Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca

Saturday 11 April 2020

19 January 2003 - A Trip to Leighton Moss

I've taken to fairly randomly choosing sub folders of 'Pictures' that are described as 'Sundry'. One of those has given me some happy memories and ammunition for a couple of postings, using pictures taken with our first digital camera - a basic Olympus model, at a time when most of our photos were still being taken with traditional film and transparencies - January 2003.
Here's Sue's contemporaneous diary entry:
Left home at 8.45 to pick up Richard and Jenny. Hit fog during the hour's journey, and it rained occasionally. Met up with Andrew at Leighton Moss car park and left soon after 10am.
First stop, the bird hide - very still and foggy, the opposite bank of the pond wasn't visible. Saw a coot, and tufted ducks.
Strolled through fields (above) and woodland in the fog, past Leighton Hall, to arrive at Wolf House Gallery at 12.15.
After tea/coffee, it was decided to stay there for lunch, instead of continuing to the pub in Silverdale.
While we enjoyed soup and baguettes, the fog disappeared, leaving blue sky and sunshine. After looking round the gallery, we headed for the beach, where the tide was in. With no wind, it was pleasantly warm in the sun as we made our way to Jenny Brown's Point.
Waders, perhaps snipe, stood in the sand. We made slow progress over slippery rocks and through the mud, then we had to follow the cliff top as the coast route was under water.
Reached Silverdale at 3pm, and sat on the beach for tea and caramel shortbread, with the sun getting lower. Continued round the coast, then after exploring the small cave, we turned inland towards Arnside Knott.
At some point after passing Jenny Brown's Point (the photos are in correct sequence) a short rock climb was apparently attempted by Andrew - those were the days! - Ed.
Walked by the tower and through the woods, finishing over the golf course around 5pm. Nearly dark, with starlings gathering in great clouds, when we got back to the cars.

Friday 10 April 2020

Beetroot Red Velvet Cake

Beetroot Red Velvet Cake (serves 6-8)


75ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
2 tsp lemon juice
250g raw beetroot
1.5 tsp white wine vinegar
1tsp vanilla extract
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
250g self raising flour
150g caster sugar
3 tsp cocoa powder
1.5 tsp baking powder


200g cream cheese (or butter)
300g icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 180 C / 160 C fan / gas 4.
Line two 15cm round (loose bottomed if possible) cake tins with greaseproof paper.
Place milk and lemon juice into small jug and set aside.
Peel and finely chop beetroot and put in food processor with milk and lemon juice mixture, vinegar and vanilla. Blend to a fine, silky smooth puree.
Add butter to puree and give another blitz.
Add eggs and blitz once more until combined and smooth (SB: Mine separated at this point and looked horrible!)
Transfer to large mixing bowl.
Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking powder into the puree, mix well until everything is combined.
Divide the mixture between two tins and bake for 30-40 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Once baked, place cakes on cooling rack for 10 minutes before gently removing from the tins. Cool completely.
To ice, place cheese (or butter) into bowl with a bit of icing sugar, blend (I used an electric hand blender), then add more at a time.
Add vanilla and mix well.
Slice two cakes longitudinally through the middle to create four rounds.
Spread icing on three surfaces. Stack and then put un-iced one on top. Spread the rest of the icing over the top of the cake.


This cake was made recently by Sue (her comments are included), who took some round to parkrunner Owen's house. We hope he enjoyed it as much as we did.

Recipe from the Saturday Telegraph

Thursday 9 April 2020

GR54 – Tour of the Écrins, September 2012 – Sue's Diary

Our route (ish) - clockwise - click on images for better versions

Note - The Main Index for GR54 postings is here.

Intro from Martin on 31 August 2012

Not too early a morning! 

Up before 7am on the coolest morning in Manchester since the spring. Condensation on the windows in Timperley. But a sunny morning, and JJ arrived in his shorts at 7:30 to taxi us to the airport. Thanks JJ. Dropped off the Lowe-Alpine Nano 50:60 at bag drop, having checked in online with BMI. Flight 1343 to Lyon - 10:10 from T3 at Manchester. The bag was only around 9 kilos - about 2 to 3 kilos lighter than on our recent E5 trip, so with water etc I should be carrying 10 to 12 kilos on this trip as opposed to 12 to 14 kilos on the recent E5 trip. Great - meanwhile Sue has her bum bag again.

Roy, Susan and Sue in Bourg d'Oisans
Sue (all entries are hers from now on): flight went smoothly and we were in Lyon at 1:30, with time to eat lunch at a picnic table outside the terminal before meeting Susan and Roy from their Zurich flight. The coach to Grenoble left on time at 3pm for the hour's journey. There, it was raining and cool. Our next bus was at 4:30, and the queue for tickets moved so slowly that we nearly missed it!  

It was a very slow start through heavy traffic in heavy rain, but at last we escaped Grenoble and the driver tried to make up time. The Vallée de Romanche was very steep-sided and through chinks in the cloud, snow wasn't far above.  

We reached Bourg d'Oisans only 10 minutes late at 6:15pm and found Hôtel des Alpes just over the road! To our surprise, Ken hadn't arrived!  

A sortie revealed small shops and restaurants, but it was decided that eating at our hotel would be sensible, in view of Ken's imminent arrival. We'd just started on beer and pastis, when Ken came through the door. As the 5pm bus hadn't shown up, he'd had to get the 5:30pm. 

The five of us enjoyed a very nice dinner and wine, accompanied by the hotel's friendly tabby cat, then headed to our rooms around 9pm. 

