Dan­gers of a Dan­ish de­light

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CLAU­DIA MASSIE

The sky over the is­land of Mon, which is at the bot­tom right of Den­mark, was cobalt, and the white­washed walls of the Elmelunde church daz­zled in the bright sun­shine and hurt our eyes. Our ar­rival had been pre­ceded by an ar­gu­ment about vis­it­ing the church, some of the party say­ing they had seen enough me­dieval churches al­ready dur­ing the four-week trek across north­ern Europe.

Nev­er­the­less, cul­ture won the day and in we filed to glory in the fres­coes of the Elmelunde Mas­ter, who some time dur­ing the 15th cen­tury de­voted him­self to the dec­o­ra­tion of this church. The fres­coes are spare and sin­u­ous, bleached in hue and ba­sic in ex­e­cu­tion. They snake all over the ceil­ing and are quite mar­vel­lous; evoca­tive of a time of peas­ants and knights, demons and fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures; a time of be­lief and of fear.

In one vaulted sec­tion a baby is be­ing run through by a knight’s sword. Our re­cep­tive three-year-old was ev­i­dently ab­sorbed and moved by this ap­palling scene. “Was the baby naughty?’’ he asked. He has since done battle with this baby-stabbing knight on many oc­ca­sions: a victory, of sorts, for cul­ture.

Per­haps there are worse images from Den­mark that could have fixed them­selves in the in­fant mind. He might, for in­stance, have brought home mem­o­ries of the evening spent in a camp­site on the west coast, near Ribe. This was a niche camp­site, ded­i­cated to fish­ing, though we didn’t know that un­til we got there. Ev­ery­one else had come to fish the stocked ponds around the site, in­clud­ing the two women who lured trout late into the evening from the bank be­side our tent pitch, bizarrely at­tired in silky neg­ligee-gown com­bos and fish­net stock­ings.

Back on Mon, there are only three things to do and the sec­ond is to visit the cliffs. Mons Klint is a long chalk cliff that abuts the Baltic. It is, by some dis­tance, the most sig­nif­i­cant mor­pho­log­i­cal fea­ture in south­ern Den­mark. Maybe, for all I know, in all of Den­mark. Be­cause there is noth­ing else to see, most of Den­mark at some point heads to Mon to ad­mire the cliff. They park their cars or bikes at the top and then ne­go­ti­ate their way down 494 steps to the peb­bled beach be­low the cliffs. Here they ei­ther wade into the Baltic for a while or turn to the chalk face and start hack­ing in a usu­ally fu­tile at­tempt to ex­tract fos­sils.

Once scru­tiny of the cliffs has lost its thrill, the 494 steps are tack­led again. Given that some of the Danes equip them­selves with crates of beer to keep them com­pany on their visit, I won­dered how many fa­tal­i­ties are suf­fered each year on those steps.

The third thing to do on Mon is to feed pick­led her­ring to your child and see it re­gur­gi­tated im­me­di­ately all over the ta­ble of the de­light­ful restau­rant from which it was or­dered, be­fore re­treat­ing, fran­tic and shame­faced, and not un­aware of the way they dis­pense jus­tice to naughty chil­dren in that part of Den­mark.

THE SPEC­TA­TOR

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