Cnicht Walk, Snowdonia National Park, North Wales

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, our cottage looked across to the hills and mountains of Snowdonia. One of them, called Cnicht, is known as the Matterhorn of Wales, due to it’s shape when viewed from a certain position. Well, it just had to be done.

My route would start in the small village of Croesor and head up the south-west flank. I was a little worried about finding my way as the map never had a path marked. But as you will see from the pictures below, the route was well signposted, even from the car park, and the summit was always clear and visible straight ahead.

From there I descended to 2 or 3 of the many small lakes, or Llyns, which pepper the landscape, before returning via a disused slate quarry down the Cwm Croesor valley.

Ynys, North Wales, Part 2

Once out of quarantine, Jude and I were free to wander and below are some pictures of the local places we explored.

Not more than a kilometre away from where we were staying was Llanfihangel-y-traethau church. It’s quite famous for a number of reasons, not least of which is that there is a unique memorial stone in the churchyard with an inscription (in latin) which indicates that it was built in the reign of King Owen Gwynedd, who reigned from 1137 to 1170. Another reason is that the writer Richard AW Hughes is buried there. (See pic 7).

But perhaps most interestingly, especially to American readers, is that David Ormsby-Gore is also buried there. Who’s he?, you may well ask, but he was the 5th Baron Harlech or more generally known simply as Lord Harlech. He was the British Ambassador to the United States from 1961 to 1965 (and, to add a bit of UK interest, MP for Oswestry from 1950 to 1961). He became good friends with President John F. Kennedy and (Wiki tells me that) “after his assassination there were rumours of a romance between Ormsby-Gore and Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1968 he proposed marriage to her, but, she did not accept. Ormsby-Gore was one of the pallbearers at Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral.”

He subsequently married American socialite Pamela Colin in 1969 but, sadly, Lord Harlech was seriously injured in a car crash on 25 January 1985 and died at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital the following morning, aged 66. Senator Edward Kennedy, Jacqueline (by then) Onassis and other Kennedy family members attended his funeral in the Llanfihagel-y-traethau church. He was buried there as the church is situated on one of the two Lord Harlech estates.

The reason we were keen to we visit the church (and we were lucky enough to get the keys to be able to go inside), was that Jude grew up in the old school, in Pant Glas, which had provided education for the children of the workers on Lord Harlech’s other estate, Brogyntyn, near Oswestry.

As you will also see below, at low tide it is possible to walk across the Glaslyn/Dwyryd estuary and Jude and I took the opportunity to go swimming in one of the pools left behind by the side of Ynys Gifftan island, which sits in the middle of the estuary.

Ynys, North Wales

My apologies for neglecting my blogging duties for the past week or so but, as mentioned in my previous post, Jude and I have been in quarantine in the UK. This severely hampers one’s ability to take and post interesting photographs.

However, I did take the opportunity to go the ‘scenic route’ to post our COVID tests in the nearby village and I did manage to get a few evening sunset pictures only a few yards up the road from where we were staying.

Our cottage (see pic 1) was in the small village of Ynys and looked out over the Glaslyn/Dwyryd estuary to the hills and mountains of Snowdonia. On the far side of the estuary, was the small village of Portmeirion, (pic 3), which is built in an Italianate style (more info and pics here) and famous for being the setting for the 1960’s cult TV series, The Prisoner, (more info here). This seemed quite appropriate given our situation. I fully envisaged a great white balloon coming to capture us if we strayed from our cottage! As it was, Jude had 6 phone calls in the 10 days and I had none!

In case you are wondering, all of our tests (i.e. the one before we left Switzerland and those on Day 2 and Day 8 of our isolation) came back negative. 👍👍😊 So we were then free to explore… See next post(s).

Saillon to Produit Walk, Valais, Switzerland

I had plenty of time to get into position for my previous post on the Tour de Romandie so, after parking in Saillon, I took the scenic route over the Farinet suspension bridge and down into Produit. I’d never been up the Tour Bayart in Saillon, so that just had to be done first (though the path to it was quite interesting – see pic 5). And, on the way to the bridge, I detoured to the smallest vineyard in the world, made up of just 3 vines, which is owned by the Dalai Lama. The whole site is a place for contemplation and several famous people have visited over the years. (See pic 14 for some examples).

I’d been over the Farinet footbridge once before and knew that there was a via ferrata (climbing route) which finished nearby. I paused on the bridge but could not see anything other than the large Dove of Peace stuck to the wall and a couple of arrows. It was only when I zoomed in on my photos did I see some of the metalwork which aids climbers up the sheer rockface. (See pics 26-28).

For those who may have missed my previous post on this area, the bridge is named after a certain Joseph-Samuel Farinet who, until his death in 1880, spent most of his life on the run, but he was a bit of a Robin Hood character. However, he didn’t stoop so low as to take from the rich, he simply created his own counterfeit money and gave it to the poor. Naturally he became a bit of a hero of the people in the Valais and his legend has grown, such that almost everything in the area seems to be named after him!