Saturday 1 September 2012 - Day 1 - Bourg d'Oisans to Clavans-le-Bas 

Our team outside Hôtel la Fôret de Maronne
The morning was grey and cool (~ 8C) but dry. Our buffet breakfast was good and we got away at around 9am, having admired the cheese and meats at the market and sorted out Roy's leaking platypus!
After crossing La Romanche (river) the path climbed steeply over greasy rock beside the Sarenne Gorge, before becoming less steep. Nice views of Bourg d'Oisans (700m), although cloud hung quite low. The rain had fallen as snow down quite low. Beyond the village wash place was a Mairie and a plaque commemorating troops burning this hamlet of La Ville in August 1944. There was a series of mosaics done by children, and some old farm machinery.
The route then used paths, the road, and woodland, coming to Le Châtelard at 11am. Hôtel la Fôret de Maronne looked closed, but the doorbell produced Frank, a friendly Belgian, who opened the bar so that we could have coffee there. It was warm inside and we lingered for 40 minutes! Above were the villages of Huez and Alpe d'Huez, which Frank told us had capacity for 37,000 for skiing. Following the road, we passed through Maronne and Le Rosay (1550m), with pretty stone houses and a small chapel, with a pretty stained glass window. A descent followed, into the Sarenne gorge, and we crossed the Sarenne river by means of Pont Romain (1424m). A gentle climb through woods passing a mill with two old mill wheels, then on to a track, where a bench was just large enough for five to have lunch. Finally, we climbed above the woods and continued on a dirt road within a valley.
Above, huge birds, probably vultures, coasted above the mountainsides. The valley opened up and the Col de Sarenne could be seen ahead. The grass was golden yellow. The last section followed the road, and a group of cyclists were arriving, videoed by a Dutch TV company.
The Refuge du Col de Sarenne served teas (instead of the coffees that had been ordered) and biscuits for which we were charged €25 for the privilege. Still, it was nice to be out of the strong, cool wind which blew in our faces. From the col at 2000 metres, it was a descent to Clavans-le-Bas (1365m), a small village, where Auberge du Savel, our night's accommodation, was easily located. We'd kept dry all day, despite showers in the vicinity, but it was cool and windy. Our room is comfortable, and showers and washing were done efficiently.
Dinner was courgette soup, veal with tagliatelle, than tarte aux myrtilles - very welcome ~ 7:15pm.
Roy was the first to become overcome with sleep at 9pm and we all soon followed.
Day 1 - 21 km, 1800 metres ascent
Sunday 2 September 2012 - GR54 Day 2 - Clavans-le-Bas to Chez Baptiste in Le Chazelet
Lac Lérié
The 7:30 alarm dragged us out of deep sleeps. Through the skylight, patches of blue sky could be seen. A good breakfast of croissants, French bread, jam, and chocolate muesli, and we left soon after 9am. A village flower garden was admired before starting today's section, giving our host time to run after Martin with his walking poles! Initially we descended through woods littered with autumn crocus, then we crossed the Ferrand river at the Moulin de Besse (a communal watermill) at 1262m. It was then a climb (tops came off) up to Besse-en-Oisans, where the sun shone brightly on the flowers by the museum, and on those by the fountain. There were a few folk around who'd stayed overnight in the rustic village. Provisions were topped up at the small store, and we continued on the road for a short way before joining an ascending path. It continued to climb but we were diverted by flowers. Above woods, views across to the stone houses of Le Sert were admired.
At Col Nazi gîte (1902m) we enjoyed a break where my trouser legs were removed (and replaced again at lunchtime!), with views over to snowy peaks.
There was a very strong cold wind at Col Bichet, where views of La Meije and Le Râteau opened up, with large glaciers. The plateau d'Emparis was ahead, a vast area of undulating yellow grassland which we crossed on a good path. At the far side we ate lunch behind some rocks which sheltered us from the cool wind. Rather than taking the route over the Col du Souchet, we opted for the alternative path to Lac Noir and Lac Lérié, which climbed over rocky terrain dotted with dried lake beds. Lac Noir has views across the deep Romanche valley to the peaks named above, and the large glaciers de la Girose and Mantel. It was judged too cold to swim!
En route to Lac Lérié we came across a small black and white cat - what was it doing, high on a mountain!? The lake was attracting a few Sunday walkers, although its reflections weren't up to postcard standard. It was then a long descent, with interludes of marmot watching, in the shadow of La Meije.
The village of Le Chazelet soon came into view some way below - it was further than it looked but the large zigzags were easy on the knees. After crossing the Torrent du Gâ, an uphill section past a fountain under an arch brought us to the Gite Chez Baptiste, a quirky but homely sprawl of buildings. Tea/beer were welcome, and the hot shower lovely. Arriving at 4.10 gave us a leisurely time, where beds were rested on as grey clouds had brought light rain with them. Dinner at 7pm consisted of potato salad and green salad with very garlicky dressing, than lamb with potatoes, a cheese course, then small iced cakes with grapes. Afterwards, a kitten amused us, and his owner, a man taking a dog and the kitten for a walk, told us around 50 people lived in the village.
Day 2 - 17 km, 1400 metres ascent
Monday 3 September 2012 - GR54 Day 3 - Le Chazelet (1786m) to Refuge de l'Alpe de Villar d'Arene
En route to Refuge de l'Alpe de Villar d'Arêne
