Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Blue Winter's Day at Kaløvig

Kaløvig with the castle ruin in the background, enlarge the photo)

Kalø castle ruin is one of my most visited places -  there is a special atmosphere on that small island. Kalø castle was built by the warrior king Erik Menved in the 1300s as a fortification against the rebellious peasant armies in Jutland. He fought them down without mercy, and those who survived the battle were executed - and their heads and other body parts were hung up on poles along the roads. The road system is the same here today - I haven't seen any ghosts although you might think it was a haunted place!!  But it might be otherwise around midnight, uhuuuuh..........

The fields are covered in snow, the forest is dark brown, the landscape is swept in a shade of blue. The snow , the blue water, the low sun create a scenery in blue. It is obvious that we are living on the blue planete today. A painter would take his blue brush and start his own blue period like Picasso and other painters did, but I just enjoyed this beautiful blue day with a  high blue sky, a blue sea and some generous glow from a low sun. The days grow longer now, soon we can really feel that it is going the right way. But children don't think it's going the right way, they want snow and ice, they want to go out with their sleigh or their ice skates - we grown-ups are so boring because we keep talking about spring. We have been kids once, many years ago, but we have forgotten -  almost forgotten -  the golden lovely days where we went out with our sleigh, driving down the hill in a blazing speed.

a small parking place opposite the island.
Mr. and Mrs. Duck


Two whooper swans (finding food on the bottom).


The landscape along the bottom of Kaløvig is listed and very pictoresque. A tongue of land with a medieval stone road leads out to Kalø castle ruin, which lies upon a small island with steep hills and banks at the coast. Several good paths make it easy to walk in the area. If you are interested in plants then it is one of the finest places in Denmark with rests of a garden flora from the Middle Ages. The plants were introduced from southern  Europe and cultivated in the gardens at the ruin - they were later feral. The flora includes especially medical plants, but also plants for dyeing, poisonous plants, kitchen herbs and textile plants. Especially significant are Anthriscus caucalis (burr chervil/gærdekørvel) and Cyproglossum officinale (dog's tongue/lægehundetunge) upon the southern cliffs of the ruin. Besides appear Nepeta ( catmint,catnip/ katteurt), Lithosperum officinale (Common cromwell / lægestenfrø) and Viola odorata (wood violet(/ martsviol); Malva neglecta (common mallow/ rundbladet katost) and Conium maculatum (Hemlock/skarntyde). The seeds from several of the plants can keep the germination capacity for many years. Hyoscyamus niger (black henbane/ bulmeurt)  can can fx sprout after having stayed in the earth for several hundred years - and if there is a slide in the bank the henbane sometimes appears. It is forbidden to dig up the plants but seeds might be gathered. The Nepeta (catmint) only grows in ten locations in Denmark and always in old settlements.

funny car

back home on narrow roads........

photo 19. January 2013 Kaløvig: grethe bachmann

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Eurasian Nuthatch / Spætmejse


The Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) is a small passerine found throughout temperate Europe and Asia. It is spread from southern Scandinavia to Middle and South Europe and through Russia and Sibiria to the Pacific coast - further south to China, southeast Asia and India. It belongs to the nuthatch family Sittidae. This bird is the most common and most widespread nuthatch, and  is often referred to just as the Nuthatch. It is a resident  bird of deciduous woods and parkland, with some old trees for nesting. It feeds on insects, seeds and nuts. Its old name “nut-hack” derives from its habit of wedging a nut in a crevice in a tree, and then hacking at it with its strong bill. Nests are in holes or crevices, lined with bark or grass. The size of the hole’s entrance may be reduced by the building of a neat mud wall. Five to eight eggs are laid, white speckled with red.

The Eurasian Nuthatch is 14 cm long and has the typical nuthatch big head, short tail and powerful bill and feet. It is blue-grey above, with a black eyestripe. Asian and north European birds (S. e. asiatica and S. e. europaea respectively) are white below except for chestnut in the vent area. The western European S. e. caesia has generally reddish underparts. Young birds are "washed out" versions of the adults.

