Thursday, January 5, 2023

The power of sand on a Danish fishing village

Remains of Skagen's Sand Church

On a little finger of land that juts out as the northernmost tip of Denmark lies the wind-swept town of Skagen. Its natural beauty and unique light have long attracted artists. Called the Land of Light, this once wealthy fishing town now caters to creative folks and visitors with an array of shops, museums and cafes.

The famous Sand Church, built in the 14th century and dedicated to Saint Lawrence of Rome, at one time could hold 1000 people and was 130 feet high. It was a landmark for fishermen and one of the attractions we wanted to see.

Rising levels of white sand from the region’s beaches eventually buried the structure faster than it could be dug out. At one point the door had to be dug out before every service, which finally led to locals abandoning the church. Today just the main tower remains, still at the mercy of shifting sands and winds as it sits on top of the large migrating sand dune.

Sign for the church--hiking
paths around the area

Sand drift was a continual problem. After about 100 years water levels rose, houses were covered with sand, and people began moving away from the sea and the town. As more sand blew, the elevation of the area got higher, Now the spit is the highest part of Denmark. Around 300 ships go around the spit every day, which was notoriously dangerous in the late 1800s causing many shipwrecks.

While Skagen has been a major port city and shipyard for 105 years, today there is no hospital or police station. Residents rely on a train that comes through town to get to various places. 

Houses near the port are often expensive summer cottages, most famously yellow-washed with red roofs. Around the Sand Church are paths that are popular with hikers and cyclists, so we had plenty of opportunities to wander about this unusual spot.

Yellow homes with red tile roofs are common in Skagen.

Then we drove out to the spit, which grows 30 yards each year, and boarded a Sandworm. This is a small bus pulled by a tractor that can go to the very end of the spit. Vegetation became sparse to nonexistent as we neared the sea, and massive sand dunes cover the area. This a stopping point for migratory birds on their way from Scandinavia to warmer environments.

The Sandworm

At the end of the spit the North Sea and Baltic Sea come together in distinctive tumbling wave patterns. We disembarked the Sandworm to get a closer look at this intriguing point. 

Beverly  waded into the sea.
It’s possible to wade into the icy water and put one foot in each ocean, which I attempted to do. Despite rolling up my pants as much as possible, the strong wave action left me soaked up to my knees. Still, it was a good attempt in an interesting spot I’ll probably not visit again—but I’m glad I did once.

Our final stop was the Skagen Museum, founded to preserve important works painted during the area’s peak prominence as an artists’ colony. Many painters were part of the naturalist movement where paintings reflected real life of the common people. Artists used light and extreme detail to make pictures more realistic and luminous. 

Skagen Museum has works from
famous artists.
Although many of the paintings we viewed were from the early 1900s, they were as clear and detailed as a present-day photograph.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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