Pic d’Artsinol Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Very occasionally, when I’m out walking I see the odd ‘lost’ piece of clothing, maybe a hat or a glove perhaps. But nothing could quite prepare my for the lost garment in picture 2. I’m sure there must be an intriguing story behind it, but the mind boggles!

As you will see from the gallery of photos, it was a rather a cold morning and many of the streams were completely frozen. As I approached the Pas d’Arpilles, two young guys appeared behind me and went passed in the blink of an eye. After exchanging pleasantries (in French) I caught up with them again just below the Col de la Meina. (They’d stopped to make a phone call). After another brief discussion in (my very poor) French, I heard one of them speak to the other in English. It turned out that they were British! (Both lawyers working in Geneva). You can see Sam and Alistair (my apologies if that’s Alastair) in pictures 16 and 23-25 below.

We walked together to the col, just below the Pic d’Artsinol, where we encountered another two walkers, who must have come up from the Hérémence valley. They were the only other people I saw all day. Both Sam and Alistair and I had to get back, so none of us actually went to the top and they left me having my lunch at the col, while they ran back down.

Pas de Lona Walk, Val d’Hérens, Valais, Switzerland

My last few walks have involved a drive down into the Rhone valley, so yesterday I decided to do a walk from home. But, to make this post a little more interesting (I hope), I’ve split it into 3 sections, describing each section of the walk as I go. Please let me know if you like, or indeed prefer, this type of format.

Part 1: After crossing the field to the side of our chalet, I picked up a recognised path which soon joins a wide track. This track has restricted vehicle access and ends after around 2.5kms (1.5 miles) at the small hamlet of Volovron, though there are some steep and narrow footpaths which allow you to cut off the corners.

From Volovron, the path ascends steeply into a wood where it continues to climb, though more gradually, until it exits at a cross path to a small group of chalets (and normally, in the summer, an open buvette/café) at La Vielle. This cross path is pretty much in the shade most of the day and there was a little snow and ice on the path, (pics 11 & 14), but this was safely negotiated. 😊

Part 2: Leaving La Vielle, the path is quite open, across the alpage (alpine meadow), before it turns left up to the Pas de Lona. The path becomes very steep just before the col and getting a good grip underfoot can be quite tricky. I wasn’t sure how much snow I would encounter and, before I’d turned the corner, I’d seen another walker about 300m (yds) ahead of me. I followed the recognised route, but as I crested the brow of a small hill, I saw that he had gone left and was walking up the grass and rocks, thereby avoiding much of the snow. (You can see him, in blue, towards the left of picture 20).

However, by now, I was committed to ‘my’ route, which initially involved hopping from one clear patch to another, before ultimately having to kick good foot holds into the snow to stop me sliding down the hill. It was slow, but safe, progress.

I eventually reached the col and was rewarded with a magnificent view over the Grimentz valley (pic 24). The other hiker was already there and he’s again visible in pic 22. I walked a little further across, through varying depths of snow (maybe 15cm to 40cm or 6″ to 16″) due to the drifts and was pleased to take a few pictures of the cross at the top with just my footsteps. (See pic 23). It was rather strange to see the ground completely covered in snow in one direction, but almost free of snow in another.

I had designs on walking up to the Becs de Bosson mountain hut and taking the path over the Pte de Tsevalire from there, but there was too much snow, so I took the ‘easy’ option and descended the way the other hiker had gone up.

Part 3: I stopped for lunch at Vielle, (a ham and tomato sandwich made with Jude’s wonderful sourdough bread. 😋), where I pondered my next move. I generally don’t like doing out and back routes, so, to make it into a sort of circular walk, I took the path down towards the village of Eison. I was surprised how much I had to descend before I turned left along a different path, again through the woods, to Volovron and then, from there, it was the same path back to Evolène.

Croix de la Chia Walk, Rhone valley, Switzerland

After being thwarted by the snow on my last walk, I discovered a route, again on the south facing side of the Rhone valley, which only went to 2,350m or 7,700ft. (This was about where the snow started last time). The objective was the Croix de la Chia, which sits at a col between two small peaks called Mont Gond and La Flava.

The map only showed a path to the col (with a route going down the other side), but I had secret hopes of trying to head towards, maybe even up to the top of, either Mont Gond or La Flava. Two dimensional maps can be deceiving of course and, if you look at pictures 26 and 27, you will see why I didn’t attempt either. There were two guys at the col when I arrived and they headed up towards La Flava, but I’m not sure if they even managed to climb over that first set of rocks.

