After several weeks of sub-zero temperatures and looking at snow and/or ice, it’s nice to go for a walk somewhere warmer and where things look a bit more normal… So, today, with a ‘big shop’ to do as well, Jude and I drove down to the Rhone valley, did our shopping and went for a short walk along the Bisse de Clavau, which runs along the vineyards, just above Sion..
As you will see, the skies were a little grey and not good for photography. Indeed I wasn’t going to post anything, but we saw and learnt a few interesting things:
Pic 1: The frost on the side window of our car was rather bizarre – one bit looked like a large spider had just been squashed on it and in a few other areas the ice looked like feathers… 🤔
Pic 4: There was a huge flock of what turned out to be Alpine Choughs taking off and landing in the vineyards. One minute they would all settle, then whoosh, they all took off again. I now learn that it’s called a Chattering or a Clattering of Choughs. Along the way we also saw 2 European Robins, a few Rock Buntings and a female Black Cap. (Photos far too distant and blurred to even consider posting…)
Pic 7: Wiki tells me that the yellow lichen on the branch of the tree, has a wide distribution and many common names such as common orange lichen, yellow scale, maritime sunburst lichen and shore lichen. I just liked the bright colour and the way some bits look like little suckers… (You may need to zoom in to see them).
Pic 9: The information board told us that the dry stone wall (at the top right of the photo) is the highest drystone wall in the world. Given that Sion is only about 500m (1,650ft) above sea level and therefore the wall no more than 800m (2,625ft), we doubt it’s the highest in terms of altitude, but it could well be the tallest. If so, not a lot of people know that! For those of you unfamiliar with drystone walling, I can highly recommend the Shire Guide to Drystone Walling by Lawrence Garner (who just happens to be my father-in-law!) It also features some of Jude’s photographs!
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.
After three and a half weeks of ‘rest’, (well, not doing anything too strenuous), yesterday I decided to test out my heel on a short walk up to Villa, across to La Sage and then back home again. It was a bit sore by the time I got back, but it feels OK today, so it must be more or less on the mend. 😊
In the photos below (pics 2 and 5) you can see people climbing on the via ferrata. It looks pretty dangerous, but they are attached via a harness and short ropes to a cable which runs alongside the various stemples (which look like thick staples), metal plates and a ladder, which are fixed into the rockface.
Along the walk I saw many, many Marbled Whites (I gave up counting after 20), quite a few Damon Blues and Small (Cabbage) Whites, three or four Spotted Fritillaries and a Chalkhill Blue or two. But, since I’ve recently posted pictures of them, I’ve only included the ‘new’ ones.
If anyone knows what the brown butterfly is in pic 21, please let me know. I didn’t find a very good match to any of those in my Swiss book.
Almost a month ago I set off to walk to the top of the Pic d’Artsinol, but I was thwarted by too much snow. The weather since has not been particularly warm, but yesterday I decided that it was probably time to give it another go, especially with the chairlift from Lanna opening, which saved me around 700m or 2,300ft of climbing to Chemeuille. 😊
I was however a little hesitant as I drove the car the 1 mile/2 km or so to Lanna, as the peak was covered in cloud. But I hoped that the sun might burn that off and I’d have 360 degree views. Sadly that was not the case, though I did get a good view of the Dixence Dam, which I thought was at least a nice link to my last post. And the clouds did add a little atmosphere to some of the photos.
As you will see in pics 8 and 9, I was joined on the ascent by a very small butterfly (one of only four I saw all day, surprisingly enough, given the number of flowers around). It very cleverly landed on the strap of my camera, making it a little difficult to get a photo, until I realised I had my phone in my pocket. After what seemed like an age, fumbling to get it out, typing in the pin code and selecting the camera option, all without disturbing the butterfly, I managed to get quite a few (and surprisingly good) shots. My only doubt as to its identity as a Small Blue (male) is that my book seems to suggest the first 2 dots on the hind wing should be “equal or less than 90 degrees to the edge of the wing”. (Though it looks identical to a Small Blue photo on the author’s website). So, if there are any experts out there who agree or disagree, I’d like to hear from them.
Equally, if anyone can tell me what the flower is in pic 22, I’d be most grateful. It was at around 2,750m or 9,000ft.
Yesterday I set off from home to walk to the top of the Pic d’Artsinol (@2,998m or 9,836ft). After my experience on Monday, I was hopeful that I’d be able to reach the top, since there are some wide open meadows and the final ridge to the summit faces south. However, as you will see from photo no. 16, I had to turn around at 2,580m (8,465ft), as there was too much snow.
Nevertheless it was a great walk and I spotted a new plant for me in the Alpine Butterwort (pic 9) which my Alpine Flora book tells me is “not common” and is carnivorous. “Insects become glued to the glandular leaf surface and digested by the plant”. And at the very end of my walk I spotted a mating pair of, what I believe to be, Osiris Blues which, if correct, is another first!
Vivienne, at “Bug Woman – Adventures in London”, had a great idea with her post yesterday, which was to describe 3 of her favourite illustrated books. It inspired me to continue the theme by mentioning 3 of my own.
With a well stocked bookshelf (or three), my dilemma was which ones to choose. So my selection criteria was their relevance to this site which, when I’m not covering holidays, tends to concentrate on Swiss mountain walks and their associated views, with a few butterflies and flowers thrown in for good measure.
