THE LITTLE BELT AND VEILE FIORD
As Sonderborg was but six miles distant, I thought we could reach it before the storm broke; the anchor was accordingly weighed after breakfast. It was a most ominous-looking morning, but nothing much came of it. We tacked slowly out of Horup Haff, and had reached the mouth of Als Fiord, when the wind suddenly shifted to the north-east, and a violent squall of rain and wind as usual heralded the change. But we had not far to go, and a few more tacks brought us within the sheltered sound. We luffed alongside the quay of Sonderborg, lowered our drenched sails, and made fast. So very narrow is the Sound at this point that a large vessel cannot come to an anchor, having no room to swing, but the water is deep up to either shore. The current sets through this strait with such velocity that it has never been known to freeze. The chief street of Sonderborg borders the quay, and at one end of it rises the old Schloss of the Dukes of Augustenborg, a somewhat imposing edifice, but ugly, as are most of the ducal castles of Schleswig-Holstein.
A bridge of boats here crosses the river, and on the opposite shore rise the famous heights of Dybbol.
With the exception of the castle, few buildings in Sonderborg have an antique appearance, for the town was almost completely destroyed by the Prussians during the bombardment of Dybbol, and has for the most part been rebuilt quite recently. It now contains about 6,000 inhabitants, and if one may judge from the number of vessels that lie along its quays, a considerable trade must be carried on here. It has recently become one of the favourite watering-places in these parts, and large hotels for the accommodation of visitors have been built in the southern suburbs of the town.
Shortly after we had entered the harbour this interesting climate changed yet once more, this time to that of the traditional English April, by which I mean that perhaps mythical April described by the ancients as forming a portion of the spring, and not of the winter, as has been the case in recent years. The sun shone brightly, the birds sang merrily, and now and again a brief shower would pass overhead, leaving the dripping woods more beautiful than ever.
And now I had to make that pilgrimage which is obligatory on all who visit Sonderborg. I crossed the bridge of boats to the mainland, and after ascending a broad, steep road for about half an hour reached the summit of the Dybbolbjerg, that memorable hill-side which the Danes defended so valiantly for two months in 1864, and whose battered entrenchments were at last stormed by the overwhelming forces of the Prussians.
It is not within my province to chronicle that plucky but hopeless defence, but of the Dybbolbjerg itself it may be said that it would be impossible to conceive a more majestic scene for a vital struggle between two nations. The Dybbolbjerg is a dome-shaped hill, one of the highest of the peninsula of Sundewitt; its summit commands a very extensive and magnificent view. From here the armies could overlook half the beautiful country for which they were fighting — a vast panorama of blue water and undulating green land, interlocked with each other, as it were, by many an irregular promontory and isthmus, and intricate winding gulf and sound. To the north and east are Als Sound, the long fiord of Augustenborg, and Als Island with its forest-clad hills; to the west and south stretches the great gulf of Flensburg, with its countless capes and bays; and to the north, across the fertile downs of Sundewitt, and to the south-east are obtained glimpses of the open Baltic.
On the top of this green hill, where the sea winds wave the long grass and the bright-hued northern flowers that are growing so rankly over the graves of warriors, rises a lonely monument, an admirable work of art, and singularly in harmony with its surroundings. This is a lofty obelisk in the Gothic style, not unlike the Albert Monument in appearance, which commemorates the Prussian victory. The bas-reliefs round the base illustrate incidents of the siege, and so careful have the conquerors been not to hurt the feelings of the vanquished, that it would be difficult for anyone to discover from the carvings and inscriptions what had been the issue of the contest. Here the individual gallant deeds of Danes are pictured side by side with those of their German foemen. The monument is dedicated to the fallen, but to the fallen of both nations, and, unlike most erections of the kind, this is no monument of self-glorification, but of proud respect for the valour of both armies; it can arouse no sentiment of animosity in the breast of any spectator but a feeling that here fought two generous enemies well worthy of each other. Near it are the ruins of the Danish entrenchments and a cemetery where stand many simple gravestones bearing such inscriptions as, "Here lie one hundred brave Danes," "Here lie fifty brave Prussians," "Here lie many Prussian and Danish soldiers."
