Ferpècle Glacier Walk

It’s almost a year since I went up to the head of the Ferpècle valley to check on the state of the glacier ‘hole’.  So, yesterday, I caught the bus up to Ferpècle and walked up to the Bricola Hut, to look down on the glacier, before walking back home again.

The images from the 2 posts are not directly comparable as the pictures below are taken from above, but it does look like the glacier has remained in about the same position.  There is, however, a lot of water gushing down the river.  Certainly I’ve never seen it flowing so freely, though that could be due to the late snow we had in April (and that which fell a few nights ago to around 2,000m).

It was a beautiful walk in bright sunshine and I was delighted to see lots of families, with some very young children, no older than 3, also exploring the valley.  You’re never too young, or old for that matter, to enjoy the countryside. 🙂

Note that the first picture was taken while waiting for the bus in Evolène, though it does also show the glacier, so I felt justified in including it!

 

Swiss National Route 6, Gruben to St Niklaus (Day 3 of 3)

Unusually, I was up at the crack of dawn for the last day of my walk.  Well, the hotel bar shut at 10pm, so what else was there to do but got to sleep and even I can manage on 8 hours!  So it was that I set off well before the ‘Brits’ (see previous post) and, if you don’t count cows or birds or butterflies, I never saw a soul until I got near to the Augstbordpass, where I espied someone on the horizon.  (I later caught them up on the descent – see pic 17).

The weather was dry, but rather dull, with high cloud, so not great for photography,  The highlights on the ascent were spotting and capturing (on camera, that is) 3 birds – one I knew, one I thought I knew, but didn’t, and the other I have no idea… (Help!?)

The descent was ‘interesting’ shall we say, as there was still a lot of snow around and I’m not happy walking across, especially sloping, snow in what are effectively trainers – oh yes, and without walking poles.  (Although they are useful in some circumstances, like 1% of the time, I’m not a fan of poles as, to my mind, they are extra baggage and they get in the way when things get a bit bouldery and some scrambling is required – which it was on this trip).  Anyway I survived about 5 or 6 short(ish) sections and my leg only disappeared once up to the knee.  I should have taken a picture – there was already a big hole and now there are two… 🙂

Later, the sun started to come out and the last section down from Jungen was a joy to behold, with butterflies everywhere.  I was being teased by Apollos and even a Swallowtail fluttering around my head but, when they landed, they were out of reach and I would have needed to hang off the cliff face to get a picture.  I saw more Marbled Whites than I’ve ever seen in my entire life (and that’s a few – well, maybe 12) and a host of others, not shown below, simply because they either didn’t land or I have no way of identifying them and there’s enough in this gallery anyway.

I couldn’t leave this post without highlighting two flowers…

Pic 12: I’m 99% sure are called King-of-the-Alps.  They look like Alpine Forget-me-nots, but they only grow to a height of between 1 and 6 cm (unlike their look-a-like, which grows to 5 to 15cm).  My book describes them as “Rather rare” and I think it’s the first time I’ve seen them, certainly posted a picture of them.

Pic 27: Has the delightful name of Swiss Treacle Mustard and if that’s not a name to conjure with nothing is.  🙂

Swiss National Route 6, Zinal to Gruben (Day 2 of 3)

After a steep descent into Zinal on day 1, it didn’t take me long (maybe about 5 minutes) to realise that almost all paths around Zinal are steep.  My GPS was telling me that the 50m contours were coming every 120m, which makes it a gradient of over 40%.  However after about an hour the path levelled off and then it just meandered and undulated all the way to the Weisshorn Hotel, where I stopped for some refreshments. 🍺😊

From there I thought it would be a simple 450m/1,500ft climb to the Meidpass but, just to make life interesting, the path dropped about 200m before it started to climb again.  But what a wonderful walk it was.  I was completely blown away by Le Touno (see pic 19) which stood majestically above everything, even though it’s only 3,018m (9,902ft) high.  After that, both sides of the Meidpass felt extremely remote and I only saw 5 other walkers before reaching the Schwarzhorn Hotel in Gruben,

It was there that I met up with the dozen or so people I mentioned yesterday, who were indeed British.  They were all walking from Chamonix to Zermatt on a 2 week holiday – not that everyone considered it a holiday!  I’ve mentioned coincidences recently but, one of the party leaders hailed from my old neck of the woods, near Hull.  Also, I offered to take a picture of a couple near the Weisshorn Hotel and, although they lived in Germany, the lady also came from near Hull.  What are the chances of that happening on the same day in the Alps?