Up for a 7:45am breakfast of ginger cake, croissants and bread with jam. Away around 8:45am, to cloudy skies, but a higher temperature of 15C. Initially we followed the road out of Le Chazelet, soon passing the Oratoire Ste Anne, a small chapel. Below, another chapel perched on a promontory just above the layer of cloud that lay below us in the Vallée de la Romanche. We then descended on a track through fields to the village of Les Terraces (1782m), where a pretty church hung on the hillside. The path continued downhill, passing chickens and cockerels that were still crowing. The meadows were full of autumn crocus. Below lay La Grave (1474m), an older settlement and a centre for climbers. It was quiet on this Monday morning. A beautiful 11th century church was above the main street, where we stopped for lunch, then had coffee in a hotel. The proprietor admired Susan's hat.
Then we were back on the trail, a lovely path that undulated but generally rose, next to the Romanche river, taking us to the village of Villar d'Arêne. Below the village, a bridge crossed the Romanche again, and a beautiful path gradually ascended beside the river. A red squirrel appeared just ahead of us. Alpine Willowherb grew in small pink clumps and there was even Edelweiss.
Our route than moved away from the GR54 to ascend do the small village of the Le Pied du Col. The wind strengthened and was in our faces as we climbed gradually over yellow meadows above the road. Roy saw some quail and we heard them in the bank. There was also a large hairy caterpillar.
Soon after 1 pm, we reached the Col du Lauteret at 2058m. It was cool and trying to rain, so whilst the others ate bread and cheese outside, Martin and I enjoyed omelette, chips and salad inside. We emerged to rain, so waterproofs went on before we climbed to the Alpine garden which had free entry, (usually €6) as it is the end of the season. It was worth visiting though, despite the wind and rain, with colour from various plants. There were small gardens from different mountainous parts of the world. It was created in 1899.
Back to our path, we warmed up on the 'Sentier des Crevasses', which rose through shrubs on a muddy path that had become quite slippery. It was marked on the map with dots, but, despite steep drops to our right, it was fine. Ken and Roy had to persuade a few cows to move off the path, and soon we had reached the plateau where tonight's refuge is located. The rain hadn't been too bad, with dryish spells, and it was almost dry for our arrival, at 4:30pm, at Refuge de l'Alpe de Villar d'Arêne at 2077 metres.
Two litres of boiling water made tea for five, with chocolate biscuits courtesy of Roy and Susan. Then it was diary writing etc before dinner at 6:30pm. We'd watched the friendly guardian feed and milk the brown goat tethered outside, with attention from a clutch of hens. It was a convivial dinner for nine, as we were joined by four French from near Lyon - Michel, Hélène, Jean-Luc and Eveline. Soup was followed by rabbit and artichoke casserole and polenta, than a slice of ripe Brie preceded a crême caramel, without the caramel! At this point, Susan announced that today was her 55th birthday, and bought a bottle of Clairette de Die, a sweet sparkling wine made with muscat grapes - delicious. Roy, meanwhile, had thought it was the 2nd not the 3rd of September today! He'd entertained us by making a smiley face with his rabbit bones! It was an early night in our dorm, with a 'ground floor' bunk for everyone.
Day 3 - 21 km, 1250 metres ascent
Tuesday 4 September 2012 - GR54 Day 4 - Refuge de l'Alpe de Villar d'Arene (2077m) to Monêtier-les-Bains (1495m)
Our team at Col d'Arsine, 2340 metres
I woke at 7:23, and breakfast was at 7:30! That was the latest we could choose! Whilst we had bread, cow-cheese, jam and muesli, the clouds swirled darkly some way above. Still, it was dry. Away at 8:30, we had a gentle ascent along the valley to the Col d'Arsine (2340m). To our right a huge bank of moraine concealed a lake that we decided against going to. A descent brought us to a pretty area with glacial-blue pools, waterfalls, and an enormous herd of sheep guarded by two golden coloured dogs - le patou - a breed of mountain dogs from Tibet. It was grey, cool and trying to rain.
The descent continued next to the lively river in the valley, with autumn colour provided by reddening bilberry bushes, still laden with fruit. A stop for chocolate was made more interesting by Roy's keen eyes spotting 7-8 chamois on the steep slope opposite. A steep section, lined with over-ripe but edible raspberries led to the Lac de la Douche, another glacier-blue lake with a long shallow waterfall feeding into it.
The path continued on its long descent, now through woods, still next to the river. Eventually, the woods led to pasture and the valley opened up. The small, quiet village of Le Casset had a cosy bar-restaurant for a late coffee break, then it was only another half hour along the river to our destination, Monêtier-les-Bains (1495m). The centre of the village had quite a few shops, cafés and restaurants, but several were closed, and there were few people around. The Bureau des Guides had a notice on its door, stating it was closed from 1st September. Lunch was a leisurely galette, made with black flour, with various fillings, in a crêperie, which seem to be popular in this area.
A brief look at the church revealed nice stained glass windows but a very dark interior. The gîte Le Flourou is a short distance from the centre, and on arrival at 3 pm, notes directed us to the 'Edelweiss' room, a room for 6 with an ensuite bathroom. Leisurely hot showers and reading kept us occupied for the remainder of the afternoon. We all gradually congregated in the dining room, where our host Pierre welcomed us. Cups of tea, and some flower identification passed time before the table was laid, shifting us to the sofas next to the freshly lit open fire. It was warm and homely, as we browsed the largest selection of books. Pierre identified the large birds seen on our first day, as vultures, due to the wide wings. He told us about the death of a lot of lambs on the Plateau d'Emparis, in a storm, which attracted hundreds of vultures. Sadly there is no insurance for that sort of thing.
