Craig y Garn Walk, Gwynedd, N. Wales

From our house you can see a number of mountains and, almost inevitably, it has become a bit of a goal of ours to ‘top’ each one of them. One of the smallest is Craig y Garn (at 363 metres/1,191 feet) which, on a clear day of course, we can see above Porthmadog as we look across the estuary. We found a route to the top in a small book called “Snowdonia – Park Rangers Favourite Walks” (which itself has 20 different walks and may also become a bit of a ‘challenge’).

So it was that on 21st November 2021, Jude and I walked to the top from the village of Garndolbenmaen. As you will see, you don’t have to climb too high in Wales to get magnificent panoramic, 360 degree views. Plus, of course, if we can see the top from home, you should be able to see our house from the top. And if you zoom in on photo no. 9, you may be able to make out a white house on the far side of the estuary – above the lowest point of the ‘V’ between the two hills (slightly left of centre).

Coedydd Maentwrog National Nature Reserve and Ffestiniog Mountain Railway Walk, Gwynedd, North Wales

If you like nature and/or steam railways, this is a post for you. 😊 Please read on…

Many people, in the UK at least, will be aware of the narrow gauge railways which were once used to ferry slate from the mines and quarries in North Wales to Porthmadog for onward shipment around the world. Some of those historic steam trains are now being used by the Ffestiniog and Welsh Mountain Railways to take holidaymakers from Porthmadog to either Caernarfon or the old mines themselves at Blaenau Ffestiniog. However, not many, including me before I went on this walk, will know that the area is also noted for some of the last Atlantic oak woods in Europe.

The Coedydd Maentwrog Nature Reserve is described as one of Wales’s “rainforests” and, like all rainforests, is considered of global importance. Conditions here are perfect for the growth of 200 (yes, that’s two hundred) species of mosses and liverworts and 120 sorts of lichen. (Who knew that there were that many on the planet, let alone in one small wood in the corner of North Wales and how do the experts distinguish the difference? 🤔) In addition the woods are home to over 286 different kinds of small moth and the area is the UK stronghold of the rare Lesser Horseshoe bat.
(The numbers are truly amazing, don’t you think?!)

In the gallery below, I’ve captured a few images of some moss and lichen as well as some flowers but I’ll leave you to work out what sort they might be. 🤔

As for the route, Judith and I set off from the car park next to Llyn (lake) Mair and walked up a path which runs, for the most part, alongside the railway track, until we reached Dduallt station, where the track does a complete 360 degree loop. We waited there until the next train arrived and we watched the happy, waving passengers go by! (We were just like The Railway Children!! 😊)

We walked back the same way and, on the way, as a special treat for you steam train enthusiasts, I took a video of one of the trains passing by. 🚂 Note that the first two carriages are two of the first ever (and possibly last remaining) fixed wheel carriages built in the UK. At the time, the engineers were worried about the carriages toppling over on the narrow gauge. So, firstly, the carriages are very short (so that they could go around the bends – it was only later that bogies were added at either end to allow the carriages to be longer and the wheels to ‘turn’ independently) and secondly, the passengers sit with their backs in the centre facing directly outwards, (to keep the centre of gravity over the centre of the tracks). You live and learn. I hope you enjoy!

Footnote: All of these images were captured on 11th October 2021.

Rhinog Fach, Y Llethr and Moelfre Walk, Gwynedd, N. Wales

Well, you are in for a treat… I’ve just discovered that I didn’t post these images when Jude and I visited North Wales in September last year. I’m not sure what happened, nor why I forgot to post them, as they were all shrunk and watermarked ready… As you will see, they do sometimes have blue sky days in Wales! Enjoy!

Pic d’Artsinol Walk with the Pounders, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Shortly after we had put the chalet up for sale, Jude sent out a facebook message to tell our friends that we were moving back to the UK. Almost immediately, ‘young’ Malcolm Pounder replied to say that he would hire a van and drive over to help us take all of our stuff back. We were taken aback by his generosity, but we knew he simply loved driving and accepted his offer with open arms. We cannot thank him enough for everything he did in transferring both us and our belongings across to North Wales.

