Coronavirus update – a personal view from Switzerland

Over the past 15 and a half years, I have had many reasons to be thankful and very grateful that I live in Switzerland, but, perhaps, none more so than during the current Coronavirus situation.

When the outbreak started, (it was so long ago now, I forget the exact date), Switzerland was one of the first affected regions in Europe. The lockdown came very quickly, with shops closed, a limit of no more than 5 people in a group and social distancing everywhere.

I recall checking the “Worldometers” website and seeing that the Swiss were ahead of the UK, at least in terms of cases, if not number of deaths, for several days. In the most unwanted league table (unless you are an American President perhaps?) the Swiss were in the top 10 – possibly ‘peaking’ at number 4 or 5. This was not good news for a country with no more than 8.65 million inhabitants.

Wind forward a few months and, while the virus still takes its toll all around the world, based on the figures from yesterday, I see that Switzerland are now down to number 31 in terms of Total Cases. But does this relative ‘improvement’, or worsening for those now in the top 30, tell the whole story?

If you sort the table by Active Cases, the Swiss drop to number 99 with 454 cases. Though that could be as low as 103rd as it seems the UK, Spain, Netherlands and Sweden don’t declare (or maybe don’t know) the number of Active cases. (The Worldometers website simply says N/A). To put that number into context, 454 is less Active Cases than the Maldives, Norway and Australia.

And then, if we consider New Cases, at least based on the figures from yesterday, the Swiss are 123rd (equal with Zimbabwe and Cyprus), with only 3 new cases reported. In effect, the virus has been brought under control and Contact Tracing is now in place to investigate and keep on top of any new cases.

So how did they achieve this I wonder? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I would speculate that a lot of it is due to the national psyche of the Swiss. They are conditioned to follow rules. (Well, at least most people are – there are always a few in every society unfortunately). They have rules which many might find a bit silly, like, you should not make any unnecessary loud noise (like DIY drilling, strimming or playing loud music) to disturb the peace and tranquility of the neighbourhood, before 7am, between 12 noon and 1pm and after 7pm – and certainly not at anytime on a Sunday or a Public Holiday. Cars have to be washed at a dedicated facility, not on your drive or wherever. The list goes on… (I have thought I should blog about some of these rules, but it becomes a way of life…)

Unlike the UK, the nation doesn’t have to be thanked for doing well and be urged to continue to follow the government advice, it’s simply expected of everyone, by everyone. You will also never find the Swiss bragging or gloating about how well they have handled the situation, they are far too modest for that and would probably consider it rather vulgar to do so. (It would be like Roger Federer saying, “Yes, of course I am the greatest tennis player of all time!” and then repeating that in French, German and Italian, just to emphasise the point. It’s just never going to happen).

Nor will you find them today dancing in the streets and celebrating their success. They are far too cautious to think it’s all over. We are still only in the 2nd phase of the de-confinement, though the 3rd phase starts in about a week. Gatherings of more than 1,000 are still banned until the end of August and social distancing is still in place wherever you go. As I say, the Swiss like to stick to their rules and I, for one, am sincerely glad that they do and I applaud them for it. (If I had a Swiss flag icon, I would fly it proudly here – on their behalf of course!)

Below are some stats taken from the Worldometers website together with a picture of an Idas Blue butterfly which I took on Sunday. I’ve been trying to find an excuse to post it and I hope it brightens up your day! 😊

Walk to Roc Vieux, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

If you look out from our chalet balcony, you cannot help but notice the ‘twin peaks’ of the Grande and Petite Dents de Veisivi. I have posted several pictures of these over the years – including this one from last week. To get to the top of the smaller one, which is ‘only’ 3,183m (or 10,443ft) high, you need to be a proper climber, using ropes, etc. However, I’m advised that it is possible to walk, or maybe scramble, up to the top of the larger one, at 3,418m (or 11,214ft), but I’ve not tried that yet. (We hear rocks falling off this peak all the time, so it’s not a proposition to be taken lightly).

