Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Valais, Switzerland

The 15th August is normally the date when the Mid-summer Festival takes place in our village. But this year, for obvious reasons, it was cancelled. So we were not treated to the helicopter rescue of the dummy which had fallen (or was he pushed?) off the rockface, nor the stream of vintage cars. And the usual procession, of the villagers demonstrating the traditional arts and crafts, will have to wait until next year.

So, I decided to have a wander through the village and take some photos to show you what our village looks like during the summer. Normally the main street would be packed from one end to the other but, this year, there were just the usual weekend and holiday visitors. It was also nice to see the locals dressed in their traditional costumes, simply relaxing and enjoying some time with their families.

If you would like to see an example of what we all missed, here’s a post of the Mid-summer Festival from 2016.

Note that the last two images, courtesy of Wiki, position Evolène on the map of Switzerland and the canton of Valais and give some facts and figures about the Commune – just in case you wondered… 😊

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, England, UK

Let me take you back to 1995, if not a little earlier than that, when my mate Colin and I had the ‘idea’ to do the English Coast to Coast walk, created and made famous by the great Alfred Wainwright, from St. Bee’s in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. Our plan was to run the 182 mile (293km) route in relay, over the space of 4 days, with one person on the route and the other driving a car to a prearranged changeover point. This way we could travel light, leaving the rest of our gear in the boot of the car, and we’d overnight in B&Bs or, preferably, Inns. 🍻👍😊

But we soon realised that there was a flaw in our grand idea – What if one of us got lost or was injured? (Remember, this was when mobile phones were still evolving even into those early ‘bricks’). Answer therefore: Recruit another two mates, called Pete and Tim, so that we’d have 2 on each leg, for a second opinion on any tricky route finding and someone to run for help, just in case. So it was that the 4 of us lined up in traditional fashion, with our toes dipped in the Irish Sea in April 1995. (See pic 1).

The event went so well, the following year we did the Offa’s Dyke Path (this time with Liam included) and in 1997, the West Highland Way (in 2 days). These were followed by The Wold’s Way (1998), where Dave was added to our happy band of runners, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (1999) and a trip to southern Ireland in 2000, to do parts of the Dingle Way and Beara Way, plus a hike up to the top of Carrantuohill (which scared the living daylights out of Pete. It was only then that we discovered he suffered from vertigo).

Wind forward a few more years and, after St Cuthbert’s Way (2005), Glyndwrs Way (2007) and the Dales Way (2009), in 2010 we decided to re-visit the best route of them all – the Coast to Coast (C2C). But this time in a more leisurely 5 days (well, we were 15 years older) and with all 6 of us present. (Pic 2).

Below, we have a small selection of my photos from that event. But, because we were doing it in relay format, even after doing the C2C twice I still haven’t done it all. Due to the way we rotate the groupings each day and the different stopover points, some of the legs I covered the second time around were the same or similar to the first and I still haven’t had the joy of bog-hopping near Nine Standards Rigg. (Or maybe, as one of the main organisers of these events, I deliberately avoided that leg? 😉)

Coronavirus update – a view from Switzerland

I’ve been encouraged by Stephen at Fractured Faith Blog to write a few words on our experiences during this ‘crisis’ period. After all, the Blogosphere is one big inter-connected and generally very supportive community. 😊 Since I might be one of the few people you might follow in Switzerland, I thought I’d give you some insights into how things are in what is generally considered a well ordered country.

We have been in lockdown mode for around 4 weeks now. Unlike France, where you need to stay within a kilometre of your home and have a piece of paper indicating the reason for not staying in, we are allowed out (but encouraged not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary – though see below).

Like a lot of countries, we had some panic buying initially. Even in our small village, the shelves were cleared of pasta for the first few days, but normality was soon restored. The ‘Co-op’ restricts the numbers entering to about a dozen (it’s not a huge shop, but not small either) and lines are clearly marked on the floor where you must stand to respect the 2 metre rule at the checkout. Only one person is allowed at either end of the conveyor belt. So if the person in front has a lot of shopping to pack, you have to stand and wait until they’ve finished before it’s your turn. There is also hand-wash at the entrance/exit which you are asked to use. The manager told me the other day that he had not heard of any cases in our valley, which is somewhat comforting, because…

My wife and I often sit on our balcony and watch the world go by. Normally there are very few people around and about, I guess that’s because they are normally at work or have better things to do. But recently we have seen groups of up to 8 congregating and having ‘garden parties’, when the Swiss rule is no gatherings of more than 5. Not only that but one of our neighbours was actually sharing a fondue with his partner and another neighbour, which we thought was unbelievable.