Anyway, his parents, Malcolm (senior) and Helen, decided to keep him company on the way over and have a short break in the Alps before flying back. So it came to pass that the 4 of us went for a walk up to the top of the Pic d’Artsinol (@2,998m or 9,836ft), taking advantage of the rickety old chair lift. (Thankfully they plan to replace it with a gondola lift soon).

All of the photos below were taken on 2nd September 2021 (and, again, my apologies for the delay in posting them. Only one more Swiss post to go before you see Wales… 😊)

Arrived in North Wales…

My sincerest apologies for being off the radar for the past month or so, moving house is bad enough, but moving countries has its challenges. There’s been more admin signing out of Switzerland (e.g. changing addresses and cancelling health, accident, house and car insurance) than signing in to Wales (though getting car insurance has also been a bit difficult, due to our Swiss driving licences). And crossing the border, especially out of France, with a van load of our belongings, turned into a bit of a nightmare. (We had to empty almost all the van, which took a day to load, to prove that we had no migrant stowaways). But we’re here now and all is well…

As you will see from the above header photo, we have a lovely view and plenty of wildlife has been to welcome us to our new home. There are 3 buddleia bushes in the garden, so several butterflies have visited over the past 3 weeks, as has at least one dragonfly and a very friendly pheasant. The previous occupant had obviously fed him as he comes running when you open the kitchen window. We’ve called him Phil. (He looks a bit bedraggled below as it was pouring with rain the other morning).

I still have at least 2 Swiss walks to post sometime, but I thought you might like to know that Jude and I are still alive and well… 😊

‘New’ website…

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was working on adding all 33 of the walks I had documented to this website and now I’m pleased to announce, IT’s FINISHED!! 😊 I had wondered about waiting until 5am on 4th March ’21 to ‘launch’ it, but I just couldn’t wait that long! (I hope you see what I did there).

I’ve updated the banner photos too, to have a little more variety and added a Contact menu option – just in case anyone would like to comment or request any more information. So, please feel free to have a browse around the pages under the “Walks in the Val d’Hérens” heading – at anytime and especially if you are stuck at home and self-isolating. Just select Easy, Medium or Challenging and then click on any of the walks summarised underneath the overview map… You’ll then find a map and a gallery of photos, as well as a route description should anyone visit this area to do any of the walks themselves.

Below are a few random photos taken from the associated galleries… (I should have done a quiz and asked which walk they belonged to… Too late now of course!) I hope it showcases what a wild and naturally beautiful part of the world the Val d’Hérens is!

Your comments and feedback (especially for any improvements) are always welcome of course. 😊

Lac Bleu Walk in Winter (Walk 4), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After completing Walk no. 2 and no. 3 on my list last week (and Walk no. 7 earlier this month) I realised that I may as well continue and do the whole set of 10 “Easy” walks in the coming weeks. So here are a few pictures of my walk up to Lac Bleu this morning. As you might expect at this time of year, it’s not looking as blue as it does during the summer or autumn. But it does look rather splendid. 😊

Bisses de Mont d’Orge and Lentine Walk, Valais, Switzerland

In an attempt to get away from snow-covered paths (if not sub-zero temperatures), yesterday Jude dropped me off down in Sion to do another pair of the very many bisse* walks which snake around the sides of the Rhone valley. This walk is route 212 on the Swissmobile app, though I did it in reverse, starting at the Pont de la Morge and heading up towards the village of Drône. Since I planned to catch the bus back home, I extended the walk to descend into Sion, which also took me along a very short section of the (previously posted) Bisse de Clavau.

As you will see from the gallery below, the route gives excellent views both up and down the Rhone valley as it meanders through the vineyards. I was pleasantly surprised how many birds there were flitting around. Although they are not great photos, (my camera doesn’t do zoom very well), I did manage to capture a couple of Rock Buntings and a pair of European Nuthatches (though I’ve only included a picture of one of them). Both pictures, 14 and 16, are heavily cropped, so a little blurred.

