Covering an area of over 5,600 hectares and dating back over 10,000 years, Gribskov is Denmark's fourth-largest and its oldest large forest.
Almost the entire eastern part borders Esrum Sø and, with the lake, the forested ridge forms the core of the area of North Zealand between Tisvilde Hegn to the west and Øresund to the east, which is so rich in forests and lakes.
Today, the method of forestry is natural; however, Gribskov is still characterized by the fact that many generations have planted and cared for trees in uniform stocks.
Read more on the Danish state-owned forests
Gribskov is situated on a layer of chalk with a several-metres-thick cover of gravel and clay, which has deposited by glaciers through several million years of shifting ice ages where the ice moved back and forth.
When Denmark became free of ice after the latest ice age some 13,000 years ago, the glacier, Bæltehavsgletsjeren, which remained for hundreds of years in the southern part of the present Gribskov, left a system of lateral moraines with parallel crests and valleys. The elongated ridge and Esrum Sø are clear examples and you get an impression of this original landscape in the hilly area of Ulvedalssletterne at Sandskredssøen. Smørstenen is the largest of the four erratic boulders brought here by the ice
Not long after the ice cover of the latest ice age had gone, dryas - whose Latin name gave name to the Dryas period - settled in together with bog whortleberries, crowberries, grey-leaf willows and dwarf birches. Gradually, mosses also appeared, which transformed some of the water holes into peat bogs, and later came the juniper and the willow. These fed reindeer which attracted the first nomadic people.
The climate became warmer, and white birch, Scotch pine and hazel made Gribskov so tall and dense that more and more animal species made it their home. The hunter-gatherers lived along the brackish coastal meadows where they caught fish with spears and fish traps. They got meat and skins by hunting mammals such as aurochs, red deer, roe deer, wild boars, beavers, wolves, bears, badgers, otters, feral cats and lynx.
Around 6,000 years ago, oak and hazel spread at the expense of elm and linden. A couple of thousand years later, at the end of the Bronze Age some 3,000-3,500 years ago, the beech followed and later became the dominant species. This was probably because humans had begun to affect the landscape, but also because of climate change.
The first people
We know for certain that people lived in Gribskov during the Hunter-gatherer Stone Age of 8,800-11,000 years ago, in what is called the Maglemose culture.
Ancient flint relics and other evidence of this have been found amongst others south of Dronningens Bøge at Esrum Sø, at Maglemosen, at Nødebo, in Pøleådalen adjacent to Rankeskov and at Strødam Engsø.
Around 5,900-7,400 years ago - during the what is known as Ertebøl culture - people settled here and hunted in Gribskov, at Søborg Sø and in Esrum Ådal. During the Neolithic period some 4,800-5,900 years ago, forest was cleared in order for wheat and barley to be grown and domestic animals were kept.
They settled especially in the lush landscape between Gadevang and Kagerup, where there are several large burial sites, amongst others the megalithic tomb Mor Gribs Hule south of Enghavehus, a large stone tomb on Bjergmandens Bakke south of Kageruphus, and an elongated burial mound with a stone cist just inside the fenced, wooded area at Gadevang By.
Mor Gribs Hule
Mor Gribs Hule, sometimes also called Mutter Gribs Hule, is an approximately 5,000-year-old burial site from the Neolithic period (the funnel beaker culture) and it is Gribskov's best preserved megalithic tomb and finest ancient monument.
It is located just opposite the car park at Helsingevej and a little north of Gadevang.
It has been restored and exposed, so that you may view the structure: An originally 5-metres-tall and 2.7-metres-long burial chamber surrounded by stones that are 16 metres tall. The 4.5-metre-long and half-metre-wide entrance leading into the burial chamber is flanked by 13 other metre-tall stones.
A ceiling of capstones was previously placed on top of these 29 stones and the entire structure was protected by a mound of earth; however, the capstones have gone, and the uprights had begun to lean inward when the megalithic tomb was restored in 1999.
No-one knows who is buried there, but it is not Mor Grib, that is for sure.
She is a legendary figure who, according to folklore, lived in the megalithic tomb with her six sons. She lured astray people whom she met in the woods and, with a whistle, summoned her sons who plundered the victim.
