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Widen your horizons

Why I hit the beach to beat the winter blues?

Photographs: Lindsey Scaife / Catriona Turner

Text: Catriona Turner

I’ve realised I need more horizons in my life. Literally.

Metaphorically, sure, my horizons are pretty broad. The world is my Wadden Sea oyster.

But I literally cannot see the horizon from where I live. Our inland Esbjerg suburb hunkers low to the ground. The bungalows, with low roofs, are interspersed with green areas, and cushioning grassy mounds that conceal the busy roads beyond. The surrounding bike paths are softened by woodland and a canopy of foliage. It’s certainly a comfortable and hyggelig neighbourhood.

What I’m suffering from this winter is not just lack of light, but the lack of an open outlook.

The winter blues

When I’m looking for a remedy to the Danish winter blues, though, taking the prescribed walk along those paths is no longer enough. Denmark’s flatness is partly to blame, and it’s taken a lot of getting used to for someone from hilly Scotland. What I’m suffering from this winter is not just lack of light, but the lack of an open outlook. Even at my most indoorsy moments, I like to have that connection to the world beyond. So sometimes I need to leave our suburban hobbit-hole and break away from the Shire for an adventure.

Discovering danish beaches

Luckily for me, Esbjerg is on the West Jutland coast, where the beaches are vast, wide, and breezy, and the horizon is everywhere!

On a clear winter’s morning, when I need a serotonin hit, I turn away from the school drop-off and drive west, the familiar skyline of platform jack-up legs and the power plant chimney in my sights – still lit up, if it’s early enough. I stop in the empty car park beside Mennesket ved Havet (Man Meets the Sea – Esbjerg’s iconic sculpture).

In the car, I still have that foggy feeling – you know the one. The feeling of having had to get up in the dark, in a closed-up, too-warm house, of being not quite ready for the day, and being weighed down by too many woolly layers.

As I walk down to the sand, the perspective is boundless. I can immerse myself in the fresher-than-fresh cold sea air, and my grumpy mood is washed away. I’m invigorated by the closeness of the industrial harbour’s dramatic skyline to the natural haven of the Wadden Sea and the beach. Plovers along the shoreline have their own industrious concerns, pecking for shellfish at the water’s edge, and they scurry along to pick off another stretch as I get closer. I relish being at the edge of the land, open to the elements, all overlooked by the iconic white statues.

Honestly, the beach on summer days? With sticky ice-cream and sand-filled picnics and bikini-body torment and UV protection? You can keep it.

I’ll take this beach on a cold winter morning. A beach in winter is so much more dramatic: the surf, the skies, frost on driftwood, the contrast of solid ice, and shifting sand. My northern soul and my mental health are soothed.

This is just the closest beach to us, but there’s even more of this dramatic refuge along the coast: at Fanø , Blåvand, or Vejers, with more wilderness to enjoy; an even greater escape.

Finding your happy place

Maybe it’s what you need, too, if you’re feeling the winter blues in wooded suburbs or city canyons – that horizon. There are more than just west coast beaches, of course, around the 7,400km of Danish coastline.

For many, the appeal of the beach is the water itself, its gentle slapping rhythm against the sand, and the fluidity of it, creating calm and inspiring creativity. But look up too, for the light, and the open outlook, and the horizon.

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