Lac Léman and Château de Chillon, Vaud, Switzerland

On Tuesday, Jude and I took a trip down to Switzerland’s largest lake, Lac Léman or Lake Geneva. We parked up in Villeneuve, which lies at the eastern end and walked along the lakeside towards Montreux. Along the way is one of Switzerland’s “Top 10” tourist sites, the Château de Chillon.

The site began as a Roman outpost, to guard the route through the alpine passes, but construction started in the 10th century. As you can imagine it has an interesting history and you can read all about it here.

Equally interesting are the legends which surround the small island seen in picture 4. Surprisingly (to me anyway) it’s the only natural island in the lake, Technically it’s called the Île de Peilz but, being British, I like the story about it being given as a gift to Queen Victoria when she visited the region. A tree was planted on the island and it’s known as Queen Victoria’s tree. For more legends and even a video of the tree please click here.

Note that the first two images below were taken near Ollon, on our way to the lake.

Sentier Du Cep à la Cime, Valais, Switzerland

Warning: Routes on maps and weather forecasts can be misleading…

Regarding the first point – when I looked at the map, this appeared to be just a ‘simple’ circular walk through the vineyards from and to St-Pierre-de-Clages. (Don’t ask me why they have the hyphens in there, but they do). The Swiss mobile app said it was ‘only’ 10km (6 miles) long, with 420m (1,378 ft) of ascent. But, in the event, it turned out to be an extremely varied walk with quite a stiff climb out of the valley.

On the second point – it was supposed to be wall to wall sunshine… Ever the optimist, I hoped the clouds would clear as the day progressed, but I was sadly disappointed. 🙁 My apologies therefore for the poor quality of the images below.

The walk did start through the vineyards, heading towards the huge rockface which looms over the valley. There I met a lady who asked me if I’d come to spot the birds. (Well, we were standing next to an information board showing the birds that we might see in the area). After explaining that I was just there to do this walk, she told me she was on the look out for a ‘bruant fou’ or rock bunting. There were 4 or 5 other ‘twitchers’ around too, with their long lenses and binoculars, (see pic 7). Though I couldn’t quite see why they were getting so excited about this little bird, which is quite common I’m sure. E.g. Jude and I saw them just a few weeks ago on our walk along the Bisse de Clavau. (The information board also suggested that they might be there all year round, however…)

After a short detour to explore the ‘tunnel’ seen in pics 3-7, the track/path began to rise up and above the village of Chamoson. Eventually it levelled off and I had an unexpected surprise when I discovered that the path ran alongside the Bisse de Poteu. (So that’s another bisse ticked off my list!)

From there the route dropped down to run alongside the River Losentse. Now I’d like to say that Swiss rivers are very pretty, but that is not often the case (in the Valais anyway). Indeed, following huge storms and mudslides in both 2018 and, especially, 2019, the Losentse has gouged out the hillside, creating what can only be described as a huge, grey mess. So it came as no surprise when the bridge, which I was supposed to cross, had disappeared completely. (See pic 20). There was an easy alternative down the left hand side of the river, but I was still half-heartedly wondering if I could get across to follow the official route, when I noticed the makeshift plank. (Again, see pic 20 if you haven’t already spotted it).

Once back on track, the route meandered down through Chamoson, where I took a quick peak inside the church, before descending through the vineyards to St-Pierre-de-Clages. All things considered it was an interesting walk, which I’ll have to repeat in the summer or autumn when the vines are fully grown and, preferably when the sun is shining!

In case you’ve been wondering, Du Cep à la Cime translates as From Vine to the Peak and is one of the official ‘local’ routes, no. 177 (more info. found here). There are information boards all the way along the route, giving details of e.g. the geology, the birds and, of course, wine production in the area.

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!”

Bisses de Mont d’Orge and Lentine Walk, Valais, Switzerland

In an attempt to get away from snow-covered paths (if not sub-zero temperatures), yesterday Jude dropped me off down in Sion to do another pair of the very many bisse* walks which snake around the sides of the Rhone valley. This walk is route 212 on the Swissmobile app, though I did it in reverse, starting at the Pont de la Morge and heading up towards the village of Drône. Since I planned to catch the bus back home, I extended the walk to descend into Sion, which also took me along a very short section of the (previously posted) Bisse de Clavau.

As you will see from the gallery below, the route gives excellent views both up and down the Rhone valley as it meanders through the vineyards. I was pleasantly surprised how many birds there were flitting around. Although they are not great photos, (my camera doesn’t do zoom very well), I did manage to capture a couple of Rock Buntings and a pair of European Nuthatches (though I’ve only included a picture of one of them). Both pictures, 14 and 16, are heavily cropped, so a little blurred.

