Searching For The Wattenmeer

It was a somewhat dreary afternoon in early November and the little village of Højer stood silent as always save for the tender echo of the drizzle of rain that was just beginning to ease up. The sky remained grey. We took a look at our map and figured that the walk shouldn’t take us much more than 30 minutes. Maybe an hour. We’d be walking out of Højer, the sleepy little town next door to Tønder, another sleepy little town on the border with Germany in Denmark, and onwards until we found the coast. After we left the village, there would be two roads to follow. It sounded easy enough.

We wrapped up warm and headed outside finding that the rain had all but dispersed. We took the route past the graveyard and the seemingly antique windmill and made our way past the old and beautiful thatched cottages that line the quiet, empty village. Within 10 minutes we were in open countryside surrounded by fields in all but one direction. We followed the road as we knew we should and walked for another 10 minutes or so, encountering a small group of teenagers presumably walking home from some unseen school. They were unusually quiet for teenagers. They whispered as we walked by, though the words would have anyway fallen on deaf, unknowing ears.

We were nearing the second road when the skies erupted, the grey clouds raining cold droplets of Danish rainwater onto our already cold bodies. Luckily, we came across an abandoned little building, it looked something like a control room or a concrete broom cupboard with a coffee cup crudely spraypainted on the walls, the steam mocking us as we stared longingly, hoping for a coffee. The dark innards of the concrete square provided us with, at the very least, a much needed respite. We waited for 5 minutes hoping for the rain to pass  but it only grew worse as we looked up at a dark grey sky from the broken window. 

By our earlier estimates we shouldn’t have too far to go to find the Wattenmeer. We peered up the road, empty and long, and decided to keep going. We walked for what seemed like at least an hour when a car passed us on our way, slowing as though deciding whether to offer help, the fogged up windows allowing us but a moment’s glimpse of the face as it peered out to us. We held on tight to our single umbrella and huddled close as we made our way up the long Slusevej 8 road. The rain got worse and worse, battering into our umbrella and spitefully changing directions at a second’s notice until we made the ascent up a slight hill.

We knew at this point that when we came over the hill we would come face to face with our goal: the Wadden Sea. We increased our pace in anticipation but only dark tarmac, rickety road signs, and disappointment awaited us.

We began to believe we’d taken a wrong turn somewhere along the route. The cricket fences swayed in the wind as we surveyed the empty farmland looking for another turn that we could have taken. Not finding one, we thought for a moment whether we should turn back defeated by the rain.

The wind was becoming  intolerable forcing our umbrella into ridiculous shapes as we hung on hoping for an end, but we decided to go onwards anyway. Our endeavours paid off, the wind and rain died down a little, and 15 minutes later, we breached the summit of another hill. And this time our excitement was replaced by a mild fear, which itself was replaced with relief.

The calm shores of the Wadden were in sight. We hurried past a building, a restaurant, the only one for miles, closed of course and went onwards to our destination.

The Phenomenon Of The Tides

We’d hoped to witness the phenomenon of the Wadden tides while in Denmark and weren’t disappointed. The water here can be touching the soles of your shoes one moment and within minutes, and without sound or an indication of any kind, it can be gone, revealing the tidal flats that many walkers go in search of each year. The Denmark portion of the coast, strange and intriguing as it is, was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2014 and is now fully protected (2009 for the German and Danish parts). When we arrived the water was a few minutes walk away and seemed to be coming in to shore, birds were the only life that we saw, sitting motionless on the flats and scattered along old wooden fencing, dark and sombre as they looked out to a lifeless world.

We walked out onto the flats and stared in awe. The grey sky above us fading into the grey water before us. A slight fog in the distance and a gasp of intrigue caught in our throats. We were, as mentioned, somewhat in awe, though equally intimidated by all that we knew. Surely enough within minutes the water was beginning to slowly, and quietly sneak up on us and so, with the rain once again beating down on us and the wind doing its all to relieve of us of our umbrella. we began to retreat, our feet only slightly wettened by the waters of the Wattenmeer.

While we walked, we paid witness to another phenomena – the Sort Sol or Black Sun, which occurs when flocks of more than a million migrational European starlings gather to join incredible formations in the sky.

The spectacle is usually witnessed in spring and autumn and so we were lucky to see a small portion of it at the beginning of November. The gigantic mass of birds looks as though it is dancing in the sky and the little light that remained was all but extinguished by their eerie, though starkly beautiful ritual, a natural freedom of movement.

We got back to our thatched cottage an hour or two later, wet and cold and in need of a hot cocoa, and the next day, an other unusal even occurred…. we were married in the small village hall in Tønder… but that’s another story altogether.