Dinner was very good - a cold mix of onion, pepper, aubergine, tomato, capers and olives, then polenta with pork in a tomato and mushroom sauce, cheese, and a cold apple crumble and ice cream. There are eleven of us staying tonight. We relaxed by the fire until just after 9pm.
Day 4 - 13 km, 300 metres ascent
Wednesday 5 September 2012 - GR54 Day 5 - Monêtier-les-Bains (1495m) to Vallouise (1166m) via Col des Grangettes
Lac de l'Eychauda
The shutters were opened to another grey day. Breakfast at 7:30 consisted of muesli, and toast with blueberry and apricot jams. We left around 8:30, crossing the river in this Vallée de la Guisane and passing a complex of smart wooden chalets with pretty flower beds. Today we were diverting from the GR54 route to avoid ski pistes, by walking up a valley through woods, then climbing to cross the Col des Grangettes rather than the Col de l'Eychauda. The path made wide sweeps across the hillside to ease the gradient. Nearby, lots of marmots were ambling around, and the sunlight (for a short while) shone nicely through the fluffy seed heads of the Alpine Pasque flowers. The colours turned redder as we climbed higher, then came the rocky and steep approach to the Col des Grangettes. We all enjoyed scrambling up the rock, which still was adorned with purple Adenostyles and white Saxifrages. It was chilly at the col, at 2684 metres, so we lingered only long enough for a 'team' photo before heading down. Below lay Lac de l'Eychauda, bluish-green, with small snow patches beside it. Above, the Glacier de Séguret Foran, with its very distinctive lateral moraine and glacier-smoothed rock where it had retreated.
Our descent would take us to Vallouise, 1166m. It was a straightforward descent to the lake, below which was a series of zigzags, up which quite a number of people were coming. The shallow gradient made the going quick. Lunch was earlier than normal, amongst rocks and grass, where it was slightly warmer. Down we went, amongst Autumn Crocus growing on the path, with long waterfalls cascading down the valley walls. Where the valley flattened out and cars were parked, we reached the summer habitation of Chambran (1719m). The buvette served coffees, which we'd ordered from Pierre, a boy of around eleven.
The dirt road was followed, then some narrow paths and some quiet surfaced road - the hedgerows had more Willow-leaved Gentian, and other flowers. Although it was still cloudy, it had brightened a little and was warming up (19C when we reached the gîte).
At the village of Le Sarret (1250m) we admired an old chapel before continuing to Pelvoux le Poët, with its old buildings. The last bit of road was tedious with feet beginning to hurt, and much more traffic. Vallouise is a pretty village, with more flowers than usual adorning the wooden buildings. The gîte was at last found, and Dennis and Maryline made us tea, served with welcome madeleines. The shower was lovely, and the Increasingly sunny afternoon was good for drying washing (along with the drying racks on the balcony).
There were eight of us for dinner, including a man who was also walking the GR54. A delicious salad to start, with smoked mackerel in it, then chicken breasts with sautéed potatoes, kidney beans and cabbage fried in butter. Yoghurt or cheese came before a pudding of local pastries and custard.
It was 9:30 when Martin, Ken and I turned in to our room, and Susan and Roy to their twin room.
Day 5 - 20 km, 1200 metres ascent
Thursday 6 September 2012 - GR54 Day 6 - Vallouise (1166m) to Refuge des Bans (2076m)
On the path to Refuge des Bans
Finally we woke to a blue sky morning! Breakfast at 8 - muesli and fresh bread and jam. Leaving our bags at the gîte, we sauntered into Vallouise, where the market was around the square selling cheeses, honey, dried fruits, fruit and veg, etc. We bought supplies from the 8-till-8 and we regrouped at the gîte. The weather necessitated sun cream before we set off out of town. Maryline had suggested an alternative route to the road, which proved interesting. First though we ascended gently on a track in woods, to a campsite. Then, rather than following the tarmac road, we kept to the right bank of the river, where the track soon became a narrow path. After undulating for a while, the path suddenly climbed steeply away from the river and we wondered whether it was the correct route. After quite a climb, it eventually levelled out and continued up beside the river. A wooden bridge took us back to the correct side (GR54) of the river, after we'd spent a few minutes watching an adder slowly move through the undergrowth.
Back on the road, we passed a pretty chapel (1911), then found various flowers in the verge, including a Striped Toadflax. The valley was beautiful, full of pines, then above, rocky summits with snow patches. The roadhead was in a wide part of the valley, where again we left the GR54, to go to Refuge des Bans, a 'dog-leg' off the route.
There were ten or so cars parked here, and a family with a 10 month old child, who Susan took a liking to! We would return to this point, Entre-les-Aygues (1624m), tomorrow. A 400 metre climb followed. It was hot but the views up the valley more than made up for it, with sparse pines by the river, and high rocky peaks ahead. It wasn't long before a rock painted with 'Refuge' indicated that we could see our destination, which was perched on a ridge up the valley. The butterflies were lovely, despite only thistles and scabious in flower - small and large blues were numerous, and we also saw an Apollo, white/grey with orange spots. Several people, who had lunched at the refuge, passed us. It was difficult finding a shady spot for lunch - we ended up beneath shrubs on rocks in the river! It was good to cool off feet in the cold water.