As usual, I’ve done my best to identify the butterflies below, but one eluded me.  Despite it having some very distinct lines on the under wing, I couldn’t find it in my book.

Swiss National Route 6, Villa to Zinal (Day 1 of 3)

Since returning from my walk with the boys on the Inn Way to Northumberland, I’ve had itchy feet.  Jude has also been encouraging me to take advantage of our time here in Switzerland (not to mention while I’m still physically able to do these walks).  So, after checking that the forecast was going to be ‘fine’ for the next 3 days, I set off to do 3 sections of the Swiss National Route 6, which runs from St Gingolph, on Lac Léman, to Chur in the east.  The route would take me from Villa to Zinal, then to Gruben in the Turtmanntal valley on Day 2 and then from there to St Niklaus in the Mattertal valley on Day 3, before catching the train and bus home.

I’ll admit that I cheated a bit and got Jude to drop me off at Villa.  Well, otherwise I would have had over 2,000m (6,500ft) to climb and strictly, Evolène is not on the route.  When I got out of the car, I noticed about a dozen other walkers, who all seemed to be preparing to set off up the same path.  I wondered who they might be (I thought I heard English voices) and I was to find out the following day…

Zinal is clearly more geared up for the winter ski season.  It’s quite a large village, but only 4 of the restaurants were open.  The rest were closed, including the one in the hotel where I was staying.  Upon arrival, after finding the front door to the restaurant and bar locked, I finally located the entrance door to the hotel and there to greet me was just a note and a key. (See pic 41).  I didn’t see anyone from the hotel until breakfast the next morning.  This may sound like poor customer service, but I think that you would probably only get this ‘trust’ in Switzerland.

(Long Distance) Running update (Part 4)

I’m impressed by all runners, but especially by those who can motivate others to go out running.  This was the case yesterday when I read RunColbyRun’s post about simply getting out there, whatever the weather, humidity or however you feel – we all make excuses don’t we?  So it was with that in mind that I got of my butt (as she would say) and ran 6k (3.7 miles) today.  Thanks Colby, I just have to keep it going now!

Since I have no pictures of me running today, this also gives me an opportunity to catch up on part 4 of my Long Distance running series…  (I also thought you might be amused by the pics below from 1999 and 2000).

After reaching my goal of a sub-3 in 1994, I didn’t run another marathon until 1999, (then aged 45), when I ran what was being termed the ‘inaugural’ Edinburgh Marathon, which went from the old Scottish capital of Dunfermline to the current, Edinburgh.  It was a linear route, so runners had to catch a bus, at some ungodly hour, like 6am, to get to the start.  I recall sitting next to a chap (aged over 60, which seemed old to me at the time) who was about to run his 200th marathon or something. (He’d only started running 10 or 12 years earlier so I’ve no idea where he must have found them all to run).   Anyway I told him I was aiming for a sub-3 and I could see he didn’t rate my chances.  He planned an ‘easy’ 3h 40m…

The race itself was memorable for starting next to and then running nearby 2 ladies who were chatting non-stop within ear-shot for at least 10 or 12 miles.  It was then I realised that they were running well within themselves and setting a good pace, so I tagged along… At about the 18 mile mark I struck up a conversation and both were aiming for sub-3.   We ran along together until about the 22 mile mark, when we reached a drinks station and one headed off in front and the other lagged behind.  So I was torn between chasing the one in front or waiting for the one behind.  In the event, I did neither and did my own thing, expecting the 2nd to catch up.   I finished in 2h 58m 40s, about 3 minutes behind the first of my companions and the 2nd came in just after me, also under 3 hours.  So the moral of this tale is, run well within yourself (you should be able to talk) for at least the first half of a marathon and possibly even up to 18 or 19 miles, as that’s when the race really starts.

