Moving back to the UK… 😮

In what will be perhaps a shock decision to some, maybe even many, of you, Jude and I have decided to move back to the UK. We have spent 15 happy years here in Switzerland, the past 10 of them in our chalet in Evolène, in the Val d’Hérens.

We have been thinking about moving back ‘at some point’ but the arrival of little Raymond (my new grandson) has accelerated our thinking, to be back nearer to our families. While we were back in June, staying in N. Wales, we were lucky enough to hear about a cottage that was coming up for rent. We had a look around and it seemed perfect for our needs and we were fortunate enough to get it. (I rather cheekily included a picture of the property in my post here – the cottage is just off to the left of pic no. 10 and is shown in pic 15).

So once back home we put our chalet up for sale and within a week of it being advertised we’d had an offer and the deposit has already been lodged with the notaire (solicitor) who draws up the sale documents. It’s all been a bit of a whilrwind as you can imagine and hence why I’ve not been posting much recently. (Though I have some pics waiting in the wings to post so do not worry, this is not the end… Indeed, my blog will continue, but with somewhat smaller mountains in N. Wales!)

I’ve posted pics of the chalet or the views before, but here are a few of the outside taken recently together with some old ones during the winter. We will certainly miss it. 😥

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.

Arolla to Lac Bleu (Walk 10) in the (deep) snow

I promised in my post on Monday that I would return to do this walk with my GPS. I knew that things would be ‘interesting’ when the GPS showed I was about 10 metres to the right of the road I was walking on to get to the start. A walk, of around 4km or 2.5 miles, which would take me no more than 1h 30 mins in the summer, turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Read on…

It wasn’t long before I reached the point where I turned around last time and I discovered that the path did a quick left-right zig-zag up the hill. So far, so good, but the way ahead still wasn’t crystal clear. I spent the next hour or so picking my way through the trees, often knee deep in snow, either just to the left or just to the right of the line shown on the GPS. If I was to the left, the route below and to the right often looked easier. Then I’d look up and the route above looked better. Never mind one zig-zag, I must have zig-zagged all the way along that first section.

I came across the open area where I was worried before about an avalanche. I decided to drop down to where the trees were only 10 to 15 metres apart. Big mistake. I took one step down and my leg disappeared into a huge hole. It was like stepping off a 3 foot wall (or rock probably). I was instantly thrown forward, down the slope and started to slide. The good news was that I was going head first and so I could see that I was heading for a small bush. I grabbed a branch and this arrested my slide. The bush, or at least what’s sticking out of the snow, can be seen just below the centre of picture 8, with the hole up to the right (below the middle one of the three trees top right).

Safely on the other side, the going got much easier as the snow had been cleared by the sun – but only for about 300 to 400 metres. My next challenge was a short section which was/is ‘protected’ by a metal chain. (They normally fix these where the ground goes away steeply, or straight down, to the side). The problem was that half of the chain was still under snow and I couldn’t get it out to hold onto. So I had to kick foot holds, VERY carefully over the top. (See pics 13 and 14).

And then it got worse…

I was back in the woods, zig-zagging up and down the slopes again and the snow got deeper and deeper. I reached a gully where I could see a bridge, slightly above, which I needed to cross, but the way around to it, looked too risky. So I climbed up through the trees, thinking it would be safer to make my way across and down to it. (You may have gathered by now that turning back was not really an option as I was much nearer to Lac Bleu than Arolla).

Then I heard voices, which turned out to be a some ski-tourers coming down the gully. A guide, 30 metres (or 100ft) below, was calling to his clients. I figured that if he could get there on skis, I could get across to the bridge – and so I dropped back down to where I’d started. But getting around to the bridge proved to be the hardest challenge of all.

I kid you not, the ‘slope’ of the snow must have been at least 60 or 70 degrees. So I was trying to climb up by kicking my feet into the snow, but as soon as I put my weight on my foot, it went back down to, more or less, where it started. It must have taken me about 20 minutes to cover just 25 metres. The snow was that deep it was over the top of the sides of the bridge. So I did, literally, go ‘over’ the bridge.

