To that mix I can add the places that just have “something”. Maybe the attractions are a bit less obvious, but instead there is the overwhelming sense that cycling is the right choice, the perfect fit into the landscape.
Denmark’s Langeland can now be added to that list.
We have just spent a week on the island at the holiday house of our friends Jens-Loft and Gitte. We have known each other nearly ten years because Jens-Loft was the CEO of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation when I was in the same role at CTC in the UK. We both became board members of ECF where I now work and have been lucky enough to spend time together on board trips and at Velo-city conferences. And as we have become friends he has always said “You must come to Langeland”, you will love it. And the cycling is great!” So at last we made it, along with our friend Doretta from Italy, another former ECF board member and cycle tourist.
Well of course he was right. The island was like stepping back to an earlier pace of life and we all said we felt like time slowed down for a few days as we soaked up the gentle lifestyle. And the cycling was better than great, we agreed that we had found a place that really defined the pleasures of easy cycle touring.
But then Jen-Loft asked me to come up with a few choice sentences to send over to the local tourist board to encourage them to get behind the promotion of cycle tourism on Langeland and I struggled a bit because ultimately I was trying to describe the essence of place and movement that is cycle touring in pastoral landscapes.
However I managed it, and here is an extended version of those words and a range of photos to try and capture the essence of place that is the Long Land.
Langeland is a long thin strip of land left in the Baltic Sea after the ice ages, 50 kilometres long from north to south but rarely more than 7 kilometres wide. Nowhere is more than a few minutes from the sea and a bike ride can meander from coast to coast in minutes.
The glaciers left behind an island that is never high, but folds gently up down and around mysterious mounds and shallow basins which are now covered by the farms and forests which been inhabited since Neolithic times. And it is this lowland farming tradition which produces the cycling paradise.
Isolation has preserved an extensive network of minor roads and tracks edged by bursting hedgerows that have not been turned into endless prairies by modern farming methods and and the roads have not been straightened and made into racetracks for cars.
The Langeland tourist board have labelled up six of them as themed circular tours around some of the main landmarks and there are several regional cycle routes running the length of the island. But they are not really needed, I would guess there are hundreds of kilometres of usable lanes. Some of the connecting routes also use gravel farm roads too which were in really good condition.
The roads dip and curve and bend and lead the eye to cottages and hedges and trees and wildlife and villages that make every pedal revolution a possible discovery, especially as there is always the prospect of a sea view.
This traditional farming pattern also makes the island a paradise for birds, species like swallows, swifts, lapwings and skylarks that are under huge pressure in the rest of Europe due to habitat loss and climate change seem to be doing really well here which gives me great pleasure, those were the birds of my childhood.
Although I would happily have traded a lot of those small birds for the sight of the majestic sea eagle which swept out of the trees in one of the flooded basins and just took my breath away, a lifetime ambition fulfilled.
Cars? Did I say cars? The other definition of a cycling paradise – cars. Or rather the lack of them. As a good host Jens-Loft felt the need to say “perhaps we shouldn’t all ride right across the road, the drivers are not used to cyclists out here”. We had relaxed so much we were riding three and four wide across the whole road most of the time and we hardly saw vehicles except on the two main roads that divide the island like a cross and they were hardly busy by the standards of other places.
Even the main town of the island Rudkøbing was hardly busy, its charming and colourful streets are narrow, cobbled and restricted for cars so they make a nice destination, along with the harbour which used to receive the ferries and now looks out onto the bridge which connects Langeland to the rest of Denmark.
It appears that much of Denmark has ignored Langeland as a tourism destination and in recent years there has been a movement away from jobs on the land, so the permanent population is in long term decline and there has been no pressure to modernise.
We rode everywhere, with rides from 10 to 60 kilometres, encouraged by the fact that we had stunning weather and the enjoyment of the landscape. To the bakery in the mornings for fresh bread (and of course Danish pastries).
To Rudkøbing, to the castle and sculpture park of Tranekær, the education farm and chateau of Skovgaards God, they were all enjoyable destinations in their own right but as so often with cycling, much of the pleasure was in the journey.
Yes Jens-Loft, Langeland really is a lovely destination for cycling. No it isn’t the Denmark of urban cycle lanes and whizzing cargo bikes. It isn’t the kind of cycle touring that demands mountain passes and feats of endurance.
This is an island of gentle pace and locals pottering down to the bread shop, stopping to chat to their neighbours over the garden fence or pulling over at the old ferry terminal to put the world to rights. It has charm and tranquility that perhaps we had almost forgotten.
I hope the only people that do discover it are many more cycle tourists, because just as I do not despair, I certainly do not want to disturb. Go by bike!