A year later, I set off with my good mate, Pete, to run the Prague marathon.  Before the race, we did the usual tourist thing and, I have to say that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve ever visited, even if the marathon (in 2000 at least) was an out and back course along a dual carriageway!   The weekend was also memorable for a visit to a Hall of Mirrors (you have to see it to understand), where Pete and I were in stitches, with tears in our eyes, just looking at our reflections.  🤣🤣  Little things…

As for the race, at the turnaround point I saw Pete on his way back, not that far ahead but, as he’s a better runner than me, I didn’t really expect to catch him.  Towards the finish, I knew I had another sub-3 in the bag, despite a guy ushering us along to run faster to get to the finish line.  And sure enough, Pete was there waiting to greet me as I finished in exactly the same time as Edinburgh, 2h 58m 40s.  Consistent or what?  (This remains my best ever age-related time performance).  Pete tells me that he came 151st in 2h 55m 12s and I was 206th.  We were fit in those days!  (Though Pete is still running around 21 minutes for a 5k Park Run!)

Pete and me, Prague Marathon May 2000

 

Inn Way to Northumberland (Day 4 of 4)

For our last day on the Inn Way, from the delightful hamlet (and pub) at Alwinton to Rothbury, the sun shone brightly all day.  It was the shortest of the 4 days, at only perhaps 13 or 14 miles, but arguably the best – and not just because of the weather.  See below, but there was a very pleasant walk across meadows and down Coquetdale, before we followed the track up and behind Rothbury, which gave magnificent views over the valley from the dizzy height of 232m or 761ft.

Overall though, I would have to say that, for the reasons described in my earlier posts, this route is not as good as the Inn Ways to the Dales or Peaks.  But I would certainly recommend a visit to the wonderful county of Northumberland. 😊

Footnote to Butterflies and Dragsters:  We saw a number of butterflies during the second part of our trip and almost all of them were Painted Ladies.  So it certainly seems to be a special year for them.  The one below was the best of my photos.

And, for UK readers, we now know where Dr Who lives (or at least has recently landed?)… 😉

 

Inn Way to Northumberland (Day 2 of 4)

The full Inn Way is normally completed in 6 stages, but my friends and I prefer to stick to a 3 or 4 day schedule.  So this necessitated a ‘short cut’ somewhere along the route.  This would be Day 2, where we would make our own way from Seahouses to Wooler – perhaps a distance of around 15 to 16 miles.   There were 2 or 3 options and we chose to take the most southerly route marked on the map (pic 19), which involved a short section of road before crossing the main east coast railway line.

Pete was looking forward to repeating his telephone chat with the Control office, as he had when we did the Northumberland Coast path a few years ago.  Then, he had said it would take us “just a jiffy” to cross the busy line.  However, despite the Ordnance Survey map showing a public right of way, the crossing was no longer there.  We could clearly see where it had been, by the posts which had held the phones and the severed wires, but our way was well and truly blocked.

We returned to the road and after another mile or so, we set off along a path to Warenford.  It was so overgrown with weeds, nettles and long grass that we were soon wet through from foot to thigh after all the rain the previous day.  So it was with great relief we emerged in Warenford and stopped for a refreshing cuppa at the White Swan Inn.  (None of us were in any mood for beer at that point).  A rethink was also required and from there we pretty much avoided any paths which might be ‘wet’ (i.e. the one over Chatton Moor) and a lot of road was used to get to Wooler.

The boys speculated that it would be difficult to produce a blog from the meagre, grey views on offer, but I’ve now discovered that one of the key skills of a photographer is in actually finding things to photograph…  I hope I’ve done this leg justice, with a little help from my mate, Pete (pic 15).

Footnote:  If you ever find yourself in or near Seahouses, you MUST go in the Olde Ship, which is just above the harbour, it’s a real gem.  Apart from some excellent beer, the bar is full (and I mean full) of seafaring artifacts and memorabilia.

