My Adventures on the Isle of Sylt
Standing in front of the mirror staring at my gigantic backpack I was incredibly excited for my trip to Sylt; a German Island in the North Sea, 3 hours from Hamburg. Little did I know that my adventure would include a couple of close calls. I didn’t know that I would be rescued from almost drowning in the North Sea by two elderly nudists. I had no idea I would be sleeping in a tent during hurricane winds. Lastly I also did not know that despite these mishaps I would still manage to cycle most of the Northern section of the island and manage to see a wild seal.Little did I know my adventure would include being rescued from almost drowning in the North Sea by two elderly nudistsClick To Tweet
As I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof in Hamburg with my bike and backpack I tried to find out how to buy a ticket for my bike. I was directed to a service centre and as unfortunately German customer service often goes, the customer is always wrong. The lady at desk looked down at me, peering over her glasses and said (in German) “A bike to Sylt in summer? Today?” I nod and she continues to explain how ludicrous it is to try and buy a bike ticket for Sylt in the summer as that is the peak season. Conscious of my train which was leaving in 20 minutes I had to play the foreigner card. In my best and most polite German I explained that I was terribly sorry but I could not figure out how to buy the bike ticket online and coming from England I was not aware that it was so difficult to buy a ticket for one’s bike in the peak summer season at the station. Her demeanour changed completely as she smiled and exclaimed “ah you come from England!? Then of course you could not know. How could you know?” This seemed to speed the process up and she managed to sell a return bike ticket to me whilst smiling the whole time.
I found my platform and hung my bike up on a very strange contraption. The journey took 3 hours and goes directly North. I believe I slept for most of it. The best bit was the rail bridge. As I have already mentioned Sylt is an island but the rail company simply built a rail track over the sea. It was very cool seeing the sea on both sides on the track.
As I arrived in Westerland on Sylt which was incredibly touristy, I brought some flip flops and a beach mat and cycled to my accommodation. Accommodation in Sylt is incredibly expensive. I tried to couchsurf but to no avail so my host family very kindly agreed to lend me their tent. Yet even to stay in a tent on Sylt set me back 16 euros for 1 night. I looked for a flat spot and set my tent up. The gentleman next to me who was from Vienna congratulated me afterwards. I was a bit surprised but he was generally astounded that just one female could set a tent up by herself. Crazy I know. It was a pretty small tent to be fair. Now I could finally go down to the beach!
I nearly drowned…
You are never far from the beach in Sylt and it took me less than 5 minutes from my tent to the waterfront. I went straight into the water. The last time I had been in the sea it had been the very flat and placid Mediterranean in Italy. This was the wild North Sea. Yet confident in my abilities as a swimmer I swam a little bit not scared of the waves at all. This is where I was wrong. Very, very wrong and stupid. I have always grown up being wary of the sea. My mum would always look out for currents and I studied geography A level so am aware of the science of currents. But silly Anna just wanted to go for a quick swim then come out. I started swimming back. I didn’t think I had gone out far. Looking back now I really hadn’t. I looked back at the beach and saw my towel a long way left when I thought I had just swam straight. I started to panic and swim as fast as I could. I was really scared I was being dragged away. I couldn’t see any life guards even though the beach was packed. I really panicked and this is the worst thing to do. So I waved my hands and shouted “Hilfe” to some swimmers nearby. They turned out to be elderly nudists. I did not care. The gentleman took my hand and together they pulled me back to where I could stand. I was so shaky. I thanked them graciously and they then started to scold me for underestimating the currents. I was not sure where to look so hung my head down and just nodded. I then dragged myself out of the water and lay on my beach mat. I lay there and caught my breath. I cannot explain how I felt in that moment but all of my senses were heightened. My breath sounded louder, the feel of the sand on my feet clearer and all of the colours around me more vivid. It was probably the adrenaline still pumping. I was just so happy to be on land and alive.
Once I had calmed down I accessed the situation a bit more. I had mistaken my towel for someone else’s and therefore had not drifted as far as I thought I had. I had not eaten since Hamburg which was around 5 hours ago. Furthermore I cycled into the centre of Hamburg and cycled to my campsite from the train station on Sylt. So in retrospect I should have eaten more and I was probably too tired. I don’t think I had gone out very far but the waves were rather large and I was very stupid just to swim before accessing everything. Well I have learnt my lesson.
Cycle Ride number 1
My route: Rantum – Hafenstrasse – Rantumbecken – Tinnum
I dried off then went into the town to get something to eat. I chilled at my tent for a bit and worked out a cycle route I wanted to do that evening. On my map I saw a cool looking road of Hafenstrasse which just went over water and was titled “bird reservation”. This is where I cycled to.
I wanted to come to Sylt because it is a beautiful island with white sand and epic cycle routes. My first proper cycle ride did not disappoint as I started to explore this rugged landscape. I passed the sandy dunes and saw lots of other cyclists. When I reached my strange looking road I did not see anyone else. It was just me, sheep and birds. It was amazing. I really enjoyed cycling in this remote place. I also had to cycle through lots of flocks of birds and enjoyed seeing them take off as a group.
