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).

Val de Réchy Walk, Valais, Switzerland

This is another of my favourite walks, which I haven’t done this year, so I thought I’d give it a go before the winter sets in. The snow, which fell a few weeks ago now, has largely melted away, certainly on the south facing slopes, but I wasn’t sure what I’d find in the valley.

My mate Pete has been encouraging me to post some more videos, so yesterday I decided to take one as I approached the Pas de Lovegno and then another near the lake called Le Louché (not Lac de Lovegno as I incorrectly said on the video). You’ll find the videos below the usual gallery of photos and I hope you find them interesting.

As you will see the skies were blue, but there was definitely a chill in the air and I was a little surprised to see 4 butterflies, two of which I captured, but a blue one and an unidentified one escaped my lens.

Fafleralp Walk, Lötschental, Valais, Switzerland

When I bought my new point and shoot camera, I also bought a new case, because the old case and the belt strap were a little too big. But I then discovered that the belt strap on the new case didn’t fit my bumbag. So, I’ve been in the habit of swapping the cases around, depending on whether I’m using my bumbag or rucksack.

On my way out yesterday I picked up the new case, but hadn’t realised, until I zoomed in for the 2nd picture below, that I had my old camera with me. Doh! I thought, as the my old camera has a dark blotch towards the top right corner, which spoils perfectly blue skies. From then on, I had to keep turning the camera upside down (for any landscape photos including the sky) and press the shutter with my thumb. It was inconvenient, but not the end of the world of course.

On the (big) plus side, the old camera has a 30x zoom and it proved useful on several occasions, not least of which was to capture the Crossbill image, (pic 12). It was at the very top of a conifer tree and was a ‘first’ sighting for both Jude and me. In addition Jude spotted a Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture, but it was far too high to get a decent photograph (worth posting anyway).

As you will see, this walk, which is Swiss Walk no. 152 by the way, takes in 3 small lakes, all of which provided excellent photo opportunities. And you will notice not one, but two mountain huts; the Anenhütte and the Hollandiahütte, which sits, perched above the Löschenlücke.

Cabane de la Tsa walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of my walks are determined by the weather. Forecasts in central Europe are generally quite accurate, so whenever the Swiss méteo says e.g. Monday will be sunny, it usually is. This was the case for last Monday and, having not been up the Arolla valley for a while, I decided to do a circular walk up to the Cabane de la Tsa (@2,611m or 8,566ft) from the tiny hamlet of La Monta.

Again the route was on a south facing slope, so there was very little snow to negotiate as I approached the hut and social distancing wasn’t an issue either as I didn’t see a soul all the way around.

On the way to and from La Monta, the views were so nice and clear that I stopped the car to take a few photographs and they are numbered 1-3 and 35 & 36 in the gallery. I hope you enjoy the walk!

Borgne Riverside Walk, (Walk 2), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

I don’t mind admitting that my legs were aching (for 2 days) after my epic walk to the Pointe du Tsaté last Friday. I wasn’t surprised, as I hadn’t done a lot of walking while we were away in the UK and none at all during our 10 day isolation. During the ascent my hips and calf muscles were screaming to stop (which I did/had to frequently and hence the number of photographs!) and on the descent it was my thighs and knees which rebelled. So on Saturday, Jude and I went for a nice, leisurely stroll up the river.

With Autumn colours all around and plenty of time to try something different, I had a play with the Watercolour setting on my camera. Let me know what you think.

Regular readers may also recall that this is my one and only ‘flat’ running, no, jogging route in our valley. Which reminds me, I must start training again… 🏃‍♂️

Pointe du Tsaté Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

As you can imagine, after 10 days of isolation, (going no further than the letter box and the rubbish bin), I was itching to get out for a long walk and, I have to say, it felt great to be ‘free’ again. The forecast was for brilliant blue skies and warm sunshine, so yesterday I chose to head for the Pointe du Tsaté at 3,077m or 10,095 ft.

Jude thought I was mad, because there was still quite a lot of snow on the mountain tops. But it didn’t look that deep and the route I would be taking was on a south facing slope.

After passing the Remointse du Tsaté lake at 2,500m, or 8,200ft, there was a mixture of snow (no more than 2 inches deep) and bare ground on the path for another 3 hundred metres (1,000 feet) or so of climbing. But as I reached the ridge to the summit I was faced with a 2 to 3 foot wall of snow, where the wind from the north had built it up. (Picture 29 doesn’t really do it justice). I admit that I had second thoughts at this point, but I was so close to the summit, I decided to go for it. And I was glad that I did, as I was rewarded with magnificent panoramic views in all directions.

