Mont d’Orge, Sion, Switzerland

Sion, (pronounced Cee-on, as in Sea-on, by the way), is the capital of the Swiss canton of the Valais, which is in the south west, french speaking, part of the country.  It has around 30,000 inhabitants and a football team in the Swiss Super League.  Due to its position in the fertile Rhone valley, it has a rich and wonderful history going back to Prehistoric times.  It’s perhaps best known now for its two 13th century hilltop fortifications – the Basilique de Valère and Chateau de Tourbillon.

However there is a 3rd hill close by, called Mont d’Orge, which also has a ruined castle or chateau on top.  It can easily be reached from the railway/bus station and, for added interest, there is a small lake to the north, which teems with wildlife in the summer.  (See information sheet, pic 21, for a list, in French, of some of the creatures found thereabouts).

I’d read about this walk some years ago in a Rother walking guide, but had never done it, until yesterday.  Sadly the skies were a little dull for good photography, but I’ve done my best.

Those clever Swiss people have made best use of the geography by setting out a fitness trail up and around it’s sides.  (See pics 4, 15, 16 & 17 below).  I also stumbled across a yellow flower which my research suggests, (please let me know if I’m wrong), is either a Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem or an Early Star-of-Bethlehem.  If it’s the latter, then this is a very rare flower in the UK (where it’s also known as the Radnor Lily) as it only grows at Stanner Rocks in Radnorshire, Central Wales.  They believe that there are only 1,000 plants, of which only 1% flower each year.  However, it is quite widespread across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Last, but not least, I spotted a signpost with a plaque (pic 29) which shows that I was on one of the Swiss links to the famous Way of St James or Camino de Santiago de Compostela.   That makes it a little over 1,900 km to my good friend Arthur’s house. 😊

 

Forêt de Finges, Valais, Switzerland

After several days of sanding down and painting our shutters, Jude and I decided to have a day off and go for a walk down in the Rhone valley.  Sunday is pretty much a rest day in Switzerland anyway, as you are not allowed to make any undue noise (like mowing the lawn, drilling or hammering).  This is one of several ‘rules’ in Switzerland, which I may well blog about one day.

Anyway, the Forêt de Finges is a nature reserve of national importance which lies between the River Rhone and the main road from Sierre to Leuk.  It effectively marks the ‘border’ between the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland.  Our route would take us around a few small ponds which, to our surprise, were almost completely frozen.

We’d taken our binoculars in the hope of spotting a few interesting birds but, unfortunately, we didn’t see too many – just a few Coal Tits, Crested Tits, 2 Buzzards and something that looked a bit yellow!  On the plus side, we did spot a butterfly which came to rest on a bank above us.  After clambering up very carefully, I did manage to catch a reasonable photo – see pic 15.

 

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly

I mentioned in my previous post that the weather here in the Val d’Hérens has been rather sunny of late.  Well, despite the air temperature only hovering between 0 and 11 degrees C (32 and 52 F) and there still being 80-90% snow cover in our valley, we’ve actually seen 3 or 4 butterflies flitting about.

I was interested to find out which type they were, so I went in search of a photograph and sure enough, only a few yards up our road, I spotted a Small Tortoiseshell.  It had its wings closed and was well camouflaged so, given the distance I was away and the light shining on the back of my point and shoot camera, I was amazed to capture it in the centre of the picture.  The image below is exactly as it was taken (though reduced in pixel size to make it easier for you to load).

This is not the first time I’ve witnessed these brave and hardy little things out in the snow – as this picture from March 2017 shows.

 

La Luette Walk

I’ve agonised over posting pictures of this walk (from last Thursday) because ‘silly Mike’ forgot to take his camera with him and these images were taken on his phone.  After downloading them, it soon became clear that the zoom on a mobile phone does not take very good landscape images.  You all probably knew that, but I don’t use my phone very often, (even for calls), so it sort of came as a surprise how blurred and grainy they were.  However, I was very impressed by the close ups and, in particular, the quality of the first image…

I was also pleased to see one or two butterflies still around, though I suspect picture 7 will probably the last one for this year.  The weather has turned decidedly cool in the Val d’Hérens over the past week and is currently barely over the freezing point.

 

Lake Como trip

My sister, Karen, came over to stay with us last week and she wanted to visit somewhere a little different.  So we booked an apartment in Argegno on Lake Como, Italy, for 3 nights.  Although the drive over the Simplon Pass was on a perfectly clear day, the forecast wasn’t great for the few days that we were there.  However, we did risk walking to the top of Mount Tremezzo (@1,700m or 5,577ft), hoping the mist would clear, but it didn’t quite, (see pics 5 to 15).  And, of course, we had to visit Como itself and take a boat ride back from there to Argegno.