Such are the relics of the wars that have been, but here also are to be seen extensive preparations for possible wars to come. Defensive works of great strength have been raised on these heights and also round Sonderborg, which are supposed to have made this important position and the Als Sound unapproachable to the army or fleet of an enemy. Even in these days of peace there was a martial air about the old battle-field. I met here many more soldiers than civilians; the engineers were working on the new fortifications, and ever and anon I heard in one direction or another the sound of bugle call or military music.
I returned to Sonderborg, and visited the old castle which was built in the thirteenth century. It has been converted into a barrack, and now contains a considerable Prussian garrison. The chapel and the adjoining vault are alone open to the public; in the latter are piled up a large number of ancient and sumptuous coffins containing the remains of members of the Augustenborg family. A lugubrious old man who acted as cicerone insisted, despite my repeated asservations that I did not understand a word of German, on telling me who all these dead grandees were, when they had lived, and what their achievements had been.
In the evening a German gentleman, who spoke English well, called on me. He told me that he, too, was skipper and owner of a yacht, that he had sailed here from Lubeck, and intended to follow the coast as far as Assens. I went with him to inspect his vessel, which was lying above the pontoon bridge. She was a ten-tonner, and had a large open well in which was a small steam-engine. When he encountered a calm he got up steam, and could make about two knots an hour. His wife, two children, and two sailors were on board with him, so it can be imagined that they were too much crowded up to enjoy much comfort. The steam-engine, too, must have got terribly in the way, and created plenty of dirt. He had a steel life-boat, which he had constructed himself, as a dinghy. This somewhat eccentric craft was the only native yacht I met cruising in the Baltic. These people do not deserve to own such a splendid cruising-ground.
There was no wind at all on the following morning until nine o'clock, when, a southerly breeze arising, we pushed off from the quay, passed through the pontoon bridge — the toll for opening which to a vessel is one mark — and sailed up the Als Sound.
This strait, which divides the island of Alsen from the mainland, is twelve miles long, and its extreme breadth, in its northern part, is two miles. The scenery on either side of us was charming, as it always is on this coast. Verdant slopes came down to the edge of the clear blue water, contrasting with the darker colouring of abrupt pine-clad hills; and here and there stood a beautifully situated country seat, with noble park around it, or a snug little village with its rough wooden jetty and group of fishing-boats. The Sound broadened as we advanced; but about a league above Sonderborg there is a spot where the land, jutting out on either side, once more contracts the channel. Here, on the western shore, is an extensive beech-wood, and on the eastern the village of Arukiel. It was at this point that the Prussians forced the passage of the Sound in 1864; and we perceived, standing by the seaside, a Gothic monument, resembling that of Dybbol, which commemorates this event.
Shortly after passing this we opened out Augustenborg Fiord, which looked so beautiful that I was almost tempted to ascend it. After sailing another seven miles we came out of the Sound, and were once more in the open waters of the Little Belt, which here attains its greatest breadth of sixteen miles. Across it, on our right, we could see the blue hills of the distant island of Fyen, and before us lay the extensive bay into which opens the fiords of Apenrade and Gienner. As the weather still looked fine, I decided not to put into any of the nearer ports, but to cross the bay to its northern point, Cape Halk, and thence, following the coast, reach the sheltered sound inside Aaro Island before night.
The gentle south-west wind carried us slowly before it till we were in the middle of the bay and off the wooded islet of Barso. Wright was on deck steering, while I was having a nap below.
"There are breakers ahead, sir," I heard him call out.
I glanced at the chart. "Nonsense, Wright; there are fourteen fathoms about here, and there are no shoals to pick us up between this and the shore."
"There are breakers ahead, though, sir; and if there is no shallow water it must be a squall coming down on us."
I hurried on deck and stood by the halyards. A line of foam, dazzlingly white under the bright sunshine, and therefore giving us the impression of more commotion than really existed, was crossing the smooth water. It soon reached us, and we were relieved to find ourselves, not as we had expected in the midst of a violent north-west squall, which would have been an awkward customer to tackle in this open water, but of a fresh and steady east wind which enabled us to hold our course close-hauled on the starboard tack.
