Wow just what i needed! Time to relax in privacy and comfort, wash my clothes, drape them dripping overnight then lay them in the sun on my generous balcony for a couple of hours before putting them back on.
Not having a bike slows me down, narrows my world, its ok. Benny had told me i would not find mudflats to walk, yesterday i went looking for them nonetheless but didnt find them. This morning though, the view from my balcony suggested there might be a way to find them close by, that they might be hiding behind all that sand and no entry quayside. Without a bike it was an ideal location to explore.
First though, a couple of hours research led to the discovery that i would be leaving Ribe, my next stop, on the day the Wadden Sea festival starts. It is the Wadden Sea that i came to this area for, Vadensee stretches the North Sea coastline of Holland, Denmark and Germany and is the biggest system of tidal sand and mudflats in the world, in places, a world heritage site.
I step out with four missions, to read the historical billboards by canon hill (hill? Ive seen no hill!) , post postcards, visit a quality craft shop i seem to have missed and see if i can get out to the edge of the water on the east side mud.
I managed the billboards and the mud. Exploring the back of the hotel, sure enough I found an unblocked entrance into the building site and was thereby able to climb the earth bank. I soon found myself listening to bubbling mud and the calls of waders, to the crackle of shells, suck of mud and squish of seaweed underfoot. Glorious sun sent sparkles off the water and vehicles travelling the distant causeway to mainland, flashed in the sun and merged into the landscape, as one, with the birds.
I watched the distant waters and the sandbanks carefully, looked for tidal movements, stepped slowly in case of quicksand, noted the high tide line and how the shore bank was being eroded away and was conscious that i was walking on mudflats with no knowledge of tide or waters. Walking in a zone generally closed to human traffic, yet footsteps told me others had been here before me.
I wanted to walk out on the high sand to the sea but common sense forbad me do so and I startled myself enough anyway, each time i sank a couple of inches into the sandy mud. Seaweeds and eel grass adorned the tideline. For a while i looked briefly for amber but not with any seriousness, there was too much going on around me.
I wondered if the tide were coming in or out and cursed myself for not reading the tide times for surely i had seen them on a leaflet. I listened. I looked. I trod carefully, chose alternative routes. I absorped the beauty so pleased to have found it. Corner after corner showed something new and when i decided i had scared myself quite enough thank you, it was time to turn back. As i did so, i stopped to listen again and there were more bubbling noises than hitherto, the tide was coming in i decided, receeding water makes less noise than incoming, which pushes trickling air bubbles out of the mud.
My words are inadequate to describe the joy i experienced and the thrill of that edge of excitement in not really knowing if it is safe and needing to use all my senses. can read the surface sand, mud and water contours, i know the risks but there could always be that unkonwn hidden danger that i cannot see.
Arriving back at the point at which i entered, i decide to walk further along the waters edge, now heading out to sea along a harbour wall, way beyond the eight foot locked gates but i am below the bank, on the water line, hidden from sight. The thrill of being where i am not supposed to be is ever new and the adrenaline it brings tastes sweet and heightens every nerve.
I reach boulders that i think imported, old tyres used to stabilise the mud and a tarmac bank with big fuck off floodlights above, i walk along the bottom of the bank with the sea now lapping, progressing at walking pace towards the shore. I walk out to sea, a metre higher than the water but nevertheless have a tinge of anxiety.
Determined to reach the end of the harbour wall i press on. When i arrive, the turmoil tells me why this is out of bounds, currents come from many directions and fight each other in the water. With the turning of the tide, the outgoing water from marshes around continues to try to flow out. it is clear the bottom shelves steeply for the deep water harbour entrance is metres away. Survival rates would be low for anyone falling in here.
Having satiated my curiosity and scared myself quite enough for one day i decide not to walk back along the waters edge but to climb the tarmac bank and return along the safety of the top wall, albeit knowing that i will have to climb over and drop down at some point to circumnavigate the fence that bars the way.
