“It is particularly ironic that the battle to save the world's remaining healthy ecosystems will be won or lost not in tropical forests or coral reefs that are threatened but on the streets of the most unnatural landscapes on the planet.”- Worldwatch Institute. 2007

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Cyclign Samsoe - The North

Samsoe covers 114km2 and has a population of around 4,000, doubled over the summer with tourism. It had around 8,000 full time residents at one point but there has been a steady decline due to the lack of employment and the fact that between 15 and 18 children have to go to school on the mainland. A lot of properties here have been bought and done up as holiday homes. This has the benefit of ensuring that buildings are maintained which would otherwise have sat derelict but means that in winter whole villages are almost deserted. This explains the desolation of Pillemark where I am staying. I have the entire schoolhouse to myself and have only briefly met Birgitte, one of the owners, yesterday at breakfast.

The cycle route to here to Nordby has a road side cycle route from Tranjeberg (the capital, population 1000 and home to a tiny museum) to Marup, although outside of this the roads are so small and quiet it’s no hardship having to cycle on them. At one point the island narrows to a few hundred yards where the Kavnkanal is - a grassy trench that runs right across the island.

When it was excavated they found that it had been a proper canal, lined with wooden side. They originally guessed at it being a few hundred years old but carbon dating of the wood showed it to be circa 700AD, and so built by the Vikings. One theory is that this meant they could escape attackers on either side of the island by pulling their boats through the canal but most people I talk to reckon this doesn’t sound very like Vikings and think it was more so that when the wind trapped them in the Fjord on the East side they could still get out and go fighting and pillaging.

Beyond this the road runs through conifer forest – planted as part of an experiment to see what trees would survive best the sandy soil and sea air. There’s a lot of heather and mushrooms – more fly agaric than I’ve ever seen in one place, and this beauty, which I took home and ate in an omelet

Nordby, the northernmost village on Samsoe, is whimsical and twee. All low thatched cottages with colourfully painted windowframes, arranged around a central duckpond.

Beyond the village the landscape changes into compact rolling hills, a remnant of the ice age. Several short, steep climbs lead up to a little red and white lookout tower. The steps to the top have gone but an over-alled painter lets me use his ladder to get up so I can get a good view right over the island and out to sea to Tunǿ, an island to the west with maybe 900 residents and no roads.

Cycling back south I go off through the forest, having to get off and push because of the sand, to Kagsǿr Hag, a long thin empty beach that must stretch for four kilometers, backed with low lying bushes covered with bright red, fat rosehips. The water is cold but not as cold as I’d expected. Then I take the little road to Langǿr, where a handful of houses and a small marina sit at the tip of the headland at the top of the fjord that lies to the East of central Samsoe. This area is a conservation area, a big shallow bay with lots of sea birds, little islands and flat expanses of bogland. I go past the airstrip at Stavns and then back onto the main road to Tranejeberg to find a cycle shop with some chain oil before they shut up shop as the newbike has developed a loud squeak.

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