Auberive, Haute-Marne, France

Like many of you no doubt, Jude and I thought the COVID vaccination programme might be the beginning of the end of the COVID pandemic. Things seemed to be going well in the UK and, in April, we were called for both of our jabs within the space of 4 weeks. Great, we thought and, despite Switzerland being on the UK’s Amber list*, we decided to take a trip back to the UK – again for reasons which will become clear… (I’m such a tease!)

*Note for non-UK citizens: Being on the UK’s Amber list meant that not only would we need a negative COVID test 72 hours before arrival, but we’d also be required to quarantine for 10 days and send off 2 more self-tests on days 2 and 8 of our self-isolation. We (begrudgingly) accepted this situation and booked a place to stay for 2 weeks, simply to quarantine for most of it!

This is how we came to be in the quaint little village of Auberive, in France. It’s a 9 hour drive from our home in Evolène to the ferry port of Dunkirk, so we decided to stop off more or less half way. As with many of these things, the reason we chose that particular location was because we liked the look of the accommodation, which was an old auberge, built sometime around the 12 to 13th century. And we were not disappointed with our choice. 😊

Bugs and butterflies in Evolène

For various reasons, which will become clear in due course, I have not been out for a long walk recently. However, I have been wandering up our little road and below are a few images taken last week. I was particularly pleased to capture my first Apollo of the year, (if not in the best light – see pic 6), but two Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) managed to escape my camera.

Riddes to Isérables and along the Grand Bisse de Saxon, Valais, Switzerland

Following my post at the beginning of May, regarding my entry into the Sierre-Zinal Race, I received a comment from a friend and ex-work colleague, Selin, who had done the race twice previously. She asked if she could join me in a training run. Naturally I jumped at the chance of having a training partner (chatting away to someone, if you have any breath left, is a great distraction from the pain!) And we duly hatched a plan to do a route today, which climbed around 900m or 3,000ft from Riddes to above Isérables, then undulated along for 3km or 2 miles, before climbing another 300m or 1,000ft to the Grand Bisse de Saxon. It was then a flat 3km or 2 miles alongside the bisse before dropping all the way back down to Riddes. This ‘profile’ closely follows the actual race, though with around 2/3rds of the height gain and distance.

I deliberately left my camera at home, otherwise we’d still be there now (as there were many butterflies fluttering around in the bright, warm sunshine). But, thankfully, Selin brought along her phone and she stopped occasionally to capture some of the views and yours truly plodding along. 😊

The route also went across one of the Nendaz ski pistes, which still had quite a lot of snow in places. So one of the stranger sights we saw was a man skiing down a section of that! I mean, it’s nearly June for goodness sake!

Alpage walk from Les Haudères, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Yesterday, our car had to go in for a service and the internet was going to be off for 4 hours for maintenance work… So, you may not be surprised to read that I decided to go for a walk. The planned route would take me back home from the garage via the ‘scenic route’. I deliberately kept it below the snow line, so as not to get into any tricky situations, but nature often has a way of surprising you…

As I emerged from the woods to cross what would have been the Torrent de la Sage stream, I was faced with a torrent of a different kind. During the winter, a huge avalanche had completely filled the gully – flattening almost everything along the way. The snow must have been at least 3 or 4 feet thick. Thankfully it had been there for some time, as it had settled and was quite solid (but not too icy) to walk on. I managed to cross to the path at the other side by walking about 40 to 50 yards up the slope of the avalanche. (See pics 18 to 20).

Lac d’Arbey to Les Haudères Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Although we had a little more snow overnight down to 1800m, (5,900ft), I finally decided to do a walk from home in our valley. Unusually, I didn’t check the forecast before setting off and it was a little chilly with clouds covering many of the mountain tops. But I needn’t have worried as the sun eventually burnt them away, to leave perfectly blue skies all around. 😊

Fully to Sé Carro Walk, Valais, Switzerland

It’s hard to believe, but the snow-line is now lower than it was a month ago. Yesterday it was down to the 1600m (5,250ft) mark in our valley compared to around 1,900m (6,235ft) in mid-April, when I did this walk.

