Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Alps - Day 23 - Montreuil-sur-Mer (Chambre d'Hote St Justin) to Timperley 

Thursday 10 September 2015

Another cloudless morning for our last day on the road after an excellent breakfast at the B&B.

Then an uneventful drive home. Nothing much has changed. Not even the roadworks at the end of our road.

Wine supplies have been replenished, though at the price we paid the it may all be best used for cooking!

Photos need downloading and sorting, but my first job is to get my front tooth replaced and recover Sue's plants from a couple of 'plant sitters'. 

The towpath is in good shape, with just a hint of autumn in the leaves.

Well, that's the end of 'Summer in the Alps and Pyrenees'.

Life seems momentarily a little empty....


The Alps - Day 22 - Saverne (Hotel National) to Montreuil-sur-Mer (Chambre d'Hote St Justin)

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Another cloudless morning.

We enjoyed croissants and coffees from a boulangerie next door to the hotel, rather than pay lots for a buffet breakfast in a smoke tainted room. It was very pleasant outside.

The 380 mile journey to Montreuil-sur-Mer (a name which always puzzles me as the sea is nowhere to be seen) passed largely uneventfully. Just a very short section of French motorway was followed before we travelled through Germany, Luxembourg (good coffee), Belgium, and back to France for the final stage along 'A' roads and through Arras.

We'd not stopped in Arras before, but we found a large town not without interest. The town hall is dominated by a tall belfry, and its front door looks out onto a magnificent square (pictured top). We wished we had more time to explore.

Sue had wisely phoned ahead to book a B&B for tonight. It's excellent. We are the only guests. We arrived at 6.30 and enjoyed a cuppa before setting off to stroll around the town walls (bottom picture) and top up our bellies.

The town is preparing for an event at the weekend. Frappadingue are setting up a challenging course under the banner:

'Extreme mud racing for crazy folks' - the sort of thing our good friend Alan Roberts gets up to. We will be home by the time it takes place. What a shame!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Alps - Day 21 -  Chiesa (Hotel la Betulla) to Saverne (Hotel National - but we won't boast about that)

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Another cloudless morning in Chiesa. But as we drove towards Lake Como it clouded over and even drizzled.

Coffee was taken in Porlezza - the view from the café is shown (top), then we headed on to Lugano.

Lugano is a large, ugly town, with dreadful traffic. We got in what appeared to be the right line but was in fact the left (wrong) one and spent a while touring the town despite TomTom's best efforts.

Once on the motorway to Basel everything went smoothly and the sun came out. We whizzed past our final views (middle picture) of the Alps before going underground in the 17 km St Gotthard tunnel.

Our target, Colmar, was reached by 4 pm, so we continued for another hour to Wasselonne. The good value hotel we wandered into had no rooms available. What a contrast to our experiences in Italy, where we were often the only guests.

We were told that all the rooms in the vicinity were booked for tonight.

Q: "Has a cruise ship full of migrants just landed?"

A: "No, a fleet of airliners has arrived with the European Parliament, and they need somewhere to stay."

So we continued to Saverne, a big place - we preferred somewhere smaller. A little further on was Phalsbourg, a nice town with a good looking hotel. Just the one. €160 for a basic room. We were beginning to wish we'd brought a tent.

On the advice of the nice lady in the expensive hotel, we returned to Saverne, where there would be "lots of rooms". The place is pretty quiet but the first two (large) hotels we tried were both full.

Beggars can't be choosers. Hotel National had a room for €58 which is actually a bit better than my room on Day 1 of the trip.

It turns out to be a nice town with a canal (pictured bottom) and a good pizzeria.

We should sleep well. We are 350 miles closer to home than we were this morning. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Alps - Day 20 - Alta Via di Valmalenco - Day 8 - Rifugio Cristina (2233 metres) to Chiesa (Hotel la Betulla)

Monday 7 September 2015

16 km, 200 metres ascent, in 5.7 hours including breaks.

Weather: blue sky with frost that didn't clear in the shade until the afternoon.

Cumulative statistics for the full eight day round trip from Chiesa are as follows:

102 km with 6750 metres ascent.

These figures may be amended when I've downloaded the data from my Garmin Forerunner 310XT which was used throughout the trek.

What a beautiful day on which to conclude a gorgeous mountain walk.

We appreciated the ambience of Rifugio Cristina's fine location before heading off across the frosty alp. There was very little climbing today, the belvedere path leading gently down to the tree line that we were last below on the walk up from Chiareggio several days ago.

It was shorts and t-shirt weather, if a bit chilly in the frosty shade.

The views to Monte Disgrazia and to the Bernina massif were immaculate. The recent rain seems to have cleared the atmosphere and there was no discernable haze to cloud our views. The morning remained cloudless, with wafts of high cloud appearing in the afternoon. (I nearly said 'after lunch' but we didn't really have any as all the shops seem to be shut on Monday afternoon.)

Luckily we'd had a good rifugio breakfast. That and the flask of tea and some biscuits fuelled us sufficiently to see us happily meandering back to the hotel from which we set off eight days ago. They spotted us arriving and the doors opened to welcome us in as the day's only guests.

