Porthdinllaen Walk, Morfa Nefyn, North Wales

Shortly after we arrived in Wales, Jude and I drove over to the Lleyn peninsular (that’s the bit of the mainland which sticks out into the Irish Sea at the top of Wales – not to be confused with the island of Anglesey of course). We went for a walk around the Porthdinthlaen peninsular, near Morfa Nefyn.

Apart from having a very beautiful coastline, it’s where you will find the renowned Morfa Nefyn golf course (which I have not played yet, but hope to soon) and what is reputed to be one of the top 10 best beach bars in the world – the Tŷ Coch Inn. It’s certainly in a wonderful spot, with views across the sea to a range of mountains called Yr Eifl (more generally referred to as The Rivals in English). I would happily have stopped for a pint or three but, since it was a beautiful day and half term school holidays, the beach was extremely busy and there was a queue several yards long. 😌 Nevertheless, it was a wonderful walk.

Note: All of these photos were taken on 25th October 2021.

Sierre-Zinal Race and Swiss Ironman 2021

I mentioned back in May that I’d entered the Sierre-Zinal race. Just in case it was impossible to stage the event on the appointed day, due to Covid, (which of course it was), the organisers had a rather neat Plan B. This required competitors to choose and register for a date between the 4th August (when the élite race still took place) and the 12th September. Up to 400 competitors were allowed each day and they could choose to start at any time between 6am and 8am. This naturally spread out the field, even before the start. Feed stations were still available at 4 or 5 locations, so there was no need to carry anything unless you wanted to. I chose to do the event on 25th August and since it promised to be a warm, sunny day, I carried a small water bottle along with some gels (but no camera unfortunately).

During my ‘reccy’ back in May, it had taken me 1h 45 minutes to get to Plonchette. This represented about one third of the time to complete the 31km/19 mile and 2,200m/7,200ft of ascent course. My goal therefore for my ‘race day’, apart from simply finishing, was to reach Plonchette inside 2 hours and complete the course in under 6 hours. 🤞🤞

In the event I arrived at Plonchette in 1h 40 minutes, so I was a little worried that I would fade (badly) in the closing stages. I therefore decided to take it very steadily from thereon in and just hope that I got to the finish in a decent time. However, I needn’t have worried, with the ‘aid’ or company of 2 fellow runners, who were either 10 to 30 seconds behind or in front for much of the course, I finished in 5h 14 minutes 28 seconds. Result!! (See happy finisher in pic 2 below).

It’s a fabulous event and if you’d like to ‘see’ the course, please check out this video link or the official Sierre-Zinal website.

But if you think I’m crazy, read on below…

Swiss Ironman – 5th September 2021

Just before we left Switzerland, my younger brother, Steve, came over to do the Swiss Ironman, which took place in Thun on 5th September. For those of you who are not familiar with the distances involved, this requires competitors to swim 3.9k or 2.4 miles, then bike 180.2k or 112 miles and then run the marathon distance of 42.2k or 26.1 miles. (And you thought I was mad!)

Jude and I had planned to go over to stay in Thun both before and after the race to support Steve, but packing (and very welcome visitors in the shape of the Pounders) meant that I went alone and via public transport on the day. However, this did mean that I’d miss Steve getting out of the water (not that I would have recognised him in his wet suit) and would only see the bike and run sections.

The bike course was around two loops (of quite a hilly course) and although I got into position for his first lap return, I didn’t get a good photo of him. Thankfully, I caught him on the second lap and the 3 lap run course meant that I had plenty of opportunity to see him in action!

Well done Steve – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! (This phrase was my overriding memory of the announcer as each competitor finished!)

Becs de Bosson Cabane from Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 1 of 2)

I thought I only had a couple of posts to catch up on, but a quick flick through my old photos, yields at least four more (not counting this one and part 2). Still to come we have a short trip to Lake Maggiore, a few butterflies, a walk up the Pic d’Artsinol with the Pounders and the Swiss Ironman… (This was not completed by me you understand, though I may yet tell you about the outcome of the Sierre Zinal ‘race’, which I mentioned waaaay back in May…)

It was with this event in mind that, as part of my training, I decided to do one of the more challenging walks on my list – to the Becs de Bosson Cabane. As you will see from the Route map and profile at the end of the gallery, it’s around 20.5km or 13 miles long and has an overall ascent of over 1,700m or 5,600ft.

The route itself is straightforward… After reaching Volovron, along the track leading out of Evolène, the path climbs through the woods. Emerging slightly to the right reveals a view of the small hamlet of L’A Vieille and a wide panorama down towards the Rhone valley. (See pics 16 & 17). From there, the going gets steeper and steeper, until you reach the Pas de Lona, where we will leave this walk until tomorrow… (I’m such a tease! 😊)

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.

Riddes to Isérables and along the Grand Bisse de Saxon, Valais, Switzerland

Following my post at the beginning of May, regarding my entry into the Sierre-Zinal Race, I received a comment from a friend and ex-work colleague, Selin, who had done the race twice previously. She asked if she could join me in a training run. Naturally I jumped at the chance of having a training partner (chatting away to someone, if you have any breath left, is a great distraction from the pain!) And we duly hatched a plan to do a route today, which climbed around 900m or 3,000ft from Riddes to above Isérables, then undulated along for 3km or 2 miles, before climbing another 300m or 1,000ft to the Grand Bisse de Saxon. It was then a flat 3km or 2 miles alongside the bisse before dropping all the way back down to Riddes. This ‘profile’ closely follows the actual race, though with around 2/3rds of the height gain and distance.

I deliberately left my camera at home, otherwise we’d still be there now (as there were many butterflies fluttering around in the bright, warm sunshine). But, thankfully, Selin brought along her phone and she stopped occasionally to capture some of the views and yours truly plodding along. 😊

The route also went across one of the Nendaz ski pistes, which still had quite a lot of snow in places. So one of the stranger sights we saw was a man skiing down a section of that! I mean, it’s nearly June for goodness sake!

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).

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.