February 29, 2020
Earlier this year I was given a book from my girlfriend’s family titled “Danmarks Bjerge” by Roger Pihl (Denmark’s Mountains in English). Pihl groups the high points of Denmark into 4 categories:
It didn’t take long to realise that all but one of the Titans are found on Jylland (Jutland), with the only other based far out on the island of Bornholm (more on this one later).
Add to this my reading of Jonny Muir’s latest book, “The Mountains are Calling”, which brings alive tales of audacious trail running feats and ‘Rounds’ of running between high points in the UK, and the idea for the challenge was set: to run the Titans of Jutland. I knew I would be in Denmark spending time with my girlfriend’s family for five days before Christmas; this would provide the perfect window for the run. My girlfriend would drop me off at the first peak, spend the day with her friend in nearby Århus, then meet me four or so hours later.
A goal without a plan is just a wish
Luckily our flight from Edinburgh to Copenhagen was delayed, so I had an extra half an hour at the airport to cobble together a plan. I don’t like navigating without a physical map and compass but, with the challenge set for tomorrow, and us due to arrive in Denmark the night before, Google Maps and the names of the peaks written on my hand would have to suffice. Maps told me it was 27-odd miles to cover the 5 Titans, with Himmelbjerget (not technically a Titan, but worth summiting for reasons explained later) thrown in for good measure. So it would be a marathon effort, mostly on road – the perfect way to prepare myself for the festive period, where sitting indoors consuming would be the predominant activity.
In this part of the world it doesn’t get light until almost 9am at this time of the year, so we drive in the dark. Daybreak nudges the colour of the sky from black to dark grey; there hasn’t been a hint of sunshine for over a week now and today looks set to be no different. Whilst it’s obviously nice to be outdoors in good weather and see an area at its best, could I really have expected it to be sunny and warm on a day in late December? Moreover, it’s perhaps a more authentic experience to see the area in the wet, cold and grey; it is December in Denmark after all.
The drive from Odense (located on Fyn, Denmark’s third largest island) to Ejer Bavnehøj (located on Jylland, the part of Denmark connected to mainland Europe) is quintessentially Danish: nourishment in the form of wholesome pastries and an impressive bridge – the Lillebæltsbroen (Little Belt Bridge). Not long after crossing onto Jylland we begin to climb and rapidly ascend the first Titan; it is here where the adventure really begins. My girlfriend drives off into the foggy abyss, leaving me alone, with only Ejer Bavnehøj for company.
Ejer Bavnehøj – 170.35m (Grid Reference: 55.977033, 9.83065)
“Høj” means hill in English, a suffix we see in all of the Titans’ names; “bavne” means beacon; “Ejer” is the name of the nearest village. Thus we get “Ejer Bavnehøj” – the beacon hill of Ejer, a site which historically was used to light signal fires to warn the military and local population if the enemy were on the way. In 1924 a 13m tall tower was built on the site to commemorate the return of southern Jutland to Denmark after the First World War. The tower is prominent, the Arc de Triomphe of Jutland, complete with information boards and a toilet next to a carpark. The first Titan, fittingly honoured and marked.
Møllehøj – 170.86m (55.977437, 9.826331)
270m of muddy farm trail later and I’m standing on the summit of the second Titan of the Ejer Bavnehøj Massif, I think. Is this the same bench I remember seeing photos of last night in Pihl’s book? Does that look like the base of a flagpole I remember seeing with a flag attached to it when the photo was taken in summer? The large cattle barn behind is the giveaway, confirming that I am indeed at the top of Møllehøj, Denmark’s highest point. Yet it wasn’t until 2005 that this unassuming Titan was awarded its rightful title; for the 64 years prior to that, it was Ejer Bavnehøj that held the top spot. You’d easily be forgiven for not realising that the title had changed hands if the summit markings were anything to go by.
Møgelhøj – 169.4m (55.974786, 9.825046)
Another summit in the Ejer Bavnehøj Massif, I follow the trail down a cow pat infused slope and climb the 20m of elevation to tick off the third Titan – that’s three in under ten minutes! Compared to Møllehøj, Møgelhøj is impressively well-marked, with the crest of a mound clearly topping out with an information board and bench. Complete with wooden shelters to sleep in, this Titan understandably attracts locals in their dozens, the revellers no doubt lured here by the dramatic views of the cows and beyond.
