Life in Switzerland, Part 1 – Cows

For some time I’ve thought about describing some of the ‘nuances’ of an expat living in Switzerland, but never quite got around to it. (It’s amazing what self-isolation can do to you!*) So here is the first in a series, which may run and run, depending upon what life here throws at me (and Jude) during the year. I hope you will find it interesting, or at least a little different to life wherever you may be. 😊

Regular readers may recall that we live in a small village, called Evolène, which lies at almost 1,400m or 4,600ft in the Val d’Hérens in the southern part of Switzerland. We describe it as authentic, as the traditions that have gone on for eons are still continuing today. In particular the Val d’Hérens breed of cow is almost revered around here (quite rightly of course), due to its uniqueness.

There are several small farms in and around the 6 villages at the top of the valley (the other 5 are Les Haudères, Villa, La Sage, La Forclaz and Arolla) and each farmer has only around 8 to 12 cows. (This compares with about 100 per typical farm in the UK). In the winter, since we’re under 1 to 2 feet of snow for most of the time, the cows are kept in their sheds until the Spring/early Summer.

Sometime in June, when there’s a spell of good dry weather, the farmers will come to cut the grass in the fields. The whole of the Commune is divided up into hundreds of small plots, each legally owned by different people, but it seems each farmer ‘owns’ the right to cut the grass on many different plots. Rather curiously, these plots are not always adjacent to each other, so it can lead to a sort of patchwork of cut/not cut grass. (See pic 6 below).

Every year, 2 ladies come with their grass cutter, go through our small field and cut the grass in the 4 plots below. The total size of these 4 plots is only about 20 yards by 70 yards (max). So it’s farming on a small scale by anyone’s standards. How many plots these 2 ladies cut altogether, is a mystery. When these ladies came the very first time, just after we’d moved in, we thought we must have upset the locals as they disappeared without touching our grass. We needn’t have worried as our plot is used by another famer…

Almost exactly 2 weeks later, Johan, the farmer who lives just below us, comes to cut the grass in our field and many of the other plots around and about the neighbouring chalets. The grass is then left for a day, before being turned or tossed around by a sort of spinning machine (and/or by hand) and a day later it’s ‘rowed up’ to be scooped up into the back of a truck. Every little blade of useful hay is gathered up by 2, sometimes 3, helpers raking into line any stray bits which have escaped or were not rowed correctly. Below are a few pictures of the machines and farmers in action on various plots in the valley.

At the end of June, once the snow has disappeared from what’s known as the ‘alpage’ (i.e. that area of lush meadow between the higher villages and the rocky mountain tops), the cows are all taken up to graze for the summer. This is known locally as the Inalp or transhumance, which I joined in with once and blogged about here.

At the end of September, all the cows are brought back down to their respective farms to get ready for the winter again. However, there are often several days of glorious sunshine to be had. So the farmers, Johan again in this case, places an electric wire or fence around the fields he uses and then brings the cows up for the day – usually around 10am. (The sun has reached the fields by then). Around 4pm, he, or someone from his family, then leads them back to the sheds.

All of this brings me neatly to this video of the cows arriving for the day and crossing our small field. (I would call it a garden but we enjoy the cows coming so much, we have resisted the temptation to ‘do something with it’ and have left it in the capable hands of the farmer to use. 😊

*Footnote: Our 10 day isolation period ends today (though I understand the UK has now been taken off the Swiss ‘red list’!) Glorious weather is forecast for the next few days, so ‘normal service’ will resume tomorrow… 🤗🎆👍

Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival

Like most of you, I’m pretty much confined to barracks for the duration of this Coronavirus outbreak.  So I thought I’d dig into my archives to find you some interesting items to cheer you all up (and to give me something to do of course! 😊)

For the first in this series, I’ve gone back to January 2006 and 2008, when I visited the Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival.  As you will see below, the balloons on display are many and varied, with some incredible designs.  The colours are so vibrant, especially in what was bright sunshine, I just had to take a lot of photographs.

Stay safe and healthy.  And a big THANK YOU to all those who are working tirelessly to keep the rest of us alive and well.

South West Coast Path, Day 2, Swanage to Worth Matravers

UK readers will be well familiar with the huge amount of rain which has fallen on Britain so far this year.  I believe February may have been one of, if not THE, wettest on record.  So it was no surprise that we were ‘blessed’ with rain on Day 2.  It had been forecast after all.  This made for some slippery conditions over and above the already boggy ground in many places.

We took brief respite in the café at Durlston Castle, where we were advised to take the slightly less muddy higher path along the Priest’s Way, rather than the coastal path.  It took a little finding after a wrong turn, but we soon reached the very welcome haven of the Square and Compass in Worth Matravers.   The log fire was burning brightly and we very quickly dried out, on the outside anyway. 😉

Thankfully, the next few days proved to be much brighter, if a little windy… (that’s Yorkshire sarcasm for 70mph winds).

