The Gendarme Trail (Gendarmstien) is a 84 km trail along the Danish-German border from Padborg to Skovby. The “gendarmes” patrolled across the cliffs, through the lush forests and the along the rocky beaches. Their job was to catch smugglers who were illegally trafficking goods in and out of Denmark to avoid paying customs duty from 1839 to 1958.
With the covid-19 crisis and the travel restrictions enforced during the summer of 2020, my wife and I decided to drive south to the border between Denmark and Germany, where we hiked a short version of the Gendarme Trail. Travel time is approximately 3.5 hours from Copenhagen.
My wife has never done this “outdoors thing” before so we wanted to see how far she could manage before we had to get off trail. We ended up hiking 27.5 km out of the 84 km total trail available. She is not a fit person so I was prepared for the worst and hoping for the best. I was willing to accept a slow pace and short walking days.
- Start at Høruphav Havn (harbour)
- Hike to Dybbøl Beach primitive tent area
- 15 km
- Start at Dybbøl Beach primitive tent area
- Hike to Broager via Spar-Es
- 12.5 km
Sunday July 12, 2020
We arrived at Høruphav Havn (harbour) on the island called Als where we parked our car at 10:30 am. There were no parking limitations so we just parked and left. In my haste I forgot to retrieve my sunglasses from the side pocket on the car door. On my last hike on Ærø I wrote myself a note and stuck it on my pack in the trunk; I didn’t do that this time and I paid for it. The trail is nice on this section. We are only a couple of hours out of the next town called Sønderborg where we would find somewhere to eat lunch.
I made sure that none of us would be carrying too much gear; my wife’s pack weighed 7.8 kg and mine weighed 7.6 kg without water but including food and fuel. I’ll be posting my packing list in the next blog post. I purchased some new gear for her to make her hike more enjoyable and the rest of the gear she used was borrowed from me. This is the new gear that I purchased for her:
- Injinji Trail Midweight Mini Crew toe socks 55 g
- Arc’teryx Delta LT Jacket 312 g
- Sea to summit Ultra Sil Nano Tarp Poncho 230 g
- Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket 428 g
- Dilling Long Arm Merino Wool underwear shirt 215 g
- Dilling Long Merino Wool long underpants 218 g
I didn’t ask her until the day that I packed the car what shoes she was packing; I was concentrating on making sure that the rest of her gear was appropriate and left the shoe choice up to her. That was a huge mistake; she had chosen some Nike joggers and I presumed that they would be okay. They weren’t my feet and I didn’t know how they fit. However, on day one it became apparent that the shoes were too tight. I can’t understand why she thought that these shoes were appropriate. I explained to her that my hiking shoes are always at least one size larger than the ones that I would wear normally and that the toe box is extra wide too. She knows all this anyway; she has heard me educate other folks on this subject so many times. Already by lunch time she was complaining about her feet.
From Høruphav harbour we walked first through the forest called Lambjerg Indtægt where a shelter is located. Wild camping is also allowed here. Then we passed through Sønderskov (forest) just east of the town of Sønderborg. Then there is about 2 km of Sønderborg street walking with lovely views of the harbour entrance. Most of the boat owners were visitors from nearby Germany who flew proudly their German flag.
We ate lunch at the cafe just before the bridge that crossed to the mainland. When they called your number out to let you know that your meal was ready they announced it both in Danish and German. We ordered a burger and a Coke, classic trail food 🤣. At the harbour there are plenty of toilets and there were faucets available for water supply scattered around the wharf. I filled our water bottles including some extra water for our camp; there were no facilities at the campsite at Dybbøl Beach some 3 km away.
Crossing the bridge linking the mainland to Als Island I looked over at Sønderborg Castle on the shoreline of the island. Built around 1200, Sønderborg castle was built in the Middle Ages and became the country’s strongest castle. It was used as a hospital during the Schleswig Wars in the 19th century. After the defeat at Dybbøl and the loss of South Jutland, it was used as a Prussian barracks. The Danish state has owned it since 1920. It is now a museum of South Jutlandic history (16th century onwards).
We kept a slow pace for the rest of the afternoon. My wife’s toes were not doing so well. We only had some 3-4 km’s until we reached camp but now we were both carrying some extra weight because of the water. The views were excellent and soon the mill at Dybbøl was in view.
This part of the Gendarme trail offers constant views of Dybbøl Banke (bank or hill), site of the Siege of Dybbøl, which took place in April 1864. Part of the Second Schleswig War that ended in disastrous defeat for Denmark, which lost 40% of its land area and a population that went from 2.6 million to 1.6 million citizens.