The Little Belt, separating as it does the territories of Germany and Denmark, is closely watched by the preventive services of either nation, and smuggling craft must find it difficult to avoid the cruisers. The captain of a Prussian revenue cutter, that was hove to to windward of us, evidently thought the Falcon a suspicious-looking vessel, for he let draw his foresail, bore down on us, and turned close round our stern. He perceived our blue ensign and appeared satisfied, for he waved his cap to us, wished us a good journey, and then sailed back to his post of observation. Half an hour afterwards a Danish revenue cutter went through exactly the same performance with us.
We passed Halk Head and saw before us the little island of Aaro, which is about two miles long, and is flat and desolate in appearance. At 6 p.m. we entered the narrow sound which divides the island from the mainland. There is a harbour at Aaro and one on the Schleswig shore; as the latter, which is called Aarosund, looked the most cheerful of the two, we stood in between its piers and lowered our sails.
This port can only be used by very small craft. The entrance is but thirty-seven feet wide, and as the piers take a sharp turn to the northward it is an exceedingly inconvenient place to get into. Once within, one is in a snug little harbour capable of accommodating half a dozen fishing-boats at the outside.
We secured the yacht to the wooden quay and then looked round us. On the shore three houses only were to be seen, and behind these was a grove of beech-trees. Of the houses, one was a small tavern, one a coast-guard station, and the third an imposing-looking restaurant or refreshment-room, whose presence in such a lonely spot somewhat puzzled me. I afterwards discovered that the passenger steamer which plies between Haderslev and Assens calls here twice a day, and that the citizens of the former inland town are fond of making excursions to this little seaside place to avail themselves of the excellent bathing it affords.
We had purchased some fish from a smack that was in the port, and were doing justice to them at dinner, when I heard a heavy body bump against our sides. I looked out, and found that this was the Lubeck yacht which had followed us from Sonderborg, and was now making fast alongside.
While lying in most of the Baltic ports vessels are not allowed to have fires or lights on board, the many wooden houses and stacks of timber making this precaution necessary. We had disregarded this troublesome prohibition on more than one occasion, but now we cooked our dinner and lit our lamps with an easy conscience, for our pilot-book informed us that there is no rule of the sort in Aarosund, and it would, indeed, have been superfluous in a town of three houses.
I only visited one of these houses, and that, naturally, was the tavern. We had run short of potatoes, and I went there in the hope of purchasing some. I was received by a nice-looking old woman who knew no English. I tried to recall the German word for potato, but could not do so; all I remembered about it was that it sounded something like the name of the Evil One. I did not like, therefore, to experimentalize on the language, in case I might shock the old lady with unconscious profanity.
"Madam," I said in English, "I want potatoes, but I am English, and speak no German."
"Neither do we, sir; we are Danes," a voice behind me said proudly, in the purest Anglo-Saxon.
I turned round and perceived the host, who had just come in, at the door; a tall handsome old man, but with dim eyes that were evidently almost blind.
"What is it that I can have the pleasure of doing for you, sir?" he continued.
I told him my wants, and he sent his wife off for a sack of potatoes.
This was a very pleasant old chap; he was dignified and courteous, and to my surprise he spoke our language as an educated Englishman would. His accent and vocabulary were not such as foreign seamen pick up in British forecastles and Wapping lodging-houses. He seemed pleased to meet an Englishman, so I called for beer and had a long yarn with him as he sat with closed eyes in his chair and smoked his long pipe. His good wife — they were an affectionate couple, and always addressed each other as "fadder" and "mudder" — could not understand our conversation; but her honest face beamed with satisfaction when she perceived how this recalling of olden times was brightening up her old man. He told me that he was nearly ninety, and that he had not had occasion to speak English for nearly half a century. He had been a sea-captain, and had evidently passed much of his life in the tropical Atlantic, for he seemed very familiar with the Brazils and the west coast of Africa. I heard, afterwards, that there was some mystery about the old fellow, and that strange rumours were afloat concerning his past. He was possibly a retired buccaneer, slaver, or other sea-adventurer of the sort.