Camino de Santiago, Triacastela to Sarria (via Molino de Marzan Albergue)

I couldn’t spend a week staying on “the Camino” without walking some of it.  So, last week, I set off to walk from Arthur’s gallery, which is just beyond Triacastela (if you turn right there, rather than left to Samos) and about 130km from the finish in Santiago de Compostela.  My goal was to get to Sarria, where I would be picked up late in the afternoon, but I reached there at 11:30am.  So I carried on…

One of the big attractions of the Camino is that there are signposts at least every 500m (I’m told) and usually at any junction, so you don’t need to carry a map or be very good at navigation.  Also, I realised afterwards, there are no gates to open, or stiles to climb over, (on my section anyway), which makes for a slightly smoother journey.  Many people don’t even book their accommodation ahead, so that they are free to stop, or carry on, as the fancy takes them.  Though this does mean that there is a tendency for quite a few people to set off at the crack of dawn (which must be delightful for other guests or walkers staying in the same albergue or hostel – not to mention people trying to sleep below a gallery on the Camino).

Clearly there are other advantages too, like it’s a good walk with some nice scenery and you will get to meet, or pass, looooaaaads of people.  But that, for me, even though I consider myself a very sociable person, puts me off doing the whole thing.  (I also get quite competitive, as nobody walks passed me!)   There’s quite a lot of road, or next to road, sections too, though they are often fairly quiet back roads.

For info also, I noticed quite a lot of cyclists taking on the route and I saw some specific signs in the road, so there must be a cyclist’s variation.  This must get you from A to B somewhat quicker but, then, you may miss a lot (of the point) of the journey.   In addition there are a few alternative routes to Santiago de Compostela, like one along the north coast of Spain and another up through Portugal, which you might like to consider to be a little ‘different’.

Anyway, I managed another 8km (5 miles) beyond Sarria before I turned back, covering the same ground, which made my walk about 30km (18 miles) in total.  Though I have to say, just in case you have a mind to do it in reverse, it’s not as easy to navigate as you might think – given that the signs are geared towards pilgrims on the normal route.  (And I think you will be fed up of saying “Ola” or “Buen Camino” to thousands of people).

Birds of a feather…

No sooner had we arrived at our friend Arthur’s place on the Camino de Santiago, near Triacastella, (N. Spain), he announced that he had a blackbird’s nest in the bush clambering over his terrace and that there were two wrens building a nest in the palm tree only 2 to 3 yards away from his kitchen window.   Not only that but we spotted a family of young blackcaps ‘playing’ in the elderflower bushes to the left of the terrace.  So this is their story…

Let me first ‘set the scene’ with a (very poor) panoramic picture below of Arthur’s terrace – the palm tree is on the extreme far right, the (dark) green ‘blackbird’ bush is also to the right and the elderflowers to the left. (The glass of wine was mine! 😊)

0 Terrace

The Blackbirds were clearly well advanced as they all fledged and disappeared within a few days of us arriving.  But I did manage to capture the one picture below of at least 3 beaks (at the centre of the image).

1 Blackbird beaks

The Wrens were having a hard time of it.  Their first nest had been destroyed (I forget how now), but they were busy building their second towards the bottom of the dead brown leaves hanging down from the palm tree.  Unfortunately a storm blew up and hail (yes, hail – in June!) knocked it to the ground.  Undeterred, they carried on building another nest further up the tree.  One can only admire the determination and industry of these tiny little birds!

Last, but not least, the Blackcaps entertained us all week with their presence.  Rather than fly away when we approached the corner of the terrace, they simply hopped behind a leaf or onto the next branch.  This allowed me to get a few good pictures, including a very interesting series (see pics numbered 9 to 14) where the male parent returned with a berry and offered it to 2 of the 3 chicks, but then gulped it down itself.  It was as if the parent was saying, “Take a good look, this is what you should be out there looking for, now get going…!”)  Alternatively, or as well, the ‘teenage’ young, were looking suitably grumpy and saying “Not berries for dinner again!”).