The last section involved some zigzags upwards; a chicken coop was passed (with a sign warning that the occupants would be "mortelles" if fed "herbes sauvage", and we arrived at the refuge, perched above the valley. The solar kettle was on, and Stéphane, the guardian, cooked omelette with cheese and chips made with potatoes from Vallouise. Whilst Ken went off to find snow, and a place to have a wash, the rest of us sauntered further up the hillside on a good path between rock bands. One of these caused Martin to halt, and the rest of us continued, to a grassy slope where the views were good all around. Bilberries were prolific and we ate a few handfuls, returning to our base at 5pm. We spread out in the first floor dormitory for 22, being the only ones staying. Stéphane  served dinner at 6:30 for us - vegetable soup made in the solar oven, then chicken with spaghetti, a cheese course, and beignets - deep fried bananas in batter, sprinkled with sugar.
During dinner, the cat, Bibass ('bee-bass') came and sat on my lap - he was honey coloured and just over a year old, and purred contentedly, stretching out across my lap! We all turned in soon after 9pm, as Stéphane told us there wasn't much electricity and his freezer needed it! Also, the facilities were a stone sink with a cold tap, outside the hut door, and the toilet was a single squat-type toilet a few metres away from the refuge! Outside, a large flock of sheep moved down the stream bed, well camouflaged in the rocks.
Day 6 - 12 km, 1000 metres ascent
Friday 7 September 2012 - GR54 Day 7 - Refuge des Bans (2076m) to Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette (1790m)
Outside Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette
The alarm went at 7 am. The sky was blue and the sun was just reaching the valley, lighting the rock beautifully. Sunlight flooded into the dining room as we ate bread and jam/honey for breakfast. The room has an old rucksack hanging up, and photos taken by Stéphane on the walls - he is a ski instructor in Pelvoux in winter. Before we left at 8:20, he explained that the refuge is named after the ban on sheep grazing in the mountains by a French government in years gone by.
We retraced steps, in warm conditions, seeing Apollo butterflies warming themselves with wings spread open, on rocks. Back to Entre-les-Aygues, where we crossed the river on a wooden bridge. In the shade of trees we had a break, then started the long ascent to the Col de l'Aup Martin (2761m). The path was in the shade for some way and it felt cool at 16C. The river was a constant companion and a stream joining it had a significant chunk of old ice, covered with rock. The Ecrins path was rejoined at about 1800 metres, and the sun reached the valley soon afterwards.
At Cabane Pastorale du Jas Lacroix (1946m), two large brown horses enjoyed some attention, and the shepherds were just leaving with their dogs, and a small cat over a shoulder! Due a break, we moved on a little, but not far enough to escape the attention of the horses and cat! The cat wasn't a problem but the large horses were! So, we moved on, with the horses following too... Eventually we escaped the horses, passed a group of donkeys, the shepherdess, sheep and cattle, and found a beautiful spot to linger. Views were good in all directions, with a long waterfall cascading down the steep cliffs. The path climbed on, through an area of orange grass then a wide meadow with sheep grazing to our left. Field Gentians were predominant amongst the grass, and Yellow Mountain Saxifrage amongst the scree. Lunch in the warm sun, surrounded by lilac gentians prepared us for the last stage over shale, to the col. Vegetation was absent on the black zigzags.
Views from the col were excellent, and a narrow path traversed to the next col, Pas de la Cavale (2735m). From here, snow-covered peaks could be seen in the far distance, and the closer ones had huge ripples in the rock. A large bird of prey soared overhead, and reappeared quite close - the book in the refuge helped to identify it as a golden eagle. It was strange going through a gate to join our descending path. It wound down in wide zigzags, and later down a spur in a series of narrowing zigzags. Here, sheep were grazing on the yellow grass amidst the thistles.
We'd been able to see Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette from way above, but it was still a long way below us. Finally we crossed a stream on wooden planks to arrive at the refuge (1810m) at 4:30 pm. It sat in a wide valley, west facing so there was sun until just before 7 pm. There was a jolly ambience, with thirteen at dinner. First though, tea/beer outside, then a welcome shower. We have a room for ten to ourselves - Martin and I have a top bunk, the others are below. The washing line is a short walk out of the window! Dinner was soup, then spaghetti with tomato sauce and cheese, and pork. Cheese was tomme, then a slice of raspberry tart finished the meal. Not long after dinner, it was time for bed.
Day 7 - 18 km, 1300 metres ascent
Saturday 8 September 2012 - GR54 Day 8 - Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette (1790m) to Refuge de Vallonpierre (2271m)
 Vallée de Champoléon from Col de la Vallette
Up at 7:15 for a 7:30 breakfast of ... bread and jam! It was cool to start our ascent as the sun hadn't risen high enough to light the valley. Ahead were several others with a longer day than us. The path was an impressive series of wide zigzags, making for an easy height gain. The green slopes, next to a small stream, made for a pretty route up to the shale slopes below the col. Col de la Vallette, at 2668 metres, had a small summit that looked inviting and gave excellent 360-degree views, including down to the Vallée de Champoléon where the refuge was located. Our next col was in view, but first, a steep descent on a narrow zigzag path that required care but wasn't difficult. A green meadow with dried up lakes lay at the bottom, then an ascent, again easily graded, led to the second col, Col de Gouiran, at 2597m. Here, we chatted to Alain, from Brittany, before a short descent, and another climb to the third col. The path traversed shale ridges, crossing the stream beds between each. The Col de Vallonpierre (2607m) was a good lunch spot with views (albeit a little cloudy now) of the higher peaks of the Ecrins, and next to us, Le Sirac, with its small glacier.