After more zig-zagging through the trees, I came to another gully. And the view back down to Satarma (pic 16) looked infinitely more appealing than another 20 minutes or more working my way around to what might have been a good path to Lac Bleu and then a descent to La Gouille and Satarma. So that’s what I did, I ‘walked’ (more like, stumbled) down the snowy slope, sometimes ankle deep, sometimes knee deep and more than once up to my thighs. Twice I got myself stuck, where I couldn’t move either leg, but luckily there was a branch nearby to help haul myself upright and out.

Five hours and 45 minutes after setting off, I arrived in Satarma. My feet were wet and soggy after all the snow that had melted into my boots. I took them off, wrung out the water from my socks and put them back on before trudging, disconsolately, back up the road to Arolla. I’ve never been so pleased and relieved to finish a walk.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I avoid snowy walks for the next few weeks…

Note that the last 3 photos below were taken on the way back to Evolène.

Snowy walk around Arolla, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

By stark contrast to the Spring-like conditions of my post yesterday, the situation up at the top end of our valley, in Arolla (@2,000m or 6,560ft) couldn’t be more different. The snow is still 60cm or 2ft deep in places and, on Sunday, the place was over-run with skiers getting their end of season fix.

My plan was to walk the last of my “Easy” walks (Walk 10) from Arolla to Lac Bleu, but I soon discovered that the path was hard to find. (Note to self – take the GPS next time!) Picture 4 below shows the signpost where I was due to turn left. I thought twice about it, but persevered. About 20 minutes later, having seen no way markers for the past 10 minutes, I gave up and came back to the same junction and went right.

This lower path was meant to be a snow-shoeing route but, again, I somehow managed to get off the official route and found myself facing a trudge across an open snow-field with a slope of at least 45 degrees from up left down to the right. Now, almost every week we hear of people dying in avalanches, so, with the sun blazing down, I wasn’t going to risk adding to that statistic and I made my way, very carefully, down to the road under the ‘cover’ of several bushes and trees.

“What now?” I thought to myself and, rather than walk back along the road, I headed across to the other side of the river and followed the snow-shoeing route, before taking a rather cheeky short cut across the cross-country piste back to Arolla. At least it gave me the chance to take some more photos for you. 😊

I shall return later this coming week, with GPS in hand, to complete Walk 10 (if I can).

Snowy walk to Lac d’Arbey, (Walk 8), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The plan was to do this walk on Sunday but, on Friday, we awoke to perfectly blue skies, instead of the “very cloudy” day which was forecast. So I decided to go for it. The snow shoes were left at home, as I expected someone to have walked up there already – and so it proved. On the ascent there were clear boot marks, which I was extremely grateful for as that made the climb much, much easier. And on the descent I was lucky that the young lady, seen in picture 7, was snow-shoeing up the way that I would be coming down. She was obviously very fit as she was already resting by the cross (see pic 21) when I arrived. Both routes are pretty much the same distance from the left or right turn (see map) where picture 7 was taken.

I was also very impressed with the little person in picture 3. That track is very steep and he or she was making light of it. They obviously start them very young around here! 😊

Let me tell you a story…

I hope you’re sitting comfortably, as this a little bit different to my usual posts… There are several ‘points’ to this story, as you will see at the end, though I’ll be as brief as I can. 😊

It’s been snowing off and on for the past week or so. The garden was completely clear of the white stuff before it came. So just when we thought Spring was on its way, we were back to square one.

But when the sun comes out, everything looks beautiful…

Though it does mean some work is necessary if you want to go anywhere and not be up to your knees in it all the time. Note: It’s around 60 to 70 metres/yards to get to the parking area (which makes for good training! 💪)

Consequently, some of the bird feeders came out again and we had a visitor on the balcony, sheltering from the snow… an Alpine Accentor. (It was a friendly little thing – even allowing me to open the window to get this uncropped shot from about 2m / 6 feet away).

But this also meant we had some other, bigger visitors…

So I decided to put up the Trail cam again and two nights ago, amongst several others, it captured this video:

And then again last night, this one (of around 10 clips) at 10:45pm. Regular readers may note that it’s the same stag (with 3 prongs and 2 prongs) as my previous posts in December and January.

Then, around 2:45am, the trail cam captured another series, including this one nearer to the camera…

Hopefully you’ve viewed the last video, to see the ‘point’ of this story… (or lack of them). If not, shame on you, go back and watch!

