I have been on holidays. Even people on sabbatical need a holiday. With my siblings and their families, we went to The Skaw – Skagen – the tip of the Jutland peninsula and home to Denmark’s most northerly point.
At first it rained. No wait, it rained relentlessly in that nothing-will-ever-get-dry-again way. But even so, we made the best of it. Fortunately, we stayed in the middle of town in a large flat – we’re a large family, so we needed a large place. Living in town, rather than in a far-away summer house area let us be close to town activities, museum visits and shopping, yet with only 800m to the white sandy beach.
After a few days of rain, and some quiet despairing, the sun came out and changed an okay holiday to a brilliant one, even if the temperature never reached 20 degrees celcius.
Skagen is a wonderful, romantic holiday destination with a long human history. The thin peninsula separates two seas – Skagerak to the West and Kattegat to the East. This feature was noted by the 1st century AD Roman, Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia, the first encyclopedia. He named the place Tastris, but this name did not really stick and in 1284 the area was noted as Skaffuen, meaning a narrow promontory, which is exactly what it is.
It was a harsh and isolating environment that shepherds and fishermen made their home. In the 14th century the township was given status as a market town which resulted in growth. In the late 16th century a number of catastrophic events were recorded: 350 fishing boats and merchant ships were wrecked off the coast off Skagen in 1568, followed in the 1590s by drifting sand and floods killing people and destroying homes. In the 18th century fishermen suffered from declining herring stock, the town was invaded by the Swedish army and church goers finally had to give up the fight against the drifting sand and St. Laurentius Church was closed by royal decree.
In the 19th century, the romanticism of the hard life led by people in the area attracted a colony of artists, some of whom settled and became known as the Skagen Painters. Best known are PS Krøyer and Michael Ancher. The artist colony also included authors, poets and composers. Danish poet Holger Drachman, made Skagen his home with his many – consecutive – wives. Also author HC Andersen visited and composer Carl Nielsen bought a summer house in Skagen and returned frequently. And this was not always easy, for the 40 kilometres of coastal road from Frederikshavn were often impassable in horse and carriage due to the weather.
Even though the fishing harbour is the largest in Denmark and continues to expand, today the main economic driver of Skagen is tourism. It is no wonder the place still attracts visitors. It is a picturesque town with its yellow houses with red roof tiles, well-kept flower gardens and white Skagen outdoor furniture, so one can imagine sitting right in a Krøyer painting. The surrounding areas feature white beaches and marshlands and wetlands with beautiful, but commanding nature to explore. The artist homes provide an interesting insight into what seems to be something as rare as the life of wealthy artists and Skagens Museum has an impressive collection of Skagen Painters’ art.
Most of all, being by the sea is good for my soul. The wide expanse of water reminds me of my own insignificance. Its wild seas engender respect that only the foolhardy will ignore. The debris it leaves on the beach, dug out from the riches of its deep, highlights how much we humans don’t know. Its rhythm of calm washes over my restless soul and drowns any sense of hurry. I entered Skagen time. Though I did not have time to sit still with a book, I feel refreshed and ready to get stuck into my current work of exploring my inner world through yoga, writing and reading again.