Stevns Klint (Stevns Cliff) and the Danish Dinosaurs

On the chalk cliffs of Møns Klint, Denmark
On the chalk cliffs of Møns Klint

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.

The Danish coastline at Stevns Klint
The Danish coastline at Stevns Klint

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.

Below the cliffs of Stevns Klint

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.

Below the cliffs of Stevns Klint

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.

Below the cliffs of Stevns Klint

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

Remnants of the Cold War at the Koldkriegsmuseum Stevnsfort, Denmark

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).

The church of Højerup half fallen off the cliff
The church of Højerup half fallen off the cliff

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.

The lighthouse of Stevns Fyr, Denmark

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

Boats in Rødvig harbour, Denmark

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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  1. Fantastic! I never knew White Cliffs existed in Denmark and Germany – we know it to be only in England! I have been to Denmark but did not explore this part of it. The cold war fortress and the lighthouse add to the adventure. I would love to visit this place some day. 🙂

  2. What an interesting place to visit in Denmark. It’s so fascinating to read not just about the connection with the dinosaurs, but to also discover the cold war site there too. These cliffs are really new to me, but now I’d like to visit and experience this history up close.

    1. Dear Lisa, actually there are some more impressive cliffs nearby, the Moens cliffs. So, if you are interested in the geological foramtions I would actually suggest to see these.

  3. Woah, that note about the choir of the church breaking off and falling into the sea is crazy! I’m glad you got to see some sun and weren’t stuck in the rain the entire time, the grey cliffs are beautiful and the beach is a lovely sight to behold!

  4. The cold war fortress is something different – I definitely would love to explore that. I did not know of the UNESCO tag to these cliffs but with your journey have realized the importance of it. 66 million year old sand here and dating back to dino age – that definitely peaks my interest. I sure would have loved to do the NATO fortress too. A really nice read

  5. I guess a positive thing of having to cancel your Japan trip is that you get to discover these amazing cliffs and their story. I can’t even imagine how devastating the meteorite aftermath was, if the crater is in Mexico but Denmark was also covered with ash. It’s hard to imagine how the world practically had to start over after that. I have seen white cliffs before, in England, but never that grey line that is 66 million years old. What a sight that must be, thinking that you are walking underneath so many years of erosion, under cliffs that have witnesses the footsteps of dinosaurs.

    1. Dear Joanna, I have been to the White cliffs in England too. I guess the grey line is there too – but maybe it is not visible (under the ground?) or it already eroded? It seems that Stevns Klint is the only place so far, where you can see it.

  6. I’ve always found the subject of dinosaurs interesting and could often be found in Lyme Regis in Dorset looking for fossils and dinosaur remains! I hadn’t heard of this Danish site. What a spot of luck you accidentally took the unofficial trail and could stand next to the clay layers of the cliff. It’s hard to comprehend that something can be so old! Did you see any ammonites present in the clay?

    1. Dear Angela, unfortunately not. Going to Lyme Regis for an Amonite tour is on my to do list, since the first time I went to Britain (more than 30 years ago). Back then I spent a few days in London and went to Cornwall.

  7. In the event that I ever visit Denmark, I won’t forget to visit this fantastic location. Big pebble coastlines make for strenuous walk, but when you reach the iconic cliffs, the effort is worthwhile. I’m also thrilled about climbing to the top of the ancient Højerup church and taking in the splendid view.

  8. A bike trip in Denmark sounds like a great way to survive the pandemic. Especially when you visited places like Mons Kline. But interesting to read it is not these larger cliffs but the cliffs at Mons Klint that made the UNESCO list. I would certainly want to see signs of the grey ash that killed the dinosaurs. But I would probably be looking for a boat tour and not a bike tour. Certainly another UNESCO site for our list.

  9. This is such a cool interest in dinosaurs, Cold war and Unesco sites that leads you to different places for exploration. I was not aware until I read this post of the existence of white cliffs in Denmark and even associated to an event of dinosaur extinction is incredible. I would wish to visit the lighthouse there though it does sound not very safe.

    1. Dear Adele, there is no need to worry for safety I would say. The church broke away a long time ago. I think they are monitoring the cliffs today and will fence off everything if they suspect unstable rock formations.

  10. Interesting to learn about the 66 million years Grey Clay and the possible reasons for extinction of Dinosaurs from earth. The Møns Klint cliff looks amazing and such a pretty view from there. The lighthouse and the old church of Højerup would be interesting to visit as well.

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