Not far from Mor Gribs Hule, on a hill some 41 metres tall west of Helsingevej on the way out of the forest at Kagerup, lies the remains of another great ancient grave. It is a megalithic structure, that is a monumental grave made from large rocks and it has a circular wall of a 25-metre diameter.
The mound is called Bjergmandens Bakke (“the Mountain Man's Hill”) and, according to folklore, a man lived inside the mound hundreds of years ago. He watched over a buried treasure which could only be dug out at midnight on one particular night. You were not permitted to talk while digging.
At the car park at Hjorteljung on Gillelejevejen near Ostrup is a typical Bronze Age mound, Attehøj, which is also known as Hjorteljung. It is scheduled as a monument and has never been opened, so its age is uncertain; however, in this area of lush farmland near Esrum Sø there are especially many domed mounds situated on high ground, a feature typical of the Bronze Age and, therefore, it is considered to be a Bronze Age burial mound.
In those types of mounds, the people who lived in the local community are buried. They are wrapped in blankets, laid in hollowed-out oak trunks and have been given jewellery, weapons and food for the journey.
Stone Age Monuments
You may find many ancient monuments from the Stone Age, where ancient people used stones weighing up to 20 tonnes for building tombs. Just inside the fence around the woods north of Gadevang By, there is an elongated burial mound with a stone cist and, in the forest just north of Kagerup, there is a smaller, broken stone cist, a dolmen and a somewhat careworn megalithic tomb with a very old crab tree growing on it.
Near Mårum Station, there are two dolmens in Tinghus Plantage and one in Kistrup Kobbel. In Sibberup Vang, there is a stone circle near the northern Gribskov fence. West and southwest of Smørstenen, the large erratic boulder a kilometre northwest of the Forest and Landscape College in Nødebo, there are two dolmens and, in Stenholt Vang in the southernmost part of Gribskov, there is a large long dolmen.
Bronze Age Monuments
The majority of Bronze Age burial mounds in Gribskov are located in the north-eastern part where there are views of Esrum Sø, such as south of Kalvehavevej in Gravervang. The Bronze Age burial mounds are often found on elevated areas of the landscape with far-reaching views.
The Iron Age
The most spectacular Iron Age finding in Gribskov is on display in the National Museum of Denmark. It is a gold treasure from the latter part of the Iron Age which was found in the soil west of Stenholthus in Stenholt Vang in 1836.
Three men were digging holes for planting when, at a depth of approximately 60 centimetres, they found 12 round gold pendants, known as bracteates, on the one side of which pictures of a horse and rider were stamped, probably Odin, four gold beads and three golden spiral rings. In addition to receiving handsome rewards, the finders were permitted to keep the golden rings because so many of these had already been found.
In 1886, south of Strødam on the lands of Sophienborg, the remains of a cauldron from the pre-Roman Iron Age was found in a bog. On the outside, it was decorated with bulls and human faces. Cauldrons were used as urns and for sacrifices. In 2002, also on the lands of Sophienholm, a settlement from around 0 AD was found as well as a settlement from the Germanic Stone Age.
The history of Gribskov
In Gribskov, we find lots of traces of our ancestors, from megalithic tombs to lost villages which testify to the colourful history of the forest.
The power of the abbey and the King
Gribskov is characterized by the fact that first Esrum Abbey and, after the Reformation, the crown and - since 1848 – the State have owned and managed most of the land. Albeit with varying purposes.
Forests have been cleared, stone walls have been built, roads for hunting have been constructed, dam have been built and canals and ditches have been dug to dry out the bogs. And, for the last many years, efforts have been made to restore the original nature.
Even during the Viking Age and the early Middle Ages, large parts of North Zealand were crown lands or royal property and, in 1151, the Cistercian order founded Esrum Abbey in the northern part of Gribskov on a plot of land which the Archbishop of Lund was given by the King.
The lands of Augustine monks on Æbelholt Abbey was located west of Gribskov - and reached into the forest.
During the next four-hundred years, the lands of Esrum Abbey increased. Nobility and landowners conveyed farms and entire villages, for example Nødebo, to the abbey, and the friars were obliged to undertake farming, often as large-scale farming from a single farm, while other farms were decommissioned.