Yding Skøvhøj/ Rodebuske i Ejer Bjerge – 170.77m (55.992496, 9.795825)
Grey skies and drizzle make the beautifully bucolic country road heading to the next Titan only more enjoyable. There’s something strangely addictive about the feeling of cold rain on the cheeks and numbed fingertips. The challenge now feels real and I am filled with a beautiful feeling of a plan coming together; the time flies to Yding Skøvhøj. It is here that I learn a new Danish word, “skovhøj”, meaning “forest hill”. At the top of this Titan rest three Bronze Age burial mounds, all vying for top spot. But it is the middle of the three that I am interested in, that named “Rodebuske”, sitting at 172.54m, almost a full metre higher than the two either side of it. 172.54m?! Isn’t that a whole 2m higher than any other Titan? In 1941 the Danes had the same thought, with Rodebuske at Yding Skøvhøj declared the highest point in the country, taking the title from Ejer Bavnehøj, but not without controversy. A heated discussion ensued as to whether man-made structures, such as burial mounds, could be counted as part of the contest for the highest point. The debate was eventually settled by Professor N.E Nørlund, and from here on in, the battle for the highest point in Denmark has been based on it being natural. Burial mounds were out, slight crests in fields and gentle hummocks in forests were in. The title was promptly returned to the Ejer Bavnehøj Massif.
Them Bavnehøj – 153m (56.081904, 9.510424)
25km now separate me from Them Bavnehøj. Google Maps kindly takes me onto an A road, where the challenge takes on a whole new dimension. For nearly an hour I hold my line and play a game of high stakes game of ‘chicken’ with the oncoming cars and trucks. Scared off my by short shorts and hi vis headband, I survive the game (perhaps more likely due to Danish drivers being an incredibly courteous bunch). I turn off at a farm track, where the path thins and takes me into a forest. As I run down the forest trails, it would be easy to not realise that a Titan lies hiding in their throngs. A steepening of the gradient to at least 3% notifies me that I must be near, and then it appears; the lookout tower, flanked by a picnic table and stone marker. Like a pilgrim approaching their church, I apprehensively climb the steps to the top of the tower. It is worth the effort; the views don’t disappoint.
Himmelbjerget – 147.3m (56.105147, 9.685028)
Ask a Dane what the highest point in Denmark is and they’ll most likely tell you “Himmelbjerget” (The Sky Mountain). As you are now well aware though, that is not the case; it isn’t even a Titan. Rather confusingly it is the only one of the peaks on my adventure called a “bjerg” (mountain), instead of a høj (hill). At 147.3m Pihl classifies it as a mere “Big One”, still high by Danish standards, but a considerable twenty odd metres lower than the Ejer Bavnehøj Massif. Yet until 1847 Himmelbjerget was believed to be the highest point in Denmark. Perhaps this was due to its position – it lies in the heart of the Danish “Lake District” and rises 121m from lake Julsø below, making it strikingly prominent. Compared to the rolling land near the Ejer Bavnehøj Massif, it is easy to understand why the title took so long to reach its rightful place.
Feeling a little gimpy in the final few miles leading up to summit, I realise that my legs are getting a touch tired. It’s amazing how much impact road running has on the muscles and joints; compared to trail running it can feel like pure masochism at times. But the niggles are a small price to pay for the adventure I’ve been on today; five ‘Titans’, one ‘Big One’, 27 miles and 600m of cumulative elevation gain. A morning well spent feeling the spirit of adventure.
Whilst there may only be five Titans on Jutland, there is a sixth red dot on Phil’s map, sat in the middle of the Baltic Sea. The sixth Titan, Rytterknægten (55.111708, 14.889269), lies on the island of Bornholm, an island most easily reached by plane or by boat from Sweden. Like an itch that won’t go away, the challenge is clear. Run the Titans of Jutland, cycle to Sweden, sea kayak to Bornholm, then run to the summit of Rytterknægten.
To be continued…