Nature along the Ancient Road Hærvejen
The glacial ridge
The Ancient Road meanders along the southern glacial border of the Ice Age. The advancing icecap amassed large amounts of clay, gravel and stones. When the Ice Age came to an end, meltwater drained westward towards the ice-free area.
After the ice had retreated, streams and rivers in the area ran either east or westward from the glacial ridge. This became a natural thoroughfare where there were no rivers to cross for wayfarers. And that is how the north and southbound Ancient Road came to be.
Nature along the Ancient Road Hærvejen
In previous times, the Ancient Road crossed large, open heaths, which had emerged due to deforestation and the depletion of arable land since ancient times.
Around 1800, more than a quarter of Jutland was covered by heathland. Farmers began to cultivate the sandy soil using modern methods, encouraged by the Danish Heath Society. Another way to cultivate the heath was to plant conifers, especially spruce. Cultivation and forestation has since resulted in a loss of 97 percent of the Jutland heathland.
The natural springs
Since the Ancient Road follows what was once the glacial borderline there are several natural springs along the route. The largest, located only a few hundred metres apart in Tinnet, are the headsprings of two of Denmark’s mightiest rivers, Skjern Å and Gudenåen, which run in opposite directions to the east and west respectively.
By the lake of Bølling Sø, which is currently being re-established, is another large area with two river headsprings, one that runs west to become Karup Å and that runs east to become Funder Å.
Forests and plantations
The Ancient Road passes some of Denmark’s most magnificent oak forests. By Hald there is an ancient, almost pristine oak forest. In the woods of Stenholt Skov and by Tinnet there is a large oak scrubland, a landscape shaped by a unique kind of forestry where oak tree roots are grown for spokes and firewood.
Many of the woods along the Ancient Road are conifer plantations that were planted as forestation projects. The largest such woodlands along the route include Kompedal, Bommerlund, Frederikshåb and Frøslev. Most are spruce forests but there are also pine forests, such as Stursbøl Plantage.
Lakes and marshes
There are many lakes along the Ancient Road. A few kilometres south of the city of Viborg you find the lake of Hald Sø surrounded by magnificent rolling downs. And south of Vrads you reach some of Denmark’s purest lakes, Tingdalsøerne. A few kilometres west of the headspring of Skjern Å you find the lake of Rørbæk Sø where there are excellent hiking trails. The Ancient Road passes several other idyllic lake settings, including those of Engelsholm Sø, Fårup Sø and the lakes of Jels.
Generally, the Ancient Road bypasses marshes, bogs and wetlands since the aim of travellers in olden days was to avoid water crossings. However, in Southern Jutland the Ancient Road passes the bogs of Abkær Mose and Stengelmose. Here there are raised bogs rich in sphagnum mosses and cotton grass. However, journeying out into the bogs is not advisable. In the past, many travellers lost their way in the swampy bogs and disappeared forever!
Much of the Ancient Road winds through farmland with wildflowers along the hedgerows, waysides and on scrubland.
Spring and summer
In May to June many of the waysides are carpeted with white cow parsley. Later in the season, there is a rich variety of flora, including St. John’s wort, knautia, yarrow and poppies. In the spring – before the leaves pop out – deciduous forests offer a rich profusion of flowers such as anemone, woodruff and King Solomon’s seal. The dark forest beds of coniferous woods lack the rich flora of deciduous forests but have beautiful spring flowers. However, in clearings in the conifer woods you can find many heathland plants. Larger clearings are often covered with purple fireweed.
Late summer and autumn
Don’t miss the flower bursts of August and September when the heather blooms, carpeting the heaths in violet. During spring and summer the heath also has other shades of wildflowers, such as small pads of purple thyme. And if you are lucky you can also come across the yellow blossoms of arnica. Autumn is a time where you can pick berries, such as cranberries, blueberries and cowberries. Some of the heaths also have juniper bushes. In late summer and autumn, there are plenty of mushrooms, but you should only pick and eat the ones you are familiar with!
The heath is the best places to experience reptiles in Denmark. However, on warm days you should take heed of the venomous adder, which can be quite common in this area. There are also many salamanders and peaceful slowworm, which resemble snakes but aren’t. The heath is also home to large numbers of insects; sometimes a little too many and too annoying, perhaps. But then you can appreciate the many colourful butterflies and the numerous bees that gather heather honey.
One of the most common birds in bushes and trees along the Ancient Road is probably the yellowhammer, whose song follows the traveller from early spring to late summer. During summer the yellowhammer is joined by the song of the bush-hopping whitethroat. On open farmland along the Ancient Road you’ll also be followed by the song of the lark.
On sunny days, you will often see buzzards soaring over the landscape. They are often disturbed in their hunt by crows that fear the dark silhouette of these hunters. However, the buzzard mainly preys on mice so crows have little to fear.
In more isolated areas you may be lucky to see raven, which add a little drama to the prehistoric monuments. The raven was the Norse god Odin’s bird. He had two – Hugin and Munin – who were his messengers. The two ravens are also to be found in the coat of arms of Vojens, a town whose name derives from ‘Odins vi’ (Odin’s shrine).