Thankfully, about half way up the ‘front’ of them, there is an area called Roc Vieux, which affords a wonderful view back down the valley. I’m not sure if there is a precise spot or ‘old rock’ as such, but there is a wooden cross, so that serves as a good point to aim for.

On the map I noticed another path, which was only partly marked, to the hamlet called Lu Veijuvi and I decided to give it a try on the descent. It turned out to be safe enough, (if you avoid the bridge in pic 25), but it was quite steep.

As you will see from the pictures below, there were quite a number of butterflies around, including an Alpine Grayling and a Small Tortoiseshell laying her eggs. (I wondered why it never flew off when I took the first set of photos). 🤔

Alpine Flora and Butterfly Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Yesterday my wife, Jude, and I went for a walk from the parking area near Les Farquesses up to Les Mayens de la Cretta. With the sun shining brightly and many more alpine flowers in full bloom, we were expecting to photograph a few butterflies. I hadn’t even switched the engine off and Jude announced that she’d already counted 11 butterflies fluttering around the meadow beside the car. We didn’t even need to venture into the meadow to take the pictures, as there was plenty of activity by the side of the road. About 20 minutes later we finally dragged ourselves away. I believe the first 3 butterflies in the gallery below are ‘firsts’ for this website. 😊

Remointse du Tsaté Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

For the past few days I’ve been itching to do this walk, but the clouds have been clinging steadfastly to the mountain tops. With clear blue skies forecast yesterday, at least initially, I set off to drive the short distance to La Forclaz (VS).

My aim was to reach the small lake or pond at the area called Remointse du Tsaté (@2,502m or 8,209ft). I had no idea how much snow there would be and, in the event, my route to the lake was clear, but the lake was almost surrounded, as you will see below.

I was quite lucky because the sun had all but gone in when I arrived at the lake, though the distant mountains were still as bright as ever. I took a few photos and then, miraculously, the sun came out, so I took them all over again! It was an amazing sight for sure and one which I had all to myself. 😀

Bisses Neuf and Vercorin Walk, Rhone valley, Switzerland

After several weeks of beautiful sunshine in the Val d’Hérens, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. We even had snow down to 1,800m over the weekend. So I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to go out yesterday when blue skies were forecast.

I wanted to do a long walk and, after studying the map (and ruling out anything high), I decided do a section of the “Chemin des Bisses” (Swiss Route no. 58) from Nax to ‘as far as I could get in the time available’ along the Bisse de Vercorin, before retracing my steps back to Nax. In the event, I turned around at the bench and shrine that you can see in pics 27 and 28, which are about 800m or half a mile short of the northern end of the bisse.

The full Route 58 is 100 km long and runs from Martigny to Grimentz and it seems I have walked a section of this route before, about 2 years ago, from Haute Nendaz to Euseigne. See here for photos of that walk, where there is also an explanation of what a bisse is for any new readers.

However, my plan was nearly scuppered when, on Sunday evening, they closed the only road out of our village, due to a huge (200m3 or 500 tonne) piece of rock, which was threatening to fall after sensors showed that it had moved 70-80 cm during the day. On Monday morning the all clear was given, so I duly set off and returned home around 5pm – only for the rock to fall yesterday evening around 9:30pm. I guess 4.5 hours is not close, but I’m glad I wasn’t under it. See here for a picture of the rock on the road. Thankfully nobody came to any harm and they are hoping to open the road later today, if only for one way traffic using traffic lights. So we and the rest of the commune of Evolène are definitely in isolation at the moment!

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 2 of 2

We awoke to freezing cold mist. Even the bouquetins (Ibex) were looking for shelter. (See pic 1). And, I confess, the last 2 photos in my post yesterday were taken on the morning of Day 4, mainly because the evening before we were all glad to get out of the rain and into the warmth and comfort of the hut.