I’ve also include a photo of the previously posted Bisse de Savièse, as seen from across the valley. (See pic 37). It highlights how much some of those bisses ‘cling’ to the rockface.

It’s not often I get the opportunity to take a photo of where I’m going to walk, but photo 1 shows where I was heading yesterday from ‘our’ side of the valley. The last photo was taken on the way back.

Finally, I was a very happy chappy throughout the walk, as the first thing that I saw as soon as I set off was the Clouded Yellow butterfly in pic 2, which was kind enough to land and have its photo taken. (Note that it could be a Pale or Berger’s Clouded Yellow, I didn’t get a good look at the upper side of the wings). Whatever, it was a joy to see so late in the year. 😊

Lac de Cleuson Walk, Val de Nendaz, Valais, Switzerland

After scouring the map for something new, I came up with this circular walk from Siviez, which takes in Lac de Cleuson as well as the Ancien Bisse de Chervé (an old watercourse). My decision to go in a clockwise direction proved fortunate in that I was in the sunshine for the vast majority of the time. The combination of low winter sun and high mountains meant that if I had gone in the reverse direction, I would have been in the shade most of the time.

As you will see from the photos, it was very cold in the shade, with the stream at the far end of the lake (see pics 15 to 17) almost completely frozen. It proved a challenge to cross but, after scrambling about 30 metres up the right hand side, I found a large, dry rock in the middle, which helped me to jump across.

The ice had the last laugh though, as on the return path I rather carelessly slipped and took a tumble. The worst bit wasn’t the pain of hitting the rock hard ice with my hip and cutting my elbow and finger (only slightly thankfully), nor the fear of sliding off the path onto a 45 degree slope as I went along on my back, nor even the embarrassment as the couple of walkers following behind came around the corner to find me struggling to get up. No, it was that split second, where time seems to stand still, when my left foot went from under me and, as I looked down, realised that the only place I could put my right foot, to correct the fall, was slap bang in the middle of the self same ice. Time restarted. I was on my back in a flash and went sliding along. I managed to dig my (very sturdy) GPS into the ice to arrest my slide and I came to a stop about 2 metres further on. Needless to say, I will be more careful in future!

To add insult to my injuries, the bisse proved a bit of a disappointment. OK, the path was relatively flat and it provided nice views over the valley, but there was hardly any evidence that a bisse ever existed. That is, apart from the struts sticking out of the rock in pic 35. In addition the final descent ‘path’, which looked good on the map, proved to be the service track up to the ski installations. (What a mess it all looks until the snow arrives!) And if you look very carefully at pic 37, you will see that the young man, on the left with the dog, is carrying a gun. The hunting season must still be under way. (It’s no wonder I never saw any animals, they must all be in hiding!)

Note that the first picture was taken on my way to Siviez.

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… 🤗🎆👍

Self-isolation in Evolène, Val d’Hérens…

Jude and I are now back home and, thankfully, over half way through our self-isolation period of 10 days. There are, of course, worse places to be holed up, but I’m feeling a bit like a caged tiger, wanting to get out and about, especially while the sun is shining and there’s not so much snow on the ground. (I’d estimate the snow line to be at around the 2,500m or 8,000ft mark).

I’ve kept myself busy by posting some of our good friend Arthur’s paintings of his time in the Comores. Click here for two examples, with 4 more to come over the next 4 days.

But, with nowhere to go and wanting to post something on this site, I decided to take a few pictures from both within and around the chalet.

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! 🎂💐🥂😊

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.

Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, Saint-Avold, Moselle, France

On our way to the coast to catch the ferry to the UK, Jude and I pulled off the motorway to take a look at the American war cemetery and memorial at Saint-Avold. It’s a moving sight to see 10,489 headstones laid out so neatly, row after row after row. There are also another 444 names of those ‘missing in action’ etched onto 2 large tablets either side of the main memorial. We owe every single one of them a huge debt.

“Those interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery died mostly in the autumn of 1944 during the Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine as the Americans sought to expel the Germans from fortress city of Metz and advance on the Siegfried Line during the latter stages of world War II. They were mainly part of the U.S. Third and Seventh Armies.

In the late 1940s many bodies from the Saint Avold region were repatriated to the US or concentrated at Lorraine.”

Wikipedia


It’s difficult to reflect the size of the cemetery in a few photos, so I’ve added a video at the end (muted because there was a lot of wind noise).