Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a travel issue. important – and what it means to you.
The deep south of Jutland consists of a patch of grassland occasionally dotted with a church bell tower and a row of messy houses. Of all the villages dotting where Denmark melts into Germany, Møgeltønder is the most charming. A postcard-perfect main street surrounded by cottages whose owners clearly care for the roses year-round.
At the western end: a 12th-century church where religion is ostentatious. The pulpit is supported by sculptural cherubs, who are looking up at a gallery of frescoes.
At the eastern end is Schackenborg Castle, the royal residence. This is the magnificent residence of Joachim, Prince of Denmark.
Go or do not go? That is the question I faced on Thursday morning. I woke up in the town of Tønder (the oldest in Denmark) – itself a picture of tranquility and Møgeltønder’s mother ship, 6km to the west. But for potential visitors without a car, the distance between bus departures is roughly the length of a Hamlet performance.
I started walking and thumbs up, even though the traffic was sparse. A silver Dacia Duster drove past, perhaps the latest of the millions of drivers who refused to pick me up during my rather lengthy hitchhiking career. But then the car stopped and backed up.
The driver turned out to be Kim. He is a veteran of the Danish peacekeeping operation in Bosnia in the 1990s. Kim works with veterans living with PTSD after the horrors of the conflict. And obviously collect waifs and strays.
“The prince is at home,” he remarked as we drove past Schackenborg Castle – pointing to the Danish flag flying overhead. “Perhaps you’ll see him later.” Kim parked the car outside his house and made a kind offer.
“Once you’ve finished your visit, come and knock on the fence. Then I will take you back to Tønder.”
The elevator kept delivering: the promise of a ride at a time of one’s choosing was something I’d never received before. The church turned out to be divine in every sense, complete with the equivalent of a royal box: The Queen sat there as she attended a ceremony in town.
I had time to explore the grounds of Schackenborg Castle – more impressive, I must say, than Elsinore in the far east of Denmark. There is no sign of Prince Joachim, but tourists are allowed access to most areas without a formality. A large rectangular pond in the garden is inhabited by a flock of frogs, so I recorded a podcast in the background with croaking.
At the end of the visit, I found Kim in his rather unassuming garden, along with his dogs. As promised, he drove me back to Tønder – by detour. He entered the back streets, past the vast communal barn, traditionally used by individual farmers to protect their crops.
Then he went south, close to the German border, to show me a giant shoe. A bumper boot stands out outside the headquarters of Ecco, the Danish footwear business celebrating its 60th birthday this year.
Kim didn’t have time to accept my coffee offer – after providing a perfect morning of sightseeing, he was booked for a Zoom call. So he sped away, a great Dane with Dacia Duster, leaving another story from the open road.