In addition, you know when you get that feeling that you are being watched? Well, I just happened to turn my head to the side during my descent from Drône and there in the field was a Roe deer. I edged forward to get a clearer view and clicked the camera straight away and I was glad I did, as it turned and ran off almost immediately. (The picture, 28, below is also cropped, otherwise you might not have seen it!)

Last but not least, I should highlight the rather rickety looking monorail, in pics 32 and 33. These are used to collect the grapes in the autumn. As you will see, some of the terracing is very steep and this saves them lugging huge quantities of grapes back to the lanes which run through the vineyards. It looks quite a precarious piece of kit and I’m not sure I’d want to be perched on that seat as it goes up and down!

*Regular readers will of course remember that ‘bisses’ are irrigation channels, built to bring water to the fields – in this case the many vineyards which blanket the south facing slopes.

Ancien Bisse du Ro, Valais, Switzerland

When I got back to the car park after my walk up Bella Lui, I thought I’d have a quick look at the Bisse du Ro. I wasn’t planning on doing the whole route, of 5 km (3 miles) there and 5 km (3 miles) back, but there was a sign at the start saying it was closed in 2 km (1.25 miles), so I thought I’d do what I could.

This of course meant that if I had been able to continue on my intended route over Bella Lui and down the path from the Col de l’Arpochey, I would have been stuck on the other side of whatever blockage there was. So it was a good job I did turn around when I did. 😊

As you will see, it’s not a route recommended for anyone with vertigo!

Life in Switzerland, Part 1 – Cows

For some time I’ve thought about describing some of the ‘nuances’ of an expat living in Switzerland, but never quite got around to it. (It’s amazing what self-isolation can do to you!*) So here is the first in a series, which may run and run, depending upon what life here throws at me (and Jude) during the year. I hope you will find it interesting, or at least a little different to life wherever you may be. 😊

Regular readers may recall that we live in a small village, called Evolène, which lies at almost 1,400m or 4,600ft in the Val d’Hérens in the southern part of Switzerland. We describe it as authentic, as the traditions that have gone on for eons are still continuing today. In particular the Val d’Hérens breed of cow is almost revered around here (quite rightly of course), due to its uniqueness.

There are several small farms in and around the 6 villages at the top of the valley (the other 5 are Les Haudères, Villa, La Sage, La Forclaz and Arolla) and each farmer has only around 8 to 12 cows. (This compares with about 100 per typical farm in the UK). In the winter, since we’re under 1 to 2 feet of snow for most of the time, the cows are kept in their sheds until the Spring/early Summer.

Sometime in June, when there’s a spell of good dry weather, the farmers will come to cut the grass in the fields. The whole of the Commune is divided up into hundreds of small plots, each legally owned by different people, but it seems each farmer ‘owns’ the right to cut the grass on many different plots. Rather curiously, these plots are not always adjacent to each other, so it can lead to a sort of patchwork of cut/not cut grass. (See pic 6 below).

Every year, 2 ladies come with their grass cutter, go through our small field and cut the grass in the 4 plots below. The total size of these 4 plots is only about 20 yards by 70 yards (max). So it’s farming on a small scale by anyone’s standards. How many plots these 2 ladies cut altogether, is a mystery. When these ladies came the very first time, just after we’d moved in, we thought we must have upset the locals as they disappeared without touching our grass. We needn’t have worried as our plot is used by another famer…

Almost exactly 2 weeks later, Johan, the farmer who lives just below us, comes to cut the grass in our field and many of the other plots around and about the neighbouring chalets. The grass is then left for a day, before being turned or tossed around by a sort of spinning machine (and/or by hand) and a day later it’s ‘rowed up’ to be scooped up into the back of a truck. Every little blade of useful hay is gathered up by 2, sometimes 3, helpers raking into line any stray bits which have escaped or were not rowed correctly. Below are a few pictures of the machines and farmers in action on various plots in the valley.

At the end of June, once the snow has disappeared from what’s known as the ‘alpage’ (i.e. that area of lush meadow between the higher villages and the rocky mountain tops), the cows are all taken up to graze for the summer. This is known locally as the Inalp or transhumance, which I joined in with once and blogged about here.

At the end of September, all the cows are brought back down to their respective farms to get ready for the winter again. However, there are often several days of glorious sunshine to be had. So the farmers, Johan again in this case, places an electric wire or fence around the fields he uses and then brings the cows up for the day – usually around 10am. (The sun has reached the fields by then). Around 4pm, he, or someone from his family, then leads them back to the sheds.

All of this brings me neatly to this video of the cows arriving for the day and crossing our small field. (I would call it a garden but we enjoy the cows coming so much, we have resisted the temptation to ‘do something with it’ and have left it in the capable hands of the farmer to use. 😊

*Footnote: Our 10 day isolation period ends today (though I understand the UK has now been taken off the Swiss ‘red list’!) Glorious weather is forecast for the next few days, so ‘normal service’ will resume tomorrow… 🤗🎆👍