It was with this in mind that I drove down to Fully (pronounced to rhyme with Huey, Dewey or Louie) in the Rhone valley yesterday to do another steep walk, or training hike if you like. My aim was to reach a point called Sé Carro* at 2,092m (or 6,864ft), though I expected to hit snow as some point. And so I did – I turned around about 100m (330ft) below the summit, when the snow got a bit deeper and the going was still very steep. (See pic 20).

I again tried my best not to be distracted by the views and various butterflies fluttering around, but when several Cardinals are about you just have to stop. Like any photographer, I’m always looking for that ‘perfect shot’ and so I stopped quite a few times – mainly for the Cardinals. And it was while reaching up to capture one, that another landed right next to it! (See pic 13). In the end, I was glad I did stop so often, as the weather turned decidedly grey and cool and there were not many butterflies around on my return (along the section of the Chemin du Vignoble which I failed to finish a few weeks ago).

I’m often surprised by some of the things I see in Swiss villages, but the trompe l’oeil in picture 28 is just amazing.

*Note that Sé Carro is spelt a number of different ways… The Sé can be seen written as Sex or Scex (all three pronounced like ‘say’ btw). I even saw it as ‘Six Carro’ on one, albeit handwritten, signpost. But I decided not to use the most common, Sex, version in the title of this post, just in case it offended the internet police or attracted the wrong type of reader!

Sion to Ollon Walk, Valais, Switzerland

Whenever we talked about marathon training, my good mate Colin always used to say “It’s all about time on your feet”. So, as part of my build up for the Sierre-Zinal race (which isn’t strictly a marathon distance, at 31km, but it’s as good as, if not more, when you consider the 2,200m of ascent), I’ve decided to complement my runs with a series of long walks. (That is until the snow disappears off the mountain tops and then I can start doing some big ascents).

So, on Thursday, I set off to do a walk from Sion to the small village of Corin-de-la-Crête along the Chemin du Vignoble (which is Swiss walking route no. 36). The distance between the two is around 14km or 8.5 miles, making it a 28km or 17 miles round trip. I expected it to take around 3 hours to get there and 6 hours altogether. However, after 3 hours, I was still only in the village of Ollon, about 3km or 2 miles short of my target. Something had slowed me down… See the numerous pictures in the gallery below (and this was just the tip of the iceberg!)

But I was happy that I’d gone ‘out’ for long enough and that it would still be 6 hours ‘on my feet’, so I set off back again. As you will also see below, the weather started and finished relatively brightly but in between it was quite dull – as well as quite cool and breezy, so there were not many butterflies to slow me down even more! For some reason (must be something to do with walking on your own) I seemed to get a bit of a fixation with the wide variety of steps leading up or down to the vineyards. (See pics 24-26 for some examples, which were again only a few of the ones photographed).

Green Hairstreak Butterfly, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

In what might become an occasional series, I’ve been encouraged by Brian at Butterflies to Dragsters to post some pictures of the various butterflies that I capture (outside of my walks) – starting with Green Hairstreaks that I photographed yesterday afternoon.

It was a warmish but breezy day, so I wasn’t too hopeful of seeing many on the wing but, hey, if you don’t go and look, you don’t find out… And often that leads to the best surprises.

I said to Jude that I’d only be about 20 to 30 minutes and I wandered up the small road which winds its way up to a dead end and the woods behind our group of chalets. Although there is nothing really to attract these wonderful little creatures, each of the 5 corners seems to be a magnet. And it was on the second corner that I took these photos – some on the way up and some on my return. Closer inspection reveals that they are all different (if we assume that the spots on opposite sides are equal).

As you may know, I like to educate as well as entertain, so…

Green hairstreaks or Callophrys rubi can be found all across Europe – even as far north as the Arctic and west to Siberia. So, I guess Switzerland is considered ‘warm’ by those standards! Though for some reason they are not present on the Outer Hebrides, the Orkneys or Shetlands, nor Crete for that matter. My book also says that they are one of the earlier species to take flight – that being between March and June. They are quite small, being only 15mm (0.6 inches) across, but they have adapted to quite a range of habitats, including scrubland and rocky places. That maybe explains why they are on the corner of our road, where a pile of (albeit rather nice) stones has been dumped by the local Commune workers. (I should have taken a picture – it’s delightful!)

