Why did the dinosaurs have to die? They disappeared a long time ago, so nobody knows for sure and it’s still being researched, but a little-known coastal stretch in Denmark might have something to do with it. The coastal cliffs of Stevns Klint provided the researchers with a clue what kind of catastrophe to search for.
Our excursion to Stevns Klint was a coincidence due to corona-induced changes of travel plans (without Corona we should have been in Japan on a guidebook research trip) rather than a specific interest in dinosaur related sites.
Cycling through Denmark
So instead we took the bicycles for a ride through Denmark and first spent a day at Møns Klint, an impressive white cliff formation looking out onto the Baltic Sea. The Møns cliffs are part of the same chalk formation as the White Cliffs of Rügen in Germany, and a popular tourist attraction with a visitor centre and a number of walkways and hiking courses.
It is not the cliffs of Møns Klint, however, that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but the smaller ones at Stevns Klint a bit further north. We stop in the area on our way to Copenhagen where we want to spend a few days sightseeing. But first we are in for another full day of exploring the coast.
The Trampesti hiking path
The chalk cliffs of Stevns Klint lead all the way along the eastern coast of the peninsula. We had read about a 22 km hiking path, the Trampesti trail, starting in Rødvig and following the coast line. However, the bad weather and the lack of bus connections (3 per day) let us decide against the hiking. With our bicycles, we are more flexible to visit the major sights and walk some short stretches along the cliffs, with the option to quit if the rain gets too bad.
The narrow beach below the cliffs is covered in large pebbles and small rocks. In some places, the sea laps onto the cliffs and we have to step over some larger rocks to avoid getting wet feet. If all the 22 km of the Trampesti trail are like this, we wonder, that would make it a rather strenuous day hike. Nevertheless, hiking along the seashore is pleasant enough and thanks to the particularly rainy weather forecast we are all alone with the famous cliffs. About 3or 4 m of chalk rise above us, interspersed with narrow bands of shiny black flintstone. Above that, we can make out a thin line that seems to be grey.
66 million year old clay
And these few centimetres’ worth of grey clay is the reason for Stevns Klint’s geological importance for the dinosaur scientists. That layer of grey clay dates back 66 million years – to the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs – and although it exists everywhere on earth, it is rarely so approachable. The grey layer is the remains of huge ash clouds that must have covered the earth for decades (blocking the light and causing a cold period). And it contains enormous amounts of iridium, an element rarely present on earth, but often in meteorites.
From these findings, scientists could figure out that there must have been a huge meteorite (or perhaps several) hitting the earth at the time of the dinosaurs, causing earthquakes, tsunamis and volcano eruptions and eventually leading to the death of about half the species then living on earth. The meteorite’s crater, Chicxulub, was eventually found in Yucatan, Mexico – it has a diameter of about 180 km.
So, is the grey band we see the ash that killed the dinosaurs? But didn’t the leaflets say that you don’t get close enough to see it except from a boat?
Only when we take a trail leading up to the top of the cliffs in order to see the remains of an old limestone quarry, we realise that the Trampesti trail had been signpost above the cliffs all along: A wide strolling path over the meadows and fields – only by walking the “unofficial” route below we got to see the clay band.
We think of other dinosaur sites and museums we have visited around the world, like the Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Fukui/ Japan. And as always we are impressed by the enormous age of these things. In Egypt, for instance, we have seen whale skeletons 55 Million years old in the Wadi Al-Hitan. And in fact, those were also a kind of dinosaurs, still having hind legs instead of fins.
The Cold War and a crumbling church
Following that trail a little further, we come across a Cold War fortress. From underground bunkers, Danish reconnaissance officers controled the ship traffic in the Øresund. The NATO fortress was in use until the year 2000. It is possible to get inside the bunkers with a guided tour (which we did not take).
Later, we cycle a bit further to visit a cute lighthouse and the old church of Højerup. The church stands so near the cliff that in 1928 the choir room broke off and fell into the sea. Thank god, the locals had seen it coming and had already built a new church farther inland.
We were luckier that day: the rain didn’t get as bad as expected (and as most days during our Denmark trip). On the contrary, the sun came out and we could even take off the raingear for a while.
Is Stevns Klint worth a visit?
The cliffs at Møns Klint are definitely the more impressive and more visited ones. If you are not specifically collecting UNESCO sites or are very much interested in dinosaur stuff (or the Cold War), you may want to skip the area. However it was nice enough to spend some time there.
How to get to Stevns Klint by public transport
The nearest town is Rødvig, which is easily reaches by bus or train. From there you can walk or take a bus (not very frequent) or do a combination of both. Another option to explore the area is to rent a bicyle. It is also possible to drop it off at a different place.
Note: We were not sponsored on this trip in any way; we paid and organised everything by ourselves.
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