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Published: March 2nd 2019
Me, Castle Grounds
Greetings once more, my second of three blog entries on my lovely little trip to Denmark, reporting this time on my second full day there, on the Tuesday.
After a full day exploring the tourist sights of Copenhagen, along with many other international tourists, I felt that on my second day I wanted to explore more provincial tourist attractions, hopefully more off-the-beaten track. The tourist crowds in Copenhagen weren’t overwhelming, though I’m sure they are in the summer, but I always feel I want to explore the “real” country when I visit a place. On my second day I feel I did just that – I had planned to spend the morning in Hillerød visiting its amazing Frederiksborg Slot, and then head up to Helsingør in the afternoon, to visit its stunning Kronborg Slot, more known to Shakespeare-connoisseurs as Hamlet’s Elsinore Castle. It turned out to be a wonderful day of off-the-beaten track castle explorations and learning about the Danish Royal family, about whom I previously knew very little about, and I was not disappointed with either.
After another lovely breakfast in the Gingerbread House, I headed by train from Helsinge station, through the nearby Gribskov
forest and got off at Slotspavillonen station. This was a good choice, rather than the main Hillerød station, as it enabled me to first walk through the stunning palace gardens of the Frederiksborg Slot, on a moody morning alternating between grey cloud and bright sunshine. The part-imposing, part-beautiful Frederiksborg Castle was built in the early 17th
century by King Christian IV, on a series of three small islets on a small lake, and is today the largest Renaissance complex in the Nordic region. A serious fire damaged much of the building in 1859, after which the Danish royal family moved on and the building was reconstructed mainly by Carlsberg brewery founder and philanthropist, J.C. Jacobsen, to house what is known today as the Museum of National History.
After a splendid walk through the palace gardens, with its landscaped lawns, manicured hedges and numerous water features, I crossed a couple of bridges to enter its beautiful courtyard and begin my two-hour tour of the castle. It was a sheer wonder to walk through its many rooms, filled to the brim with antique furniture, paintings, ornaments and other royal regalia. The most impressive rooms were the Castle Chapel, Audience Chamber, and
the Great Hall. I had many places to myself, as there were few other tourists around, apart from a beguilingly large number of nursery-age school groups. It was quite funny to see these little tots, dressed from head to toe in a cover-all sleeping-bag type of arrangement which seems popular at the moment in Denmark, being walked around hand-in-hand by their adults/carers. When they got to the Great Hall, they all spontaneously started sliding around on their fronts and backs on the floor, it was really quite funny to see! Maybe I was visiting during a nationwide nursery day-out or something, but apart from these numerous groups of toddlers, there were few other tourists. I loved having the place mostly to myself to explore.
At the end of the tour of the rooms, there was a really interesting display of portraits of both historical and contemporary Danish figures. In a room dedicated to the royal family, I learnt from the attendant more about the Danish Royal family, and was a little embarrassed to admit to him I knew practically nothing. The beautiful and very elegant Queen Margrethe II has been on the throne since 1972. Her husband and consort,
Statue of Holger the Dane, Kronborg Slot
Holger the Dane, protector of Denmark, is believed to waken from his sleep in the dungeons of Kronborg Slot, to save Denmark in her hour of need
Prince Henrik, sadly died last year. They have two boys, including the Crown Prince Frederik, who featured in numerous paintings with his wife Crown Princess Mary, who is actually Australian, the two having met at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and their four children. I found the whole of the royal family very endearing, seemingly really quite humble, down-to-earth, and attractive. It was a pleasure to learn more about them there.
The final room of portraits, a corridor really, had on one side a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry, and on the other a really very intriguing Danish version of it, depicting relations between Denmark and England in the early 11th
century, and inevitably the conquest of the latter by the former. The 37-metre long frieze was commissioned in 1883-86 to “pay tribute to the Danish kings’ dominance in England”. Although I didn’t really understand much of the Danish text accompanying the pictures, it was a fascinating piece to see and follow. Notable depictions were the plundering and killing of English men by Viking soldiers, the plundering of booty and kidnapping of women by the same, and scenes from the life of Cnut the Great (seriously got to watch the
The "platform" was literally a bank of mud, in the middle of Gribskov Forest.
spelling of that one…!). Known in England as King Canute, and most-famed for his attempt to turn back the tide, I didn’t realise that he was actually king of a kingdom encompassing Denmark, England and Norway, and often referred to as the “North Sea Empire”. The parts of England which were governed by this kingdom were called “Danelaw” (including the region of Yorkshire where I grew up), which I had learned about at school, but which made so much sense to me now seeing this frieze as it literally was the part of England “under Danish law” – I hadn’t made this connection before! This short-lived kingdom of the early 11th
century was pretty much eclipsed by the Norman conquest of England in 1066, 31 years after Canute’s death. I noted that it was somewhat triumphantly stated somewhere on either the frieze itself or its textual descriptions, that the Vikings ended up conquering England anyway through the Normans, themselves descendants of the Norsemen or Vikings. I realised this time that Canute was not a power-crazed madman thinking he could control even the tide, but that this famed event was merely a demonstration to his smitten courtiers that the secular power
Train to Hillerød
Slotspavillonen Station, for Frediksborg Slot
which he held was nothing in comparison to the supreme power of God. I also learnt more about the surprising ancient connections we English have with our cousins across the North Sea in Scandinavia. It was heartening to see this link, and I believe the frieze was really the highlight of my visit to Frederiksborg Slot.
