at Trelleborg, a 10th Century Viking settlement and museum. Ambling through the grounds we made our way up to the longhouse reconstruction, actors were in role going about their daily Viking business.

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As we walked through a small gathering of canvas tents we were able to see coal being produced by a family, axe heads and other tools being made, women were weaving and fanning the fires – all using traditional techniques. Small fires with billows were sparking everywhere, the clang of metal on metal rung through the area, enmeshed with the chattering of the people working. It was great to be able to immerse yourself and really see, hear and feel what it might have been like over 1500 years ago.

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We spent some time exploring the old settlement ground, reading up on the history of the place, and then went to learn a little more from the indoor museum. They had a collection of skeletons which were found in the area as well as Denmark’s sole surviving Viking shield, dating from 700AD which was in fantastic condition. As well as the historical elements they also had a pretty decent Viking wardrobe, I couldn’t resist getting into character for a while and I think it suited me!

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We had experienced extremely capricious weather during the first half of our journey, the dark, heavy clouds sped across the sky, dumping obscene amounts of water before moving on as quickly as they came. Whenever it came to getting out of the car, however, they rains stopped and the sun would come out – evidently the holiday gods were on our side! We Left Zealand and drove across the toll bridge onto Jutland. We found ourselves somewhat shocked at the price of the toll (completely our fault for not checking beforehand) however as we drove across the huge expanse of water and witnessed the level of engineering that had gone into its creation, we felt appeased, impressed even!

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The remainder of our journey was accompanied by the same changeable weather, but it didn’t take long before we were approaching Ribe. Surrounded by rural land this notable little town seemed to appear out of thin air. It was early evening as we drove into the town, finding our little apartment and being shown on a map a few sites by our host, we got settled in and had some food before heading out to explore properly. We were staying less than 5 minutes’ walk from the main square and cathedral, it was dusk and everything was pretty serene as we made our way through the streets.

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Ribe is an incredibly beautiful place, it is the oldest surviving town in Denmark and the whole of Scandinavia, celebrating its 1300th birthday in 2010. It is made up of crooked half-timber houses, wonderfully preserved and painted deep reds and yellows. We walked down the narrow cobbled streets, passing little houses whose gardens and window boxes were in full bloom and full of life. The cathedral, which started to be built in 1150, stands grandly in the square. Ribe Domkirke is apparently the best preserved Romanesque building in Denmark, however due to a number of events resulting in damage and the need to rebuild it reflects a plethora of different architectural styles and artistic traditions.

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As the evening wore on we decided to join a small crowd of people outside a quaint little pub. Every night in summer the night watchman does his traditional rounds telling stories of Ribe’s history and pointing out hidden details of this characterful little town. Dressed traditionally and giving the tour in both Danish and English, we followed his candle lantern and morning star (mace) through the darkening streets we learned so many quirky details which we would have otherwise been completely unaware of.

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As the darkness drew in, along with the cold, it started to rain lightly on us as we followed the tour. It felt very atmospheric following this traditional character, under the yellow light of the old-fashioned street lanterns whose rays reflected endearingly off the wet cobbles of the tiny crooked streets. It was an awesome experience and a great first impression of a wonderful, incredibly historic little town!

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