With this in mind, my first choice was a big book by any standards, aptly entitled Majestics. It measures 44 x 32cm (17.3″ x 12.6″) and when you open it up you can see why it needs to be. A finalist in the Banff International Mountain Book Festival (Canada), it contains some simply amazing panoramic photos of Switzerland by professional photographer, Samuel Bitton. They are the sort of images I aspire to.
I have mentioned this second book before, but it’s constantly in use during the summer as I do my level best to identify the butterflies I’ve photographed. It’s in French and is a “Guide d’identification des papillons de jour de Suisse”, written by Vincent and Michel Baudraz. The first ‘half’ is a step-by-step guide to help you identify the butterfly. This is ok until it asks you what the underside looks like and you only have a picture of the upperside – which explains why I cannot always be sure of my naming! The second part has all the butterflies listed by family together with detailed pointers to their unique features.
Throughout the book their are beautiful and incredibly accurate coloured drawings of each. Anyone who has ever tried to identify the subtle differences between two very similar butterflies will appreciate how precise they are. Not only that but the book is ably supported by this website, which shows the distribution (albeit only in Switzerland) and has a selection of photos which can often confirm the identification.
My third choice is Our Alpine Flora by E. Landolt and K. M. Urbanska, which is published by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC). My copy is in English, but very often it seems like another language, as the detailed descriptions mention “actinomorphic” or “pedicellate” flowers, “fruit a silique opening by 2 valves” or “lanceolate, shortly petiolate” leaves. My over-simplistic technique is to thumb through the (rather too small) photos at the back until I find one that looks like mine. I know it’s a bit hit and miss, but I’d never identify anything without it. 😊
On Day 7, Pete caught the bus and train back home, but I had an extra day before flying back to Geneva. My plan was to walk part of the South Dorset Ridgeway then turn north to Dorchester. But it was soon obvious that the weather and, more importantly, the state of the paths, (see pic 3), would determine the best way forward. I figured, after all, I was there to enjoy myself and not slip and slide ankle deep in mud.
A quick look at the map showed a very direct route along quiet roads and paths and so that became Plan B – especially as it went through the delightfully named Martinstown or Winterbourne St Martin, where there was a pub. 😊 I arrived there a little early so I explored the church before spending an hour or so drying out in front of a roaring fire and chatting to the locals. That included a 95 year old gentleman who walked in shortly after me (completely unaided by an stick or other support) and quipped “You’ve got to get up early to be the first in this pub!” He was a great character, who’d been in the RAF. He told me his home was flooded just before Christmas and he was living temporarily in a rented cottage nearby. He hoped to be back in his house sometime during April.
The route also took me past the Hardy Monument on the top of Black Down, where there’s a 360 degree viewpoint – on a clear day of course. (See pic 8). I should explain that this ‘Hardy’ was not the Dorchester writer, Thomas Hardy, famous for his Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. (I’ve never read any of these by the way, Pete told me… You can learn all sorts of things on these trips…!) The monument was built in memory of another local hero, the Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy (1769 – 1839), who was Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). Almost any British school boy or girl will tell you, as Vice-admiral Horatio Nelson lay dying, he uttered the immortal words: “Kiss me Hardy”.
That brings us to the end of my UK trip. I hope you have enjoyed the series. The sun is now shining brightly in the Val d’Hérens, so I hope to bring you some more Swiss pictures in the next few days. 😊
I mentioned on Day 1 that there were 2 reasons why Pete had chosen to do this part of the SW Coast Path and the second reason was that the first ever ‘proper’ book that he’d read as a young boy was called Moonfleet, which was set in this area of the country. It was written by John Meade Falkner in 1898 and is a tale of adventure, smuggling and a search for Blackbeard’s lost diamond. But overall it’s a story of loyalty and a great friendship between the two main characters, John Trenchard and Elzevir Block.
Pete had sent me a copy of the book just before Christmas for me to read as ‘homework’ before our trip and I’m glad he did, as it really added to the enjoyment of our walk. The Old Fleet church is featured in the book, as is the Moonfleet Manor. There is even an Inn in the book called the Why Not? (and Why Not? indeed, I always say 😉).
Pete and I also met up with two of his old University pals, Jacky and Alan, who now live in Dorchester. We met them and their dog at the Moonfleet Manor and they walked a section of the route with us.
I enjoyed my bisses walk last week so much, I decided to try another. This time I chose a section of the Grande Bisse de Lens, starting (and finishing) in the village of Icogne.
My plan was to do a 5km (3 mile) section heading north, then return the same way. But at the start of the bisse, there was a sign saying it was closed in 3 km (2 miles). I still thought it would be worth doing, so I set off. Sure enough, at a junction with another path, there was a sign saying ‘Stop’ (pic 18).
However, I was curious to see why it was closed, so I continued for maybe another half a mile or kilometre and found the offending blockage. (See pic 21). I therefore returned to the junction and took the higher path back to Icogne.
During my walk I spotted not 1, but 5 lemony yellow butterflies, which I took to be Brimstones. (Sorry, no pics). My book suggests hibernated species emerge quite early in the year and it has been unseasonably warm in the Valais for the past week or so.
Below some more photos taken during my recent trip to Malta, which didn’t quite fit into the other 3 categories already posted. This includes a trip to the north east coast and the National Aquarium at Bugibba, which also had a few reptiles. (At least they kept still while being photographed!)
Last but by no means least, as mentioned in my first post, there’s a picture of me presenting a copy of my dad’s book “Bobbing Along”, to the FWA (Fondazzioni Wirt Artna) at their offices in Notre Dame Gate. It contains a whole chapter on his time in Malta and will be added to their archives.