Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Esbjerg and Fanø Island, Denmark

This was a short trip of only three days to Esbjerg and Fanø Island, Denmark by Lois on her own.  The plan was to visit Sønderho, a small village at the south end of the island, and the place where the Danish component of our family comes from.

The island is within the Wadden Sea National Park, which extends along to coastline to Germany and is part of this World Heritage Site.  The wildlife in the area is a huge attraction for biologists, conservationists and tourists.

Today Sønderho is a very pretty little place, attractive to tourists and very different from the fishing and boat building settlement of the 1800s when various great grandparents lived and worked in the village. 

The whole island is basically a 13-15 Km long sand dune that is gradually being claimed by grasses, heathers and stumpy trees.  It is flat, with only small rises that provide only


meagre shelter from the North Sea winds.  There is a lovely semi-sheltered area of sandy banks on the mainland side of the island where seals bask in the afternoon sun. So it is a windy place, with poor sandy soil and no hilly areas.  Life on the island for local inhabitants was hard 100+ years ago, with little farming to supplement the seafaring and fishing economy.  Today the island is known for its wildlife and fantastic long sandy beaches, much loved by tourists, especially on the seaward side.  It is a local tourist hot spot for Danish folk, easy to access via a short ferry crossing from Esbjerg every 20 minutes and there’s a bus that travels up and down the island that offers a reasonable alternative to car travel! 

Sønderho village is small enough to walk around and see all the old thatched houses and notable points of interest in one afternoon.  The houses are quaint long buildings with small windows and thatched roofs, almost invariably only one storey high with perhaps one room upstairs with a window emerging from the thatch. 

 The outside walls are painted pale yellow, pink or white.  Some are brick colour with the outline of bricks added for effect!  There’s always a lot of pots and glassware inside on the window ledges placed especially so everyone can see them!  The folk here are evidently very proud of their homes.  Quite a few of the houses have pairs of Staffordshire pottery dogs showing in one or more windows. 


The story of these is that back in the 1800s the seamen would bring them home as souvenirs from their sea voyages to the UK delivering fish.  When the dogs look towards the inside of the house then the man of the house had returned safely from his sea journey and was at home with his family.  If the dogs were looking out of the window then the man of the house had not yet returned and was awaited.  It was never certain that the seamen would return home.  Many were lost at sea and many women became widows relatively early in their married lives.  The little church (kirk) at Sønderho gives testament to this by way of a whole series of model ships hanging from the rafters.

Inside the church space is light and airy, with blue painted pews and an organ at the back with long metal pipes standing proudly either side of a pair of windows.

What an experience to visit a place where ancestors of three and four generations ago came from.  And an even greater experience to find evidence of them by way of a grave stone in the kirk grounds showing family members’ names.  This is family history coming alive! 

The points of interest at Sønderho worth highlighting include:

  •  the flood measuring stick – each band records the date and height of the major floods – and there are quite a few; 

  • the old fire engine;

  • the museum which is home to a number of paintings by local artists of local people in traditional costume;

  • the old sea captain’s house showing how folks lived in the 1800s, called Hanne’s Hus after the sea captain’s wife because he was lost at sea but his widow and one of his daughters continued to live in the family home.  It is a comparatively large long house, because of the higher status of the owner being a sea captain!  It was handed over to the local cultural history organisation for safe keeping and for folks to visit.
  • there’s a national costume in Fanø that is quite distinctive.  Although it is not worn every day now it is still has a place on special occasions. 

Was it worth visiting? – YES.

Esbjerg itself is a lovely place too.  The centre has been converted into a car free zone and

provides a lovely, peaceful set of streets for walking and window shopping.  It is full of high value clothes, soft furnishing and design outlets.  There are some pubs, restaurants and pizza shops and one street food outlet which serves a really good chicken and salad pitta! Folks don’t go around eating in the street here so there are tables and chairs on the street for people to use.  They are very restrained and very respectful of their cities and towns – there’s no litter!  

There’s a famous water tower here that was built in 1897. 

It is not in use any more.  It was designed by Hjerrild Clausen who had been inspired by Nuremberg’s Nassauer Haus.  It stands on a Bronze Age burial ground at the top of a cliff overlooking the harbour.  As a result, it has become the landmark of Esbjerg.

