Sand dune eats lighthouse

Denmark’s destructive ‘Sahara’

Denmark is pretty deserving of its reputation as a neat, orderly place.

So it’s a surprise to discover a sand dune the size of a small desert roaming around the countryside unchecked, destroying farmhouses, churches, roads and anything else that gets in its way.

Covering an area of 1.5 square kilometers and containing 3.5 million cubic meters of sand, Raabjerg Mile is the largest migratory dune in northern Europe.

The lighthouse was switched off in 1968 and converted into a museum. That had to be abandoned in 2002, by which time staff were serving ice cream to visitors out of a first floor window.

“Every time I come up here it is different. It is a fascinating landscape,” says local guide Jakob Nielsen, pointing at the streaks of sand and clay in the cliff face. Most of the erosion is caused by winter storms, which wash away the clay and loosen the sand, uncovering an archaeological cross-section of human history.

Abandoned villages – By then Denmark had been plagued for centuries by sand drifts that destroyed farmlands, buried buildings and forced villages to be abandoned.

“It is to be feared that the whole of North Jutland will be covered with sand and virtually laid waste,” a city official in Aalborg wrote in 1726.

In the 19th century, the government finally took steps to tame the dunes, planting millions of trees and shrubs to check their movement. But Raabjerg Mile was left to roam as an active reminder of how the landscape had been.

Since then it has continued to move northeastward at an average rate of about 15 meters a year, covering nearly five kilometers since measurements of its movement began.

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