Then it was a quick sort out for the trip home, beer o'clock, and an excellent meal at the ever friendly Restaurant Malenco, just around the corner, where the waitress spent a year on Jersey (40 years ago) and likes to practice her English. It's a great place in which to finish a trip like this one. We had a pizzocheri for you Gillian, and raised our glasses in appreciation of your encouragement to us to visit this area.

We will come here again.

Today's pictures:
Pizzo Scalino and Sue
Bernina peaks from Alpe Acquanera
A spring/shrine equipped with a ladle
Looking towards the Bernina massif from Alpe Cavaglia
Close up from the same place
Looking down to Caspoggia, with Monte Disgrazia
Chiesa (2)

Monday, 7 September 2015

Flowers of Valmalenco (2)

Here's the list I promised. A flower expert would probably have identified at least three times as we (mainly Sue) did, but for anyone coming here in September this list would give you a start...

Adenostyles
Agrimony
Alpine aster
Alpine birdsfoot trefoil
Alpine clover
Alpine gypsophila
Alpine moon daisy
Alpine rock jasmine
Alpine toadflax
Alpine willowherb
Alpine wood forget-me-not
Autumn crocus
Bavarian gentian
Bearded bellflower
Bistort
Bladder campion
Common monkshood
Cowberry (red fruit)
Creeping avens
Dark stonecrop
Eyebright
Garland flower
German gentian
Glacier crowfoot
Glacier mouse-ear
Globe-headed rampion
Grass of Parnassus
Greater stitchwort
Grey alpine groundsel
Harebell
Heartsease
Himalayan balsam
Horse mint
Kidney vetch
Knapweed
Lady's mantle
Ling
Meadow buttercup
Meadow cranesbill
Mountain sorrel
Mountain thrift
Moss campion
Nottingham catchfly
One-flowered fleabane
Orpine
Ortica
Paniculate saxifrage
Perforate St John's Wort
Primrose
Raspberry
Red campion
Rosebay willowherb
Self heal
Spiniest thistle
Spreading bellflower
Starry saxifrage
Stemless carline thistle
Tormentil
Vernal sandwort
White stonecrop
Willow-leaved gentian
Yarrow
Yellow mountain saxifrage
Yellow wood violet
Plus sundry Avens, Pinks, Cinquefoils, Clovers and more

I may add to this list when some of the photos have been processed and further flowers have been identified.

The Alps - Day 19 - Alta Via di Valmalenco - Day 7 - Rifugio Bignami (2401 metres) to Rifugio Cristina (2233 metres)

Sunday 6 September 2015

15.5 km, 550 metres ascent, in 6.4 hours including breaks.

Weather: blue sky with frost, turning to sunny periods with a cool easterly breeze.
We woke to frost and a clear blue sky. Allessio and the three dogs supervised the traditional rather paltry high rifugio breakfast, but unlike yesterday I enjoyed a large jug of coffee.

We were away by soon after 9 am on the sunny but cool morning. Marmots were playing nearby. Some look so small that we wonder how they'll survive the winter.

The path was straightforward, with no need for white lines to accompany the yellow guiding triangles. Luca had explained how the hut teams set out every year with pots of paint in an effort to mark the best routes across the ever shifting boulder fields. We found their white stripes on the rocks on which it was safest to step very helpful when crossing Forcella di Fellaria yesterday.

Today we decided against Gillian's suggested route across the Lago di Gera dam and instead took Allessio's advice and rounded the northern end of the lake, a route of similar distance and timing.

Wrens and redstarts were encountered. We've also seen snowfinches, choughs, dippers and a number of other species.

Soon we encountered other walkers. Having seen virtually nobody for 3 to 4 days this was something of a novelty. There were lots of people out today - including a group of about 40 on the path that traverses high on Sassi Bianco. We even met a large chap descending Valle Poschiavino with a cigar in his mouth.

Elevenses were taken overlooking the reservoir, which is by no means full and is a rather sickly pale turquoise colour.

Alpe Poschiavino had shut for winter, the cattle having been returned to the valley. It looks an idyllic place in which to spend the summer.

Above the alpe we soon reached the snow line again and we enjoyed the gentle climb, subject to a few easy chains near the top, to Passo de Canciano on the border with Switzerland.

Lunch comprised cups of tea and a twix/snickers bar. Don't feel sorry for us, we've been eating far too much!

Even at this late stage of the year, the kidney vetch and moss campion described by Gillian were still in evidence as we made our way up to our high point of the day, 2615 metre Passo di Campagneda, where we enjoyed views towards Monte Disgrazia through a large wooden arch. There are also excellent views towards Bernina from here, but today those summits were embraced by cloud.

The descent to Rifugio Cristina was gentle and uneventful, past picturesque lakes with the fine peak of Monte Disgrazia in the background.

The rifugio is in a lovely meadow together with a number of small dwellings, mostly adorned with solar panels. The rifugio itself is powered by a turbine, and a small stream running past the front door powers a butter making churn.

Pizzo Scalino, the 'Matterhorn' of Valmalenco, towers above us at 3323 metres.