Esbjerg harbour was completed in 1874, after the loss of a northern port to Germany.  The port was needed to support the export economy of the Jutland area which comprised fishing, agriculture and shipping.  Today the port supports the wind-turbine industry and container shipping.  There are now several large port basins at Esbjerg!

Thursday, 12 March 2020

A touring caravan with a dog

OK, so we're formally idiotic.  We decided, for some stupid reason, to get the tourer out from its place in the back garden, service it and replace the tyres, and then take it away for a couple of days during one of the windiest periods this winter!  And to cap it all, we went all of 6 miles up the road to stay at Durham Caravan Club site.  Why???  Well, we have been trying out "stuff" with Tara to see how she takes to it - the Travelodge trip to Perth in January was part of that.  It was time to try the tourer to see if we can use it with a big dog!  The idea was that we could get home easily if things went wrong, but equally it would be a place that was certainly "away".

So we found a place for Tara's crate (instead of the lower bunk bed, as it happens, which left the upper bunk bed support as a very useful work surface) strapped it in, loaded everything up and set off.  It's amazing how the skills of towing come back even after a five year (yes, five year) break!  My reversing was shockingly bad to start with, but even that came back eventually!  Pitched and comfortable with the kettle on, we then introduced Tara to the wonders of Club sites.  Lots of new sights and, more importantly, smells were to be found as well as a wonderful dog walk with a surfeit of such smells to investigate!

As an aside, being on a touring site in poor weather in March really does show the kind of people who tour at this time of year ... lots of really good, expensive outfits and, we surmised, lots of pension lump sums represented.  There were NO grotty outfits and ours was, by a long way, the oldest caravan there.  It still held its own though!

Tara loved the experience - being in close proximity with her "pack" was great for her and she really enjoyed the walks around the place.  One nice thing we hadn't thought of was that she could see out and she spent quite a lot of time watching what was going on through the front windows.

We even had a couple of outings (to Durham services for McDonalds lunch ... don't judge us).

So, all in all a really pleasant experience that shows that so long as a dog is with its family, it's happy.  We now feel confident planning a longer holiday somewhere ... but that will be another story!

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Travelodge with a dog

In January, we decided on an impromptu a trip to the Highlands, incorporating a Travelodge stay.  Those of you who keep up with us through these ramblings will know that we have always preferred Premier Inns to Travelodges.  A bit more expensive, but generally more reliable.  We used to do Travelodges a lot but then after a couple of poor experiences a few years ago, we went over to Premier.  However, Premier don’t allow dogs while Travelodges do.  Indeed Travelodge make life very easy for dog owners and although they charge, it’s well worth the extra cost.  But we weren’t sure how Tara would take to hotel living ... nor, to be frank, how we would cope.   

So we booked Perth, which is about half way up, working on the principle that if it didn’t work we could simply turn around and come home ... in the middle of the night if necessary.  In fact it worked brilliantly.  Tara slept for two hours in the back until we got to Annandale Water services – which is fantastic because the lake and grounds give loads and loads of space to walk and cavort in.  She then slept for two further hours asleep until we got to Perth.  The room was terrific – they’ve clearly upped their game a lot since we last stayed in a Travelodge – the cage fitted perfectly under the desk and there was a McDonalds within a short walk ... what’s not to like?  Having said that, a big dog turning round in a relatively small cage in the middle of the night can be quite disconcerting!
We decided to bite the bullet and the following day went the other four hours to Wester Ross which, again, was uneventful.  The marvellous Ralia Cafe providing the mid-journey relief.   

We had a nice few days up there, although the wind and horizontal rain that we suffered for half of our stay made for eventful and difficult “necessary” walks!   It wasn't all bad weather, and the picture on the right shows.  This is Tara enjoying Wester Ross scenery.  That's Tara looking out over Loch Gairloch from the top of Flowerdale Glen on a lovely January day.  As you can see from her arctic coat, which is quilted and backed with silver foil, it was chilly though!

We came  back in one hop, stopping at Ralia, Stirling and Annandale Water, each being a couple of hours apart.  Hound slept for the driving and enjoyed the cavorting at the stops.  As did we, enjoying also some good coffee and excellent picnics!  We arrived home much more refreshed than usual.  All good.