I also got a little bit excited when I saw the line of white dots on the forewing of the 3rd photo – as there’s a variant called Chapman’s Green Hairstreak, which has that characteristic. However, it seems Chapman’s also have a rusty orange eye ring (not white), the inside of the antennae clubs is also rusty orange (not black), it has brown and white striped legs (not black and white) and the line of dots is generally further out than the hindwing. And, apart from all that, the nearest they ever get to here is the south of France. But a man can hope. 😊

Note that I normally shrink all my photos to around 250 to 300kb but these pictures have just been cropped and watermarked. Hopefully the extra quality shines through!?

Walk from St Leonard to Crans-Montana GC, Valais, Switzerland

Boy, oh boy, have I got a treat for you nature lovers! But let me first set the scene…

Last week we had yet more snow in the Val d’Hérens. It fell and settled at around the 1500m (5,000ft) mark and, despite the warmer temperatures this weekend, it more or less put paid to any ideas that I might have had of taking a higher level walk in the Val d’Hérens.

After scouring the map, I came up with a circular route which started in St Leonard, in the Rhone valley and climbed a small ‘hill’ called Le Châtelard (@1,272m or 4,173ft) to the small village of Lens. It then took in a few “etangs” or small lakes and some of the Crans-Montana Golf Course before descending, including a small section the Grand Bisse de Lens.

As you will see below, along the way I captured a few flowers, 8 different butterflies, 3 different birds, 2 mammals, a reptile and a moth. I hope you also enjoy the walk!

Sierre-Zinal initial climb, Valais, Switzerland

Since my aborted attempt to run the Swiss alpine K23 race back in July last year, I thought my ‘running’ career might be over and I didn’t go for run at all for the remainder of last year. But there is something about getting out there and putting one leg in front of the other as fast as you can which appeals, to me anyway . It’s partly the fresh air, partly the desire to keep fit, but it’s mostly the sheer joy and satisfaction of completing a run.

So it was that about 12 weeks ago I embarked upon my latest comeback. After a couple of 5k’s (3 miles) I’ve managed to get the distance up to nearly 13k (8 miles). Part way through this period, I received my usual email from Datasport (i.e. the people who manage the entries and timing for most Swiss races). The email contained the usual “Races not to be missed” and that included the Sierre-Zinal mountain race (which is 31km/19 miles long and has an ascent of 2,200m or 7,218 ft).

Now, I hate running uphill. Throughout the past few months I’ve driven down to Sion to run, well jog, along the cycle path by the side of the river Rhone – to avoid even the slightest climb between our home here in Evolène and Les Haudères. But this is an iconic race, (part of the Golden Trail World Series) which I’ve always wanted to do and I figured (possibly quite rightly as it turns out) that a lot of it would be walking up steep paths.

Entry to the race was on a strictly first-come-first-served basis and, although there were a few technical problems due to the number of people applying, I did eventually manage to get registered for the race. There are two categories, “Runners” and “Tourists”. I presumed the latter was/is for people, like me, who just want to do the race and so that’s the category that I’m in, though they do start at 5am in the morning! (This could be a good thing as the race is on 7th August and the sun could be blazing down by mid-day. The Runners start at 10am).

As you might expect, I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to complete the race (assuming of course that I do!) Apparently Runners average 4 and a half hours. On the official website, they provide a useful calculation spreadsheet to help you work out the timings at different stages. This is OK if you know your expected time and I had an idea that I might be able to do it in maybe 6 hours. (I’d certainly be happy with that time sitting here now!) The website also provides a course profile which indicates the percentage effort to reach the various feed stations. (See gallery).

Of course, Sierre is ‘just down the road’ for me, so yesterday, with the sun shining brightly, I decided to check out the first section of the race – which is pretty much uphill all the way to Plonchette. It’s ‘only’ about 6.5 km / 4 miles but rises over 1200m / 4,000 ft and represents about a third of the effort or time required to complete the course.

I’ll not divulge how long it took me to get there, but suffice it to say that, even though my legs felt like jelly, I did feel good enough to continue a little further along the course – that is until I reached the point where ‘running’ was impossible due to the snow. (See pic 22).

Note that all of the pictures below were taken with my mobile phone – and on my return/descent from that furthest point. Accordingly, they have been rearranged into ‘ascending’ order… 😉