After lunch, another small detour called! Initially we headed for the cairned top, but then we set our sights on Pic de Vallonpierre, a further few minutes up the ridge. At 2738 metres, it gave a view of the refuge, a little way below, and to higher peaks with very narrow ridges. It took only half an hour there and back to the col, where Martin had waited for the rest of us.

It was a marmot day today - on the descent, there were several close to the path, who didn't immediately run away. A lone deep blue gentian grew by the path. Today's refuge (de Vallonpierre) was reached at 2:30. It is high, at 2271 metres, next to a small lake, below Le Sirac and Pic de Vallonpierre. Tea all round on the bench outside with more arrivals. A bit of washing, then a warm afternoon outside, watching four climbers return from Le Sirac, and marmots ambling over nearby rocks. Miriam and Daniel, the guardians, have been here nine years - they have advised we take a different route tomorrow. Dinner was convivial. Manon and Ann, sisters from Grenoble, out for the weekend, joined us. Manon is training to be a chemical engineer and Ann does land management (Alpine). Soup was plentiful, then it was chicken in a mushroom and onion gravy with crouzet de savoie (small square pieces of pasta). Two cheeses were served before a dessert of nut sponge. Not long afterwards we turned in, as an earlier start was planned. We had the dormitory to ourselves as a family of four didn't arrive. In total there were twelve 'no shows' - we were horrified. So we slept five in a row, with duvets.
Day 8 - 12 km, 1600 metres ascent
Sunday 9 September 2012 - GR54 Day 9 - Refuge de Vallonpierre (2271m) to Refuge des Souffles (1975m) via Col de Colombes
Refuge de Vallonpierre
It was dark when the alarm went at 6:15, and breakfast was at 6:30 - muesli and thin slices of bread and jam. Outside, it got light, and we left the refuge at 7:15, when the sun was just lighting the tops of the mountains. The sky was clear, except for some light cloud on the horizon. Our objective was to descend to the village of La Chapelle, at 1100 metres. It was a cool 6C to start, but warmed up as we descended. It was a delight to watch the sun gradually light all the mountains around us. A flock of sheep had been herded tightly into a pen - they were completely silent, and stared at us as we stared at them! The river was crossed before we reached the shrub/tree line, and soon we came upon Refuge du Clot at 1397 metres, a perfect halfway point at which to have coffee at a bench amidst contentedly clucking chickens. Leaving here at 9:30, the sun soon shone, but trees provided partial shade, keeping us cool. The path weaved around the ancient buildings in the hamlet of Rif du Sap, then entered a wider part of the valley where long waterfalls fell, and the rose hips and berries gleamed red in the sun. An old stone built humpback bridge spanned the river to our right, and just before La Chapelle, the Cascade de Combefroide, backed by L'Olan (3564m), caught our attention. On the path, eyebright and heartsease grew. It was 11am when we arrived in the village, a lively place over which paragliders flew, and through which a cavalcade of three wheeled motorbikes came, their riders waving happily!
Whilst Martin and I ate 'ravioles' (deep fried potato croquettes) at a café in the shade, the others bought 'tourtans', the filled pastry squares, for a second breakfast. Then for the ascent of the day, a diversion to two cols, as recommended by Miriam. From the start, it was hot, and the long 'cascade' proved elusive from close quarters. A houseleek was still flowering, along with a small pink flower, and higher, the hillside was covered with heather in flower. Higher still, lovely tumbling streams carved white fans through the yellow grass and rock, and the path zigzagged up. At 1:40 we stopped for lunch by a small stream where removing boots was bliss! Although dark clouds were building up, we enjoyed a sunny picnic, before continuing upwards another 500 metres. The path crossed striped boulders and passed through red laden bilberry bushes to reach the Col de Colombes at 2423 metres. Below lay Lac Lautier, where we would have loved to have swum, but its surface was rippled with raindrops; it was just 13C, and instead, full waterproofs were employed. The lake was clear, with small fish.
A zigzag descent, and a short ascent, brought us, in rain, to Col des Clochettes (2183m). Bilberries were munched on our short way to the Refuge des Souffles (1975m), and heavy rumbles of thunder signalled heavy rain to follow. Again, we have a room to ourselves. Bowls of tea rehydrated us, and were followed by hot showers.
Dinner was lively, and warm, with about 28 people in the small dining room. Eight of us tonight on a table, for soup, pork etc, a good selection of cheeses, and cake with a small jar of yoghurt and bilberries. As last night, a sugar cube soaked in Génepy made a fiery end to the meal. As usual we were in bed for 9:30pm.
Day 9 - 23 km, 1700 metres ascent
Monday 10 September 2012 - GR54 Day 10 - Refuge des Souffles (1975m) to Le Désert-en-Valjouffrey (1255m)
Near Col de la Vaurze (2498 metres)
Despite last night's rain, it dawned clear. Breakfast at 7:30 - muesli and bread, and we left at 8:20 in cool shade. Only one col today, in sight from the refuge, but first the rocky path descended a little, before a long traverse of the basin. The path cut into stream-cut ravines, then continued on rocky ledges, before the ascent to the col began. We were in sun now but it was still comfortably cool. The path took wide zigzags, finally crossing high pasture with sheep grazing, before reaching Col de la Vaurze at 2498 metres.
Already there were the Belgian couple who had overtaken us en route (he resembles Conan, and the guardian at Souffles brought out a birthday cake with lit candles at the end of dinner last night - he is 20!). Despite some chill, we took in views, including La Chapelle, some 1400 metres below, and L'Olan (3564m), with Le Désert, today's destination, lying almost directly below us. A marmot pottered about below.
The long descent started steeply on a slope of shale and slate, reaching grass some 200m below. Care was needed as the damp soil and sheep droppings made the rocks slippery. A grassy plateau served for a break - our five companions had stopped too, at a small wooden shepherd's hut with a solitary goat outside. Around 1pm, we descended a path between dry stone walls, crossed a stone bridge and entered the small village of Le Désert-en-Valjouffrey (1255m), with its old stone houses. We had booked into the Bar des Ecrins, but a notice told us it was open only from Friday to Sunday lunchtimes. So we asked at l'Auberge l'Eterlou, and discovered that we are staying in a stone cottage built in 1788! It has two bedrooms up a wooden staircase, and a bedroom downstairs, together with a lounge, dining room/kitchen and bathroom at the back. The furniture is old-fashioned, but the vaulted ceilings are lovely. Outside, we have a secluded garden with table, chairs and a handy washing line. The afternoon has been mainly sunny, enabling washing of shorts. Ken and Susan and Roy donated bread, cheese, and salami for lunch, as Martin and I only have nuts and chocolate. The microwave enabled cups of tea to be made, although the tea bag is having to go a long way, as we only have two left now.