I stayed two days in Aarosund—the first because the weather was stormy, and the second because I was lazy and bethought myself to take a trip on a steamer for a change.
On the night of our arrival the wind was howling again in a wintry fashion, and on the following morning it was blowing half a gale from the north-west; so the two yachts shirked the sea and stayed in port.
About a mile to the northward of Aarosund, Haderslev Fiord opens into the Little Belt. This fiord is about nine miles in length; it is narrow and winding, and at the head of it lies the town of the same name, which has a considerable shipping trade. The chart showed me that I could safely venture to Haderslev in the dinghy, as the wind was off shore and the sea would be quite smooth on this side of the Belt.
I therefore left Wright in charge of the yacht, set the balance lug in the boat, and sailed away. I entered the mouth of the fiord and was tacking up the first reach when the steamer from Assens overtook me, crowded with jovial excursionists and having a brass band on board that did its duty well, and never ceased playing throughout the voyage. The skipper hailed me, threw me a rope's end, and I was towed all the way to Haderslev, having nothing to do but to sit at luxurious ease in the dinghy's stern, smoking my pipe and admiring the scenery. The banks of the fiord were, of course, well-timbered and pleasing. In describing one of these fiords one describes all of them, though, as I have said before, there is no monotony in their loveliness, only in the attempt at reproducing them in words.
On reaching Haderslev the captain of the steamer, a jolly North German, volunteered to show me round. This is a very old town, with lofty and picturesque houses.
Extensive barracks are now being constructed for the accommodation of the Prussian garrison. The Germans evidently maintain a great number of troops in these two conquered provinces; not that the natives, who are a long-headed race, are likely to attempt such a hopeless piece of madness as a rebellion against their powerful masters, even should the outbreak of a war between Germany and some other great power appear to afford an opportunity. In Holstein there is, of course, little or no ill-feeling towards the Germans, as the bulk of the population is of German blood and was ever disaffected towards Denmark. In quite two-thirds of Schleswig, again, the people seem to have reconciled themselves to the new regime, and have come to the conclusion that they are better off as citizens of a great nation like Germany than of poor little Denmark, now so helpless, and of so small account in the affairs of Europe.
But here, in the extreme north of Schleswig, it is another matter. Here the people are Danes to the backbone, detest the German, and still entertain some hope that Germany will, one day, be compelled to restore this country to Denmark. In a town like Haderslev, which is only a few miles from the frontier, and whose inhabitants have, therefore, much commerce with their neighbours in more fortunate Jutland, it is patent, even to a passing stranger, that no love is lost between the two races.
This was, indeed, soon brought before my notice. In the chief street there are two cafés, opposite each other, which are frequented by the men of position in town. At one of these cafés the Captain and I lunched. On looking round at the other tables I saw several Prussian officers, burly merchants of the true North German type, refreshing themselves in the intervals of business, and at one table was a group of Protestant parsons, also smoking and drinking beer, and who, I was told, had been attending a synod which was being held in Haderslev. By the way, how is it that in most countries a haphazard group of clergymen is almost sure to contain a noticeable proportion of sour-looking or foolish or physically weak, or otherwise disagreeable types, while, on the contrary, in Denmark or North Germany, the clergy seem to be above the average of their countrymen in robustness, intellectuality of features, and prepossessing appearance generally? Now, I noticed that everyone present, were he soldier, parson, merchant, or waiter, was speaking High German, and that none but German papers were lying on the little marble tables.
"How is this?" I said to my friend, the captain "I thought the people spoke Danish in this part of the country."
He laughed, and replied, "So they do; but we happen to be sitting in the best German café of Haderslev. Just over the way you can see the best Danish café; if you go in there you'll hear nothing but Danish spoken round you, and see none but Danish papers. I did not take you in there because I am a German, and they would scowl at me, and perhaps make themselves objectionable."
