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… 🤗🎆👍

Walk from Ashbourne to Alstonefield via Ilam, Peak District, England

The weather wasn’t particularly kind while we were staying in the Peak District, but I did manage to get out for another, longish walk, starting in Ashbourne and finishing at our cottage in Alstonefield. Although “The Dales” is generally taken to mean the Yorkshire Dales, there are far more Dales in the Peak District. This walk alone took in Lin Dale, Dove Dale and Hall Dale.

As I approached Mapleton (pronounced as in M’apple’ton btw), I met up with 2 gentleman and a dog, who were also walking to Ilam. I forget their names now (and my apologies to them if they are now reading this), but we had a very nice chat as we strolled along.

After bidding them farewell, (as they went for a cuppa in the café at Ilam Hall), I turned east to take in a small hill, called Thorpe Cloud (@287m or 942ft). On a fine day, I’m sure the views are wonderful. From there, I descended into Lin Dale before heading north along Dove Dale and up Hall Dale to the Watts-Russell Arms (for a more interesting refreshment. 😊)

Walk from Alstonefield to Hartington, Peak District, England

After our two weeks of ‘self-isolation’ in North Wales, Jude and I decamped across to another cottage in Alstonefield, in the Peak District National Park. There we met up with various members of our family, including my daughter, Sarah and her husband, Karl. Although the weather was a bit gloomy, we set off to do a walk to the nearby village of Hartington, following the beautiful River Dove.

The Peak District is generally considered to be (and is mostly) in Derbyshire, but I’ve just read that the River Dove forms the border between it and Staffordshire. So, as we went back and forth across the various bridges (see below), we were (unknowingly in my case) skipping between the two counties.

It’s also Sarah’s birthday today, so it’s perhaps appropriate that I should post some pictures of her. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Sarah! 🎂💐🥂😊

Llŷn Peninsula, North Wales

For our last ‘day out’ in North Wales, Jude and I took a drive around to the Llŷn Peninsula. After parking up further down the coast, we walked around the coastal path to Porthor, or Whistling Sands as it’s often known. From there we called in at tiny Porth Colmon which, as you will see from my series of photos, is still used as place for launching or, as in this case, landing fishing boats. And then finally we drove to the small coastal resort of Aberdaron, where I somehow managed to get a shot of an apparently deserted beach, despite there being quite a few people around.

Rhinog Fawr Walk, North Wales

Most people who visit the Snowdonia National Park will head for the northern part and the mountain of Snowdon itself, but there are some fine walks towards the south, around what are known locally as the Rhinogs. This gallery covers the route from Cwm Bychan (pronounced ‘coom bukan’ btw) to the summit of Rhinog Fawr. At 720m, or 2,630ft, it’s not a big mountain, but it’s quite a tough ascent due to the very rocky paths.

Mawddach Estuary, Barmouth, North Wales

It was not for nothing that (now Sir) Tom Jones sang about the Green, Green Grass of Home. Wales can be a very wet place (as you may have gathered from all the moss and lush looking fields in my previous post). So, as if to prove I’m not just a fair weather walker, here are few pictures, mainly of the Mawddach Trail (a former railway line) from Penmaenpool to Barmouth.

Benar, Llandanwg and Harlech beaches, North Wales

Who doesn’t like going to the beach? Well, here I bring you photos of not just one, but three beaches in North Wales. All of them, quite coincidentally, are only a few miles from where Jude and I have been staying for this past 2 weeks.

Firstly, Benar beach, which is very, very long and very wide when the tide is out…

Secondly, we have Llandanwg beach, which is quite small and pebbly in places. But there is a very nice café adjacent to the car park, which serves delicious scones!

Last, but not least, is Harlech beach, which is huge, (by UK standards anyway), even when the tide is in!

Glandwr Holiday Cottage, Llanbedr, N. Wales

For the first two weeks of our UK holiday, Jude and I have been staying in a beautiful, traditional Welsh cottage near the small village of Llanbedr. Further details and pictures can be found here, but I was particularly taken by the garden and so I thought I’d post a few pictures of what it looked like now that autumn is officially upon us. As usual, I have no idea what the flowers are, so my apologies for that.

Kientzheim, Alsace, France

Jude and I are currently on one of our (now annual) “UK Tours”, the main event of which will become clear in due course. To break the journey, we stayed in a village called Kientzheim, which is in the wine growing region of Alsace in eastern France. The village houses, chapel and abbey are beautiful and the wines, based on our short tasting session, are excellent. 😋 👍👍