The bath was lovely, before dinner at 7pm. Marie-Claude served us dinner in the restaurant, a cosy room with vaulted ceilings. Courgette tart to start made a nice change from soup, then it was a local sausage with dauphinoise potatoes. The cheese course was generous and was followed by a fresh chocolate sponge and chartreuse ice cream. A walk around the village revealed a small grey kitten. An extra pichet of wine was ordered tonight, and perhaps accounted for the hilarity we had back in our apartment with a fluffy dog whose bottom unzipped to reveal a small doll, a monkey with human features, and a stuffed lamb with a neck which was rather too long! A rabbit with large eyes added more spookiness. All headed for bed around 9pm.
Day 10 - 10 km, 750 metres ascent
Tuesday 11 September 2012 - GR54 Day 11 - Le Désert-en-Valjouffrey (1255m) to Valsenestre (1294m)
A view from the ascent to the Col de Côte Belle
All had a good night, and breakfast was ready at 7:30 - slices of brioche and fresh bread, which we didn't need to ask for! We left at 8:30, with Marie-Claude encouraging us to walk quickly as there may be rain in the afternoon. It was warm and sunny as we walked up the track then continued on a path that climbed steeply. But there were flowers - St John's Wort, Mullein, Fringed Pinks, and even a Bird's-eye Primrose - to distract from the ascent. The steep path eventually crossed a stream, then the gradient eased as the path made wider zigzags on grass meadow. Grasshoppers were active, revealing the red of their wings when they jumped, and there were lots of butterflies. It took 2 hours to reach the Col de Côte Belle at 2290 metres, where our companions had already arrived. I followed Roy and Susan's lead and climbed to the nearby summit of Côte Belle at 2390m, where huge clumps of Edelweiss grew, and the slates were vertical. Two large cairns marked the top, with views to Roche de la Muselle (2855m). An hour after arriving we left the col, having inspected the ascent to Col de la Muzelle we'd be doing tomorrow. Narrow zigzags up the final spur look amazing!
The descent to Valsenestre was beautiful. Initially the path made wide sweeps over grass, with stunning views, then crossed an area where huge slate slabs stood making vertical, curtain-like walls. Further down, the path entered silver birch trees, starting to turn yellow. Red Campion, Monkshood, and even saxifrage were still flowering. The light in the forest of larch, pine and fir was lovely, before we joined a track by the river. The track junction was chosen for a lunch stop (1500m), to eat the salami rolls made by Marie-Claude. We lingered, as it was only half an hour to our destination, Valsenestre. Nearby, pigs had been rooting amongst the grass, making quite a mess. So it was 2pm when we reached Gîte d'étape Le Béranger, still in bright sun, and lingered over drinks with Steve, from Bristol, and a Belgian, Jean-François (JF). Then, showers and washing, and a walk around the pristine village (1294m). It is only inhabited during the summer, and has several fountains, a small chapel repainted just a month ago, and a bread oven with a stone arched roof that was black with soot. Time was spent reading, drinking bottles of local beer, helping Hélène prepare dinner by peeling a tray of mushrooms, and, as usual, a little flower identification.
All of us sat at one table for dinner, which was vegetable soup followed by meat pie, dauphinoise potatoes, salad, and mushrooms in cream - it was delicious. Fromage blanc with raspberry sauce preceded plates of fresh fruit - grapes, plums and nectarines. Bed wasn't too long afterwards.
Day 11 - 9 km, 1000 metres ascent
Wednesday 12 September 2012 - GR54 Day 12 - Valsenestre (1294m) to Refuge de la Muzelle (2130m)
On the steep ascent to Col de la Muzelle (2625 metres)
Breakfast was at 7 - yoghurt and cheeses added to the usual bread and jam. It was a cloudy sky when we left the gîte at 7:50 to stroll up the track to yesterday's lunch spot. Only 15 minutes or so into the walk, the rain started, so waterproofs went on. Today's col is high - 2625 metres, but the path was good. Early on, a herd of sheep was eerily quiet in their pen, except for one who shook himself, making his bell jangle. The shepherd with three dogs passed by. Ahead we could see the others who'd left a little before us, on the path. The cloud descended but rose later, allowing views forward to the col, and back to yesterday's pinnacle and col. The rain was intermittent, but it got cooler as we climbed. The last 200m was zigzags across the shale/slate. The only flowers were Yellow Mountain Saxifrage.
Despite our guidebook giving 4½ hours to the top, it took us only 2 hours 50 minutes, and we didn't linger. Snow was blowing horizontally across the col! The descent was steep and required care, but it was only 40 minutes to reach today's destination, the Refuge de la Muzelle at 2130m, by 11:30am. The wooden hut was built in 1967, and is strangely designed with dormitories opening on to the first floor balcony, and the toilets beneath. Wet clothing was removed, and we warmed up slightly after bowls of hot chocolate, omelette au fromage, and pasta carbonara. It was now just 1pm, and with dinner at 7pm it was going to be a long afternoon. It was spent playing yahtzee (Martin and me), reading in bed and in the dining room, and weather watching. For some time it snowed heavily, making our surroundings white. When it stopped, the col we'd crossed was white and Roche de la Muzelle had its rock faces lit by a ray or two of sun, and its glacier was freshly whitened.
We had an afternoon snack of the rice/tuna/tomato mix that was part of today's packed lunch, and a litre of boiling water made tea for five from our last but one teabag.
Steve joined us for dinner at 7pm - lots of soup, then pork with flageolet beans and potatoes, cooked in meat stock. The usual cheese course preceded chocolate sponge and cream. Our damp clothes/waterproofs were spread around the dorm and dining room in the hope they'd be dry to wear tomorrow. The three campers had put their tents on the alluvial fan the other side of the lake. Meanwhile the twelve of us were in the same dorm, where double bunks were available for Martin and me, and Susan and Roy, and a single for Ken. Rucksacks and boots were in a small room at the back. The glass-paned doors didn't shut properly, but did provide ventilation. There were two dogs, Killer and Sausage, and a cat that should be called Killer.
Day 12 - 11 km, 2000 metres ascent
Thursday 13 September 2012 - GR54 Day 13 - Refuge de la Muzelle (2130m) to Bourg d'Oisans (720m)
 Looking back, from near Col du Vallon
We woke to snow outside that had fallen during the night! Breakfast around 7am, but we didn't leave until 8:20am as gear had to be collected, and the dogs had some attention. There was a pass to cross, which the guardian advised would be ok with good boots and 'les batons' (walking poles). The path retraced yesterday's a little way before branching right to cross a rocky area, where care was needed. Grass slopes were then gained and the path zigzagged up the hillside, where only Steve's footprints sullied the fresh snow. After just over an hour we reached the col - Col du Vallon - 2531m - together with Steve and Jean-François. The view behind us was superb, with the mountains snow covered and the sunlight picking out the ridges beautifully. Lac de la Muzelle and the refuge were still in shade. All of us were wearing full waterproofs as it was minus 1 to minus 2C, despite the sun, and a chill wind blew.

