Alpage walk from Les Haudères, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Yesterday, our car had to go in for a service and the internet was going to be off for 4 hours for maintenance work… So, you may not be surprised to read that I decided to go for a walk. The planned route would take me back home from the garage via the ‘scenic route’. I deliberately kept it below the snow line, so as not to get into any tricky situations, but nature often has a way of surprising you…

As I emerged from the woods to cross what would have been the Torrent de la Sage stream, I was faced with a torrent of a different kind. During the winter, a huge avalanche had completely filled the gully – flattening almost everything along the way. The snow must have been at least 3 or 4 feet thick. Thankfully it had been there for some time, as it had settled and was quite solid (but not too icy) to walk on. I managed to cross to the path at the other side by walking about 40 to 50 yards up the slope of the avalanche. (See pics 18 to 20).

Walk from St Leonard to Crans-Montana GC, Valais, Switzerland

Boy, oh boy, have I got a treat for you nature lovers! But let me first set the scene…

Last week we had yet more snow in the Val d’Hérens. It fell and settled at around the 1500m (5,000ft) mark and, despite the warmer temperatures this weekend, it more or less put paid to any ideas that I might have had of taking a higher level walk in the Val d’Hérens.

After scouring the map, I came up with a circular route which started in St Leonard, in the Rhone valley and climbed a small ‘hill’ called Le Châtelard (@1,272m or 4,173ft) to the small village of Lens. It then took in a few “etangs” or small lakes and some of the Crans-Montana Golf Course before descending, including a small section the Grand Bisse de Lens.

As you will see below, along the way I captured a few flowers, 8 different butterflies, 3 different birds, 2 mammals, a reptile and a moth. I hope you also enjoy the walk!

Bramois and Tour de Romandie, Stage 4, Valais, Switzerland

I’m aware that not everyone likes cycling, or even maybe sport, but this post is not just about cycling – honest! Please read on…

As I mentioned in my post on Thursday, a stage of the Tour de Romandie professional cycle race came up our valley yesterday, so I just had to post a few pictures. Although the route had no loops as such, like Stage 1, as before I managed to find 4 different places to take pictures; two near Bramois, one in the village of Vex and the fourth on the final climb, around 6km (4 miles) from the finish.

Also as before, I got into position early so I had plenty of time to wander around the village of Bramois, taking a few photos to show you what a typical Swiss or Valaisan village looks like. As you will see, it’s a mix of the very old, the traditional and the new (with a most unusual house) and with excellent sports facilities. (Even the smallest villages in Switzerland seem to have fabulous football pitches and tennis courts – no wonder they punch above their weight on the world stage). I also discovered where all those hubcaps go to that you sometimes see lying by the side of the road…

As for the race, you have to feel for these Pro cyclists. The stage included 3 category 1 climbs and the weather was awful, with rain falling throughout the second half of the race and 2 of those climbs – the last being to over 2,000m (6,500ft) with winter snow still by the side of the road. Spare a thought then also for Geraint Thomas, who took the lead with only a few kilometres to go and was tracked by Michael Woods. In the sprint finish, Thomas, with freezing fingers and only a few yards to go to the line, lost his grip of the handlebars and crashed to the floor. He got up, climbed back on his bike and finished the race and remains in second place overall, having now been overtaken by Michael Woods, but the fall cost him vital seconds and the lead.

Mayens du Cotter Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After a week of sunny, but cool, weather, yesterday I decided to check out how high the snow line had risen to on the south west facing side of the valley. I expected the small pond at Béplan to be still under snow, but the chalets at Mayens du Cotter to be clear and so it proved…

My plan was to walk along the relatively flat track from there and drop down to Les Haudères. But I’d forgotten that the cross path went up again and I could see that it was still covered in quite a lot of snow. Not wishing to have a repeat of my epic walk of 2 weeks ago, I decided to make my way back down to Villa. From there, to make it into a sort of figure of 8 loop, I walked down the road to La Sage and took a quick detour up to the small Chapelle de Saint-Christophe, before descending the path to La Tour and home again.

As you will see from the gallery below, I still managed to find a little bit of snow, but it was only between 5 and 20 cm (2 to 8 inches) deep. It must have been pretty cold too, as most of streams were partly frozen. (See pics 9 and 10).

And I’m glad I did this walk yesterday as, overnight, we’ve had another 5cm (2″) of the white stuff. Hopefully that’s the last for a long while…

Walk from La Luette to Sion, Valais, Switzerland

The weather has been pretty warm across most of Central Europe for the past week or so and a few of the butterflies have come out to play. I therefore decided to take a walk down the Val d’Hérens to see what I could find.

I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t see anything along the upper path leading to Ossona, as the temperature was still only 5 degrees C (41 F). After dropping down to the river, I took a detour to take some photos of the ancient Pont Riva footbridge and was bemoaning my luck, thinking it must still be too early, when not one but two Orange Tips came along at once. Conveniently they were a male and female and they stayed still long enough to get some reasonable pictures.

