FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Sleep(er)less in Kobenhavn

Posted in Denmark, England, Finland, Helsinki, København, London by folkestonejack on July 19, 2014

A few weeks ago Danish State Railways (DSB) announced that they are to end all sleeper trains to/from Kobenhavn in December 2014.

It is not the first cancellation of sleeper services in Europe and certainly won’t be the last, but it still saddens me as it was a journey on just such a train (via Kobenhavn) as a bright eyed twelve year old that gave me the travel bug and introduced me to the thrill of international railways. It is not a great surprise to learn that the economics no longer stack up. If anything, it is astonishing that sleeper services have survived this long against the growing market of cheap flights.

The announcement made me curious about my first sleeper experience, so I spent a quiet evening or two trying to fit together the pieces. Our journey proper began at London Liverpool Street, exactly thirty years ago, and ended in Helsinki where we spent the most wonderful family holiday. My memories are a little patchy, but I was pleased to find that I could paint a pretty decent picture of the trip from a look back at my first attempt at a diary, a large collection of ephemera and some rather poor photographs. You can see the full story at The first trip, though this probably makes for a very dull read!

1984: The thrill of international travel

1984: The thrill of international travel

I have been lucky enough to make a few journeys by sleeper since then, some on scheduled services and others on specially chartered trains. Each journey has been completely different, yet none have ever lacked in the excitement of travel – whether it be the Caledonian Sleeper in familiar territory or one of the many sleepers working through the sometimes alien landscapes of China (until the massive investment in high speed rail and domestic air infrastructure starts to affect sleepers there too).

There are a few sleeper trains I would still like to try, such as the Night Riviera to Cornwall and the Krasnaya Strela (Red Arrow) which runs between Moscow and St Petersburg. However, if the opportunities slip by then I have at least got some good memories of travelling the slow way across countries and continents.


Home… just in time

Posted in Denmark, København by folkestonejack on May 16, 2010

In the afternoon I took a train from Helsingør to København Kastrup, figuring that it was better to be at the airport to get more information on what was happening – and be better placed to react.

On arrival I was relieved to see my flight was still showing as scheduled and my brother was helpfully updating me on the situation by text message. I had prepared a ‘Plan B’ in readiness which would have involved the overnight sleeper from København to Utrecht, a train from Utrecht to the Hoek of Holland, and then the ferry to Harwich. As it happened, I was very lucky and didn’t need to put that into operation. Passengers flying further north were not so fortunate.

In the end my flight with Norwegian took off on time and landed earlier than scheduled at Gatwick. British airspace closed about four hours after my return.

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Posted in Denmark, Helsingør by folkestonejack on May 16, 2010

A morning in Helsingør beckoned after I left the ferry…

I walked to Kronborg Castle on a rather haphazard route alongside a construction site. It’s pretty clear that Helsingør is undergoing a major transformation with the construction of a new maritime museum, a cultural centre and work on the harbour area – due for completion in 2012. The plans look amazing (take a look at Kulturområde Helsingør) and certainly worth the short term pain.

Kronborg Castle is an amazing sight by any yardstick and looks incredible from every angle on land or sea. I arrived before it opened and had an enjoyable walk along the coastal batteries and bastions before it was time to go in.

I’d certainly recommend the complete package – apartments, maritime museum, chapel, tower and casemates. It was all fascinating so it’s hard to pick out any stand out sights. The seven tapestries of Danish kings in the Royal apartments were one of many highlights from the visit, particularly with the clever details woven in to highlight the fate of each king.

After a few hours of reading and learning it was a welcome change to wander around the gloomy casemates at the end of the visit and find Holger the Dane!

Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

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Helsingborg to Helsingør

Posted in Denmark, Helsingør, Helsingborg, Sweden by folkestonejack on May 16, 2010

In theory, this was going to be the day I could switch to tourist-mode and take things at an easier pace. However, with the ash cloud from Eyjafjallajökull threatening to close British airspace today (for up to three days) the thought of what I might face later in the day was always lurking at the back of my mind.

I headed to the Knutpunkten, the combined bus-railway-ferry station at Helsingborg, and bought a ticket for the 8.40am crossing to Helsingør. All very straightforward. I made my way across the footbridge and onto the M/S Tycho Brahe for the 20 minute crossing.

As the journey was so short it’s hard to believe that anyone has much time to do anything on board. I headed up to one of the decks with outdoor viewing to get a good perspective of the journey and take a few photographs. It is a delightful way to arrive in Helsingør, particularly with the view that you get of Kronborg castle as you approach the Danish coast.

