We toy with pottering around Jutland for longer but catch the ferry to Sweden as planned.
Who knew the Kattegat Sea has been such a productive stretch of water for the Brits?
October 2010. Click for a map.
The guide book says the Danish Royal Family stay at the Hotel Jutlandia.
‘Not for a while,’ admits the person behind the reception desk.
It would have been the height of modernist steel, glass, stone and leather luxury but not any more. Reception has been gussied up but the room is tired and worn*.
Jutlandia is however right opposite the port and costs 900dkk B&B (£100) plus 60dkk parking (£6.75). They book us on the 14:00 Stena Line ferry to Gothenburg the next day. The three and a half hour crossing costs £127.
There’s no quaint seafront so dinner is back at the hotel restaurant. It’s rank here too, and almost deserted on a Friday night, but overlooks the harbour from the top floor.
The local speciality, breaded ‘Frederikshavnr’ plaice, served with tinned new potatoes, follows starters of cauliflower soup and Skagen Skinke ham. With a bottle of Cava and two beers the bill comes to 819dkk (£92).
We’re woken at 7am by a boatload of screaming teenagers. They’re off to Læso, an island just off the coast. Known from Norse Legends as ‘Feasting Place of the Gods’. We could do with some of that. Breakfast is unbearable. Cold coffee, eggs and bacon hours past their best with low winter sun piercing right into our eyes.
It’s annoying because we could easily have stayed in Denmark’s most popular holiday spot Skagen only thirty miles away at the top of Jutland.
On the other hand, it’s reassuring to see that not all Denmark is created out of glossy magazine pages. It has depressed, time warp places like everywhere else. We were worried there for a minute.
Big signs at the terminal entrance proclaim, in English, ‘One Way to Gothenburg from £50.’
Our helpful receptionist had booked us a flexible ticket costing an extra £77. All signs are in English, even the boarding card. We could have booked on Stena’s UK website. The procedure is exactly like Channel ferries.
Stena Line also operates the other Denmark-Sweden ferry. It sails from Grenaa, 125 miles south of Frederikshavn, to Varberg, 45 miles south of Gothenburg, takes four and a half hours and costs from £70 each way.
A week after Rudolf Hess’ flight to Scotland, a month before the invasion of Russia, the following message lead to possibly the greatest naval chase in history: ‘Most immediate. Kattegat today 15.00. Two large warships, escorted by three destroyers, five escort craft passed Marstrand course north-west 205/20th May 1941.’
The brand new battleship Bismarck had been spotted on her maiden mission, on her way to attack supply convoys in the North Atlantic. Eight days later, just when it seemed she would escape, a fluke torpedo launched from a WW1 biplane left her a sitting duck and she was sunk.
The big mistake was sailing around Jutland instead of slipping away via the Kiel Canal, an error not repeated when sister ship Tirpitz put to sea in 1942.
Almost exactly 140 years before Bismarck, another fearsome force, this time under British command, sailed the other way.
The Battle of Copenhagen, April 1801, saw the British Navy launch an audacious and successful attack to stop Baltic states trading with Napoleon. The then Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson famously ignored the order to withdraw by holding a telescope to his blind eye.
At the second Battle of Copenhagen six years later the British Navy seized almost the entire Danish-Norwegian fleet.
By chance two days later on the Swedish coast we come across the graves of British sailors killed in those battles.
Apparently 1 in 5 Swedish people own a boat. This widely quoted statistic makes sense. Dotted around the Southern Gothenburg Archipelago there are lots of traditional ‘Falun Red’ cabins, most with their own landing stages (and flag poles). No wonder Volvo sponsors the Great Ocean Race.
We think we’re really cool for driving to Sweden but some Brits sail here. The Göta Canal, linking Gothenburg on the west coast with Stockholm on the east coast, makes for a route right around southern Sweden and includes the vast visible-from-space lakes, Vänern and Vättern.
The Göta Canal was built by Thomas Telford in 1832 so ships could avoid the Sound Dues in the Danish Straits. Shipping taxes had made up 70% of Denmark’s income for four centuries but only lasted another 25 years.
The ferry is a great way to arrive in Gothenburg, you sail up the Göta Älv river right into the city centre.
The big party, raging fairly solidly in the forward lounge for the whole journey, is completely out of control. Massive, drunken youths stagger around the dance floor. The DJ hugs the speakers, poor bloke.
The families sitting around however are completely unmoved and nobody bothers us.
It’s not just that alcohol is expensive in Sweden. The hard stuff is only sold in state owned off-licences, Systembolaget, with limited opening hours, in out of the way places. Ironically this makes the Swedish state the World’s Biggest Buyer of Booze.
The drink driving limit though is a quarter of the UK level. It’s designed as a margin for what was downed the night before rather than to allow a swift pint with lunch.
It takes a while to realise all the bellowing cries of ‘Hurtaborry!’ are actually the Swedish pronunciation of Gothenburg: Göteborg.
The spelling and pronunciation of Sweden‘s second city is a sensitive issue. The city council tried to phase out Gothenburg in 2003 but it was officially reinstated in 2009.
Göteborg is derived from the Götar tribe, Geats not Goths, who ruled southern Sweden until the 10th century.
Beowulf was King of the Geats. He’s buried at Skalunda, on the shore of Lake Vänern, about 70 miles from Gothenburg.
At the head of the interminable queue off the boat is a policeman, Sig Sauer P228 pistol clipped to his belt, demanding to know why we’re here, where we’re going, how long we’re staying and, particularly, where we’ve been. It’s a surprise because Sweden is in the borderless Schengen Area.
Moments later we’ve got other things to think about among the downtown Gothenburg road system. It’s like a smaller version of Spaghetti Junction with airborne carriageways twisting and turning and exits appearing without warning. We’re too far out of SatNav range for it to be any use.
Plans to drive around while talking on the mobile phone, still legal in Sweden for the time being, are shelved since both hands were needed on the wheel.
At 18:00 precisely we arrive at Hotel Gothia Towers. The 23 storey, tri-tower, 704 room hotel almost guarantees a room, and a view.
* Prices have increased with inflation. According to Trip Advisor Hotel Jutlandia has not changed at all.