Walk to Villa and La Sage, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

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.

A Dozen Butterflies

Last Thursday I went for one of my usual walks up the road behind our chalet. Almost all of the fields in our valley have been cut now, so the butterflies are having to find their nectar in the flowers which grow by the sides of the road. There’s also a huge trench to the side of our road, which was created to catch any falling rocks. The wild flowers have re-grown and it has proved to be a fabulous place to capture some photographs.

I missed a few, including some sort of Clouded Yellow and a ‘large orange one’, which flew away as I approached, but I was pleased to get sufficient images from above and below (where needed) to identify these 12. As an indication of how many butterflies are still around (and how lucky I am) all of these pictures were taken in just 1 hour and 12 minutes.

Swiss Trip to the South-East (Part 1)

For our first full day in the Engadin, we decided to walk from Maloja along the path which runs by the side of Lej da Segl or the Silsersee to the village of Sils Maria. Jude was keen to see what it looked like as Colletts Mountain Holidays have (or at least would have, had it not been for COVID-19) started running holidays there.

Quick aside here: I first met Jude while on a Colletts Mountain Holiday in the Italian Dolomites in 2004. Jude was the chalet host. The rest is history as they say… 💕😊

Anyway, even before we’d left our apartment, we’d noticed some people, running in pairs towards the lake. Only the day before, Jude had read about an event called the ötillö, which required a team of 2 people to run, swim, run, swim, run, swim, etc. for a total of 45km. (39km of this is running and 6km swimming across the 2 lakes in the Engadin). One of the rules is that the 2 competitors should never be more than 10 metres apart, so they are tied together with a piece of rope. (The madness of the human race never ceases to amaze me!) On the plus side, if there is a plus side, they are allowed to use paddles on their hands and floats between and on their legs. (In the second picture below you can see the 2 competitors had them on their shins, but not everyone had them). Of course, these had to be carried during the run sections. All I can say is, it’s not an event you’ll catch me doing!

We stopped at the rather quaint village of Isola on the way for a coffee, where there’s a huge cascading waterfall. Sils Maria itself was quite charming, with restricted motorised transport from what we could see. It’s clearly a great base to explore some of the excellent walking routes and attractions in that area. (But it’ll never beat the Val d’Hérens of course! 😉)

We returned to Maloja via a small ferry boat, which criss-crosses the lake to pick up passengers. Apparently it’s the highest operating ferry in Europe, at an altitude of 1,797m or 5,896ft. Swiss facts – Jude has them all! (It’s no wonder I married her! 😍)

Swiss Trip to the North (part 4)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s nothing my wife enjoys more than being on a boat. So when she discovered that you could take a boat up the river to one of, if not, THE best preserved medieval towns in Switzerland, it had to be done, even if it did involve wearing a mask en route.

Above the town sits Hohenklingen Castle. We hadn’t planned to visit it, but when we discovered there wasn’t a return boat at 15:30 and the next one was at 5pm, well… It’s only a 200m/650ft climb and there is a café/restaurant at the top so, it just had to be done. It was worth every step of the way though for the views from the top of the tower – and the refreshing beer of course! 🥵+🍺=😋

Ferpècle Valley Walk to Bricola, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Long-time followers will recall how a ‘hole’ mysteriously appeared in the Ferpècle glacier in 2015. Each year since then I’ve been back to see how the hole has collapsed and receded to what it is today.

You can walk along the Ferpècle valley and scramble up a rock slab at the end to get a closer view, but this year I decided to walk up to Bricola, where you can look directly down upon the glacier.

The glacier doesn’t look to be much different from last year, but there was plenty of water rushing down the Borgne as I crossed the wooden bridge. It was so loud, I was drawn into taking a video. (It’s funny how, once you find a ‘feature’ on your camera, you keep using it! 🤔) However, I’ve spared you that today.

L’A Vielle Walk, Val d’Hérens Switzerland

Continuing the theme of “If at first you don’t succeed…” Regular followers may recall that my walk to the Tsalet d’Eison on May 9th was also hampered by snow. So yesterday, I decided to try again, but this time going in the other direction and taking in the small hamlet called L’A Vielle, where there is a Buvette which is normally open for drinks and snacks, but not yesterday sadly.

With quite some distance to cover. I mad a pact with myself not to chase down and stalk too many butterflies, otherwise I might still have been there today! So I basically only photographed those which landed in front of me and begged me to make them famous all around the world… And in 2 different places there were, what I’ve called, ‘Flotillas’ of butterflies, ‘puddling’ on the damp soil.

