Stranded: The Secrets of the Danish Coast

Stranded: The Secrets of the Danish Coast

A journey across Jutland’s wild West Coast takes in
friendly seals, North Sea ghosts and unveils a welcoming attitude
that beckons visitors away from Denmark’s capital.

“There’s very good vibes around here.” In 1970, during a
one-month residence in north western Denmark,
John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave a video interview to the small town
of Thy’s press in praise of peace and naivety. Lennon’s love for
going with the flow instead of trying to tick boxes was eminent
here more than ever, as was his adoration for those who dwell
outside the capital. Putting it simply, he remarked: “The people
here aren’t as paranoid as those in the big cities.” The town
quickly became the site of one of the world’s first hippie communes
– Thylejren, meaning “the Camp” – in a country regarded as
quick-off-the-mark when it comes to collective, harmonic

And so, by car, I embark on a three-day coastal journey across
this mysteriously sublime land that’s so often cast in the shadows
of Denmark’s surrounding cities and its happiness-slapped capital
of Copenhagen.
After a day spent farther north in Agger, I arrive in the fishing
village of Thyborøn by ferry. Rolling up my jeans, I head for
shallow waters and dig my hands deep into the sands in search of
nature’s treasure – the cold-water oyster.

Squinting into the distant sun, I make out some figures bobbing
in the water. I shiver. By history’s mark, this is one of the most
perilous coasts in the world, with a timeline as grizzly and
weighty as the waters’ fruits. Perhaps it’s my city-dweller nature
setting in, but, as I busy myself, I feel I’m being watched by
these offshore creatures.

Soon, though, my bounty is found, and my bougie musings are
wonderfully shattered as my fingers clutch a piece of seabed gold
covered in grit and sand. A sixty-something sunkissed fisherman
chivalrously shucks my oyster aboard his sailboat and I enjoy it
with mignonette. A glass of Cremant also hurtles my way, but I’ve
barely necked it before we’re careening towards the floating
mammals I made out earlier. They’re seals, and this is what I can
only describe as a “sealfari”. I roar with laughter while tipsily
trying to snap photos of them lolling around and gawping back at
me. Before giddily stepping back onshore, we catch lobsters, crabs
and lumpfish roe for beach grilling later.

Set on a desolate beach, the feast is commanded by a buttery
turbot prepared on a firepit by the handsome, tattooed and
bespectacled chef Jesper Krabbe. After heading up some of
Scandinavia’s most hyped kitchens, Krabbe turned his career heat
down in favour of communal beachside dining. Our picnic bench is
laden with fresh flowers, pretty china and old silverware belonging
to Krabbe’s beautiful sidekick Victoria. Thick woollen knits are
handed around to keep dusk’s chill at bay. The craftsmanship is
high, but so is the vibe. Having overdosed on wholesomeness, I
sleep like a baby.

The next day, I visit Hanherred Havbåde, a boat-building
workshop at Thorupstrand, where the skeleton of a new fishing boat
lies in wait. I climb some stairs and gaze over its inner belly,
its timbers like ribs. Across the beach, strong fishermen and women
graft in the sun while Pipsen – a tall, athletic, calm and elegant
woman – proudly tells me that the boats are, in part, community
projects on which locals work during their free time. Then we go
for a coffee in the sun.

For all the good vibes that Lennon picked up on here, there are
some strange ones too. It somehow feels very Danish for all the
sweetness and light to be tinged with a certain noir. The jovial
seaside revelry distracts only momentarily from a heavy presence in
the salty air.

It’s impossible not to feel it in a land so doused in drama. For
centuries, the North Sea has washed up many violent incidents on
Denmark’s wild West Coast. Reminders manifest in the sharp,
wind-carved dunes scattered with lyme and marram grass that conceal
the remnants of countless wrecked sailors.

No story is more harrowing than that of HMS St George, which
lost almost all of its 1,400 passengers and crew when it was
stranded here December 1811. At the impressive Strandingsmuseum St George, you can ring the ship’s
mammoth bell (excavated in the 80s) and massive rudder (discovered
by a diver in 2003).

The award-winning WW2 bunker-turned-museum Tirpitz at Blåvand is equally awe-inspiring, in all
its brutalist concrete-and-glass glory. Its permanent exhibition of
washed-up amber gleams, while its 360-degree geocritical
installation film inspires – visitors sit in a lifeboat to watch.
It serves as a reminder of the resourceful and resilient nature of
the typical Jutlander.

Jutland’s lack of crowds and hyperactivity was one of the
reasons why John and Yoko decamped here almost half a century ago –
and it’s hard not to wonder if many wrecks made this their final
resting place for the same reason. Time stands still on Denmark’s
West Coast. Yet far from being a sleepy hinterland, it’s a place of
welcome. Just as it has taken in the shipwrecked, the refugees and
prisoners of war in the past, so too does it beckon visitors


Svinkløv Badehotel: On the
secluded northwestern tip of the coast, this remarkable,
whitewashed wooden beach hotel was recently rebuilt after having
burned down a few years ago. Owner and head chef Kenneth
Toft-Hansen routinely refuses Michelin stars and only competed (and
cooly won gold at) the Bocuse d’Or as he was in need of a side
project. You’ll likely weep over the seafood-laden menu in the
sunset-lit dining room with panoramic views across the sea…
before weeping again at the best dessert you’ve ever laid spoon on:
dark chocolate ice cream, shaved lime mint ice granita and lemon

Henne Mølle Å
Set in the wilderness is this sweet beach
hotel where rooms are somewhat dated, but all the more charming for
it – expect old books, electric reclining mattresses, lamps and a
mezzanine for extra reading (or sleeping) room. Locals and
travellers book way in advance to dine at its superb restaurant
that, among many things, serves locally caught fresh plaice with
parsley potatoes and lingonberry jam – and a killer chablis. Its
endearing website correctly dubs the hotel “probably Denmark’s
nicest bathing hotel”. In this spirit of no word-mincery: it’s
really nice here.

Vedersø Klit Badehotel‎:
Run by two young dapper brothers with a fierce knowledge of and
appreciation for great, unpretentious local produce (they ran
street food markets in Aarhus for years), this is a sprawling and
welcoming beach hotel high up in the dunes. Rooms are light, quiet
and accented with white cotton sheets, fluffy pillows and epic
views of the eerie terra firma. Enjoy an organic breakfast of local
pastries and apple juice, and be sure to book dinner at the no-fuss
yet completely wonderful brasserie.


Hire a car. It’s such a short but packed line of coast, much
better enjoyed on wheels.

Swing by the Port of Hanstholm for the morning fish auction.
It’s the fishing capital of Denmark and a renewable wind and wave
energy hub.

Acquire roadtrip snacks and souvenirs at the beautiful HR Skov
delicatessen at Blåvand near the Tirpitz Museum, which has the
owner’s prized motorbike plonked dead centre in the shop.

Make lunch reservations at Kommandobroen by Grantland, an exquisite Hvide Sande
harbourside restaurant which serves shellfish platters with a twist
and incredible tartare and tongue.

Another great place to visit on this trail is the Cold Hawaii –
at the end of summer it holds a Surfing World Cup.