Notes on...

‘Was the baby naughty?’: Gory frescoes, spectacular cliffs and herring with a toddler in Denmark

The things you can do in Møn – all of them

18 April 2015

9:00 AM

18 April 2015

9:00 AM

The sky over the island of Møn, which is at the bottom right of Denmark, was cobalt and the whitewashed walls of the Elmelunde church dazzled in the bright sunshine and hurt our eyes. Our arrival had been preceded by an argument about visiting the church at all, some of the party being of the opinion that they had seen enough medieval churches already during the four-week trek across northern Europe.

Nevertheless, culture won the day and in we filed to glory in the frescoes of the Elmelunde Master, who some time during the 15th century devoted himself to the decoration of this church. The frescoes are spare and sinuous, bleached in hue and basic in execution. They snake all over the ceiling and are quite marvellous; evocative of a time of peasants and knights, demons and fantastical creatures; a time of belief and of fear. In one vaulted section a baby is being run through by a knight’s sword. Our receptive three-year-old was evidently absorbed and moved by this appalling scene. ‘Was the baby naughty?’ he asked. He has since done battle with this baby-stabbing knight on many occasions: a victory, of sorts, for culture.

Perhaps there are worse images from Denmark that could have fixed themselves in the infant mind. He might, for instance, have brought home memories of the evening spent in a campsite on the west coast, near Ribe. This was a niche campsite, dedicated to fishing, though we didn’t know that until we got there. Everyone else had come to fish the stocked ponds around the site, including the two women who lured trout late into the evening from the bank beside our tent pitch, bizarrely attired in silky negligee-gown combos and fishnet tights.

Back on Møn, there are only three things to do and the second is to visit the cliffs. Møns Klint is a long chalk cliff that abuts the Baltic. It is, by some distance, the most significant morphological feature in southern Denmark. Maybe, for all I know, in all of Denmark (though I am told there are some hills near Århus).

Because there is nothing else to see, most of Denmark at some point heads to Møn to admire the cliff. They park their cars or bikes at the top and then negotiate their way down 494 steps to the pebbled beach below the cliffs. Here they either wade into the Baltic for a while or turn to the chalk face and start hacking in a usually futile attempt to extract fossils.

Once scrutiny of the cliffs has lost its thrill, the 494 steps are tackled again. Given the girth of many Danes, some of whom equip themselves with crates of beer to keep them company on their visit, I wondered how many fatalities were suffered each year on those steps.

The third thing to do on Møn is to feed pickled herring to your child and see it regurgitated immediately all over the table of the delightful restaurant from which it was ordered, before retreating, frantic and shamefaced, and not unaware of the way they dispense justice to naughty children in that part of Denmark.

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