It rained pretty much all the way back via Lake Lugano and up the Nufenen Pass, but as soon as we arrived back in the Valais, the sun was shining again… (as indeed it is again today). 😊  Makes you wonder why you go away sometimes!

Col des Ignes Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The forecast for the week was (indeed still is) bright, with sun followed by more sun, so I just had to do a new walk, which I’ve been promising myself for the past year or so.  The route sets off from Arolla and climbs to the Pas de Chevres, with its infamous set of (now new) ladders, before dropping down slightly and turning right up to the Col des Ignes at 3,183m or 10,443 ft.  From there the path descends quite steeply before returning to Arolla via the Remointse de Pra Gra.

During my drive up to Arolla, I noticed that the grass was all covered in frost and the car warned me that the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees, so I wondered if my fleece and light windproof top would be enough.  But I needn’t have worried as within 20 minutes of setting off, the fleece was off and it never went back on all day.  With hardly a breath of wind, it turned out to be THE most perfect day for walking in the Alps… 😊

Circular Walk via La Sage, La Forclaz, Sépey and Les Haudères

Grass plays a very important part in the lifecycle of the mountains.  It’s around this time of year that the farmers take their second cut to feed the animals during the long cold winter.  And, of course, where there is grass, you will often find an abundance of tiny creatures, which leap out of your way as you walk along the paths.  Below are just some of the grasshoppers and crickets that I managed to capture.  (They are devilishly quick at jumping out of the way when you approach with a camera).

I’m often asked what’s the difference between a cricket and a grasshopper and the answer is that, in general, crickets have very long antennae, whereas the grasshopper’s are quite short.  The same sort of distinction can be made between moths and butterflies where, again in general, the latter have a sort of bulb at the end of their antennae, while moths don’t and theirs can be more feathery or saw-edged.

Ferpècle valley walk (and glacier ‘hole’ update)

A few weeks ago, my friend Matt asked me what had happened to the hole in the Ferpècle glacier.  I told him that it had collapsed last year, but I hadn’t been up there recently to see what the latest was.  So off I went on Wednesday to provide this report…

Although my photo from last year is not really comparable, as it was taken from above, near the Bricola hut, it is clear the collapsed ‘end’ of the glacier no longer exists and the whole glacier must have receded somewhere between 20 and 50 metres.  (It’s hard to gauge when you are standing maybe 500 metres away).  Perhaps a better comparison can be made with these two  photos though they were taken 2 years ago.

I also came across what must be one of the smallest species of frog in the world.  The little creature in picture 14 was no bigger than my little finger nail.  How they survive through the winter, when this whole area is covered in snow and ice for several months, is a complete mystery to me.

Walk to the Pas de Lona, Val d’Hérens

I am very fortunate to be able to do quite a number of walks, some quite challenging,  from my front door.  One of those is to the Pas de Lona at 2,787m or 9,144ft.  It starts easy enough, along a track and then takes a path up to Volovron, before turning up through the woods to the alpage across to La Vieille.  It’s still a good walk to get there (and back of course).  But the real challenge starts when you set off to climb up to the col, where the path just seems to get steeper and steeper and your legs start to burn.  Once there you can go even higher to the Cabane Becs de Bosson (which many do, to rest for the night, as part of the Tour of the Val d’Hérens) but, since I’d set off quite late and we had some visitors coming, I simply headed back home again.

Now, just imagine how the cyclists must feel having to do that climb pushing or carrying their bikes as part of the Grand Raid, which takes place on Saturday…  There are 4 distances to choose from, either starting in Verbier, Nendaz, Hérémence or my village of Evolène, but they all have to do that climb before descending (and climbing again briefly) to the finish in Grimentz.  I’ve put my name down to support the riders by handing out drinks and/or maybe giving directions, but I’m not sure where I’ll be stationed yet.  It could be in the village or on the mountain side somewhere, but wherever it is, I hope to bring you some pictures next week.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this walk…

The Inn Way to the Peak District (3 of 4)

By contrast to all the ‘Edges’ of Day 1 and the many villages visited during Day 2, Day 3 included two very tranquil and secluded riverside walks – one along Lathkill Dale and the other by the side of the River Wye up Monsal/Millar’s Dale.  Despite it being the longest day at 16 miles or 25.5 km, the less hilly terrain gave us plenty of time to have 2 very pleasant refreshment stops.  The first was at the Cock and Pullet, in Sheldon and  the second at the Monsal Head Hotel.  From there it was a very easy stroll (or should that be stagger? 🤔) to our finish in Tideswell.

Just in case you are wondering about the last picture… (“Not another beer?” or maybe “That’s a different tee shirt!” I hear you say…)  It was taken by Colin at the end of Day 2 and I should have posted it yesterday, but I forgot.  I thought it deserved an airing as it captures the true spirit of the walk. 🙂