Paddling in Copenhagen
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The two arctic explorers have disappeared beyond the bridge ahead. What I can’t understand is why I seem to be paddling into an increasingly strong current. We’re supposed to be on a canal. To make any headway I’m having to tuck close into the side. This can’t be right.
I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m in Denmark with the intention of paddling around the island of Amager which makes up the south-eastern part of Copenhagen.
We’ve just collected our sea kayaks from Kajakhotellet and are now heading north to pick up the canal which will then guide us south pretty much through the centre of Copenhagen. I’m paddling with my Spanish mate, Paco. We first met on a trip kayaking around Menorca. I recall our conversation last night over an outrageously expensive couple of beers in which we remembered the final leg of that trip, paddling for an hour into the teeth of a gale. Then, we failed to complete the last 4 miles. This is a much shorter circumnavigation but still I’m grateful that today’s strong wind is behind us and we’re making good progress. There’s an impressive number of local paddlers on the water, most seem to be wearing a hell of a lot more than Paco and I. It’s fantastically warm and sunny so shorts and t-shirts are the order of the day for us. I ask myself if the locals know something that we don’t.
Once we exit the protection of the small harbour full of kitesurfers I can’t say that the initial scenery is too inspiring. There’s a refinery ahead and a gaggle of cranes alongside the docks making things look all fairly industrial. The white wind turbines, stark against the wonderfully blue sky are, by contrast actually quite attractive and add height to the otherwise flat panorama.
We get to the first entrance. It looks uninviting and it’s clear that it’s related to the refinery so we press on looking for the canal. It’s fairly choppy so there’s a degree of relief and a definite increase in morale as we catch a glimpse of the gigantic dome of Marmorkirken or Marble Church in central Copenhagen and swing left towards it and into more protected water. It’s here that I have to confess to a schoolboy error. I haven’t bothered with a map, partly because I was thinking: how difficult can it be to paddle around the island? All we’ll need to do is keep the land on our left. Why the doubts now? Well I’m navigating from the memory of a glance at google maps last night - go north, swing left! As we approach the yachts moored ahead it’s becoming all too obvious that this isn’t the canal entrance. I remember that I’ve got my bike GPS stashed in the back of the boat so I clamber out of the kayak onto some rocks to confirm that we’ve taken the wrong route, that this is a dead end.
Third time lucky. This is definitely it. We can see ahead some of Copenhagen’s landmark buildings. The canal is wide here at what amounts to the harbour mouth and Paco and I debate our route. There’s a huge cruise ship exiting in front of us and keeping tucked in to the left will undoubtedly offer more protection from what is now an awkward cross wind. However this option means that we’ll miss Copenhagen’s most emblematic symbol – the Little Mermaid, so we scurry across, dodging traffic and head for what even from a distance is a very large crowd over on the opposite bank.
While the mermaid has attracted tourists for over a century, the last time I was here was over 25 years ago and I’m shocked that there are so many people. There’s a lot! Many in a huge line waiting to take photos. Fortunately they’re all on the bank so from the water Paco and I are able to jump the queue as we take turns to pose for each other.
We continue for a bit down the western side of the canal with the Danish Queen’s boat opposite. It looks stunning moored just north of the Opera House, an amazingly modernistic building albeit in my ignorance with a hint of star-trooper helmet to its design. That modern theme is picked up by the two Norwegian military boats that we’re now paddling past. They look like they’ve taken their styling from a stealth bomber. I guess that there’s the same radar evading technology at play.
We swing right into Nyhavn. If you’ve seen any postcards of Copenhagen then there’s a very good chance that the photos were taken here. The restored warehouses and tall, painted houses give a gorgeous backdrop to the moored boats. There are one or two ugly floating restaurants but most are real beauties and would satisfy the most demanding lottery winner looking for a classic yacht.
Photos duly taken we’re now continuing south, looking for the next canal to our right which will give us a further opportunity to explore central Copenhagen from the water. It’s more than a bit of a shame therefore when we find our path blocked by some kind of Red Bull water skiing demo.
I’m now more than a bit hungry and suggest to Paco that we stop for lunch. Unfortunately there’s nowhere for us to make an easy exit from the water so we’re ploughing on, past the Black Diamond, an amazing glass and steel building that houses the National Library of Denmark. I come over all arty and try to capture photos of us reflected in the glass façade high above us.
A group of kayak and rowing clubs at last give us the chance to stop for something to eat. Over a sandwich or two of cheese and ham Paco and I compare this with previous trips we’ve made together around the Spanish coastline. We’ve both noticed how warm and clear the water has been but much less salty than the Mediterranean. We’re commenting on the remarkably good weather when two Danish paddlers join us. They’re dressed for a very different temperature and from now on become known to the two of us as “the arctic explorers”.