Not only is it thus with the cafés, but with the churches, and with the places of public amusement. The two races have their own, and keep entirely apart. The steamer that runs to Assens, of which my friend was skipper, belongs to a German company. Some Danish merchants have determined to start an opposition boat. Then there will be none but German passengers on one steamer, and none but Danes on the other. They do, indeed, cordially detest each other. The Germans I met in this part of Schleswig had all sorts of bad things to say about the Danish character; so, too, had the Danes on the contemptible features of the Teuton nature. I have no doubt that my friends spoke from conviction, but the charges they made against each other were often grotesquely false; and, as far as my limited experience goes, they were all gross slanderers, and jolly good fellows on either side.
The captain towed me back to Aarosund, and, before going on to Assens, he persuaded me not to sail on the following morning, but to take a voyage with him.
Accordingly, when his boat came alongside the quay, at midday, July 28th, I got on board, and we steamed between the isles of Aaro and Baago, across the Little Belt to Assens, on the island of Fyen. There was again a large party of excursionists on board, mostly robust business men from Haderslev, with a capacity for food, beer, and tobacco that was refreshing to behold in this dyspeptic age. A lunch was served on the way, consisting of cold fried fish, Russian sardines, cold pork sausages, black bread and mutton sandwiches, kummel, and Danish aquavit. The dwellers by the Baltic have clearly not yet lost their gastric juices. The journey was uneventful, save that some Danish yeomen got drunk, sang songs which I could not understand, but which were evidently not complimentary to the Germans if they were not absolutely seditious, and at last had to be repressed.
We reached Assens, and, for the first time, I set foot on Danish soil. There was nothing here to indicate that we had crossed from one country to another, save the difference in the uniforms of the soldiers and custom-house officers, and the fact of the latter being somewhat more officious than the same class in Germany — not that they troubled me, for I had no luggage, but they thoroughly rummaged the boxes, baskets, and bags of my fellow travellers. There was little to see in this clean seaport, save the cemetery on the hill-side which commands a beautiful view, and where are monuments to the Danish troops who fell in 1864. In the evening the steamer took me back to Aarosund, and then, sitting in the Falcon's cabin, I proceeded to consult pilot-books, charts, and Baedekers as to whither I should sail on the morrow. But I found that in going up the Little Belt I should have on either side of me so many good ports and pleasant places that I decided to leave my next night's destination to chance, or rather to the pleasure of the inconstant Baltic breezes.
On the morning of July the 29th, the weather, as Wright remarked, could not have been better had it been made for us. A warm sun was shining, and a fresh south-east wind was curling the waters of the Little Belt. This was, I think, the pleasantest day's sail we had on this voyage. We got under way at 6 a.m., and, after travelling about fifty-two English miles, through ever-varying scenery, composed of extensive bays, narrow sounds, islands, and fiords, we reached Veile at three in the afternoon.
We sailed out of Aaro Sound, across the shoals that lie to the north of it, the feeding-ground of many birds, by the flat, uninhabited island of Linderum, into the Little Belt, which is here nine miles broad, but is much contracted in places by the promontories that project from either shore. Then we came to the little island of Brandso, well-wooded, and having a fishing-haven on its southern side. On the mainland, opposite to this, we opened out the bay of Heilsminde, which forms the frontier between Jutland and Schleswig; so from here we had Danish land on either side of us, and were leaving astern the territories of the Kaiser.
Next we entered the rougher waters of the Bredning, where the Belt broadens to ten miles; and now, ahead of us rose ranges of steep wooded hills, loftier than any we had yet seen in the Baltic, through which no opening was visible, so that we appeared to be in a great land-locked bay. But, steering our course, we came to Stenderup Point, at the farther end of the Bredning, and before us there opened out a narrow strait like the entrance to a fiord, but through which all the waters of the Belt were pouring out. This is known as the Narrows of the Little Belt, a winding channel, more than ten miles in length, and, in places, not half a mile in width, formed by the convergence towards each other of Fyen and Jutland. Through these Narrows the current runs with great velocity to the northward, often causing dangerous races. My pilot-book told me that the current here is, indeed, stronger than any on the Danish seas, and that when the wind is north-east the sea is so high, short, and irregular, that even the well-protected anchorage off Fredericia is unsafe for vessels. The water is deep in the Narrows, attaining forty fathoms in one spot.