This was only upstaged by a group of people herding some Yaks along the path. For a moment I thought I was in the Himalaya. And, funnily enough, we passed each other at the exact spot where the snow had blocked my way last time.

Pic d’Artsinol Walk – 2nd attempt

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.

Foret de Pfynges Walk and a Damsel/Dragonfly Quiz

Today my wife, Judith, and I went for a walk around the Foret de Pfynges Nature Reserve which runs alongside the river Rhone. We had hoped to spot a few birds but, with the trees being so tall and canopy thick with foliage, in the event, we spotted everything but birds. We saw fish, frogs (or toads), butterflies, crickets and a couple of Coots. (OK, they are birds. but they were not exactly what we were looking for).

HOWEVER, we did see an awful lot of damselflies and dragonflies. So many in fact, I haven’t the time to look them all up, (and I’d probably get them wrong anyway). So I thought I’d throw them out there as a sort of quiz… (See pics Q1 to Q11). I know at least 2 people who may know quite a few (if not all?) of the answers.
(Vivienne – I bet you’ve been dying to test out that new book of yours. I see Question 10 is on the front cover…)

Coronavirus update – a personal view from Switzerland

Over the past 15 and a half years, I have had many reasons to be thankful and very grateful that I live in Switzerland, but, perhaps, none more so than during the current Coronavirus situation.

When the outbreak started, (it was so long ago now, I forget the exact date), Switzerland was one of the first affected regions in Europe. The lockdown came very quickly, with shops closed, a limit of no more than 5 people in a group and social distancing everywhere.

I recall checking the “Worldometers” website and seeing that the Swiss were ahead of the UK, at least in terms of cases, if not number of deaths, for several days. In the most unwanted league table (unless you are an American President perhaps?) the Swiss were in the top 10 – possibly ‘peaking’ at number 4 or 5. This was not good news for a country with no more than 8.65 million inhabitants.

Wind forward a few months and, while the virus still takes its toll all around the world, based on the figures from yesterday, I see that Switzerland are now down to number 31 in terms of Total Cases. But does this relative ‘improvement’, or worsening for those now in the top 30, tell the whole story?

If you sort the table by Active Cases, the Swiss drop to number 99 with 454 cases. Though that could be as low as 103rd as it seems the UK, Spain, Netherlands and Sweden don’t declare (or maybe don’t know) the number of Active cases. (The Worldometers website simply says N/A). To put that number into context, 454 is less Active Cases than the Maldives, Norway and Australia.

And then, if we consider New Cases, at least based on the figures from yesterday, the Swiss are 123rd (equal with Zimbabwe and Cyprus), with only 3 new cases reported. In effect, the virus has been brought under control and Contact Tracing is now in place to investigate and keep on top of any new cases.

So how did they achieve this I wonder? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I would speculate that a lot of it is due to the national psyche of the Swiss. They are conditioned to follow rules. (Well, at least most people are – there are always a few in every society unfortunately). They have rules which many might find a bit silly, like, you should not make any unnecessary loud noise (like DIY drilling, strimming or playing loud music) to disturb the peace and tranquility of the neighbourhood, before 7am, between 12 noon and 1pm and after 7pm – and certainly not at anytime on a Sunday or a Public Holiday. Cars have to be washed at a dedicated facility, not on your drive or wherever. The list goes on… (I have thought I should blog about some of these rules, but it becomes a way of life…)

Unlike the UK, the nation doesn’t have to be thanked for doing well and be urged to continue to follow the government advice, it’s simply expected of everyone, by everyone. You will also never find the Swiss bragging or gloating about how well they have handled the situation, they are far too modest for that and would probably consider it rather vulgar to do so. (It would be like Roger Federer saying, “Yes, of course I am the greatest tennis player of all time!” and then repeating that in French, German and Italian, just to emphasise the point. It’s just never going to happen).

Nor will you find them today dancing in the streets and celebrating their success. They are far too cautious to think it’s all over. We are still only in the 2nd phase of the de-confinement, though the 3rd phase starts in about a week. Gatherings of more than 1,000 are still banned until the end of August and social distancing is still in place wherever you go. As I say, the Swiss like to stick to their rules and I, for one, am sincerely glad that they do and I applaud them for it. (If I had a Swiss flag icon, I would fly it proudly here – on their behalf of course!)

Below are some stats taken from the Worldometers website together with a picture of an Idas Blue butterfly which I took on Sunday. I’ve been trying to find an excuse to post it and I hope it brightens up your day! 😊