From around 1300 AD, the peasants became copyholders instead and had to pay manorial duties in kind and perform villeinage for the monastery, especially during the seasons of sowing and harvesting. Huge amounts of timber were cut in the woods to build and expand Esrum Abbey, which also had a great need for firewood. However, the abbey also used the forest for grazing, hay harvesting and the cultivation of grain in fenced-off fields.
After the Reformation in 1536, the lands of the monasteries were surrendered to the crown. As far as Esrum Abbey was concerned, it only happened in 1559, the year of the coronation of Frederik the 2nd.
In order to gather lands into large cohesive properties, he exchanged properties with the local nobility, including Herluf Trolle at Hillerødsholm, which the King converted to the first Frederiksborg Castle. He also built Kronborg from reused stones from the torn-down Esrum Abbey. The large plots of land were to keep the court in food, firewood and timber, in horses through stud farming and, not least, secure hunting grounds for the King in the so-called game preserves and large, fenced deer parks.
Christian the 4th was even more enthused with North Zealand than his father. He demolished his father's Frederiksborg Castle and rebuilt it as the largest Nordic renaissance construction and expanded the stud farming.
For him and his successors, Gribskov was both the recreational area where they hunted as well as a source of income and, in the mid-1700s, the purpose of the management of the King's lands was changed again.
Now, supplying the country with timber became important and the clear division between agriculture and forestry, which characterizes the landscape today, was introduced in order to make timber production more efficient. This continued when, in 1849, the crown lands were surrendered to the state the year after the signing of the constitution. Today, the possibility of nature experiences and activities in the forest are also a priority.
Par force hunting
Since the Middle Ages, the North Zealand forests have been the hunting grounds of the Kings and the areas have been very rich in wildlife.
Frederik the 2nd (1559-88): When the King took possession of Esrum Abbey, after the Reformation in 1536, he prohibited anything that could harm the wildlife ensuring that he himself could hunt everything from deer to swans. Through the exchange of lands with the surrounding estates, he formed large continuous game preserves, amongst others Hillerødsholm, whose main buildings he converted to Frederiksborg Castle. It was later torn down and restored by his son, Christian the 4th.
Christian the 4th (1588-1648): Like his ancestors, Christian the 4th also loved hunting and fenced more deer park to which access was strictly forbidden for locals. The King hunted so much that the game population began to decrease.
Frederik the 3rd (1648-70): To strengthen the game population, Frederik the 3rd therefore introduced strict penalties for poaching. He also preserved the game, in the first instance entirely for a period of three years and subsequently every year during March-July.
Christian the 5th (1670-99): At 16 years of age, Christian the 5th was sent on a grand tour in France where he was introduced to par force hunting at the court of Le Roi Soleil Louis XIV (1638-1715). He brought this form of hunting to Denmark.
Par force hunting means that a specific red deer is pursued by hunters on horseback accompanied by barking dogs and blaring bugles, until the deer is so exhausted that the hunter or honorary guest can give it the coup de grace with a short hunting sword, known as a “hirschfænger”.
In 1685, the King began to copy the system of hunting roads he had come to know in France: straight roads were constructed which met in a large crossroad. The hunters would drive the prey to this crossroad from where the hunting company could follow the drama while positioned on a mound at the centre of the crossroad. The first par force hunting roads were constructed in Hareskovene, Store Dyrehave and Jægersborg Dyrehave.
In 1691, it was Gribskov’s turn and the centre-point was Ottevejskrydset in the middle of the forest, where eight hunting roads meet.
96.5 km of hunting roads with accompanying bridges and dams were constructed in Gribskov and Store Dyrehave alone but, the year the work was completed, Christian the 5th died of injuries sustained when being kicked by a red deer during a par force hunt in Jægersborg Dyrehave the previous summer.
This form of hunting was abolished in 1777; however, the hunting paths are still there and have, today, been designated UNESCO World Heritage.
During the Renaissance, riding horses – second only to herring - were Denmark's largest export product and Esrum Abbey was a stud farm.