The four in the Elite group had done an extra bit at the beginning of Day 3 and so the rest of us waited nervously, and for what seemed like an age, for them to arrive as snow started to fall. Werner decided he’d go out and look for them and about 20 minutes later, they all arrived, but Guy was in a bad way – suffering from both exhaustion and hypothermia. He was almost incapable of speech and so was stripped where he stood, though he could barely stand. Thankfully after several hot cups of tea and a warm shower, he thawed out and was fine for the rest of the trip.

But as you will see below, the going was still not easy. At the higher altitudes it was more suitable for skiing than mountain biking. And, remember, this was during July.

The photos cover Day 4 from the Terri hut to Sedrun, via Campo Blenio, Luckmanierpass; Day 5 from Sedrun to the Grosse Scheidegg via Passo Maighels, Andermatt and the Furkapass (with a little help from a bus and train) and Day 6 from Grosse Scheidegg to Kandersteg. I offered to drive the minibus on Day 7 to Gstaad, so I have no pictures of that particular leg via Adelboden I’m afraid.

But, I have to say that, despite my inexperience and the obvious challenges posed, it was a fabulous trip!! So good in fact that I went with them the following year, from Orsières in Switzerland to Monte Carlo on the Mediterranean, all the way down the French/Italian alps ! Thankfully the weather was much, much better… Post to come in due course… 😊

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 1 of 2

When I first moved over to Switzerland in 2005, I thought I was reasonably fit and active. But I soon discovered that a lot of the people in the office were what some might consider to be absolutely bonkers. It seemed like everyone was either running or cycling or swimming or all three, you name it, someone was a keen whatever. And it wasn’t just a mere jog or a few lengths of the pool, they were fanatical. Triathlons and Ironman events were their ‘standard’ events.

It was hard not to get sucked into their enthusiasm. Every year there was a ‘Tour du Lac’ Cyclotour – a bike ride around not just any old lake, but Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva if you like). It’s only 176km/110 miles! Though it’s not a ‘race’ as such, more of a challenge to yourself. “We’ll all go round together” they said and, after buying a very expensive road bike and a few training sessions, a group of about 12 of us set off hoping to break 6 hours. Needless to say I couldn’t keep up with the best of them (who did break 6 hours) and I finished in around 6 hours 40 mins.

A 9 stage Corporate ‘Gigathlon’ relay event – involving mountain biking, running up a mountain (not only to reach the snow, but through some of it too), cross country skiing, ski touring, running and mountain biking back down again, a swim in a lake, a 17km road bike ride and a 10km run – “Let’s form a team” and that was from just within our office. I was due to run the last 10k leg but, at the last minute, due our mountain runner not liking to run in snow (who does?!) I had to swap and run up and down the mountain. As I said, bonkers!

My boss at the time, Gerard, always took a week or so off work every year to do what was termed ‘The Trans-Alp’. It was legendary and involved mountain biking from A to B over passes as high as nearly 3,000m/9,840ft – not to mention haring back down again. Never having done any mountain biking, I resisted the temptation – until they mentioned going across Switzerland, from Davos to Ollon (near Montreux). “What a great way to see some of Switzerland” I thought to myself. And with 14 takers, which would be split into 4 groups (the Elite, 2 Medium level and a Beginner…) I was in. (Another expensive bike had to be purchased of course!)

Gerard decided to do it with his son, Noe, so the 2 of them and a not so fit, Pascal, formed the Beginners group and I was teamed up with the 2 organisers, Alistair and Joern. They were both experienced bikers, so I thought I’d drawn the short straw, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Indeed, the three weaker groups mostly stuck together and we just let the Elite group do some extra sections while the rest of us hitched a lift in the back-up minibus. 😊

As you will see from the pictures below*, it proved to be quite challenging – though more due to the weather. And if you think this looks tough – wait until you see Part 2 tomorrow… 😉

*For the record and anyone interested in the detail of this crazy pursuit, these pictures cover Day 1 from Davos to Radons Savognin via the Scalettapass; Day 2 from Radons to Safien Platz via Pass da Schmorras and Day 3 from Safien Platz to the SAC Terri mountain hut via the Pass Diesrut.

