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.

Walk from Arolla to Evolène, via the Cabane de la Tsa

Now here’s a weird coincidence… I like to check that the names of my photographs are as accurate as possible.  Call me pedantic if you like, or even a perfectionist, but it really frustrates me when I cannot find the exact species of plant or butterfly.  So my photos are littered with the words ‘possibly’, ‘maybe’ and ‘I think’.   Today I was searching the web for an image of a “Tansy leaved rocket” to check the name of the yellow flower below (which, if correct, is quite rare), but what should I come across but my own image from this same walk 2 years ago!  However, it looks nothing like this one, so one of them is wrong, maybe even both are wrong.  🤔  Ah well, they are both beautiful plants and it was a nice walk.

I also ‘think’ that the butterfly in picture 19 bears all the hallmarks of a Euphydryas intermedia, or Asian Fritillary, which again, if true, is quite rare and in Switzerland, it only appears in a few southern valleys.  But then, of course, it could be something completely different!

Another, happier coincidence, was when I was walking by the pond at La Gouille…  On my previous ‘Exhibition walk’, I had to step aside on a narrow part of the path for a crocodile, or should that be a snake, of maybe 40 children and a few grown ups.  After several “Bonjours”, (people are always polite and friendly in the mountains), I threw in a “Hello”, just to see what the reaction might be and one young chap replied “Hello, my name’s Charlie!”, then another said “We’re from Belgium!”   Anyway, further along the path I spotted 2 wooden discs or tags, which had obviously been dropped by someone in the group.  I decided to take them to the local Tourist Office in the hope/expectation that they might know where this merry band were staying and get in touch with them.  Anyway, who should be at La Gouille but 40 odd children…  After a brief chat with one of the leaders, they were indeed the same group.  He was so grateful for the news of the find, that he announced this to the assembled masses and yours truly was greeted to a big round of applause! (I have no idea what he said to them of course, but my actions were clearly appreciated). 😊

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.

Inn Way to Northumberland (Day 1 of 4)

Regular readers may recall that my mate Colin and I walked 4 days of the Inn Way to the Yorkshire Dales in 2017 and the Inn Way to the Peak District last year.  This year we were joined by our friends, Pete and Liam, to walk most of the Inn Way to Northumberland.  As you will see below, the weather wasn’t kind for our first day, heading north from Alnmouth to Seahouses.  But at least the going along the coast was relatively flat, if a little damp, as the rain fell, on and off, for most of the afternoon.   Thankfully, conditions did improve over the next 3 days…

 

Walk to the Col du Torrent (almost), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

With recent temperatures rising into the mid-20’s (70’s F), even in Evolène @1,400m or 4,600ft, most of the snow has now gone from the lower mountain slopes.  So I was expecting to be able to reach the Col du Torrent (@2,916m or 9,567ft), perhaps with a bit of detouring around any snow that might be left in the gullies.  However, it soon became clear, as I got higher, that the late April snow had left its mark and I decided to turn back, maybe 400m, or around 70m in height, from the col.   So I never did manage to get a picture of the fabulous view into the next valley. 🙁  Maybe next time.

Another dilemma was how much time to spend chasing butterflies.  I knew I had a good 6 hours walking ahead of me, so I couldn’t wait around too long to capture as many as I would have liked.  At least six Apollos escaped my lens, as did a couple of Painted Ladies (spotted on the descent).  Apart from those shown below, there were numerous others, which I would only be able to name once downloaded onto my laptop.  Thankfully, the flowers are a little easier to photograph, if not to identify!

 

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).

Mont d’Orge, Sion, Switzerland

Sion, (pronounced Cee-on, as in Sea-on, by the way), is the capital of the Swiss canton of the Valais, which is in the south west, french speaking, part of the country.  It has around 30,000 inhabitants and a football team in the Swiss Super League.  Due to its position in the fertile Rhone valley, it has a rich and wonderful history going back to Prehistoric times.  It’s perhaps best known now for its two 13th century hilltop fortifications – the Basilique de Valère and Chateau de Tourbillon.

However there is a 3rd hill close by, called Mont d’Orge, which also has a ruined castle or chateau on top.  It can easily be reached from the railway/bus station and, for added interest, there is a small lake to the north, which teems with wildlife in the summer.  (See information sheet, pic 21, for a list, in French, of some of the creatures found thereabouts).

I’d read about this walk some years ago in a Rother walking guide, but had never done it, until yesterday.  Sadly the skies were a little dull for good photography, but I’ve done my best.

Those clever Swiss people have made best use of the geography by setting out a fitness trail up and around it’s sides.  (See pics 4, 15, 16 & 17 below).  I also stumbled across a yellow flower which my research suggests, (please let me know if I’m wrong), is either a Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem or an Early Star-of-Bethlehem.  If it’s the latter, then this is a very rare flower in the UK (where it’s also known as the Radnor Lily) as it only grows at Stanner Rocks in Radnorshire, Central Wales.  They believe that there are only 1,000 plants, of which only 1% flower each year.  However, it is quite widespread across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Last, but not least, I spotted a signpost with a plaque (pic 29) which shows that I was on one of the Swiss links to the famous Way of St James or Camino de Santiago de Compostela.   That makes it a little over 1,900 km to my good friend Arthur’s house. 😊