When the crown took possession of the monasteries after the Reformation, the King centralised the royal stud farming around Frederiksborg and Esrum.
Christian the 4th (1588-1648) really accelerated the breeding. He bought stud horses abroad himself and received others as gifts; for example, at his coronation, he was given two beautiful Spanish stallions by the Dutch Duke Albrecht.
In 1599, Christian the 4th built a stable with room for 300 horses; however, in the summers they grazed in the fenced fields in so-called studs. These consisted of a stallion and 12-18 mares, divided by colour - the white ones were the most precious. The fences were to prevent the colours from being mixed.
The fields were usually named after the stallion, for example, Fændrik Vang (“Standard Bearer Field”) with dappled horses, Tumler or Tumlinge Vang (“Toddler Field”) with brown horses. 11 of the stone-fenced fields were located in Gribskov, six of these along the western shore of Esrum Sø, were located along the western shore of Esrum Sø where a mile-long edge of the forest was set aside for them.
Each field had a field man who looked after the horses and lived in a house by the field.
The present Pibervang was restored in 1987 and, although the horses grazing there today are not Frederiksborgheste, the landscape looks like it did 400 years ago.
The Frederiksborg horses became known throughout Europe, and especially Frederik the 4th (1699-1730), Christian the 4th (1730-46) and Frederik the 5th (1746-66) donated teams of horses potentially worth millions of Danish kroner in today’s kroner to other kings and princes.
In 1734, for example, Louis XII of France received eight red, eight black and eight black-brown stallions, nine riding horses and one "knave’s horse". When the stud farming was at its apex in the late 1700s, it comprised 771 horses and an unknown number of foals.
The statue of the mounted Frederik the 5th in the palace square of Amalienborg Castle shows the ideal of the Frederiksborg horse. The French sculptor Saly, who took 18 years to create the work, used features from 12 different horses. The statue was erected in 1771 cost more than the actual mansions.
At the same time, Struense (physician-in-ordinary to the King) halved the stud farming which was already in decline due to inbreeding, inherited weaknesses and disease. In 1840, Christian the 8th (1839-1848) signed the death warrant of more than 300 years of stud farming at the Royal Frederikborg Stud Farm.
Villages and farms
Tibberup, Ostrup, Kistrup, Skallerød, Stenholt and Kragedal are some of the 40-50 villages and farms which disappeared from Gribskov before the 19th century, but whose names are preserved. However, Kragedal is today called Krogdalsvang.
Already in the Hunter-Gatherer Stone Age, 8,800-11,000 years ago, people lived here and, during in the Bronze Age, 4,800-5,900 years ago, they cleared the forest to grow wheat and barley and they kept livestock.
During the Viking Age (about 800-1050 AD) almost one-tenth of the forest was cleared. The forest farmers used tools such as first the primitive “ard”, which is a powerful wooden harrow tine, then the mould board plough, which turned the upmost layer of soil and was drawn by at least two bullocks. And, finally, the wheel plough. Gradually, the cultivated landscape became characterised by high-backed fields, which may still be seen, in amongst other places, near Esrum and Ostrup.
From the end of the Viking Age until the early Middle Ages, a large number of farms and villages grew in the woods - they received names ending in “- torp”, “-rød” or “-rup” and “-holt”, all of which mean clearing - and their destinies may be followed through the records of the Middle Ages, including the Manorial Court Roll of Valdemar Sejr from 1231. Part of it was passed on to the nobility who, in turn, gave portions of it to Esrum Abbey in return for the monks praying for them.
Some of the farms were decommissioned to allow for large-scale farming and the other farmers had to pay manorial dues, an annual payment in kind for use of the land, to the monasteries and were to also carry out villeinage.
After the Reformation in 1536, the King took over the copyhold farming. The peasants supplemented the yield from the lean fields with peat-digging, charcoal-burning and cattle-, sheep- and pig grazing.
Both Christian the 3rd (1534-59) and Frederik the 2nd (1559-88), who used Gribskov for hunting and stud farming, saw an advantage in having single farms and villages located around the forest, so only Krogsdal was decommissioned, while the remaining 30 were preserved.
