As a city dweller I sometimes forget how restorative experiences of nature can be. One of the things that attracted me to Australia its places of immense natural beauty that have not been disturbed by what we humans sometimes foolishly call progress. Vast tracts of land are left to evolve in their natural state.
Denmark really has no nature left. Everything has been cultivated. Since the end of the second ice age, the immigrants eventually known as the Danes have worked to make the land habitable. Farmers cleared forests and burnt debris to plant crops in the ashes to sustain themselves. People established towns with harbours and roads to allow for effective logistics for booming marketplaces and dykes to protect them from the sea. In flat, sandy mid-Jutland, where I grew up, a great project to drain the bogs and turn heath into farming land took place in the 19th century. Rivers were straightened to improve industrial farming (though later allowed to rediscover their natural path). Even the swans on the lakes in Copenhagen are tagged and jealously traced. In this country, humans have worked on taming nature for generations. In doing so nature has become culture.
Just across the waters of Øresund is Sweden, an entirely different country with a different language and culture. And an entirely different natural environment. Just 1 1/2 hours drive from Copenhagen is Søderåsen National Park. It is centred on a rift valley created by a solid bedrock ridge rising 70-80 million years ago and subsequently exposed to ice ages. The frost caused bedrock to crack and created open talus slopes with rock boulders. At their base clear, crisp water now springs into brooks, clean enough to drink.
The area does have traces of human activity. We wondered about the many dry-stone walls – what were they erected for? It turned out some of these walls date back to the Bronze and Iron ages, up to 3000 years old. They probably served as boundaries or fences for cattle and sheep. We saw ruins of dwellings where rock foundations and low rock walls still stand, beautifully overgrown with mosses. Also, abandoned 18th-century farm houses in red timber with white doors and windows dot the landscape – transporting me to Astrid Lindgren’s Katthult in Emil i Lønneberga. These farms now function as free shelters and rest spots for hikers.
Our group of three adults and two children started out with our packs walking east through the Kvårkaskogen on an easy track through open woodlands of beech forest. We stopped frequently to pick bright red raspberries growing wild on the side of the path or to enjoy the view across a deep rift valley. Once we turned into Dejebacken, the forest got dense and we walked a narrow, rocky path next to a babbling brook that became the river Skåran. Walking through the valley was a magical experience. The sound of the water combined with the calls of bird life and the sunlight shimmered through the treetops. The closer we got to the lake and entrance at Skaralid the easier the track became and more people we met. Clearly if one was just going for a stroll this is where to start.
We climbed a very steep hill and followed a track down to Dahlbergs, where we stopped for the night. By then we estimated to have walked some 12 kilometres. Dahlbergs is a small abandoned farm holding, set in a picturesque environment, complete with an old well and functioning green water pump. Its neighbours are a group of cows released into the wild to improve biodiversity. When we settled into our sleeping bags, we heard the call of a moose – or was it just a cow mooing? Our youngest walker was concerned about wolves and boars, but thankfully we saw nothing more dangerous than a legless lizard and a long-horned beetle on our trek.
The next morning we set off, the early morning sun warm on our backs. We walked past the Harsnas dams with waterlilies blooming and got to Liagård, another rest place. From here we descended steeply to another water stream densely enveloped by tall ridges and vegetation and moss-grown rocks on both sides. Across a small bridge we took a left onto a path marked on the visitor map as a small walking trail. This trail was to meet up with the road in Kvarkaskogen that would take us to the car. It was a beautiful trail following the river, but suddenly the path disappeared into dense vegetation of nettles. Unperturbed we carried on, feeling like explorers in the jungle. We struck to the river, sunk in deep mud and eventually saw what looked like a path on a steep incline to the top of the ridge. We scaled this hill, but as soon as we got to the plateau at the top, the path disappeared again. We knew the path at this point should head north, so we walked in that direction, now on top of the ridge. We still could see the river to the right. Eventually we got to a clearing with a spectacular view across the valley. From here we headed west and eventually met up with a path that took us back to the car. We estimate to have walked some 8 kilometres that morning.
Some say it is when you get lost you find yourself. I was quite concerned when we lost the path (what fool wouldn’t be?) but I also knew that we were in a fairly small national park and we kept seeing traces of human activity – much more recent than the moss-grown stone walls that separated the cliff from the river. Nature has created a truly stunning place – one so stark humans have had to abandon it as habitat. Back in my comfortable apartment on Nørrebro, I am thankful for being able to explore such nature and come home to the vibrant culture of the city.