In the first picture are (L to R) Pascal, Chicco, me, Martin, Gerard, Noe, Joern, Werner, Norbert, Guy, Alistair, Stevie, Nikolaus and Jan.

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, England, UK

Let me take you back to 1995, if not a little earlier than that, when my mate Colin and I had the ‘idea’ to do the English Coast to Coast walk, created and made famous by the great Alfred Wainwright, from St. Bee’s in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. Our plan was to run the 182 mile (293km) route in relay, over the space of 4 days, with one person on the route and the other driving a car to a prearranged changeover point. This way we could travel light, leaving the rest of our gear in the boot of the car, and we’d overnight in B&Bs or, preferably, Inns. 🍻👍😊

But we soon realised that there was a flaw in our grand idea – What if one of us got lost or was injured? (Remember, this was when mobile phones were still evolving even into those early ‘bricks’). Answer therefore: Recruit another two mates, called Pete and Tim, so that we’d have 2 on each leg, for a second opinion on any tricky route finding and someone to run for help, just in case. So it was that the 4 of us lined up in traditional fashion, with our toes dipped in the Irish Sea in April 1995. (See pic 1).

The event went so well, the following year we did the Offa’s Dyke Path (this time with Liam included) and in 1997, the West Highland Way (in 2 days). These were followed by The Wold’s Way (1998), where Dave was added to our happy band of runners, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (1999) and a trip to southern Ireland in 2000, to do parts of the Dingle Way and Beara Way, plus a hike up to the top of Carrantuohill (which scared the living daylights out of Pete. It was only then that we discovered he suffered from vertigo).

Wind forward a few more years and, after St Cuthbert’s Way (2005), Glyndwrs Way (2007) and the Dales Way (2009), in 2010 we decided to re-visit the best route of them all – the Coast to Coast (C2C). But this time in a more leisurely 5 days (well, we were 15 years older) and with all 6 of us present. (Pic 2).

Below, we have a small selection of my photos from that event. But, because we were doing it in relay format, even after doing the C2C twice I still haven’t done it all. Due to the way we rotate the groupings each day and the different stopover points, some of the legs I covered the second time around were the same or similar to the first and I still haven’t had the joy of bog-hopping near Nine Standards Rigg. (Or maybe, as one of the main organisers of these events, I deliberately avoided that leg? 😉)

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

The snowline is gradually getting a little higher in the Val d’Hérens, so yesterday I decided to walk up to Lac d’Arbey. From there I took the cross path to Farquèses, before descending to Les Haudères and returning to Evolène along the riverside track.

There was very little snow on the ascent, (just one small patch in a shaded hollow) but, on the cross path, I had to pick my way carefully over the remains of an avalanche. (See pic 11). From then on though all the paths were clear and the views over the valley to the mountains were superb.

There were very few butterflies around, but I did manage to capture a couple, one of which, if my Northern Wall Brown identification is correct, is a first. 😊 I also managed to zoom in on a Spotted Nutcracker. (See pic 17). Given the distance between us, I didn’t think the photo would come out very well, (especially as it was towards the sun), but it seems to be OK.

La Sage, La Forclaz and Les Haudères Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The difference between my walk earlier in the week at 700m to 1,000m was quite different to yesterday’s walk from Evolène at 1,400m to La Forclaz at 1,700m. The flowers are at least 2 weeks behind and, perhaps as a consequence, the butterflies were very thin on the ground. Nevertheless I managed to spot one or two ‘new’ ones (for this season anyway) for you to enjoy. 👍😊

I was also amazed to see how much snow there was on what was the cross-country skiing piste, near Les Haudères. It’s in the shade for most of the day, but nevertheless it’s still around 2ft (60cm) thick in places. (See pic 24).