However, in 1608, Christian the 4th (1588-1648) decommissioned a series of farms along Esrum Sø to use the land for stud farming and when the royal cavalry moved into Esrum Abbey, Frederik the 4th (1699-1730) abolished two villages and decommissioned four farms during 1715-20 to obtain land for grazing the horses.
Following the enclosure movement due to the land reforms of the late 1700s, the farmers were expropriated, the last village, Trustrup, was abolished. Those houses and farms located in the forest that could not be used by the silviculture were demolished, apart from two small houses in which two old wives were allowed to continue to live until their respective deaths in the early 1800s.
A memorial has been erected honouring Niels Jensen, who lived at his farm in Trustrup from 1762-90, as one of the last farmers in the village.
The charcoal burners
The charcoal burners are inextricably linked with North Zealand and Gribskov where at least 10 locations contain traces of the so-called charcoal stacks where wood was burned into charcoal.
The charcoal burning was done by packing wood tightly in a round bunch with flues underneath, covering it with soil and carbon dust from previous burnings, putting it on fire and letting it burn slowly for several days by adjusting the oxygen supply. It was then allowed to cool, and you then had a stack of charcoal that could provide a constant temperature of more than 1,000 degrees.
You can still find residues of carbon dust in the soil at the charcoal stacks and, at the best-preserved trace of a charcoal stack in Gammelvang, some of the trees have black growth rings.
Already in the Bronze Age, 3,700-2,500 years ago, charcoal was used in forges and charcoal was burned in stacks up to and immediately after the occupation when there was a shortage of coal.
In 1535, Christian the 3rd (1534-59) requested that the abbeys of Esrum and Æbelholt each delivered 20 stacks of coal to the mintmaster of Roskilde and Frederik the 2nd (1559-88) demanded a supply of charcoal for both the minting of coinage and the milling of powder.
In 1764, 66,804 barrels of charcoal were used in Copenhagen, after which consumption fell.
In Gribskov, charcoal burning was a supplementary business for the peasants. They took the coal to Copenhagen, some on horse-drawn carriages drawn by horses, which were the result of the peasants having illegally let their mares into the fields to be covered by the King's Frederiksborgheste during the stud farming period.
Every year, on the second Saturday of July, the Maarum Kulsvierlaug (“Maarum Charcoal Burner’s Association”) in collaboration with the Nature Agency demonstrate how charcoal burning is carried out.
read more at maarumkulsvierlaug.dk (in Danish)
The history of the water
The eastern border of Gribskov lies along the western bank of Denmark's second largest lake, Esrum Sø. Before the 19th century, one-fifth of the forested area was covered by at least 1,500 bogs and wet meadows, there were lots of springs and far more lakes than today.
Already during the 1570s, Frederik the 2nd (1558-88) had an 8.5-km-long canal dug from Store Gribsø to Frederiksborg Castle to supply the castle lake with water.
The Canal of Frederik the 2nd occasionally still carries water for about 3 km, especially near Store Gribsø.
Dams were also built to create fish ponds and millponds.
In 1802, the excavation of the 9-km-long Esrum Canal between Esrum Sø and Dronningemølle was begun which was used to ship firewood from the forest to Øresund, from where it was shipped to Copenhagen. At the same time, the digging of ditches was begun so as to drain the bogs and transform them into meadows, which could eventually be planted with forest, primarily spruce.
During the 19th century, shovels and spades were used to dig 564 km of ditches to Pøleå and Arresø to the west and to Esrum Sø to the east to lead the water out of Gribskov.
The drying-out process continued into the 1900s and, in the 1980s, only 3.25 percent of the area was wetland compared to 20.8 percent in the mid-1800s. At the same time, the abstraction of drinking water meant that the water table fell drastically.
Since 1992, the state forests have worked hard to restore a natural water balance by bringing past lakes, bogs and wetlands back to their original state.
In Gribskov alone, about 30 areas have been restored, for example. Sandskredssøen, Rødedam, Milestedsmoserne, Stor and Lille Hessemose, Lille Gribsø, Toggerup Tørvemose, Strødam Engsø and Solbjerg Engsø, which are two of three new man-made lakes connected to Pøle Å. Several new and restored wetlands are on their way.