Before we get into the longest hiking journey I have experienced so far in my life, let me tell you a little back story about why I chose to hike the Camino Pilgrim Route in Denmark.
It is the year 2020 and Corona has made its debut. The world freaks out and everything grinds to a halt as we cower in our homes on lockdown. As an outdoor photographer, this caused a small problem! Firstly, my terrible ability to remain indoors for any amount of time meant my mind began to melt, and secondly, the only thing I really enjoy doing indoors is Boulder Climbing and the gyms are closed.
So I got an idea! My best ideas tend to flow when I'm sitting on the toilet or doing some other boring task. Being locked in my home with 2 children and a husband who love gaming means I had lots of boringness around me, plenty of time to come up with ideas. "What is the biggest hiking route in Denmark?" was the question that bounced into my head. I like to always think big and then reel myself in if it is required. I jumped on the laptop, checked Google and boom, the Danish Camino Pilgrim Route, a total of 985km. I know that looking for outdoor projects during lockdown seems a 'no no' but I figured, if everyone was indoors then no one is outdoors, which equals, I am safely distancing myself from all of humanity.
Back story complete, let's move on to the hike itself. I used the official Santiago Camino Pilgrim Route website for the Danish trail to help me plan the entire trip.
A quick overview of distances I'm about to talk about below: Helsingør Train Station - Esrum Lake: 32km
Esrum Lake (North End) - Hillerød: 17km
HELSINGØR - ESRUM LAKE
It was 1st May 2020 when me and a hiking friend (Morten) embarked on the first stage of the Danish Pilgrim Route. We took the train to Helsingør loaded with our rucksacks and a weather forecast that predicted on and off rain for the next few days. The website advised this route would be 26km, I can tell you now, that is not entirely true. If you start from Helsingør train station, walk all the way to Esrum Lake (where we had planned to wild camp) and potentially make a couple of wrong turns as we did, then you will find yourself closer to 32km.
Helsingør is a really nice part of Denmark, hosting the wonderful Kronborg Castle (aka Hamlets Castle). If you have time to look around then by all means wander around the cosy cobblestone streets, however, we had a hiking agenda and it was raining, so hanging around was not on our list of things to do.
As you leave Helsingør town and go past the golf course, you hit a beautiful forest that felt lush and green, although that could be because of the rain. It was certainly a happy sight to see after the urban town roads and we walked in awe of the extent of greenery around us, bearing in mind we had just left behind the long Danish winter months.
The path was simple to follow through this green paradise and it made for a very nice start to the mission ahead.
The next section after Helsingør is Gurre where our eyes were entertained with views of cute homes, Gurre church, 14th Century Gurre castle ruins and the prestigious building of Gurre House.
After this, you come off the road and back into nature at Gurre Lake. We took our lunch break here and chilled out amongst the trees and forest mice. So far the hike had been really rewarding and not too wet.
Gurre was a really great area, a place we felt had sadly been way off our radar. The forest path was windy and raw to walk. The lake was alive with bird calls across the water and rustling with life on the forest floor. We certainly felt very grounded and calm as we explored this area and onwards.
Once you pass the lush forestry around Gurre Lake you head into the Danish farmlands. Trudging one foot over the other, you head towards Esrum. The paths here take you past some really nice homes, open fields, horses grazing and for us, finally some sunshine!
This area felt harder than the previous sections because we were heavily loaded and now uncovered in open farmland with sunshine hitting our over-layered bodies. There was a moment I yelled "I need sugar!" and we sat down where we stood on the edge of the field, stripped off a layer or two and ate some chocolate covered homemade muesli bars. Ah, that feeling when sugar hits your veins!
Now we had just enough strength to continue the downward paths to Esrum Monastery. Thank goodness they were downhill too, we were starting to tire quite a lot by now and parts of the body were hurting. We had made 2 wrong turns when talking too much and not paying attention to the map. Luckily we noticed the mistakes quite quickly and didn't divert too far off track before double backing and finding the correct path.
