For centuries the coastal population earned their keep primarily from agriculture, trade, fishing and hunting. Fishing and agriculture were perfectly matched seasonal activities - at those times of the year when there was little to do in the fields, the men went fishing.
The waters of the Jammerbugt claimed the lives of many. Along the coast, where the current is often strong and the west wind blows ships towards the coast, shipwrecks were common. Even the name "Jammerbugten" (the creek of wretchedness) refers to the many who died here.
From about 1852 and onward, primitive lifeboat stations were established all the way up the coast. The stations were painted in red and white and had swallow-tailed flags; they were manned by locals with knowledge of prevailing sea conditions. A team was set up that was responsible for salvaging the cargo from wrecked vessels and this was often well paid work. In a "good" year, it could be more profitable than fishing. The local population is reputed to have taken every available opportunity to recover shipwrecked cargo before those responsible for salvage could get to it. By law, salvaged cargo was to be auctioned and the profits went to the public purse.
A municipal charter gave the towns an almost total monopoly of trade. Coastal dwellers were, however, in 1686 accorded regal permission to use small vessels and shipping boats for trade and to land between Klitmøller and Løkken. This privilege was granted because there was a lack of timber locally. Timber was readily available in Norway where the local population stood in need of grain and agricultural products which the population of Vendsyssel and Thy was able to supply them with. This trade brought money and employment to the region. As well as this sea-fairing trade, the merchants also ran stores which often had a high turnover. Many of the numerous smallholders who sold their produce purchased goods from the merchant as well. The merchant's store also functioned as an inn where food and drink and a bed for the night were available.
You can still see such merchant stores in Løkken and Blokhus, among other places. Several of them have been transformed into hotels. In the countryside, a number of such buildings from which trade took place still remain today. Most of the warehouses, which were typically built among the dunes, have been torn down or used for other purposes.
This coastal trade reached its apogee in the mid 19th century. After 1871, trade was concentrated further inland, and the coastal trade gradually declined in importance. In many areas, fishing became the motor of the local economy.
In the first half of the 19th century, strangers started to arrive in these coastal areas. The first travelers to this remote corner of Denmark, which both geographically and psychologically was a long way from Copenhagen, were artists such as writers and painters, and their accounts of what they found brought others following in their footsteps. The most famous of these are the painters who visited Skagen, and who captured in their pictures, the life of the local population, but various artists have found a berth along the entire coast.
In the latter part of the 19th century, doctors were of the opinion that fresh sea air had a positive effect on the health. Epidemics were common in towns and hygiene was poor; both factors which contributed to a high mortality rate.
The received opinion was that urban air was bad for the health and for this reason the wealthy part of the urban population began to spend their summers in the country – following the artists into Northern Jutland. However, it was not just Danes who held their holidays by the coast, there was also an influx of foreigners. Travelling to the beaches was accepted in certain circles.
At first, it was the fresh sea air that attracted visitors but in the second half of the 19th century, sea bathing became more and more accepted. At the beginning, it was only the summer visitors who bathed, whilst the local population looked on in bewilderment. They had learned to respect the sea from an early age, and were used to enjoying no more than fresh air whilst dinner was being eaten, though they did allow their children to dip their feet in the shallows.
Suntans were not fashionable and you could rent specially manufactured curved chairs at the beach where you could shelter from the sun whilst chatting. Bathing huts were also instituted where bathers could change their clothes before and after their dips. Initially, the bathing huts had wheels and were drawn out to sea, but as more and more guests arrived the fashion changed to one for stationary changing facilities on shore. Bathing huts were an established part of beach culture, and coastal hotels had their own bathing huts for their guests. In some places, a small charge was levied for use of the bathing huts and bathing costumes could also be rented. An elderly woman or a couple would usually be given the job of rinsing bathing gear and hanging it to dry, ready for the next visitor.
For holidaying at the Danish coast does not encourage the ticking off of innumerable lists. On the contrary, it is holidaying where lists are binned and replaced by exploration.
The Vikings, who dominated Scandinavia from the 700s until 1042, were the forebears of the robust, hard-working, seafaring nation of Denmark.