Pic d’Artsinol Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

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!

Some favourite books

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. 😊

Abbotsbury to Dorchester Walk (Day 7)

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. 😊

 

South West Coast Path, Day 6, Weymouth to Abbotsbury

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.

Grande Bisse de Lens Walk, Valais, Switzerland

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.

Malta – Various

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.

Valletta and the 3 Cities, Malta

As mentioned in my post yesterday, “The Gut” or Strait Street in Valletta was a place my dad occasionally frequented just after the War.  The street is aptly named, as it’s very narrow and it was famous for having many bars.   Despite his best efforts, my dad never did manage to have a drink in each one, going from one end to the other.  So, during my visit, I had to investigate it further.

I can report that most of the bars are now long gone.   I think only 2 remain and I was tempted to “have one for my dad” in Tico Tico’s, but 10:30 in the morning is a little early even for me!   The street is now a mix of posh offices (mainly solicitors as the Law Courts are down there too) and derelict, dusty, locked up doorways.  But, walking down it even now, you can sense what an atmosphere there must have been with hundreds, if not thousands, of sailors coming ashore.  George Cini’s book, Strada Stretta, has interviews with the people who lived and worked there in it’s heyday and is well worth a read, if you have an interest in this historic island.

I’d also read that the “3 Cities” of Senglea (aka Isla), Birgu (Vittoriosa) and Bormla (Cospicua) were well worth a look and so I popped over the Grand Harbour on one of the ferries.  The sandstone coloured streets of Vittoriosa were delightful and extremely quiet at this time of the year.

Mdina, Malta

My apologies for not publishing a ‘real’ post for a while but, like many bloggers it seems, I’ve been busy doing nothing in particular.

Anyway a few months ago now, my wife organised a trip to Iceland with her friend Kate, so I had a look for something to do while she was away.  Naturally I wanted to find some warmer weather and I looked at the AIMS marathon calendar for some inspiration.  To my delight I discovered that the Malta Challenge Marathon was on at the same time.  It consists of 3 races over 3 days, covering a 10 miler, a 5k then a Half marathon.   So I entered, arranged all my travel and set about getting fit.  My training was going really well (even running while I was away in Finland and Mykonos) and I’d managed to get up to 20k in a respectable 1h 50 mins, so I figured I was ready…  That is until my final training run, the Saturday before I left, and my left calf seized up yet again!  (Insert a suitable curse or emoji here).

Thankfully I had another reason to go… My father spent some time in Malta after the War, as a Signalman on a minesweeper and he had mentioned enjoying some time ashore down a street which he called “The Gut”, but is actually called Strait Street in English.   So when my wife and I went to Malta / Gozo a few years ago, we searched for a copy of a book by George Cini, called Strait Street.  We couldn’t find an English copy anywhere, so I got in touch with George and managed to get hold of a copy to give to my dad.   During my email exchanges with George, I mentioned my dad’s book and he suggested I present a copy of it, personally, to the Fondazzioni Wirt Artna (FWA), which is an organisation dedicated to preserving the history of the island.  And so that was also arranged…

So, like London buses, you don’t hear anything from me for a while and now a few posts of my, sometimes very wet, time in Malta & Gozo, beginning with the Mdina…

 

La Luette to Euseigne via the Passarelle de la Combe

So, while her husband, Malcolm, was conquering the Matterhorn, Helen and I took the Postbus just a few stops down the valley to La Luette, to walk along the path which crosses the Passarelle de la Combe.  We then dropped down to the naturally heated waters near Combioula, before climbing back up passed the Pyramids to Euseigne.

Helen was thanking me for taking her along this walk, but I was thanking her in the end as I managed to take pictures of three new butterflies, which I’d never seen before – and therefore never posted on this site before. 😊

The first (pic 4) was of an albeit tatty looking Dryad (minois dryas).

The second (pic 16) is of a rather shy Tree Grayling (hipparchia statilinus), which decided to hide, as it’s name suggests, under a felled tree trunk.  It’s not widely seen across Switzerland, so I’ve included a distribution map (pic 16a) with an arrow indicating (very approximately) where we were.

The third (pic 17) was of a Lesser Purple Emperor (apatura ilia).  In French it’s called a ‘Petit Mars changeant’ and it certainly seems to take many forms, being blue/violet or red/orange or, as my luck would have it, dark brown/black!  This one flew up to the top of a bush, so I didn’t get a great picture of it.  So, for some better pictures of this colourful butterfly please click here.   Although more widespread across Switzerland, it’s classed as vulnerable on the Red List and is not that common in our area (pic 17a) .  So I was a very happy bunny once I’d identified them all from my book.  😁  Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the flowers, which I couldn’t find at all.  It seems every silver lining has a cloud…!

Footnote:  The link above and distribution maps were take from Michel and Vincent Baudraz’s excellent website:  https://www.lepido.ch/cartes-de-distribution
If you click on a particular group, the individual species are listed with distribution maps.  Further photographs of each are also available by clicking on the name of the butterfly).

Walk to the Cabane du Trient via Cabane d’Orny

Today I had another opportunity to do a ‘new’ walk and this time it was from the small village of Champex-Lac to the Cabane du Trient (@3,169m or 10,297ft) which overlooks a huge expanse of glacier called the Plateau du Trient.  I cheated a bit by taking the chairlift to La Breya (@2198m or 7,211ft) but it was still a good hike over some rough terrain and included a little bit of snow and a short section of metal stemples* to climb.
(*Think, thick staples stuck into the rock and you’ll be close).

As you will see below the views of the glaciers were incredible, but I was surprised to find a strange looking statue outside the cabane.  Since returning home I’ve discovered it was created by sculptor Nikola Zaric, who sadly died of cancer in 2017.  It was only meant to be there as part of a temporary exhibition but, after his death, a crowd-fund was set up to buy the statue, in order to donate it to the Swiss Alpine Club to ensure it remains in its current position.  It also looks like they have now reached that target.

Anyway, it wasn’t the only unusual thing seen at the cabane…  My blogging buddy, Stephen Black, has been getting a bit of stick for over-marketing his book ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square’ on his website, FracturedFaithBlog.  Having put together my dad’s book, I know how much effort that goes into proof reading and editing, let alone actually writing it.  So I’m unashamedly plugging it here. 😊  If you would like to purchase a copy – please click here.

I’m now hoping that I have literally taken it to a new level and my picture is the ‘highest’ picture ever taken of his book(?)