The stag must have shed its antlers sometime between 10:45pm last night and 2:45am today. And below is what we found this morning… How kind of him, after using those antlers to destroy our bird feeders over the past 3 months to leave them behind for us as a souvenir! They each weigh 1.4kg (just over 3 lbs) and measure 70 cm (or 2ft 3.5″) in length.

Also, who knew that the ‘bottom end’ of the antler is called the corona or burr and the area on the stag’s head where it attaches (or detaches in this case) is called the pedicle? You learn something new every day! 😊

Walk to La Sage, La Forclaz and Les Haudères from Evolène, (Walk 6), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

As expected, we did get some overnight snow, but it was only a very small amount down to around 1600m or 5,250ft. So, while the underfoot conditions were favourable, I decided to pick off another of my ‘Easy’ walks – no. 6 to Les Haudères, via the villages of La Sage and La Forclaz. (This leaves only walks 8 and 10 to do, if I can, before this ‘winter’ is over).

As you will see from the gallery below, the walk started brightly enough, but the clouds soon came along to make things a little tricky for my point and shoot camera. (I’ve had to lighten a couple of the images). But, I hope you enjoy the walk as much as I did. 😊

Winter Walk, Arolla valley, Val, d’Hérens, Switzerland

Last week, Jude and I went for a drive up to Arolla to do a walk up the valley. We knew that heli-skiing (and heli-boarding) had become popular, but even we were surprised to see not one, but three helicopters waiting to take their clients high into the mountains. We were lucky in that 5 people arrived just as we got to the first one and soon they took off. (See pics 4 & 5). On our return another group arrived and a second (pic 7) soon disappeared over the horizon. As we made our way back through the woods, it seemed like only a matter of minutes had elapsed and the 5 in the first group came whizzing by, obviously eager to take off for at least a third time!

Bisse Neuf and Bisse de Varen Walk, Rhone valley, Switzerland

I can always rely on a Bisse (i.e. ancient watercourse and irrigation channel) as an option whenever there’s snow at the higher levels here in Evolène. This walk started and finished in the village of Venthône, in the French speaking part of Switzerland and, around half way, crossed the ‘border’ into the German speaking part. Many of he towns and villages in the area reflect this ‘split’ personality by having dual names – like Sierre/Siders, Salgesch/Salquenen and Loèche-les-Bains/Leukerbad.

Like many people I prefer to do circular routes so, to make the walk slightly more interesting, I made it into a sort of figure of 8, by returning along what the map says is the Mengis Wasserleitu. This appears to be a much smaller and lower version of the Grossi Wasserleitu (which is also called the Bisse de Varen).

Sadly though, apart from the last kilometre or so, the Bisses were devoid of ‘wasser’ and there were no precipitous drops or chains to hang onto to get the pulse racing. 🙁 Despite that, I did very much enjoy the walk and wandering around Venthône, where I especially liked the bronze statue outside the Chateau. (See pic 26).

Passarelle de la Grande Combe from La Luette, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Walk 12)

On the way down to Sion the other day, I noticed that the path for this route on the far side of the valley was pretty much clear of snow. And indeed, but for some ice on the initial descent from La Luette, that proved to be the case.

Apart from two lost looking souls in the ‘square’ in Euseigne, I didn’t see anyone along the route at all. Perhaps that was just as well, since there would be no way of socially distancing oneself almost anywhere along the path and especially crossing the 133 metre/145 yard long suspension bridge. (See pic 14).

I’m always in awe of anyone who can paint and I think the mural on the house in Ossona (pic 18) is simply amazing. I’ve included some close-up photos to give you a better idea of the skill of the artist. I was completely blown away by the black and white ‘picture’ (which is just to the top left of the door in the main picture). Even the (apparent) wall and lintel to the right of it is painted! Incredible detail and I’m glad I can share it with you! 😊

On the descent to Combioula, I saw something flutter up in front of me – obviously a butterfly or a moth. It went high up and into the line of the sun and I lost sight of it. That was annoying enough, (it being my first opportunity of the year to capture one on camera) but only a few seconds later it happened again!! I also spotted just the tail end of what must have been a small green wall lizard. So Spring may not be far away.