After my visit, I walked briskly through the town of Hillerød to its train station, in order to arrive in time for the 13.27 train which would take me towards the north-east coast of Zealand and my second port-of-call for the day – the beautiful little coastal town of Helsingør, and of course what I had really gone to visit, Kronborg Slot (or Elsinore Castle).
Upon disembarking the train and exiting its stunning, castle-like train station, I immediately walked past the town’s port. I didn’t realise until arrival how close Helsingør was to the Swedish coast, and in fact the distance of 4km between the two marks the narrowest part of the Øresund Strait which separates Denmark from its north-easterly neighbour, Sweden. Helsingør on the Danish coast sits directly opposite Helsingborg, Sweden, and regular ferries zip across the strait separating the two.
This was the closest I’d ever been to Sweden, it felt like an economic giant sitting across the sea, with its tall, tower-block residential buildings seeming more imposing than the Danish quaint little houses on my side.
A 15-minute walk took me to the north-eastern tip of town, upon which sits the fantastically imposing Kronborg Slot – square, monolithic-like and stark, its structure commanded presence over the strait. In fact, its main purpose when built was to act as a military base from which to collect taxes from the popular shipping route linking the Baltic Sea to the North Sea. In the late 16th
century, King Frederik II converted the fort into another Renaissance castle, remaining a royal residence until 1785. Following this, the military took it over until 1923, and in 1938 it was opened to the public. Thus, in Shakespeare’s day, and in writing his tragedy on Hamlet, Prince of Demark, Kronborg Slot would have indeed housed the Danish royal family at the time. I could also now see from the Danish pronunciation of Helsingør, with the “g” becoming a glottal stop, how it would have been transliterated into English as “Elsinore”. The stark and imposing stance
of the building, its octagonal rooms located in its corner towers, and the grassy verges outside, reminded me very much of the Lawrence Olivier film version of Hamlet (1948) – surely the producers must have visited the castle to have captured its essence in the film so well.
I happied away another two hours exploring another beautiful royal Danish castle, taking in a climb to one of its towers where I imagined one might have seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father on an eery winter’s night, a wonderful walk through its palace rooms, and a final, very unusual, meander and stumble through the barely-lit dungeons below. This latter part was quite unnerving actually – without a few carefully-positioned arrows showing which way to go, one could easily have gotten lost amongst the caves, dungeons and scary places beneath. The highlight of the dungeons had to be, though, an eerily lit statue of Holger the Dane, legendary Viking warrior and protector of Denmark who is said to slumber in the dungeons beneath Kronborg Slot, ready to reawaken from his sleep to rescue Denmark in her hour of need - amazing! As with Frederiksborg Slot, perhaps even more so as I
was approaching closing time, there were very few other visitors around, and again it was lovely to have many places of the castle to myself to explore.
When the 4pm closing time arrived, I made my way out of the castle and decided to change my planned route back to Helsinge, in order to see more of this corner of Zealand. Rather than taking the train back again to Hillerød, and then on from there back to Helsinge, I took an alternative train north of the town centre, from the tiny station of Marienlyst. The station and platform were so small that it was seemingly a “request stop” station, which I noted were plentiful around these parts. Fortunately a gentleman arriving at the station not long before my train was due, pushed a button on a machine requesting that the train returning to Helsingør would stop. I thus did the same for the train for Gilleleje, and I’m glad I did as I’m not sure if my original plan of simply sticking my hand out when the train came, as you do with a bus, would work. The train did come, bang on time, stopped to let me on,
and took me across the northern coast of Zealand to the small, coastal (out-of-season) seaside resort of Gilleleje. From there, I could have actually stayed on the same train as it transformed itself into an entirely new route travelling from Gilleleje to Hillerød, via Helsinge, but I thought it much nicer to take a bus instead. The train would have taken about 20 minutes or so, but the bus I took, which was conveniently waiting for me straight after disembarking, took a wonderful, looping scenic route, dropping me off in Helsinge just over an hour later. I really enjoyed this bus ride – the bus driver was friendly, and apart from me, there were just two other passengers who both boarded only for a couple of stops each. It was a delightful little detour, and just lovely to see more of the Danish countryside from the cosiness and warmth of a bus. To add to the atmosphere, an old forgotten song from the 90s came on the radio, “If Only I Could Turn Back Time” by Danish pop group Aqua, which was a lovely local theme to listen to as the sun started to set and darkness encroached upon the
surrounding farmland and forests. I arrived back in Helsinge after a very mellow and enjoyable journey.
It was a lovely second day, exploring much of what I felt was the “real” Denmark. Waiting for me back in my cosy BnB was my Lidl dinner for the evening, and two deliciously cold cans of Carlsberg in the fridge. Ahhh, travelling really doesn’t get much better than this…!
In my next and last blog entry for this trip, I plan to report on my third and final full day in Denmark, going even further off-the-beaten track throughout (if that’s possible), and also regaling an amazingly unique experience visiting one final port-of-call in Copenhagen on Thursday morning, before getting my flight back to London that afternoon.
So, until the next time, thank you for reading, og farvel for nu.
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