I have been on this crossing before, but under very different circumstances. In 1984 I travelled with my family by train and ferry from London Liverpool Street to Helsinki, which included a leg from København to Stockholm in daylight. At this time trains were shunted onto the ferry at Helsingør and were hauled off at Helsingborg before continuing on to Stockholm.

Today the only remaining signs that I could see at Helsingborg were the rails on the loading ramp. At Helsingør more seems to have survived – you can easily spot a spur off the København-Helsingør line which ends in a siding at the side of the road outside the station. The rails are still embedded in the road and carry on to a dead end at a fence, pointing directly towards the loading ramp.

My memories of this are somewhat confused as we made two crossings using trains that ran onto ferries during the trip (the other was Puttgarden to Rodby) however, I do vividly recall the excitement of hanging out of a window to watch as we made our way across the quayside and onto the ship (probably at Puttgarden), then climbing down from the carriage inside the ships and an all too brief look around inside the ships.

At the moment Helsingør is very much the end of the line, but maybe one day the proposed Helsingør-Helsingborg tunnel will get built and main line trains will return to make the crossing to Sweden…

London to Helsingborg

Posted in Denmark, Helsingborg, København, Sweden by folkestonejack on May 13, 2010

Another weekend, another country… and more locomotives!

I’m here to see Sweden’s first diesel gala, taking place in and around the Swedish Railway Museum at Ängelholm. The event is going to focus on the noisy GM diesels that I first encountered as a kid over 20 years ago, whilst travelling from Harwich to Helsinki by train and ferry. I acquired a soft spot for these diesels at that moment in time and haven’t lost that in the intervening years!

My early evening flight from London Gatwick to København Kastrup was delayed by about an hour, but as ever I immersed myself in a book (Life and fate by Vasily Grossman) and time passed. After arriving I caught a train from the airport to Helsingborg, crossing the incredibly impressive Öresund Bridge in the fading light. I finally made it to my hotel in Helsingborg by late evening.

Time for a good night’s sleep ahead of tomorrow’s early start…

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Aalborg and Lindholm Høje

Posted in Aalborg, Denmark by folkestonejack on May 24, 2009

After a good few days, it was time to say goodbye to Randers. I headed north on a train to Aalborg for a day’s sightseeing before heading back to England on flight with Norwegian (from Aalborg to London Gatwick). It was a fairly murky day weatherwise, so I think I was even luckier to get such a beautiful day yesterday for the open day and photo-charter.

Jens Bangs Stenhus

I had an interesting walk around Aalborg following a walking route from the tourist office leaflet ‘Good Old Aalborg’ which was an enjoyable way to explore the city and had its moments of fun as I tried to match up what I could see in front of me with the map in the leaflet. There had been some kind of carnival the night before and the streets were still awash with a sea of rubbish – everything from bottles to abandoned prams! I was rather taken with a crocodile sculpture which had been customised by the revellers…

Warsteiner - the beer of choice for crocodiles!

After a morning spent wandering (and sheltering from the occasional burst of rain) I took the train from Aalborg across the river to Lindholm. The walk from the station to Lindholm Høje was pleasant enough but the moment I reached the trees at the edge of the viking burial ground I was completely creeped out by hundred of crows squawking and filling the air with their black mass. It momentarily felt as though they were the guardians of the territory and I was intruding!

The burial ground was a fascinating place with plenty of information boards to explain the history of the ground, which contains over 700 graves. The associated museum helped put this into context with further explanations about viking settlement in the area. Well worth a visit.

The burial ground at Lindholm Høje

Once I completed my visit I took a different route out of the site, heading out on a footpath towards Aalborg airport. It was largely ok but did involve walking along a few roads without footpaths for one stretch. Once I’d made it to the airport I found a bench in the sun and settled down for a good read before getting on my flight home.

Photo charter: Viborg-Rønbjerg-Randers

Posted in Denmark, Randers by folkestonejack on May 23, 2009

After the day’s events I joined a Klub 40 photo charter with E991 from Viborg-Rønbjerg-Randers.

Our locomotive for the evening (E991) was built to a Swedish design by Frichs at Arhus in 1947 and had a relatively short spell hauling express trains as NOHAB GM diesels took over this work in the mid 1950s. This evening E991 was scheduled to run to Viborg to take passengers home from the day’s events and would then be used for the photo-charter.

The charter was scheduled to leave at 16:56 and was carefully timetabled to allow service trains to cross, giving us a good two hours of runpasts and photo stops via before arriving at Rønbjerg just before 7pm. Afterwards we could just sit back and relax with a tender first run back from Rønbjerg to Randers, arriving around 9pm.

I think luck was really on our side as the light was perfect and made for a wonderful evening of photography. Sometimes you go days trying to get one good shot whilst on other occasions, like today, you can rattle off several good shots within an hour or two. The rural scenery was a great backdrop for E991 and the steel mainline stock.