And so it is that i have mud on my shoes and a smile on my face. I knew there would be more for me here than the sand and straight roads into the heather and dunes. I watched the two thirty ferry come and go while walking and detemine that i will go to Sylt for the evening, go for supper and a beer, catch the four thirty over and the nine thirty return.
Wow. Simply wow. Another magical surprise. Much disregarded as the playground for the rich and famous i find such contrast in national approach and miles more of gleaming sand and mudflats that this has probably been one of the most beautiful days of my time away.
Ive been constantly struggling to interpret Faroese and Danish cycle tracks, paths and maps. The Danish approach is to focus on a love of raw wild nature leaving you largely just to get lost much of the time, not lost on a big scale but making it difficult to follow a route. Here i find typical german simplicity and efficiency, i am given a beautifully simple, clear map by the girl at Sylt tourist office. Danish tourist office counterparts have been bored, desultory and generally rude or unhelpful. Ive put it down to them being tired at the end of the season but this girl is helpful, fresh and alive. She listens to my timescale and proposes a 4k coastal walk, through to a 'mountain' in the dunes. perfect, i have four hours to explore eat and drink.
As i walk though, It quickly occurs to me that 4k might be more than a tad under exagerated but i love the light, the scrub, sand, water and the sun as well as the gates, sheep and autobahn.....Yes the pedestrian autobahn. The Danish block off their salt marsh, not to be seen, whether to protect it or for shame that it is not pristine sand i am unsure but the German approach is to build a massive seawall from some horrid clinker like substance and install a pedestrian autobahn on top of it, damaging precious environment in so doing but making it so accessible and so utterly difficult to climb down that no one would think to step on and spoil the pristine marsh beneath ensuring birds and landscape stay safe but close to view and no one is walking in tidal mudflats.
Mostly i walk alone along my autobahn, occasional joggers and cyclists, i am not quite making the speed i might like through constant stops to enjoy sheep grazing, starlings gathering, the seven thirty ferry moving, but neverthelss ascertain that my walk will be stretching a good five miles, perfect.
I check the map frequently but each time am reassured by the features it displays, the autobahn continues a long way further than i need to go but i know i am on the right track as i look across at the heather clad dunes, and wonder which 'mountain' i will be climbing.
When i find my turn, i leave the autobahn and follow a clear gravelled path through dunes until i become close to the intended mountain, i had wondered how i might tell which dune it was but need not have worried. Im unsure how i feel about chopping into the landscape in the way the germans have done here but my sixty year old body appreciates the easy walking. My supposed four kilometer walk took me two and a half hours, easily six and a half miles.
Hungry before i started, finding food was less easy. The 'village' was packed by the time i returned with hundreds if not a thousand people eating. Restaurant after restaurant i tried to find a menu with English translations but everywhere gave me a no, no, no. Disappointingly i settled for one offering kebabs, pizzas and pancakes, i could read enough german to understand that! I found myself a lovely little, movable, beach hut such as i had seen on the ferry and around the village, a 'strandkorb'. Facing the oceon, i enjoyed a beer.
Disappointingly, the menu showed only two kebabs on offer and i had no idea what they contained. The nationality of the young waitress was unclear to me but nope she didnt speak any english, only danish and german. Throughout my time away i have found that i am not on a path trod by many english which is of interest in itself. Here, many of the waiters and waitresses with whom i have spoken, do not look typically german and do not speak english, french or spanish. I wonder about their origin but have no language to converse. With animal noises we ascertain there is no chicken kebab so with the help of google translate i opt for a leek and mushroom pancake, asking for cheese to be added, i can point to the words i know. It was good, very good.
Faroese ferries were solid, safe machines, with double barrier, fold up, fold down doors and demanding that vehicles reverse in. Danish and this german ferry are ro-ro designs and i keep forgetting not to be sitting below decks, that i want to be on the top deck ready to escape should water start to come in. The Herald of Free Enterprise disaster in 1987 affected me greatly at the time. Different doors but wide open car decks and we leave and approach harbour with our doors wide open. Every time.