Thyon Ridge Walk, Valais, Switzerland

I mentioned in my last post that my walks and subsequent posts tend to concentrate on some combination of views, flowers and/or butterflies. Well, almost incredibly, given the warm weather we’ve been having, this walk has no butterflies at all! I did capture a very poor picture of a Tortoiseshell, but I didn’t think that worth posting and the Swallowtail at the top of Mont Carré flew off before I could catch my breath and switch on my camera. Others either flew off up or down the slope to the side, making it difficult to follow them.

As you will see in the gallery below, there was a bit of cloud around for a while, but this more or less cleared as I reached the turnaround point at Greppon Blanc.

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.

Auberive, Haute-Marne, France

Like many of you no doubt, Jude and I thought the COVID vaccination programme might be the beginning of the end of the COVID pandemic. Things seemed to be going well in the UK and, in April, we were called for both of our jabs within the space of 4 weeks. Great, we thought and, despite Switzerland being on the UK’s Amber list*, we decided to take a trip back to the UK – again for reasons which will become clear… (I’m such a tease!)

*Note for non-UK citizens: Being on the UK’s Amber list meant that not only would we need a negative COVID test 72 hours before arrival, but we’d also be required to quarantine for 10 days and send off 2 more self-tests on days 2 and 8 of our self-isolation. We (begrudgingly) accepted this situation and booked a place to stay for 2 weeks, simply to quarantine for most of it!

This is how we came to be in the quaint little village of Auberive, in France. It’s a 9 hour drive from our home in Evolène to the ferry port of Dunkirk, so we decided to stop off more or less half way. As with many of these things, the reason we chose that particular location was because we liked the look of the accommodation, which was an old auberge, built sometime around the 12 to 13th century. And we were not disappointed with our choice. 😊

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

Although we had a little more snow overnight down to 1800m, (5,900ft), I finally decided to do a walk from home in our valley. Unusually, I didn’t check the forecast before setting off and it was a little chilly with clouds covering many of the mountain tops. But I needn’t have worried as the sun eventually burnt them away, to leave perfectly blue skies all around. 😊

Sion to Ollon Walk, Valais, Switzerland

Whenever we talked about marathon training, my good mate Colin always used to say “It’s all about time on your feet”. So, as part of my build up for the Sierre-Zinal race (which isn’t strictly a marathon distance, at 31km, but it’s as good as, if not more, when you consider the 2,200m of ascent), I’ve decided to complement my runs with a series of long walks. (That is until the snow disappears off the mountain tops and then I can start doing some big ascents).

So, on Thursday, I set off to do a walk from Sion to the small village of Corin-de-la-Crête along the Chemin du Vignoble (which is Swiss walking route no. 36). The distance between the two is around 14km or 8.5 miles, making it a 28km or 17 miles round trip. I expected it to take around 3 hours to get there and 6 hours altogether. However, after 3 hours, I was still only in the village of Ollon, about 3km or 2 miles short of my target. Something had slowed me down… See the numerous pictures in the gallery below (and this was just the tip of the iceberg!)

But I was happy that I’d gone ‘out’ for long enough and that it would still be 6 hours ‘on my feet’, so I set off back again. As you will also see below, the weather started and finished relatively brightly but in between it was quite dull – as well as quite cool and breezy, so there were not many butterflies to slow me down even more! For some reason (must be something to do with walking on your own) I seemed to get a bit of a fixation with the wide variety of steps leading up or down to the vineyards. (See pics 24-26 for some examples, which were again only a few of the ones photographed).

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!

Sierre-Zinal initial climb, Valais, Switzerland

Since my aborted attempt to run the Swiss alpine K23 race back in July last year, I thought my ‘running’ career might be over and I didn’t go for run at all for the remainder of last year. But there is something about getting out there and putting one leg in front of the other as fast as you can which appeals, to me anyway . It’s partly the fresh air, partly the desire to keep fit, but it’s mostly the sheer joy and satisfaction of completing a run.

So it was that about 12 weeks ago I embarked upon my latest comeback. After a couple of 5k’s (3 miles) I’ve managed to get the distance up to nearly 13k (8 miles). Part way through this period, I received my usual email from Datasport (i.e. the people who manage the entries and timing for most Swiss races). The email contained the usual “Races not to be missed” and that included the Sierre-Zinal mountain race (which is 31km/19 miles long and has an ascent of 2,200m or 7,218 ft).

Now, I hate running uphill. Throughout the past few months I’ve driven down to Sion to run, well jog, along the cycle path by the side of the river Rhone – to avoid even the slightest climb between our home here in Evolène and Les Haudères. But this is an iconic race, (part of the Golden Trail World Series) which I’ve always wanted to do and I figured (possibly quite rightly as it turns out) that a lot of it would be walking up steep paths.

Entry to the race was on a strictly first-come-first-served basis and, although there were a few technical problems due to the number of people applying, I did eventually manage to get registered for the race. There are two categories, “Runners” and “Tourists”. I presumed the latter was/is for people, like me, who just want to do the race and so that’s the category that I’m in, though they do start at 5am in the morning! (This could be a good thing as the race is on 7th August and the sun could be blazing down by mid-day. The Runners start at 10am).

As you might expect, I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to complete the race (assuming of course that I do!) Apparently Runners average 4 and a half hours. On the official website, they provide a useful calculation spreadsheet to help you work out the timings at different stages. This is OK if you know your expected time and I had an idea that I might be able to do it in maybe 6 hours. (I’d certainly be happy with that time sitting here now!) The website also provides a course profile which indicates the percentage effort to reach the various feed stations. (See gallery).

Of course, Sierre is ‘just down the road’ for me, so yesterday, with the sun shining brightly, I decided to check out the first section of the race – which is pretty much uphill all the way to Plonchette. It’s ‘only’ about 6.5 km / 4 miles but rises over 1200m / 4,000 ft and represents about a third of the effort or time required to complete the course.

I’ll not divulge how long it took me to get there, but suffice it to say that, even though my legs felt like jelly, I did feel good enough to continue a little further along the course – that is until I reached the point where ‘running’ was impossible due to the snow. (See pic 22).

Note that all of the pictures below were taken with my mobile phone – and on my return/descent from that furthest point. Accordingly, they have been rearranged into ‘ascending’ order… 😉

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.

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!

Saillon to Fully Walk, Valais, Switzerland

With temperatures set to soar into the 20’s C (70’s F) down in the Rhone valley, it was an easy decision to go for a walk in that area yesterday. After a quick scan of the map, I settled on doing another section of the Swiss Regional Route no. 36, “The Chemin du Vignoble”, between Saillon and Fully.

As you will see from the gallery below, the route also takes in a lot of the other farming activity which goes on along the valley floor – most notably the orchards and various poly-tunnels encouraging what looked to me like strawberry plants.

Of course I was also hoping to find a few ‘new’ (for this season anyway) flowers and butterflies and I was not disappointed. There were two distinct ‘hot-spots’ where I must have spent 20 to 30 minutes trying to chase down a Clouded Yellow – but the best shot I got was from a distance and hence why pic 21 is so poor. However, as any Twitcher or enthusiast will understand, I was extremely excited to discover a completely new ‘find’ (for me) when I checked the identity of pic 23. According to this Papillons de Suisse website (see last entry on the page) the Chequered Blue is only found in some parts of the Rhone valley, Ticino and a few other ad hoc areas in the south of Switzerland. Now that’s what I call a good day out!! 😊