18 April 1864: from 2-18 April, grenades rained down upon the entrenchment and the Danes were unable to counterattack because of their outdated cannons. The enemy assault began at 10 am on 18 April and one by one the Danish positions fell. By 2 pm the Danes had lost and retreated to Als.
When we arrived at the campsite I met a fellow Instagrammer @tim_ultralight who recognised me when he saw me. We know each other only online so it was nice to meet him finally in person. We chatted for a short while before he continued, he likes to walk long days with a lot of miles under his belt; just the way I like to do things too. We didn’t talk for a long time but I presume that he hiked all 84 km in two days.
After the Ultamid 2 was pitched we got dinner under way. I had packed a couple of my own homemade dehydrated meals so they had to soak for a little while first. Gradually the campsite started filling up with people. There was this one strange guy that was not around much; at one stage he left his tent and walked west on the trail carrying a huge black plastic bag under his arm. We didn’t see him again for some hours. We wondered if he had body parts in the bag and needed to rid himself of the contents 🤣. We were happy when other hikers turned up for the night so that we weren’t the only ones sleeping near the “strange guy”. First, there were three young people who shared a tunnel tent together, then a family of four with a young boy who talked very loudly, a nice young woman with her dog and finally three middle aged guys who opted to overnight in the shelter.
After dinner I served some Snicker bars as dessert and we washed them down with some hot chocolate. The sunset was magnificent.
Monday July 13, 2020
The day started well; lots of sun and no rain. It was a shame that I left my sunglasses in the car the day before. We would follow the trail close to the water all morning so the glare ended up making my eyes red.
sun shirt hoodie
I kept the hood on my Patagonia Tropic Comfort Hoody II up over my head which also covered my face and seemed to help a lot with the glare from the sun. This is the second hike using this sun shirt hoodie and I’m really impressed with it so far and I like it a lot. I was at first worried that it would smell too much after a couple of days hiking but it doesn’t. This is now my preferred hiking shirt for the summer months.
When we reached Vemmingbund beach on the opposite side of the bay from where we camped, some small three kilometres away, we made use of the public toilets. The facilities were clean and well maintained. I noticed a worker from the council driving around the area who emptied the trash bins.
I can remember the last time that I hiked this trail from the opposite direction in 2016 and when I reached this same beach. It was in the afternoon and it was a very hot day. The kiosk over the road was open and I purchased a large tap beer and enjoyed it while I soaked my feet in the cooling waters of Vemmingbund.
We continued walking around the bay heading towards Dynt Strand (beach). Taking a little break before the campgrounds at Gammelmark Klinter, we used a bench to rest on while we emptied the sand from our shoes.
There were a lot of day hikers setting out from the campgrounds and we said hi to them as they passed us while we rested on the bench. At Gammelmark Strand Camping we stopped for another break. I’ve never stopped for so many breaks before, but my wife insisted 🤣. We made use of their toilets and purchased a cold drink and some chips from the reception. The place was very busy and guests came and went.
At Brunbjerg the trail climbs to 38 meters and the views are beautiful. There was only one problem; what goes up must go down again. That seemed to be an issue for my wife because her toes kept hitting the ends of her shoes that were apparently too small. At one stage she fell and it became obvious to me that it was best for us now to get off trail.
At Stensgård there was a detour because of a landslide. We followed the trail out to the road where we soon passed Stensigmose who produce organic milk. I recognised their logo straight away because I have purchased their milk several times from the supermarket. At a T-junction we turned right not far from Spar-Es and Broager Strand Camping. We headed for the nearest town called Broager passing through Dynt first where my wife found another bench where she could pause for a short while again.
At Broager I downloaded a taxi APP on my mobile device and used it to summon a taxi. They could see our exact location direct from the APP. Another nice functionality of the APP was that I could see the price for the journey and lock the amount in before the trip. Our driver arrived 13 minutes later. The trip was 17.2 km back to our car at Høruphav Havn (harbour) and the driving time was 22 minutes.
We had a nice couple of days on a well marked and maintained trail. The trail not only offers some well located primitive campsites but there are also ample B&B’s, cottages and other forms of accommodation available. Resupply is easy with several supermarkets and shops along the trail and takeaway food is available everywhere. Another thing that we both noticed was how friendly folk were down here. People who don’t know us would never say hi to us in Copenhagen like they did in Sønderjylland (Southern Jutland) 😀.
You can view and download my map for this hike here on AllTrails