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… 😊

Ynys, North Wales, Part 2

Once out of quarantine, Jude and I were free to wander and below are some pictures of the local places we explored.

Not more than a kilometre away from where we were staying was Llanfihangel-y-traethau church. It’s quite famous for a number of reasons, not least of which is that there is a unique memorial stone in the churchyard with an inscription (in latin) which indicates that it was built in the reign of King Owen Gwynedd, who reigned from 1137 to 1170. Another reason is that the writer Richard AW Hughes is buried there. (See pic 7).

But perhaps most interestingly, especially to American readers, is that David Ormsby-Gore is also buried there. Who’s he?, you may well ask, but he was the 5th Baron Harlech or more generally known simply as Lord Harlech. He was the British Ambassador to the United States from 1961 to 1965 (and, to add a bit of UK interest, MP for Oswestry from 1950 to 1961). He became good friends with President John F. Kennedy and (Wiki tells me that) “after his assassination there were rumours of a romance between Ormsby-Gore and Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1968 he proposed marriage to her, but, she did not accept. Ormsby-Gore was one of the pallbearers at Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral.”

He subsequently married American socialite Pamela Colin in 1969 but, sadly, Lord Harlech was seriously injured in a car crash on 25 January 1985 and died at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital the following morning, aged 66. Senator Edward Kennedy, Jacqueline (by then) Onassis and other Kennedy family members attended his funeral in the Llanfihagel-y-traethau church. He was buried there as the church is situated on one of the two Lord Harlech estates.

The reason we were keen to we visit the church (and we were lucky enough to get the keys to be able to go inside), was that Jude grew up in the old school, in Pant Glas, which had provided education for the children of the workers on Lord Harlech’s other estate, Brogyntyn, near Oswestry.

As you will also see below, at low tide it is possible to walk across the Glaslyn/Dwyryd estuary and Jude and I took the opportunity to go swimming in one of the pools left behind by the side of Ynys Gifftan island, which sits in the middle of the estuary.

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!

Walk around Lac de Montsalvens, Gruyère, Switzerland

Like many of you no doubt, Jude and I have been longing to get away for a bit of a break. The hotels in Switzerland are still open and we took advantage of a special Dinner, Bed and Breakfast offer at a hotel in the small village of Charmey.

I think it’s fair to say that the Gruyère region is more ‘chocolate box’ pretty than the more rugged Alps of the Valais, as I hope these photos show.

Lac Léman and Château de Chillon, Vaud, Switzerland

On Tuesday, Jude and I took a trip down to Switzerland’s largest lake, Lac Léman or Lake Geneva. We parked up in Villeneuve, which lies at the eastern end and walked along the lakeside towards Montreux. Along the way is one of Switzerland’s “Top 10” tourist sites, the Château de Chillon.

The site began as a Roman outpost, to guard the route through the alpine passes, but construction started in the 10th century. As you can imagine it has an interesting history and you can read all about it here.

Equally interesting are the legends which surround the small island seen in picture 4. Surprisingly (to me anyway) it’s the only natural island in the lake, Technically it’s called the Île de Peilz but, being British, I like the story about it being given as a gift to Queen Victoria when she visited the region. A tree was planted on the island and it’s known as Queen Victoria’s tree. For more legends and even a video of the tree please click here.

Note that the first two images below were taken near Ollon, on our way to the lake.

Let me tell you a story…

I hope you’re sitting comfortably, as this a little bit different to my usual posts… There are several ‘points’ to this story, as you will see at the end, though I’ll be as brief as I can. 😊

It’s been snowing off and on for the past week or so. The garden was completely clear of the white stuff before it came. So just when we thought Spring was on its way, we were back to square one.

But when the sun comes out, everything looks beautiful…

Though it does mean some work is necessary if you want to go anywhere and not be up to your knees in it all the time. Note: It’s around 60 to 70 metres/yards to get to the parking area (which makes for good training! 💪)

Consequently, some of the bird feeders came out again and we had a visitor on the balcony, sheltering from the snow… an Alpine Accentor. (It was a friendly little thing – even allowing me to open the window to get this uncropped shot from about 2m / 6 feet away).

But this also meant we had some other, bigger visitors…

So I decided to put up the Trail cam again and two nights ago, amongst several others, it captured this video:

And then again last night, this one (of around 10 clips) at 10:45pm. Regular readers may note that it’s the same stag (with 3 prongs and 2 prongs) as my previous posts in December and January.

Then, around 2:45am, the trail cam captured another series, including this one nearer to the camera…

Hopefully you’ve viewed the last video, to see the ‘point’ of this story… (or lack of them). If not, shame on you, go back and watch!

The stag must have shed its antlers sometime between 10:45pm last night and 2:45am today. And below is what we found this morning… How kind of him, after using those antlers to destroy our bird feeders over the past 3 months to leave them behind for us as a souvenir! They each weigh 1.4kg (just over 3 lbs) and measure 70 cm (or 2ft 3.5″) in length.

Also, who knew that the ‘bottom end’ of the antler is called the corona or burr and the area on the stag’s head where it attaches (or detaches in this case) is called the pedicle? You learn something new every day! 😊

Walk to La Sage, La Forclaz and Les Haudères from Evolène, (Walk 6), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

As expected, we did get some overnight snow, but it was only a very small amount down to around 1600m or 5,250ft. So, while the underfoot conditions were favourable, I decided to pick off another of my ‘Easy’ walks – no. 6 to Les Haudères, via the villages of La Sage and La Forclaz. (This leaves only walks 8 and 10 to do, if I can, before this ‘winter’ is over).

