Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hærvejen - Rødekro to Flensburg


Distance : 44 km
Date : 19 january 2013.
Trails trekked: Hærvejen, OchsenwegE1, E6.

In january 2013 my brother Adrian and I went for a winter walk. We took the train to Rødekro, and arrived at the station at roughly the same time that the sparse daylight hours began, roughly 8:30 in the morning.

We were to follow the Hærvejen / Ochsenweg south from Rødekro and continue along it through the day. The hærvejen was the main trading route in Jutland in the medieval period. Today the route is a popular hiking and biking route, and is also part of several international footpaths (namely the E1 and the E6 from the border and southwards) and pilgrimage routes.
The weather was a bit cold (-5 degrees), and windy and especially the wind chill factor (- 25 degrees)  was significant on this particular day.

The land was frozen and wintery, as we had several months with temperatures staying more or less constantly below zero. There was some snow, but not more than 25-30 centimeters on average, and although we had occasional very ligth snow showers during the day these added no more than one or two centimeters to the overall snow depths.

We had not walked more than 5 km down hærvejen before we had sufficient inner warmth being generated, for us to feel a bit hot dressed in the heavy winter jackets, and woolen caps. So we walked with the jackets unzipped and could still easily keep warm. Only on the open stretches did we have to zip our jackets as the wind chill could be felt in full strength on theses parts of the hike.

As we came to the outskirts of the village of Hjortkær we were about 7 km into the days hike and had travelled on very small backcountry roads, that were mostly covered with a thin layer of snow, and asphalt underneath that. The signs for the Hærvejen were very consistent and easy to see as no leafs or plants were covering them at this time of the year.

We followed the edge of the village southwards, never actually entering it. On the southeastern tip of the village there was a couple of benches by the road, and we stopped for a cup of coffee and a snack.

For the next kilometer we followed a county road with somewhat more traffic than the ones we had been on so far. However after this short stretch we found ourselves on a wide gravel road heading due south through the landscape, bypassing all human settlement.

From the ninth to the fourteenth kilometer the road was pretty exposed to the wind and we had a lot of 1 meter high snow dunes to traverse, with some of the taller ones being around 1,5 meters high. 

We passed a shelter along this stretch and also the ancient site of Urnehoved, which lay just beside the hærvejen, and had served as a tingsted (assembly place) for the entire southern part of Jutland during the middle ages. 
The tingsted is hidden in a small groove just besides the hærvejen. The site is placed on high grounds, relative to the surrounding landscape, and thus some nice views can be enjoyed.

From Urnehoved we continued southwards on the wide gravel road, and as we passed the 14 km mark for the day, we started walking alongside the western edge of Årtoft plantage, a planted forest.

As the hærvejen more or less follows the Jutlandic watershed, significantly reducing the number of streams and rivers to be crossed, a big advantage for the oxen herds that travelled along it in the past centuries.
A few old stone bridges exist along the path, and around 16,5 km we crossed one of these the Povlsbro (Pauls bridge). Here we took a break after clearing the snow off a bench, and enjoyed the nice bridge and stream.

Afterwards we bypassed Tinglev, and the path turned some kilometers westward. On this stretch the path shifted several times, from gravel road to, asphalt road, to industrial roads, and the to dirt tracks.

Shortly after crossing the 24 km mark, we were traversing a frozen field, on one of the stretches where the hærvejen was nothing more than a relatively narrow dirt path. We came to a place were a big pool of water had frozen covering a large section of the field. We stood a few moments and tried to decide whether to cross the ice, or circumvent it. As the pool was quite large, and it had been freezing temperatures for some time, we decided to cross the ice.

Adrian went first, and although the ice creaked and cracked some, he came over without problems. As I started crossing the icy stretch the ice started giving in, and liquid water started emerging. Although I more or less ran over the ice, my left foot went through the ice, and was submerged in water ankle high.

The next couple of kilometers I walked with the wet shoe and sock and around the 26 km mark I changed socks as the shoe was no longer wet, but instead partly frozen because of the water.
Luckily I only felt slight miscomfort on account of this incident, and was happy that it did not become an issue the rest of the hike.

A short distance after my icy footbath we reached the Bommerlund plantage forest. The first kilometer in the forest, we walked among young trees that grew in between the wrecked remains of the old plantation forest. That older forest partly annihilated by the 1999 hurricane that swept through Denmark.

Some 1,5 km into the forest we came to the county road leading to Kruså, and bearing the same name as our footpath "Hærvejen". The road and the path converged for about an kilometer, and we found an abandoned souvenir shop at the edge of the forest, where a couple of benches made a pleasant surprise for a little break.
We still had some lukewarm coffee in the canteen, and some food in our bags, and spent some 15 minutes eating and checking the routes for the next part of hike.
From the souvenir shop we had about 4 kilometers through the forest, with the path running parallel to the county road some a bit west of it and some times a bit east of it, but never more than a couple of hundred meters from it.

As we left Bommerlund plantage the evening slowly approaching. We had a nice view towards the bordertowns of Padborg and neighbouring Kruså.
The next kilometer was a bit of boring industrial landscape, with truckstops and logistics centers. After this short section, where we also passed the jutlandic moterway (Jyske motervej) and after a couple of kilometers of hiking through low and not so dense forests we came to the hamlet of Bov.

We went through the hamlet and decended into a small and narrow valley on the southeastern outskirts of Bov.
In the bottom of the valley we crossed from Denmark and into Germany, a border marked only by a small bridge and a couple of signs.

As we entered Germany all the daylight was gone, and we ascended the far side of the valley in darkness. We came to a small german hamlet and started looking for some public transportation in direction of nearby Flensburg. However we ended walking more then 5 kilometers more through the dimly lit suburbs of Flensburg before finding a bus stop from where we could take a bus to the city centre.
In Flensburg we had time to eat some nice hot dinner followed by a big dessert, before departing for Odense around 22:30. A couple of trains, and some hours later we arrived in Odense about 1:00 in the night - 19 hours after leaving the same station.