If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Friday, 18 September 2009

Denmark Trip Day Four

Århus and Grauballe Man, 106 miles

I had told Poul that I was interested in the history of Denmark, especially the Vikings and the runestones that were engraved around that period. I had a couple of reasons for this. One was that I studied English runes as part of my MA many years ago, and all the text books referred to the magnificent Danish runestones, which were held to be rather superior to the scarce and scrappy English variety, so I had always had a wish to see the 'real thing'. Also, there is a rumour in the family that we originally came from somewhere around the area (Denmark or Northern Germany), and the idea of meeting my possible ancestors was intriguing. But mainly, I just find the so-called Dark Ages a fascinating period of history.

I don't think Poul shared my interest, but was polite enough to promise that he would take me to a museum in Århus where I could get my prehistoric fix. The most important runestones are located at Jelling, about 80 miles south of Århus, and I had already decided to call in there on my way back.

The day started (after another substantial and lazy breakfast) with a quick ride around the villages nearby and a visit to the farm of a friend of Poul's, who kept shire horses. The friends were not around, but this didn't stop Poul showing me the farm and the outbuildings. Earlier this year, I built a log store in our back garden, ready for firing our woodburner through the winter. I estimate that I have room for about 12 cubic metres of cut wood. These people had a wood store in one of their outbuildings. They must have had several tons of wood, all cut to stove length, neatly stacked in wooden boxes and ready for the winter. It made my 12 cube look like the contents of a matchbox, and I was very envious. Poul pointed out a weathercock he had made for them: beautiful.

Daddy, why is the horse called 'Svøn'?

We set off again and went through Århus, ending up at the museum, which was situated in nearby village called Moesgård (pronounced, to my surprise, something like Mooshkor). There was the expected display of Denmark through the millennia, but the main event was Grauballe Man.

In 1952, a man was digging for peat near the village of Grauballe when he discovered a man's body. The body had been remarkably well preserved by the peat, and was dated to about 300BC. The preservation was so good that his hair and nails were intact, and his hands were in such good condition that his fingerprints could be taken. His throat had been slit from ear to ear, and it seems he was the unfortunate victim of a sacrifice. I had read about Grauballe Man, along with other 'bog bodies', many years ago, and when I leaned that the actual man was in the museum I was very keen to see him.

He was displayed in a simple glass case in a bare room with subdued lighting - no notices, no worksheets, no animatronics, no 'interpretive' nonsense, just the body of a man from over 2000 years ago, eerily still and quiet, but with an enormous presence. A very moving experience.

We finally emerged in to the sunlight and had a bit of lunch and an ice-cream. Then Poul took us on a tour of Århus. We stopped at a workshop where he used to work, where one of his stainless creations is still in the front garden.

He then took me to his apartment in the city centre. His living quarters are on the second floor, but the real treasure was his basement rooms where he does his fabrication. There was the dismantled Nimbus, and also a lathe, welding equipment, and all the myriad nonsense that blokes collect in their sheds - paint, bicycle wheels, old engines, 'stuff that will come in useful'.

On the way back to the campsite, Poul's riding style changed radically. The roads opened up, and our speeds increased somewhat. We started to carve through the traffic like bikes should, and eventually we came to a set of traffic lights, with an open dual carriageway ahead of us. We pulled up side by side, gave each other a grin, and the trick was on. I pulled away pretty smartly, but Poul nailed it big time and howled past me. I was a bit taken aback: I'm not used to being out-accelerated on the Honda, and I always thought the RF900 was a bit of a plodder. I was wrong - it went like a scalded cat. He must have had a good 20 bhp more than I did, and he wasn't afraid to use it. I set off in pursuit, and soon the road became almost a motorway. I kept him in sight (without all the gear, and even without its built-in panniers, the Honda goes pretty well) and we enjoyed an empty road, dry and with the remains of the day's sunshine, doing well over the ton for mile after mile. After all the self-restraint and the good manners and the clean image of earlier in the day, it was quite a relief to be baaaad for a short while.

When we got back to the campsite, it had begun to fill up for the weekend, and there were people and bikes everywhere. I was particularly taken with a yellow GoldWing which had parked near my tent - not so much out of a desire to own it, but because the concept was so outrageous.

I got chatting to the owner, and he insisted on sitting me on the pillion to show me how confortable it was. I could have slept there, quite happily. I have chairs in my own house that are less relaxing.

(One photo opportunity I didn't get, and bitterly regret missing, came on the first morning. A middle aged guy in the tent next to me packed up his tent about 7 am, strapped it on his Harley, put on his leather jacket and chaps, piss-pot helmet and shades, then lit his pipe and chugged off into the morning mist. Marvellous.)

More beer, food and Gajol in the evening. Poul and Alice were incredibly generous to me, and wouldn't even let me pay my share of the shopping bills. I insisted on paying for things when we went out - museum entry, meals out and so on - but it was very one-sided. We are hoping that they will pay us a return visit next year, along with some other Danish friends, but they have set the hospitality bar very high.

This was to be my last night at the camp. The following day, we were leaving and going to a 'treff' (somewhere between a rally and a tribal gathering) at the Yamaha Club of Århus, where there would be a party on the Saturday night. We were to camp there, and I would leave for home on the Sunday morning.

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