Another annoyance to us is to see ‘outsiders’ arriving in the valley. Last week we observed one Austrian car and several French number plates. These countries have closed their borders to incomers, so why do they feel it necessary to travel out of their own country? In addition, all Swiss cars have a 2 character canton prefix on their number plate indicating their owner’s origin (like GE for Geneva and FR for Fribourg) and we’ve regularly observed non-Valaisan (VS) cars in and around our neighbourhood. Many Swiss have second homes and come up and/or invite their friends for the weekend, despite this being discouraged by the authorities. The Swiss are normally very good at following the rules, but even they seem to balk at the very idea sometimes.

On a more positive note, it has meant we’ve managed to get a few little jobs done around the house and my wife, Judith, has turned her hand to baking bread (and very successfully I might add – see pics below) to save us going to the shop too often. (Bread goes hard very rapidly in the dry atmosphere of the Alps!)

Anyway, that’s my little ‘piece’ said. Please feel free to Comment and/or post some of your own personal experiences.

Stay safe everyone.

South West Coast Path, Day 1, Poole to Swanage

I’ve just returned from a week in the UK, walking the first (or last) part of the South West Coast Path with my very good mate, Pete.   The full route is around 640 miles (1,030 km) long and goes from Poole in Dorset to Minehead in Somerset (or vice versa).  Long time followers may recall that the 2 of us and 4 other friends did the other end of this long distance path in 2015.  (Though I now see that nobody ‘Liked’ that post, so maybe I should call a halt here… 🤔 … Er, no way…!)

With 6 days available, our ultimate destination would be Abbotsbury, though I had an extra day before flying home, so I also walked ‘back’, away from the SW Coast Path, to Dorchester.

Pete had selected this particular section of the path for 2 reasons*, the first being that he had spent 4 of his summer holidays as a child in Swanage and he was keen to re-live those happy memories from the past.  So it was with great excitement that we set off on the short ferry crossing from the Sandbanks area of Poole to Shell Bay, around 1pm, to walk the 6 or 7 miles (10 or 11 km) to Swanage.

*I will divulge Pete’s 2nd reason later in this series.  (Oh, the suspense…)

Logistical footnote: Pete had travelled down that morning from York , by train, London Underground and train to arrive in Bournemouth (rather miraculously, on time) around 12 noon.  By contrast my journey had been by Postbus, train and plane (by the wonder that is Easyjet to Bournemouth airport), again arriving around 12 noon.  I then caught a taxi to Sandbanks, picking up Pete on the way.   As George Peppard, or ‘Hannibal’ Smith, if you prefer, often said in the A Team “I love it when a plan comes together.” 😊

 

Walk to Lac d’Arbey and Les Haudères, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After the excesses of the festive season (i.e. too much 🍰&🍺) I was keen to get out for some much needed exercise.  Many of my usual walking routes are knee deep in snow, but I thought the track up to Lac d’Arbey and then across and down to Les Haudères would be well trampled down by now.  And, apart from one or two ‘softer’ patches, so it proved…

 

Southern Finland

The remainder of our holiday was spent on the Finnish mainland.  After catching the ferry back from Brändö, we drove up the west coast via the beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage town of Rauma and then on to Yyteri beach, which is one of the longest sandy beaches in Scandinavia at around 6km.  From there we turned east to our base for the next 4 nights, which was a self-catering wooden lodge, or chalet, next to Lake Vesijako.

We returned to spend 2 more nights in the delightful city of Turku, which is the oldest town in Finland, with stops en route at the towns of Lammi and Hämeenlinna

Some other things I learnt during this trip (which you might also like to know):

  • As well as having thousands of islands, there are 100’s if not also thousands of lakes in Finland as well (and the Finns take great advantage of these by having weekend lodges close by).
  • There are a huge number and variety of mushrooms and toadstools in the woods. (During one walk, I met a man and his wife foraging.  They had collected at least one big bucket load of one particular type).
  • The woods are not all conifers as I imagined they might be.  There appears to be an equal number of deciduous trees as well.
  • The people are extremely welcoming and friendly.
  • The Finnish language seems to specialise in very long words, which often include double A’s, E’s, I’s, K’s, M’s, N’s or U’s.  The longest word I encountered, which I don’t think is exceptional, was 25 letters long.
  • I don’t know the significance, but many (most?) street or track names end in ‘antie’, ‘entie’, ‘ontie’ or ‘untie’.
  • The peak summer holiday season is from mid-June to mid-August and, before and after that period, you may find some things are not running or closed.  (Though the ferries appear to run all year round – when it’s not completely iced over of course!)
  • In the depths of winter, when conditions allow, it’s possible to drive over the ice to some islands. (No doubt special tyres and a brave or trusting nature are required for this).
  • Last, but by no means least, the beer in Finland (and Stockholm) is pretty good.  They certainly know how to make a tasty IPA. 😊 Cheers! 🍻

Åland Islands, Finland

Let me take you on a little journey from Stockholm to the Åland Islands, which are an autonomous region of Finland…

Travelling to new countries (and blogging about them) certainly teaches you a few things, like there is hardly any tidal movement in the Baltic sea (which is why the thousands of islands are always visible); the water is not as salty as the ‘normal’ sea and, despite belonging to Finland, the islanders all speak Swedish (and most also speak English thankfully).

