15th - 19th June
And so, farewell...
After all the frantic final goodbyes and packing, it was an anticlimactic start to our trip, as may be expected: our first destination, Belgium isn’t the most inspiring of first stops on such a long, intrepid adventure.
Decanted from the ferry in Calais, we endured 40 miles of Normandy’s bleakest charmless countryside before we hit the border. Whilst no doubt industrially capable, this area will always struggle to shake off the stigma and melancholy of WWII. Swathes of iridescent cornflower crops briefly brighten the view, but little else catches the eye in this bleak region.
Bruges is a charming city, so strategically unimportant following the silting up of its river and principle trade route, that it has avoided ravages of conflict for centuries. Its cobbled streets informally intertwine with its quaint canals, and the chocolate box cottages fill the back streets completing an enchanting picture that few modern cities can boast.
Contrary to our own expectations, first night exhaustion overcome first night nerves, and following the obligatory overpriced mussels, we collapsed for an early night in the last B&B we expected to see for some time.
Belgium is, topographically, blander than dry toast and it was with some relief that we crossed into The Netherlands en-route to Amsterdam for lunch. Amsterdam is so remarkably unlike the rest of this country (cosmopolitan and multi-faceted), except the people remain as friendly & laid back throughout.
Over half the country is below sea level, which becomes rudely apparent along the coastline, as the exposed ridges we drive upon somehow manage to keep the sea out. Panorama-wise, it gives Belgium a run for its money but it is far more fertile, verdant and unspoilt, excepting the industrial colossus that is Rotterdam and its surrounds – Europe’s busiest port.
Our first ‘real’ night is in a very pleasant and genteel campsite on the Dutch coast. We’ve lucked in – not like the downmarket affairs that are generally campsites in the UK. If they’re all like this, we’ll be fine…
Onwards the next morning, we travel in bright sunshine, through the pristinely ordered northern Holland and into Germany. As we leave, we decide it’s not hard to understand the laissez-faire Dutch attitude towards free love and recreational drugs – there’s little else to do in this affable country.
Relaxed Dutch driving evolves into the speed and efficiency of the Germans – the Dutch style is preferable, to be honest (a fact brutally reinforced when we witness a scary motorway accident outside Hamburg).
We stop briefly for potter in Bremen – obviously gravely important before the war since few of the original buildings remain, except a quaint one-street old town, a typically impressive cathedral and town hall.
Still northwards we venture, again camping near the coast. Mother Nature reminds that she can be a fickle cow sometimes - during the night, the powerful North Sea gusts endeavour to separate our awning from the car. In getting out of the car to reinforce our pegs, Charlie sets off the car alarm, so alerting the entire campsite that he’s about to do this wearing nothing but a polo shirt! Thankfully he completes his mission, as the gale gains momentum, pulling the awning and hence the car from side to side with increasing intensity.
The night’s dramas ensured insufficient sleep, but boiled eggs and a shower suitably fortify for the road to Denmark.
Ribe is a flawlessly preserved medieval Danish town, centred around its patchwork stone and brick cathedral. The meandering cobbled streets complement its namesake river, which dissects the town en-route to the North Sea. The cathedral’s interior walls and ceiling are crisp whitewashed with youthful frescoes painted in vivid, vibrant colours, giving an uplifting tint to the sacrosanct atmosphere. Climbing the 246 steps to the top of the tower, we arrive at possibly the highest point in Denmark, with unimpeded omnidirectional views as far as the earth’s curvature will allow.
Northwards and inland, away from the relentless bitter North Sea wind (which by now, we’ve frankly had enough of!) to our camping spot for the night on Lake Rørbæk Sø, near the charming village of Vesterlund. Nestled in a clearing amongst towering Douglas Firs and patches of scrub oak, this is our prettiest campsite yet – and an ideal spot to test out our fishing equipment! Sadly, our first attempt is resoundingly unsuccessful; endless bulrushes and marshes around the picturesque yet windswept lake mean we head home with nothing bar wet feet and a bracing walk to show for our efforts. Never mind, tonight the fridge is full and luckily we weren’t relying on it…