The southern entrance of the Narrows is divided into two branches by the island of Faeno. We went up the smaller channel on the Fyen side, which is called Oinaes Sound, and here we passed scenery more charming than any we saw on this voyage. On our left was Faeno Island, two miles long, high, and clothed with magnificent beech-trees, save in places where the wood was cloven by smooth, sloping lawns. A lovely island, indeed; the sort of place one would like to own in the Monte Cristo fashion, and convert into a splendid summer yachting-box. On the Fyen side the land was steep and rugged but also well wooded with beech and pine, while the strip of shore beneath was not a desert of pebbles, or of mud left bare and hideous at low water as on the coasts of our tidal seas, but a rich pasture crowded with cattle. At the end of the Sound, on a steep peninsula of Fyen, we saw a country seat, which drew from both of us exclamations of astonished admiration. A light fairy-like châlet, nestling among masses of brilliant flowers, stood on the heights, and the well-timbered slopes that descended from it to the water's edge had been converted into beautiful pleasure-grounds with open glades, gardens, drives, winding paths, and summer-houses. This, I learnt afterwards, was the manor house and park of Hindsgavl. Blind, or far too perfect for this world, must be the man who does not break the Tenth Commandment, when, on a fresh Danish summer's day such as this was, with the song of innumerable birds filling those pleasant groves, he gazes at this paradise. I came to the conclusion that I would have no objection to passing the rest of my days here, if anyone presented me with this manor and a suitable income.
I had intended to put into some port within the arrows for the night, but I was unwilling to waste this fresh and favourable breeze, so pushed on. Faeno Island passed, we saw before us the broad mouth of Kolding Fiord opening into the Narrows. Leaving it to port, we doubled Gals Point, and entered the narrowest reach of the straits, which here runs in a southeasterly direction, so that we found the wind and current opposed, and had to tack through a confused sea, which did not curl in waves, but resembled the commotion at the bottom of a lock when the water is being let in. We had only three miles of this bubble, and the strong stream soon carried us past the picturesque and ancient town of Middlefart into the last reach of the Narrows, where the wind was fair again and the water smooth. Then we sailed close under the dismantled fortress and the decayed old city of Fredcricia, and were out in broad water once more; the Belt widened out rapidly into the open Kattegat, and, ahead of us, to the north-east, no land was visible.
We followed the coast of Jutland to Kasserodde Point. The wind freshened, and came down on us in stiffish squalls from the defiles above Baaring Bay, raising a somewhat choppy sea; but the wind was on our beam, and we reached along fast, at one o'clock rounding the beacon which marks the limit of the extensive shoals off Kasserodde, and opening out the broad entrance of Veile Fiord. This deep gulf is reputed to contain some of the fairest scenery in all Denmark. The distance from Kasserodde Point to the town of Veile, at the head of the fiord, is sixteen English miles; and the wind being now right aft, we accomplished this in two hours, getting alongside the quay at 3 p.m. The fiord presented a succession of lovely landscapes; the steep, wooded hills were higher than they generally are in Denmark, and were cloven by deep valleys, while pine-clad promontories jutted out from either shore.
As is the case on most of the Danish fiords, a rank vegetation here covers the bottom of the sea, and where the water is shallow the heads of the long weeds float on the surface, and smooth the troubled waters much more effectually than oil can. The bay opposite the town, which forms the termination of the fiord, a piece of water two miles long and one broad, is entirely overgrown by these weeds. As we approached it, running before the wind over a tumbling sea, we saw before us a line of breakers stretching right across the bay exactly as if a shoal had been there. but which was caused by the waves dashing against the edge of the weed-choked water; and beyond the breakers was a dark-green expanse, rising and falling sluggishly in smooth undulations. Through this strange marine growth a narrow channel, half a league in length, has been dredged, by which vessels, of not more than ten feet draught, can reach the town quays.