As you will see from the gallery below, the walk started brightly enough, but the clouds soon came along to make things a little tricky for my point and shoot camera. (I’ve had to lighten a couple of the images). But, I hope you enjoy the walk as much as I did. 😊

Lacs de la Corne and de la Brèche Walk, Valais, Switzerland

Yesterday, Jude and I took advantage of what might be the last drop of Spring sunshine for a while, by driving down to the Rhone valley to do a bit of bird spotting. Our route took us through the woods around 2 small lakes and alongside quite a few holes of the Sierre Golf Course.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get any decent shots of any of the birds but, for any enthusiasts out there, we spotted a few Goldeneyes, a pair of Mallards and a female Goosander on one of the lakes and 2 European Nuthatches, a (probably Great) Spotted Woodpecker, a Treecreeper, a Crow, a Robin and several Blue, Great and Long-tailed tits in the surrounding woods. Had I had a ‘fishing rod’ with me, I could have collected about 20 golf balls from the streams running between the course and the footpaths.

And, yes, that is a very hardy lady swimming in one of the lakes in picture 8. The air temperature couldn’t have been more than 13 degrees C (55 F) maximum, so I would imagine, after clear skies overnight, the water temperature was in single digits C (or somewhere between 32 and 48 F). We stopped nearby for lunch and saw her drying herself, like a cormorant, with arms out and facing the sun. Once dried and dressed she walked by and Jude asked her if she swam every day. She answered by saying that she tries to go in as often as she can, within the confines of her work schedule, which is about 2 or 3 times per week. Brrrr….!

Sentier Du Cep à la Cime, Valais, Switzerland

Warning: Routes on maps and weather forecasts can be misleading…

Regarding the first point – when I looked at the map, this appeared to be just a ‘simple’ circular walk through the vineyards from and to St-Pierre-de-Clages. (Don’t ask me why they have the hyphens in there, but they do). The Swiss mobile app said it was ‘only’ 10km (6 miles) long, with 420m (1,378 ft) of ascent. But, in the event, it turned out to be an extremely varied walk with quite a stiff climb out of the valley.

On the second point – it was supposed to be wall to wall sunshine… Ever the optimist, I hoped the clouds would clear as the day progressed, but I was sadly disappointed. 🙁 My apologies therefore for the poor quality of the images below.

The walk did start through the vineyards, heading towards the huge rockface which looms over the valley. There I met a lady who asked me if I’d come to spot the birds. (Well, we were standing next to an information board showing the birds that we might see in the area). After explaining that I was just there to do this walk, she told me she was on the look out for a ‘bruant fou’ or rock bunting. There were 4 or 5 other ‘twitchers’ around too, with their long lenses and binoculars, (see pic 7). Though I couldn’t quite see why they were getting so excited about this little bird, which is quite common I’m sure. E.g. Jude and I saw them just a few weeks ago on our walk along the Bisse de Clavau. (The information board also suggested that they might be there all year round, however…)

After a short detour to explore the ‘tunnel’ seen in pics 3-7, the track/path began to rise up and above the village of Chamoson. Eventually it levelled off and I had an unexpected surprise when I discovered that the path ran alongside the Bisse de Poteu. (So that’s another bisse ticked off my list!)

From there the route dropped down to run alongside the River Losentse. Now I’d like to say that Swiss rivers are very pretty, but that is not often the case (in the Valais anyway). Indeed, following huge storms and mudslides in both 2018 and, especially, 2019, the Losentse has gouged out the hillside, creating what can only be described as a huge, grey mess. So it came as no surprise when the bridge, which I was supposed to cross, had disappeared completely. (See pic 20). There was an easy alternative down the left hand side of the river, but I was still half-heartedly wondering if I could get across to follow the official route, when I noticed the makeshift plank. (Again, see pic 20 if you haven’t already spotted it).

Once back on track, the route meandered down through Chamoson, where I took a quick peak inside the church, before descending through the vineyards to St-Pierre-de-Clages. All things considered it was an interesting walk, which I’ll have to repeat in the summer or autumn when the vines are fully grown and, preferably when the sun is shining!

In case you’ve been wondering, Du Cep à la Cime translates as From Vine to the Peak and is one of the official ‘local’ routes, no. 177 (more info. found here). There are information boards all the way along the route, giving details of e.g. the geology, the birds and, of course, wine production in the area.

Birds on our Feeder, Evolène

You may recall that a stag managed to completely dismantle our bird feeder (twice). So we moved it onto the corner of the terrace (on the first floor). Since then I’ve been trying to get some decent pictures of the different birds, but they seem to be very alert whenever I point the camera in their general direction and fly off.

However, I have managed to capture a few reasonable photos over the past few weeks, which I thought I’d share. As well as the usual suspects (Great Tits, Blue Tits, Crested Tits, Coal Tits and Long Tailed Tits) there has been a flock of at least 12 Siskins, which have taken up almost permanent residence.

Also an Alpine Accentor seems to have selected our neighbourhood for its new home. I’m pretty sure it’s the same one which regularly perches on our balcony and the apex of the roof.