After admiring the wildlife and water landscapes I popped into a little shop and asked for a local beer. The gentleman had a very strong northern accent and gave me a Flansburger beer. I trusted him and cycled back to my campsite and walked down to the beach with my beer. I found an empty iconic “strandkorb” which translates in beach basket. It is like sitting in a human sized picnic basket turned chair. It was very comfortable and it protects you from the North Sea winds. I sat drinking my beer on the beach until it got dark then headed back to my tent.
I was in a tent during a hurricane
I had been asleep for about an hour before the rain and wind really started. Now I know a tent is not the most stable type of accommodation and therefore should expect it to rock a bit. This was not rocking a little bit. This was me terrified I was going to blow away in my tent. The wind howled and the rain pelted against my tent. I was also absolutely frozen so opened up my rucksack and fumbled around to see if I could put any more layers on. I tried to sleep but it was so loud. I put my mp3 player on but the wind and rain were louder than the music. I think I occasionally managed to nod off but I barely slept. At 6am the rain and wind eventually slowed down. I gave up and decided to get dressed. I hadn’t realised but there was in a leak in my tent somewhere. Therefore all of my clothes were soaked as I had emptied my backpack during the night… great all of my spare clothes were also drenched. Then I realised I had left my shoes on the ‘porch’ (this of course did not stay up during the night) and whilst I was happy they had not blown away they were also drenched. Whoops. I went to the toilets to try and use the blow dryer to dry my things. On my way I had to step over people sleeping. A woman explained to me that during the night their tent had blown away. I must have chosen a slightly more sheltered spot. Later I found out that wind speeds that night were classified as hurricane category 1 winds!
After slowly packing my things away (I was a bit delirious) I cycled into Westerland to find some breakfast. At the café I was debating what to do. It had appeared to stop raining which was good as I wanted to cycle right to the north of the island but was worried that the bad weather would return and whether I could physically do it with barely any sleep.
Cycle ride 2
My Route: Lange Christian – Uwe Duene – Rotes Kliff – Quermarkenfeuer Rotes Kliff – List West
Of course I decided I was going to do it! Albeit maybe slower or a slightly shorter route than planned. I was very lucky with the weather as there were only a couple of freak showers throughout the day. Furthermore many of the cycle paths are built on the old railway line which was sheltered from the wind by the dunes so it was not too windy either.
I wanted to cycle north. I wanted to go up the biggest sand dune on the island, see the red cliffs, see a lighthouse and see lots of sand dunes. Living in Dresden for 9 months had made me miss the seaside.
From Westerland I cycled towards Kampen. I liked the Kampen area as it had quite a few things to see there. I saw the ‘lange Christrian’ lighthouse, one of the 5 lighthouses on Sylt. Then I cycled to the Uweduene which is a huge sand dune. It is the highest point on Sylt at 52m so I had quite a nice view from the top. I sat up there for a while watching the yachts and the world go by. I took quite a few pictures too. Then it suddenly chucked it down so I ran back down to my bike and then it suddenly stopped. I was drenched. Water was definitely an important theme on this island.
Next stop was the red cliff (Rotes Kliff). As the name suggests it was a fairly reddish looking cliff. I then went to see another light house even though it is actually called a Quermarkenfeuer instead of a leuchturm maybe because it looks less like a thin tower. I liked this little light brick light house. I thought the dunes on the other side of the road to the lighthouse were beautiful. These were the days where I did not have a tripod so I was happy I spied a handrail I could balance my camera on and take some photos with these dunes.
I saw a wild seal!
I had spent quite a while in this area so decided to try and put some distance between the middle of the island and the north. The cycle path was really well maintained and flat. I cycled and cycled. The dunes were getting bigger and I was meeting fewer cyclists. Everything felt wilder and I was more at one with nature. When I was almost at the List East lighthouse I saw a little path leading over the sand dune. I don’t know why but it seemed so inviting so I followed it. I am so pleased I did as when I stood on the top of this sandy path I spied a grey object next to the sea. On closer inspection I could tell it was a seal! I was so happy. It was worth cycling so far just to see this beautiful creature. I did not go close to it as I did not want to scare it. it was lovely just to watch this animal by the water. This experience was also so amazing as I did not expect it. Very often I plan things out and I love it when something wonderful spontaneous occurs like a seal sighting.
By this point I was very tired. I was not really fussed about carrying on to the List west lighthouse. I mean I would have liked to but I knew I was only half way and I had to get all the way back down to Westerland.
The cycle back
I will not lie the cycle back was hard. On the way up there were lots of things to see and explore whereas now I just had to cycle straight back to Westerland. I had been so excited cycling up that I hadn’t really noticed my tiredness whereas now it was trying to take over with a vengance. There was a good half an hour where all I had to do was cycle straight and I think my body went into a trance-like state as I suddenly ‘woke up’ noticing I had come a long way. I made it back to Westerland in one piece thankfully. In the town I got some food and headed to the train station. I was a little bit early. Then it was the train back to Hamburg and I slept in the warmth.
Well that was an eventful and amazing weekend! I didn’t manage to explore everything, especially the south and the east of the island. Yes there were some scary moments but all in all I loved it all. I love the stories you can tell after your adventures. Also sylt is beautiful in a very wild and rugged way. I am so pleased I managed to visit it and wonder whether I will again. Guess it will not be quite as eventful if I do.
Let me know if you have had any close calls whilst travelling or any near camping fiascos in the comments below.