This is a noisy bird, often located by its repeated tui-tui-tui call. It has the ability, like other nuthatches, to climb down trees, unlike species such as woodpeckers which can only go upwards. It will come to bird feeding tables and is then very aggressive, driving other species away.

old oak in park


In  Denmark
The Nuthatch (Danish: Spætmejse) (Sitta europaea), ab.15 cm, is a common breeding bird in Denmark in old deciduous forests and parks. The Danish name Spætmejse indicates that it is a Tit = Mejse, but it belongs to its own family, Sittidae. In Denmark are two under-species : east of Storebælt is a light- bellied race (Sitta europaea) and upon the island Funen and in Jutland a dark-bellied race (Sitta. e caesia) with rusty red breast and belly. The nuthatch is the only Danish bird which climbs both up and down the trees.

The voice of the nuthatch is strong and varied. It breeds in holes in old trees or takes over holes from the woodpecker. Old trees with holes are rare in most forests, so there is a great competition among the birds, which nest in old trees, like among tits, starlings and flyecatchers. In order to avoid the competition from larger birds the nuthatch makes the hole smaller by pasting it with clay, until the size fits its own nest. The nuthatch feeds especially on insects, spiders and other little animals - in autumn and winter it feeds on seeds, nuts, fruits from beech and oak. The nuthatch put the nuts in cracks in the bark and hammers hole in it with its strong beak. In this connection it uses all its bodyweight and the advantage of being able to move with its head downwards.


The Nuthatch is in Denmark especially found in East Jutland and on the Isles where there are many suitable areas with deciduous forests. It is especially numerous in Jægersborg Dyrehave and Gribskov at Zealand and in Rold Skov, Fussingø Skov and Tofte Skov in East Jutland. The nuthatch is common, except in parts of West and North Jutland where there are no old deciduous forests with suitable holes for nests. 

Fugle og Natur, Dansk Ornitologisk Forening; Gyldendal, Den Store Danske; wikipedia;  
photo Forsthaven and Moesgård 2012: grethe bachmann

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Vikings - the Danish Ships.

Havhingsten, Vikingeskibsmuseet.
The importance of the ships in Denmarks history is not easy to exaggerate. The Danish kingdom and its achievements in Viking Age depended on well-built ships and good seamanship. The contact to other countries and places depended upon ships, no matter whether they were friendly or hostile contacts to other parts of Scandinavia, to the Baltics or to the Christian countries to the west. Denmark had a land border to the Saxons in the south, but when they went out to attack their neighbours, their army was usually supported by a fleet.  

The earliest Danish coins depict ships, both trade- and warships, while most contemporary literature count the ships as a matter of course. There are rarely details about sea voyages or information about the ships. When the travels are described it is only said that missionaries, tradesmen and others went from Dorestad to Denmark or from Hedeby to Birka - no mention of the ship at all. One exception is Ansgar's first voyage to Denmark where he and his companion got a ship from the archbishop of Cologne and discovered they had to share rooms with the Danish king. 

The contemporary texts give barely information about the size of the vessels, the names of the ship types are known to us from poetry and a few runic inscriptions, but it is almost impossible to decide the difference between a skeith, a snekkja and a knarr. The scalds might have used these words randomly. From the 1000s a seagoing tradeship is called a knarr, but since this word in the early poetry was used for a warship, a knarr was possibly just a seagoing ship, whatever it was used for trade or war.

Bayeux tapestry, Viking ship
The only descriptions of the ships and the fleets are written in contemporary literature, like the Scald-poems of tribute and in Encomium Emmae, written in the 1040s to Cnut the Great's queen. The knowledge of the ships from the period is high however, since there were made many important archaeological discoveries. Some ships were found in burials/graves, but the ships or ship-parts found in the Scandinavian waters and in the Baltic are even more valuable. The most important discovery was made in Roskilde fjord at Skuldelev, where five ships, apparently from the late Viking Age, deliberately had been sunk to block a shipping passage, called Peberrenden.

By help of dendrochronology and other scientific dating methods the archaeologists have established a pattern of development for the Scandinavian ships. Even lesser ship-parts can be dated. The finds are so numerous and so clear that there is now a safe and precise knowledge about the development of the art of ship-building. The recovery of these ships has given a more versatile image of the shipping of the Vikings.