 

 

Evolène Carnival 2020

You could never accuse the Swiss of not knowing how to throw a good party.  Today was the last Sunday of the annual winter Carnival in the village, which starts every year on 6th January.  (So that’s at least 7 weeks of celebration!)  Today, the programme promised music and a procession of the main characters, namely the Peluches (who wear masks and sheepskins) and the Empaillés (who also wear masks and a rather large sacking ‘suit’ stuffed with straw).  In addition several people attend wearing fancy dress and there’s a huge amount of confetti, either thrown, usually by the children, or cannoned out from the top of a bus… (See pic 18).

Snowman Update IV

Elton, the snowman that my brother and his 2 sons built on 28th December, is still ‘standing’.  As you can see in the photos below, he’s a shadow of his former 6ft self (being only about 2 ft ‘tall’ now) and remains, defying gravity, bending over, almost impossibly, backwards.

Also, you may recall from my post on 27th January, that his head had melted away, but, remarkably, a new one seems to have appeared.  It’s held on by the slenderest of threads to the body but is supported by a short column of ice.  He’s now 47 days old, so if he’s still there on Saturday, I think we should celebrate.  😊

 

Snowman update

I know a lot of you will have been having sleepless nights worrying about “Elton”, the snowman which my brother and his 2 sons built on the 27th December.  You may recall that he was ‘still standing’ (horizontally) a few weeks ago.  Well, worry ye not, as it’s definitely a survivor – even without a head, which gradually melted away.  It’s still managing to defy the forces of gravity.  I’m sure my brother and his 2 sons will be pleased.  👍👍😊

 

Trip to Bettmeralp, Valais, Switzerland

A few years ago now, Jude and I had promised ourselves that one day we would go skiing in Bettmeralp, or rather the AletschArena, as the lift system also links in with the Riederalp and Fiescheralp ski areas.  So, with some free time last week and the weather set fair, we did just that.

After several weeks of sunshine, we were pleasantly surprised at the depth and quality of the snow and the huge width of some of the ski pistes.  We were also very taken by a very picturesque Victorian style building, which turned out to be called Villa Cassel. (See pic 6).

Further research revealed that it was built for the German-English banker, Sir Ernest Cassell, who used it as a summer residence until the First World War.  Cassell had an interesting life.  He was born in Cologne and, at the age of 17, arrived penniless in the UK. However, he went on to become one of the richest men in Britain and was a good friend of King Edward VII, Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and Winston Churchill.  He bred race horses and had a famous art collection.

The Villa itself could only be reached on foot or by mule.  But, when the inhabitants of the town said they were going to make a better road to his property, he answered: “If you do, I’m not coming here anymore.”

After the War, the Villa was used as a hotel, but was sold in 1970 and is now run as a nature conservation centre by Pro Natura, the oldest environmental organisation in Switzerland, who take care of about 700 nature reserves of various sizes throughout Switzerland.  I’m sure Ernest would have approved.

 

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

After the excesses of the festive season (i.e. too much 🍰&🍺) I was keen to get out for some much needed exercise.  Many of my usual walking routes are knee deep in snow, but I thought the track up to Lac d’Arbey and then across and down to Les Haudères would be well trampled down by now.  And, apart from one or two ‘softer’ patches, so it proved…

 

Snowman update II

In case you missed Snowman update I – please catch up here.

I should have mentioned that my brother and his 2 sons had dubbed the snowman “MJ”, due to the way he was leaning like Michael Jackson in Smooth Criminal.  (If you don’t know what I mean, you can watch it here).  But now I think we need to refer to him as Elton because, if he could talk, he’d be saying, or even singing, “I’m still standing“.

Yesterday morning he’d leaned over so far backwards his head way was a mere 8 to 10 inches off the snow behind and by late afternoon that had reduced to a mere 4 to 5 inches.  However a severe crack had opened up at the base, so I didn’t think he’d last the night…

Just in case you think he’s propped up in any way by a broom or something on the far side, here’s a picture taken from the front:

8th Jan am V

But it seems Elton is a fighter and this morning he was still there, with his head just resting gently on the snow… 😊  Surely the laws of physics will take over soon?

Walk from Euseigne to Sion, Valais, Switzerland

While the upper part of the Val d’Hérens is covered in snow, the lower part of the valley is completely clear.  So, with the sun shining brightly, I decided to take my camera for a walk down the path from Euseigne to Sion.  Although it’s a walk I’ve done and posted before, I was certain I’d find something new or unusual to photograph and I wasn’t disappointed.

The early morning frost made for some interesting images and one of the wooden bridges had been dislodged due to a landslide last year, making it unusable.  However, I have no idea why there was a sweeping brush propped up next to the small shrine.  (See pic 24).