You leave the farm paths and get onto asphalt roads as you get close to Esrum. Following the streets, we walked through the village and found the monastery sitting majestically on the edge of town.
It is a large building dating back to 1151, surrounded by fields, trees and a small river. On one side sits the village and on the other side is the tourist area where they have a café and car parking.
Tired and needing a break, we sat by the river and took a moment to rest, eat and admire the calm setting in front of us. We knew we didn't have too far to walk now but we did have the task of finding a good spot to sleep and that coupled with tiredness is not a great situation.
Not wanting to waste too many light hours we soon moved off again and followed the path from the right of the car park, heading to the lake. It is a straight line following the monastery road to the main road that circles Esrum Lake. We crossed over the main road and were now in a field with views down to the Lake and the forest.
We made it! Hello Esrum Lake and our camp spot for the night. We were not particularly picky about where we slept because the most important factor here was we wanted the weight off our feet and a warm meal in our tummies, followed by sleep. The sun shone through the trees as it lowered in the sky. We needed a small fire to help boost our camp morale, so I set my sights on that and left Morten heating water on his Jetboil for our Real Turmat meals. We were either too tired to care or they were actually as good as they tasted but those dehydrated meals from Real Turmat went down a treat.
We didn't stay awake for too long after dinner, a good nights sleep was calling. Morten had chosen to go super lightweight with just a tarp roof, air mattress and a sleeping bag, on the forest floor. I went for a lightweight hammock by Ticket to the Moon, sleeping bag and tarp roof. Sleep was a little broken from time to time by noisy forest animals, with a major fight breaking out between some foxes that woke both of us up.
ESRUM LAKE - HILLERØD
The next day was blazing sunshine and we ate our breakfast by the water edge after we packed up our camp, ensuring we left no trace of our presence and the nature stayed unspoilt. The light across the lake was gorgeous and although a little achy we felt uplifted by the sight of the sun, the fresh smells of the morning forest and watching the early lake activity.
The forest around Esrum Lake is really beautiful and feels vast. We really enjoyed a slow pace to start the day through this serene area of Northern Sjælland. Don't worry, it wasn't all bliss, this is Denmark after all and we were well aware it could change at any moment.
We were teased with lush green forests and path after path of calm woodlands, only ever meeting a few dog walkers from time to time. Breakfast had worn off and we sat down on some tarp just off the path that you see in the second image above. Enjoying a quick snack and drink, we talked, laughed and was unaware of the surprise coming.
The sky opened, rain fell heavily, we jumped up and quickly started putting rain gear on and packing our food away. About 5 minutes after that a thunderstorm started and we were subject to a crazy lashing of hail, accompanied by cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning.
The route is very easy from Esrum to Hillerød, flat terrain, some road walking and mixed patches of woodland. The hard part here was doing it in the heavy hail that stung our exposed small areas of skin. I actually feel like I didn't see much of the scenery because I was shielding my face and looking down most of the time.
We had this terrible weather all the way after passing Nødebo. It got to a point when the hail subsided, that we simply didn't care about the rain anymore. We gave up on it clearing and just made the most of the last stage of part 1 of the journey. Now we just needed to get to Frederiksborg Castle at Hillerød.
Taking the route that brings you up Fredensborgvej, we joked about the weather, laughed with exhaustion, observed some swans nesting and felt elated with joy at the sight of Frederiksborg Castle. I took the best pictures I could without soaking my camera, so although this is not my best photography at this point, it is the best I could muster. We finished the route just a little way past the station where my car was parked. Man, it was good to take the packs off and sit in a nice warm dry car!
And that is it, folks. part 1 of the journey is complete! It felt great to finish this first section. When I started thinking about the hike it seemed like it might be a stupid thing to do during the pandemic but to be honest it was great. Fewer people around in nature, more options to get a seat on the train and it stopped me from getting cabin fever.
I thank you for reading this post and if you have any questions about the route I will happily discuss them with you, just leave a comment below.
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Happy exploring everyone.