I then missed two Camberwell Beauties, something brown and a large orange one, but as I got nearer to the (much warmer) Rhone valley, a lot more butterflies and a skipper appeared. I was lucky to capture the Brimstone, as most of them seemed to be taking part in some sort of long distance flight race. And, I wasn’t expecting to see a Comma this early in the year, but I spotted at least 4 in my travels.

Also, it’s funny what you see in your photographs when you go through them. If you look closely at the Pasqueflower in picture 20, you will see a small green resident. And the Comma picture (no. 44) wasn’t my best, but it also had a small creature crawling up the branch, so I decided to include that one in the gallery.

Sion, Valais, Switzerland

Following on from my post yesterday… When I reached Sion, I had just missed the 14:10 bus back to Evolène (by about 20 minutes). This meant I had a good hour and a half to wait before the next one. So what was a person to do with all the bars and cafés closed? Answer: Take a wander around the town and, in particular, walk up to the Valere Basilica and Chateau de Tourbillon, which were also closed, but both give fabulous views of each other as well as up and down the Rhone valley.

You do see some weird and wonderful things though while wandering around. I forgot to mention yesterday that I saw a man not just taking his dog for a walk but his cat as well! (It looked like a Siamese to me, but I could be wrong and it wasn’t even on a lead). And then as I descended from taking picture 7 below, I saw a man walking backwards up a small slope, lifting his feet quite deliberately as he did so. I hadn’t realised until I looked closely at picture 8 that I’d caught him ‘in action’. As we say in Yorkshire (and Lancashire), “There’s nowt so queer as folk!”

Saas Valley Walk, Day 1 of 4, Gspon to the Weissmies mountain hut, Valais, Switzerland

To set the scene… The plan for our 4 day walk was as follows:

  • Day 1: Gspon to the Weissmies hut
  • Day 2: Weissmies hut to the Berghotel at Almagelleralp, with an extension up to and back from the Almageller hut
  • Day 3: Almagelleralp to the Britannia hut
  • Day 4: Britannia hut to Saas Grund

After driving for just over an hour from our chalet to Stalden, which sits at the ‘confluence’ of the Saas and Matter valleys, (the latter being most famous for the Matterhorn), Pete and I bade farewell to my wife, Jude, and took the gondola lift up to Gspon. As an aside, we were squeezed in with about 7 other walkers and another 8 cyclists with their mountain bikes. So much for social distancing! But, thankfully, masks were compulsory (and a week later, I’m still feeling OK. 😊)

I’d read that Gspon was ‘famous’ for having the highest football pitch in Europe. It often hosts the European mountain village championships so, as keen football fans, Pete and I had to take a look. (For more info. please read here).

From Gspon the path undulated along the east side of the Saas valley, passing some tiny hamlets and a beautiful church at Finilu. Several rocks and boulder fields were safely negotiated before the final climb up to the mountain hut, where we had a room (normally sleeping up to 8 people) all to ourselves.

As you will see the weather was a little grey, but the sun did eventually come out and the small amount of rain, which was forecast for late afternoon, didn’t materialised until the evening. 👍

Mke’s Music Monday #24

1966 was a memorable year for many things, most notably for me, apart from my 12th birthday, was a certain World Cup final. ⚽  It was also the year that this song was released by the Elgins.  Wind forward 6 (or was it 5? 😉) years and whenever my older brother and I would go down to the local Bailey’s night club in Hull, this song was almost always playing as we walked in.   Whenever I hear it, I’m transported back to that circular dance floor and the coloured flashing lights!

It was only by chance that I found this video which begins with the white rose emblem of my beloved home county. 😁

 

65 today!

I’m not usually prone to make a big fuss about ‘key’ birthdays.  Like when I turned 50, I was on holiday in Majorca with my two daughters, Joanne and Sarah, and only they knew it was my birthday (otherwise the compere in the hotel might have had me up on stage doing something silly, which was the last thing I wanted!)  On my 60th birthday, I ran the Vienna marathon.  The idea of running a marathon when I was ‘old’ always appealed to me as a challenge, especially when I knew I would be 60 on a Sunday, so it had to be done. Again Sarah was there, but this time with my wife, Jude.

Today, I’m 65 years old and I thought it worth a mention, purely because you readers are all my friends and I think you should know.  I am writing this in advance, as I’ll be in the UK for Sarah’s wedding next week, so I’ll have no time to be blogging!  All things being equal, I will have been out for a meal last night with my brother, Steve, and his wife, Beverley, and my sister, Karen, and her partner, Paul.  Tonight I will be having a quiet meal at a local hostelry in Hathersage, near Sheffield (and a few beers no doubt) with my lovely wife, Jude. 😍

As is customary, it seems, on these occasions, I’ve dug out some old, and I mean old, photos of me as a child, plus two more ‘grown up’ pictures that I came across recently.

See if you can spot me in the group photos… (Answers at the foot of the page).

Football photo: Back row, second from right.  Rugby photo: Front right.

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. 😊