Open day at Randers

Posted in Denmark, Randers by folkestonejack on May 23, 2009

I made an early start to make the most of the DSB Museum’s open day at Randers. The focus of events was split between their roundhouse/shed and the line between Randers and Langa.

Throughout the day the line between Randers and Langa saw museum services hauled by a mix of steam, diesel and railcar, dovetailed between regular services. Additional steam and diesel services brought visitors to the event from Arhus and Viborg. A vintage bus service also ran between Randers and Langa. It was all quite affordable – it cost around £8 to visit the shed (including steam shuttles) and about £8 for a return ticket to Langa.

Steam locomotives E991, HV3 and F441 were in action (F441 operating shuttles between the station and the shed) as well as Nohab/GM diesel-electric locos and railcars.

I spent most of the day exploring the area rather than at the shed – following the footpaths that ran alongside the line to see which afforded the best views. I didn’t really set out with much of a plan on this occasion and just went with the flow. It was probably just as well – a more ambitious idea of travelling between vantage spots by bus might easily have unravelled as I discovered that the local bus services could (and did) run as much as ten minutes early at times!

Exploring Arhus

Posted in Arhus, Denmark by folkestonejack on May 22, 2009

After a quiet start to my trip it was great to arrive in Arhus this morning and see so much activity. Indeed, there was a bit of a buzz about the place with Queen Margrethe II in town to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Aarhus Art Museum (ARoS). The incredibly helpful tourist office at Arhus seemed keen to send me off in that direction, but instead I trod the even more well worn tourist path to Den Gamle By with its wonderful open-air museum of historical buildings.

I had great fun wandering around the old buildings, popping into the historic shops and sampling some delicious cakes in the bakery (I didn’t need much tempting!). I loved the waterfront section and the welled smack that was sitting on the riverside as if waiting to be launched for a day’s work transporting fish.

Welled smack at Den Gamle By

Afterwards, I headed out by bus to the Moesgård Museum south of Arhus with its fascvinating collection of archaeological finds and historic buildings. The museum includes the preserved remains of the Grauballe Man who was found in a peat bog in the 1950s which was a fascinating if odd sight, much more interesting than I might have expected from the deathly dull history lesson where I first learnt about the find many years ago. More fascinating still were the selection of sacrificial finds from a battle at Illerup Ådal which looked stunning in their own right but were all the more amazing when put into the context of the sheer scale of the finds.

I intended to follow up my visit to the museum with a walk along the four-kilometre path which leading from the manor house to the beach of Moesgård Strand (and then back again). However, I didn’t get to walk very far before the heavens opened and I quickly abandoned the walk in favour of shelter. Nevertheless, I still got to see some of the outdoor sights such as the Viking stave church – which perhaps looked even more stunning against a darkening sky.


After the rains eased I made a dash for the bus and headed back to the station. Naturally, I did keep an eye out for some of the older diesels and multiple units. I was therefore quite pleased to see one of the more historic lynette units in use on the Odderbanen between Arhus and Odder which had quite a bit of character in contrast to the relatively bland modern DSB IC3 units that I had used to travel to and from Randers.

Lynette unit at Arhus

All in all, a good day out with more than enough to see. The Arhus card was a great help in that respect covering bus transport, admission to the Moesgard Museum and discounted admission to Den Gamle By. I thought it was well worth the 119 DKK I paid.

Ascension Day in Denmark

Posted in Denmark, Randers by folkestonejack on May 21, 2009

An early morning flight from London Stansted delivered me to Arhus in Denmark for a short trip built around the Randers Open Day and a Photo Charter with a Danish steam locomotive (E991).

I was slightly surprised by the compact nature of the airport at Arhus, particularly queueing for passport control in an outside corridor before entering the terminal building! Still, it was good to arrive and after a bit of a wait I was relieved to see the bus to Randers appear. However, when I arrived I was quite surprised to see Randers looking as deserted as a ghost town…

I hadn’t realised that (a) it was ascension day, (b) that it was a public holiday celebrated in Denmark and (c) that consequently almost everywhere would be shut. Anyone who knows the depths of my homework before any trip will realise that this was a little embarassing. Never mind, if nothing else it was a good excuse to eat some chocolate bars – seeing as the newsagents was the only shop I could find open!

Although I hadn’t anticipated starting the trip on such a quiet day, I couldn’t really complain. The weather was superb and I was able to have a good walk around town and soak up the calm atmosphere of the wetlands at Vorup Enge. I was also delighted with my choice of hotel – the Scandic – which gave me a great view across the town from the hillside.

A view across Randers from the Scandic