There were various boats for various purposes, the simplest was the oak, a canoe hollowed from a log. This type of boat was created long before our time and was still used in Danish lakes and rivers only a hundred years ago. The Vikings built also small barges, one was found at Egernsund in Flensborg fjord, it was 7 m long and 1,9 m broad and is dated to the end of the 1000s. But their larger vessels, both trade- and warships, are more wellknown. Small freightships, less than 20 m long, were found  near Larvik in Norway, in the Gøtaelv (river) in Sweden and at Skuldelev, and at the same place were found two warships. The rest of a warship was found in a pretty gravehill at the shore of Kerteminde fjord  (the Ladby ship ). The wood in the Ladbygrave had rottened, but the shape of the ship was clearly drawn in a pattern formed by the iron-nails, which kept the ship planks together. In the sea were important finds of individual ship-parts, like a 2,8 m long side-roar, which was fished up from Kattegat and a 3,8 m long mast-part in Mariager fjord . Many ship parts, both used and new, were found at the island Falster in a shipyard from the 1000s, where the old ships apparently were repaired.

Havhingsten, Vikingeskibsmuseet
The Skuldelev ships.
The times were harsh and violent in the late 1000s, and the Vikings built a system of blockage in Roskilde fjord as a protection against hostile navy attacks on the town Roskilde, which then was the capital of Denmark. The five ships in the hall of the Vikingship Museum origin from a blockage of Peberrenden at Skuldelev ab. 20 km north of Roskilde. The ships were excavated in 1962. An iron pile wall was framed down around the blockage in order to drain it. In less than four months the ships were dug out and brought up in thousands of pieces. After this came a huge work of preservation and collecting the pieces into the five puzzles, which represent the Viking ships. The finding includes five different ship types, which collectively give a unique impression of the shipbuilding and craftmanship of the Viking Age. 

Skuldelev 1 (Havskibet)
Skuldelev 1, wikipedia
Wreck 1 is a heavy, seagoing cargo ship, maybe the type knarr. The ship was built in heavy pine planks at Sognefjorden in West Norway and was later repaired with oak in several stages, both in Oslofjorden and in East Danmark. The ship had a deck both fore and aft, and an open cargo room midships.
The ship and cargo might have been owned by a magnate/chieftain, who went on trade with his entourage or owned by merchants, who in commmunity were sailing the ship and do some trading in the marketplaces. The crew was 6-8 men. Havskibet could sail overall in the North Sea and the Baltic and on the North Atlantic. In favorable wind it was able to keep an average speed of ab. 5-7 knob. The Vikingship Museum's  reconstruction of Skuldelev 1 is in the Museum harbour.

Skuldelev 2, (the big longship)
Skuldelev 2, wikipedia
Wreck 2 is a seagoing warship, maybe of the type skeid. Staffed with 65-70 warriors it belonged to the big chieftain-ships which are being praised in scaldsongs and Sagas.
The ship is built in oak, the analyze of the timber has shown that the ship was built in the Dublin-area ab. year 1042. The Vikings came to Ireland in the 800s, and they established several fortified bases along the Irish coast. The bases later developed into cities with Dublin being the most important. The Vikings lived here as merchants, mercenaries and shipbuilders.
The long narrow shape of this ship gave it a good speed potential. 60 oars secured the progress of the ship even without wind. Havhingsten fra Glendalough, the Vikingship Museum's reconstruction of Skuldelev 2, has reached an average speed of 2,5 knob with every second oar staffed. Under sails the Havhingsten has reached a top speed of 12 knob. Havhingsten fra Glendalough ( The Sea Stallion of Glendalough) is in the Museum harbour. 