Back on the water there’s a real contrast now with the modernistic architecture over on the west bank and some real tumbledown wooden shacks on the side of the canal that we’re now paddling past.
An hour later it’s here that the arctic explorers disappear beyond the bridge ahead and I start to notice the current. I gesture to Paco to keep closer into the side to stay out of the greatest flow. There’s no clear route through the bridge, far from it. It looks like each of the 20 or so arches are blocked. Where did the overdressed Danes go? I start to regret once more the lack of a map. As I get closer to the bridge it’s clearer that the left side of the bridge forms a dam and all the flow is squeezed through the 10 or so right hand arches. The bridge is swarming with fishermen, I make eye contact with one and I’m surprised by his smile and friendly wave as he lifts his line out of the way to enable me to paddle up against the now very strong flow. It eases once I’m through so I turn to give a shout of encouragement to Paco as he inches through behind me.
The landscape is now very different. No buildings, only a tree lined, wide, boulevard-like piece of water. We’re approaching a nature reserve on the left that Paco has previously raved about. I try to tease him that the only birds we’ve seen so far have been common seagulls. He puts me in my place by pointing out the hooded crow, eider duck and numerous species of waders that have escaped my notice.
Further ahead I can see an enormous power station. It’s now late in the afternoon and the sun is low over the horizon. It’s hard to put across the sheer size of the structures. Even from here, a couple of miles away, it looks like an ugly, geometric mountain looming out of the flat land around it.
It seems to take an age to get level with the power station. We’re now at the southernmost part of the waterway between Amager and Zealand. Those massive black blocks are still a way off, over on the other bank and in the increasing gloom look evil, like something from a bad sci-fi film. The good news is that we’ve not far to go to our intended camp for the night. The bad news is that now, as we turn to the east we’ve lost any protection from the wind and it’s blowing hard, straight at us. It’s a struggle to call this bit of coastline attractive, I know that over the other side of the 30ft high bank to my left there’s a massive array of birdlife. Unfortunately I can’t see them. My only view is of the fence posts at the top of the unrelentingly uniform dyke and they illustrate all too clearly that we are struggling to make progress. It’s with more than a bit of relief therefore that we’re now landing some 90 minutes later with the last few minutes of light to illuminate what will be home for the night.
We awake to clear blue skies once again and it doesn’t take long for our kit to dry and the temperature rise. As we leave, I glance back towards last night’s power station. This morning the sun is reflecting off the concrete giving it an almost brilliant white appearance, much less threatening that the satanic black of yesterday. It’s still fairly windy but after an hour’s paddling into it we’re starting to swing northeast and the wind is off to the rear quarter but at least it’s now helping more than hindering our progress. Yesterday was mainly urban. Today is sea paddling. The coastline is still low but dotted now with gorgeous wooden cottages, most it seems with a flagpole outside, flying the Danish flag. Out to sea there’s a gigantic wind farm and further north still our first view of “The Bridge” that links Denmark to Sweden, beyond which we can make out the taller buildings in Malmo.
Each little settlement seems to have its own bathing platform at the end of a long jetty, mainly it seems because the water is so shallow here. There are loads of kitesurfers once more, making it difficult for Paco and I to escape the drag.
The next bathing platform looks like a whaling station, all grey and odd angles. I’m a tad concerned by the white horses that I can see off it. It’s going to be a lot rougher as we pass. As we get closer it’s obvious that the headland here by Dragør Fort is creating all sorts of reflected waves and the sea is confused to say the least, with waves coming from every angle. I stick a bit closer to Paco as there’s now a harbour entrance and the concrete walls surrounding it are making those reflected waves ever more powerful. A tiny bit of doubt has crept into my mind, for lots of reasons I want to be able to finish this one. I really don’t want another Menorca last minute failure. If we can just get a bit further I know that we’ll then have the wind directly behind us.
We’re past the harbour entrance now and I can see the airport ahead. As we cross the bay our direction is more and more directly towards the north and my confidence increases. Off to the right we’ve the best view yet of “The Bridge”, made famous in the UK by the Nordic noir crime thriller of the same name. It’s an understatement to call it massive. The Øresund Bridge is the largest combined road and rail bridge in Europe. What impresses me most though from where I am now is how its initial tunnel section seems to loom like a giant sea serpent directly up and out of the water.
We’re racing along now. The wind is directly behind us and it helps to whizz us past the airport and train works. Almost before we know it I can see the entrance to the Paddlercanal ahead. Mission almost accomplished, morale rises notably, doubts disappear and thoughts turn instead to potential rewards by way of another outrageously expensive cold Danish beer.
We rented sea kayaks from www.kajakhotellet.dk cost around 500 Danish kroner per day – pretty expensive given the current exchange rate but that did include paddle and spraydeck as well as cag and wetsuit should you need them. www.mykayak.dk is another rental option.