The beautifully stacked stones at the summit also helped me to set up my camera for the selfie in picture 35. 😊

My apologies for so many photos, but I hope you will agree that it was quite an adventure which ought to be shared! (Picture 1 btw was taken from the bus on the way to La Forclaz. (It just shows how clean the Swiss bus windows are!) However, I just missed one on the way back, so I decided to walk the 4 km/2.5 miles back home to Evolène. Luckily it was all downhill!)

Life in Switzerland, Part 1 – Cows

For some time I’ve thought about describing some of the ‘nuances’ of an expat living in Switzerland, but never quite got around to it. (It’s amazing what self-isolation can do to you!*) So here is the first in a series, which may run and run, depending upon what life here throws at me (and Jude) during the year. I hope you will find it interesting, or at least a little different to life wherever you may be. 😊

Regular readers may recall that we live in a small village, called Evolène, which lies at almost 1,400m or 4,600ft in the Val d’Hérens in the southern part of Switzerland. We describe it as authentic, as the traditions that have gone on for eons are still continuing today. In particular the Val d’Hérens breed of cow is almost revered around here (quite rightly of course), due to its uniqueness.

There are several small farms in and around the 6 villages at the top of the valley (the other 5 are Les Haudères, Villa, La Sage, La Forclaz and Arolla) and each farmer has only around 8 to 12 cows. (This compares with about 100 per typical farm in the UK). In the winter, since we’re under 1 to 2 feet of snow for most of the time, the cows are kept in their sheds until the Spring/early Summer.

Sometime in June, when there’s a spell of good dry weather, the farmers will come to cut the grass in the fields. The whole of the Commune is divided up into hundreds of small plots, each legally owned by different people, but it seems each farmer ‘owns’ the right to cut the grass on many different plots. Rather curiously, these plots are not always adjacent to each other, so it can lead to a sort of patchwork of cut/not cut grass. (See pic 6 below).

Every year, 2 ladies come with their grass cutter, go through our small field and cut the grass in the 4 plots below. The total size of these 4 plots is only about 20 yards by 70 yards (max). So it’s farming on a small scale by anyone’s standards. How many plots these 2 ladies cut altogether, is a mystery. When these ladies came the very first time, just after we’d moved in, we thought we must have upset the locals as they disappeared without touching our grass. We needn’t have worried as our plot is used by another famer…

Almost exactly 2 weeks later, Johan, the farmer who lives just below us, comes to cut the grass in our field and many of the other plots around and about the neighbouring chalets. The grass is then left for a day, before being turned or tossed around by a sort of spinning machine (and/or by hand) and a day later it’s ‘rowed up’ to be scooped up into the back of a truck. Every little blade of useful hay is gathered up by 2, sometimes 3, helpers raking into line any stray bits which have escaped or were not rowed correctly. Below are a few pictures of the machines and farmers in action on various plots in the valley.

At the end of June, once the snow has disappeared from what’s known as the ‘alpage’ (i.e. that area of lush meadow between the higher villages and the rocky mountain tops), the cows are all taken up to graze for the summer. This is known locally as the Inalp or transhumance, which I joined in with once and blogged about here.

At the end of September, all the cows are brought back down to their respective farms to get ready for the winter again. However, there are often several days of glorious sunshine to be had. So the farmers, Johan again in this case, places an electric wire or fence around the fields he uses and then brings the cows up for the day – usually around 10am. (The sun has reached the fields by then). Around 4pm, he, or someone from his family, then leads them back to the sheds.

All of this brings me neatly to this video of the cows arriving for the day and crossing our small field. (I would call it a garden but we enjoy the cows coming so much, we have resisted the temptation to ‘do something with it’ and have left it in the capable hands of the farmer to use. 😊

*Footnote: Our 10 day isolation period ends today (though I understand the UK has now been taken off the Swiss ‘red list’!) Glorious weather is forecast for the next few days, so ‘normal service’ will resume tomorrow… 🤗🎆👍

Self-isolation in Evolène, Val d’Hérens…

Jude and I are now back home and, thankfully, over half way through our self-isolation period of 10 days. There are, of course, worse places to be holed up, but I’m feeling a bit like a caged tiger, wanting to get out and about, especially while the sun is shining and there’s not so much snow on the ground. (I’d estimate the snow line to be at around the 2,500m or 8,000ft mark).

I’ve kept myself busy by posting some of our good friend Arthur’s paintings of his time in the Comores. Click here for two examples, with 4 more to come over the next 4 days.

But, with nowhere to go and wanting to post something on this site, I decided to take a few pictures from both within and around the chalet.