   Skuldelev 3 (Kystfareren / The Coastal Trader)
Skuldelev 3, wikipedia

Wreck 3 is a small, elegant freight and travel-ship, maybe the type byrding. The ship was built in Danish oak. It had a deck of loose planks fore and aft, and midship was an open cargo-room with room for 4 tons cargo.  The crew was 5-8 men.
The ship was useful when the farmer and his entourage had to go to markets or meet at The Thing. It was well suited for sailing in the Danish waters and in the Baltics. The wind was its most inmportant driving force, but during maneuvres and in short distances in no wind the oars could be used. In favorable wind the ship could keep an average speed of 4-5 knob. Roar Ege, the Vikingship Museum's reconstruction of Skuldelev 3 has been sailing with a top speed of 8,5 knob. Roar Ege in the Museum harbour,

Skuldelev 5, (the small longship). 

Skuldelev 5, wikipedia
Wreck 5 is a lesser warship, maybe the type snekke. The ship is built in Danish oak, ash and pine, partly from re-used wood from other ships. With 13 pair of oars and a staff of ab. 30 warriors it belonged to the 13-sesserne, the smallest longships in a war fleet. Along the upper strake are still seen parts of where the shields were placed, and upon the 6th plank starboard is seen a carved decoration. The ship was ideal for sailing in the Danish waters and in the short, choppy waves of the Baltic. The average speed on longer trips was 6-7 knob in a favorable wind, and the top speed probably double. Helge Ask,  the Vikingship Museum's reconstruction of Skuldelev 5 is in the Museum  harbour.

Skuldelev 6, (the fishing boat)
Skuldelev 6, wikipedia
Wreck 6 is a combined row- and sailboat, probably built for fishing and catch. The boat was built in Sognefjorden in Norway in pine planks. It was later enheightened with a plank in each side in order to transport fish or other products, or persons. In the rebuild the original oar-plan was removed and the oar-number reduced. The rebuild probably meant that the boat was more used as a freightship than a fishing boat and with a smaller crew. Before the boat  was used as a part of the blocking at Skuldelev it was repaired in the bottom with oak-planks. Kraka Fyr,  the Vikingship Museum's reconstruction of Skuldelev 6 is in the Museum harbour.


The small warship from Skuldelev (nr.5) was 18 m long and was intended to be driven by 12 pair of oars. The big longship (nr. 2) is not so well-kept that it is possible to tell the oar-places, but it was apparently 28 m long and with probably 20 pair of oars, maybe more. 

A few very large ships from the 1000s might have been built for kings and other chiefs, but they are always mentioned as something very special. An ordinary warship had probably ab. 20 pair of oars, corresponding to the staffing of the warships in the Middle Ages, which usually had a crew of 42 men. 

Below three photos from the Vikingship Museum in Roskilde: grethe bachmann 2001.

The Skuldelev ships were products of a long boatbuilding tradition in Scandinavia and the Baltics. There is only a little difference between the Danish ships and the ships from the Slavic areas. The basic construction consisted of keel and bow. When a ship-timber had made these, the shape of the vessel was largely determined. A ship could usually not be longer than the straight trunk of an oak.
Both the sailing and the landing wore out the slender ships. The small warship from Skuldelev had been repaired with planks from another ship. Finds from the ship yard at the island Falster illustrated, how the old ships were broken up in order to re-use well-kept timber. But the keels were not suitable for re-use, since they had been worn out from the eternal pulling on land. The effort the Vikings did to re-use ship-parts and to repair the ships show how valuable the ships were. They represented a big investment. A reconstruction of the trade ship Skuldelev 3, which was built with the use of the tool-types and methods from the Viking period, took 15.000 working hours. Skilled workers were probably able to do it in the half time or at least lesser time, but even this was a big effort.

A well-functioning seagoing vessel from the Viking Age could handle very rough weather conditions. This was demonstrated dramatically when a reconstruction of the big trade ship from Skuldelev came safe through wind gusts of 35 m/sec at the coast of Greenland. Lesser sea seaworthy ships would have been shipwrecked - and many Viking ships probably did. 

 The Five Skuldelev Ships Vikingeskibsmuseet Roskilde

 Archaeology in Europe/Havhingsten fra Glendalough

Gyldendal og Politikens Danmarkshistorie, bind 3, Peter Sawyer, Da Danmark blev Danmark , 700-1050;
Johannes Brøndsted, Vikingerne, V. Materiel kultur, Skibe,  Gyldendal 1960.