In addition, you know when you get that feeling that you are being watched? Well, I just happened to turn my head to the side during my descent from Drône and there in the field was a Roe deer. I edged forward to get a clearer view and clicked the camera straight away and I was glad I did, as it turned and ran off almost immediately. (The picture, 28, below is also cropped, otherwise you might not have seen it!)

Last but not least, I should highlight the rather rickety looking monorail, in pics 32 and 33. These are used to collect the grapes in the autumn. As you will see, some of the terracing is very steep and this saves them lugging huge quantities of grapes back to the lanes which run through the vineyards. It looks quite a precarious piece of kit and I’m not sure I’d want to be perched on that seat as it goes up and down!

*Regular readers will of course remember that ‘bisses’ are irrigation channels, built to bring water to the fields – in this case the many vineyards which blanket the south facing slopes.

Lac de Cleuson Walk, Val de Nendaz, Valais, Switzerland

After scouring the map for something new, I came up with this circular walk from Siviez, which takes in Lac de Cleuson as well as the Ancien Bisse de Chervé (an old watercourse). My decision to go in a clockwise direction proved fortunate in that I was in the sunshine for the vast majority of the time. The combination of low winter sun and high mountains meant that if I had gone in the reverse direction, I would have been in the shade most of the time.

As you will see from the photos, it was very cold in the shade, with the stream at the far end of the lake (see pics 15 to 17) almost completely frozen. It proved a challenge to cross but, after scrambling about 30 metres up the right hand side, I found a large, dry rock in the middle, which helped me to jump across.

The ice had the last laugh though, as on the return path I rather carelessly slipped and took a tumble. The worst bit wasn’t the pain of hitting the rock hard ice with my hip and cutting my elbow and finger (only slightly thankfully), nor the fear of sliding off the path onto a 45 degree slope as I went along on my back, nor even the embarrassment as the couple of walkers following behind came around the corner to find me struggling to get up. No, it was that split second, where time seems to stand still, when my left foot went from under me and, as I looked down, realised that the only place I could put my right foot, to correct the fall, was slap bang in the middle of the self same ice. Time restarted. I was on my back in a flash and went sliding along. I managed to dig my (very sturdy) GPS into the ice to arrest my slide and I came to a stop about 2 metres further on. Needless to say, I will be more careful in future!

To add insult to my injuries, the bisse proved a bit of a disappointment. OK, the path was relatively flat and it provided nice views over the valley, but there was hardly any evidence that a bisse ever existed. That is, apart from the struts sticking out of the rock in pic 35. In addition the final descent ‘path’, which looked good on the map, proved to be the service track up to the ski installations. (What a mess it all looks until the snow arrives!) And if you look very carefully at pic 37, you will see that the young man, on the left with the dog, is carrying a gun. The hunting season must still be under way. (It’s no wonder I never saw any animals, they must all be in hiding!)

Note that the first picture was taken on my way to Siviez.

Six Blanc and Mont Brûlé Walk, Val de Bagnes, Switzerland

It’s not often that I start the gallery with a panoramic photo, but there’s an impressive view of the Val de Bagnes from the parking area at La Côt. From there I set off to do a walk which runs along the ridge between that valley and the Val d’Entremont.

I first discovered this walk waaaay back in 2006, when I was a ‘novice’ walker in Switzerland and I thought I was being quite adventurous climbing Six Blanc (at 2,444m or 8,018ft) and Mont Brûlé (at 2,571m or 8,435ft). How times have changed!

You will also see that I have finished the gallery with a slightly more modern ‘WC’ than the one I posted in my Cabane de la Tsa walk last week. That photo created a lot of interest, so I thought I’d redress the balance, just in case you thought all Swiss toilets were like that. 😉 (And, yes, it is a public toilet, adjacent to the car park).