We caught a Viking Line ferry, called Grace, which was more like a cruise ship, from Stockholm to Turku, on the Finnish mainland.  It’s a sailing which is highly recommended, if you ever get the opportunity, as the boat weaves its way through the almost impossibly narrow channels between the many islands.   After an overnight stop and hiring a car, we then hopped on and off 2 more ferries to get to the group of interconnected islands called Brändö. (See map pic B11).

A particular highlight of our time there was a day on the island of Jurmo.  We arrived too early for the ferry, but an extremely friendly local, called Ari, offered to give us a lift in his small boat.  There was a harvest festival type celebration on that weekend and we were treated to a tour of the island on a tractor trailer.

Like yesterday, I’ve divided my photos into 3 distinct galleries. (Click on any image to get a larger view).

The ferry journey:

Brändö:

Jurmo island:

Circular Walk from Crayke, N. Yorkshire, England

After our successful walk from Byland Abbey the day before, Ian and I were keen to get out again, despite the inclement weather.  A local landowner has created a Permissive path around the village of Crayke, which we extended a little further north (after a short stop for a coffee and a piece of cake at the excellent Dutch House – Café/Garden/Gallery) before returning to complete the route.

Swiss National Route 6, Zinal to Gruben (Day 2 of 3)

After a steep descent into Zinal on day 1, it didn’t take me long (maybe about 5 minutes) to realise that almost all paths around Zinal are steep.  My GPS was telling me that the 50m contours were coming every 120m, which makes it a gradient of over 40%.  However after about an hour the path levelled off and then it just meandered and undulated all the way to the Weisshorn Hotel, where I stopped for some refreshments. 🍺😊

From there I thought it would be a simple 450m/1,500ft climb to the Meidpass but, just to make life interesting, the path dropped about 200m before it started to climb again.  But what a wonderful walk it was.  I was completely blown away by Le Touno (see pic 19) which stood majestically above everything, even though it’s only 3,018m (9,902ft) high.  After that, both sides of the Meidpass felt extremely remote and I only saw 5 other walkers before reaching the Schwarzhorn Hotel in Gruben,

It was there that I met up with the dozen or so people I mentioned yesterday, who were indeed British.  They were all walking from Chamonix to Zermatt on a 2 week holiday – not that everyone considered it a holiday!  I’ve mentioned coincidences recently but, one of the party leaders hailed from my old neck of the woods, near Hull.  Also, I offered to take a picture of a couple near the Weisshorn Hotel and, although they lived in Germany, the lady also came from near Hull.  What are the chances of that happening on the same day in the Alps?

As usual, I’ve done my best to identify the butterflies below, but one eluded me.  Despite it having some very distinct lines on the under wing, I couldn’t find it in my book.

Birds of a feather…

No sooner had we arrived at our friend Arthur’s place on the Camino de Santiago, near Triacastella, (N. Spain), he announced that he had a blackbird’s nest in the bush clambering over his terrace and that there were two wrens building a nest in the palm tree only 2 to 3 yards away from his kitchen window.   Not only that but we spotted a family of young blackcaps ‘playing’ in the elderflower bushes to the left of the terrace.  So this is their story…

Let me first ‘set the scene’ with a (very poor) panoramic picture below of Arthur’s terrace – the palm tree is on the extreme far right, the (dark) green ‘blackbird’ bush is also to the right and the elderflowers to the left. (The glass of wine was mine! 😊)

0 Terrace

The Blackbirds were clearly well advanced as they all fledged and disappeared within a few days of us arriving.  But I did manage to capture the one picture below of at least 3 beaks (at the centre of the image).

1 Blackbird beaks

The Wrens were having a hard time of it.  Their first nest had been destroyed (I forget how now), but they were busy building their second towards the bottom of the dead brown leaves hanging down from the palm tree.  Unfortunately a storm blew up and hail (yes, hail – in June!) knocked it to the ground.  Undeterred, they carried on building another nest further up the tree.  One can only admire the determination and industry of these tiny little birds!

Last, but not least, the Blackcaps entertained us all week with their presence.  Rather than fly away when we approached the corner of the terrace, they simply hopped behind a leaf or onto the next branch.  This allowed me to get a few good pictures, including a very interesting series (see pics numbered 9 to 14) where the male parent returned with a berry and offered it to 2 of the 3 chicks, but then gulped it down itself.  It was as if the parent was saying, “Take a good look, this is what you should be out there looking for, now get going…!”)  Alternatively, or as well, the ‘teenage’ young, were looking suitably grumpy and saying “Not berries for dinner again!”).