After being the sole visitors at the last two rifugios, tonight we have the company of a family of five. The family run establishment has fed us very well. I've come to prefer these family run concerns to the places run by highly qualified people who are escaping the rat race for a while.

Whilst at Bignami last night a couple of campers passed through. It would be perfectly feasible to walk the AVV on a wild camping basis, especially in September when the cattle and their shepherds have returned to the valley. We have enjoyed the hospitality of the rifugios though, and the benefits of carrying just a light rucksack. The cost of the eight day circuit will be less than the 900 euros we set out with.

Today's pictures:
The view north from Rifugio Bignami
Alpe Poschiavino
Ascending Valle Poschiavino
On the Swiss border
A chat with a chap from Ecuador
The view down Piano di Campagneda with Monte Disgrazia
Outside Rifugio Cristina with the butter maker

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Flowers of Valmalenco

Despite the lateness of the season, we've seen lots of Alpine flowers.

A list will follow, but a few are shown above:

Eyebright - possibly the most abundant
Bavarian gentian - high in the mountains
Yellow mountain saxifrage - loves to be close to water
Bearded bellflower - an old favourite
Alpine toadflax - very pretty
Willow-leaved gentian - quite rare

The Alps - Day 18 - Alta Via di Valmalenco - Day 6 - Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri (2813 metres) to Rifugio Bignami (2401 metres)

Saturday 5 September 2015

8.5 km, 300* metres ascent, in 4.8 hours including breaks.

Weather: overcast.

We awoke to a Christmas card scene. Four inches of snow had fallen overnight. The wolf was delighted. He managed to escape. The goats weren't impressed, but the feisty beasts held their own.

We didn't meet the guardian (Sue thinks he was away), but we did chat briefly last night with his assistant, a social anthropologist who had done research at Cambridge on the effect of oxygen levels on high altitude mountaineering, or something of that ilk.

She left a sub-assistant to sort out our 8 am breakfast; this girl was the only member of staff we saw this morning. Breakfast was a meagre affair - a cup of coffee, muesli and cornflakes, and a couple of packets of dried bread with butter and jam. We had agreed with the assistant guardian that she would phone ahead to let Bignami know we would be staying there, and we confirmed with her assistant that the call would be made.

Soon after 9 we set off into the snow. It was 2C outside, with no wind, so didn't feel cold. Care was needed on the slippery rocks as we made our way back along yesterday's route from Rifugio Carate Brianza. The flowers had all but disappeared, the long stalked Spiniest thistles and some tired looking thrift being the sole reminders of yesterday's finds.

Whilst the day was overcast, there were some fine looking snow scenes, so frequent snapshot stops, together with the slithery rocks, made progress slow. It took an hour and a half to cover the 3 km to Rifugio Carate Brianza, where Amanzio greeted us like long lost friends.

After a long coffee break, and Amanzio's assurance that the high route over Forcella di Fellaria (2819 metres) would be fine if we were careful, we set off along the mainly contouring route through the snow.

It was easy enough apart from a short section of giant boulders through which we wended our way with great care. The Forcella proved to be one of false summits, but we got there in the end despite the paucity of path signs - they were mostly covered in snow.

A steep descent then deposited us below the snow line in a lovely valley. Views were limited as the weather was closing in as a prelude to a rainy afternoon. Eventually we arrived at Alpe di Fellaria, where the 'active summer dairy farm' had returned to the valley after locking up for the winter.

A few metres further on, Rifugio Bignami was reached by 1.30 pm, shortly before the rain started in earnest. We received the usual friendly greeting from Luca and were soon tucking into Taroz dell'alpe (a potato, beans and cheese version of pizzocheri) and chocolate cake.

We were expected, but only because Amanzio had taken the trouble, unprompted, to let them know that an English couple were coming over the pass with the intention of staying the night. The staff at Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri hadn't bothered to call. "She may be a social anthropologist but she doesn't like humans" was an unattributed comment.

So, we settled down to a leisurely afternoon of R&R. Mainly light reading - I'm back on the Jessica Daniel stories by Kerry Wilkinson, and chatting with Luca and Skye.

Wet snow fell outside.

* I'm now relying on Gillian's estimates as my Suunto Altimax died today. A shame - it was a leaving present from my colleagues at Grant Thornton in 2004, so it has had a good innings. I have a feeling the sealing washer wasn't put back properly in Sallent in the Pyrenees when the man in the outdoors shop changed the battery for me at the end of June. Anyway, it survived quite happily until getting drenched on the morning we left Rifugio Ventina. I should have had it checked when I got back from the Pyrenees, but the battery housing is jammed on and the gadget looks very battered and is probably best replaced. Hans had a nice watch that performed the same functions - Tissot - 800 Swiss Francs! (£600).

Today's pictures:
The view from our room
On the descent from Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri
A view towards the Bernina summits
Looking down to Rifugio Carate Brianza (compare with yesterday's similar picture)
Inside Rifugio Carate Brianza
Approaching Rifugio Bignami

Later:
Another nice meal without being excessive, including (by special request) a selection of local cheeses.