Next, a long descent to Lac Lauvital (1540m), first through snow, then winding down through small rock bands. Four chamois were seen on a scree slope, and Edelweiss was flowering next to the path. Below, the lake was deep blue, contrasting well with the green hillside, white waterfalls, and snowy tops. After a short ascent, it was only another 20 minutes to the lake. Although it was only 11:30, we sat by the lake to eat yesterday's packed lunch - rather chewy bread, cheese and salami.

Resuming our route soon after 12, we paused to photograph a very bold mamot (they are fed by visitors here), before climbing a rocky path, gaining more views of the lake. A well-constructed path descended steadily, and all of us gradually removed layer after layer of clothing. Now into shrubs, then trees, a river flowed noisily beside the path. Our plan of stopping at the buvette in La Danchère (989m) failed, as it was closed, but we looked at the small church with its mosaic glass windows, and ate remaining supplies on a bench. 'Legs' came off for Martin and me, so shorts and t-shirts were worn for the last section (the temperature rose to about 17C). Here, we played ball with a dog - he would lie down on the sloping road, with the ball on his front legs. Then, he'd nudge the ball off his legs, to roll down the hill, to where I'd kick it back to him. He was very quick, and each time caught the ball in his mouth! This was repeated several times!

Back on the path, we passed huge mushrooms, with a diameter of about 7 inches, then descended on the left bank of a river, coming out at the hamlet of Les Gauchoirs. Now it was track through woodland in dappled shade, avoiding the large puddles, for some way. But it was flat easy walking, with a few flowers for interest, not far from the Romanche river. The streets coming into Bourg d'Oisans were plain but adorned with huge, colourful hanging baskets.

So, at 4pm, our GR54 circle was closed and we joined Steve outside a street corner café for beer/tea. Back at Hotel des Alpes, we had a soak in a hot bath, then had a wander, browsing flower books, and checking bus times for tomorrow. The five of us, plus Steve and JF, had beers in the hotel, before a meal at La Muzelle, which was excellent. Ken treated us to real bottles of wine, a nice change from our usual litre pichets! Back to the hotel ~ 9:30pm.
Day 13 - 20 km, 1350 metres ascent
Friday 14 September 2012 - Going Home 

Our tenth wedding anniversary! 

Up at 6:50, packed, breakfast at 7:30, and all five of us caught the 8:07 bus to Grenoble. A smooth journey, arriving 9:45, in time for the 10am bus to Lyon airport. Had coffee, then all checked in, somewhat tediously for us. Goodbyes were exchanged and the BMI flight took off at about 2pm. Great views of a snowy Alps chain soon after leaving Lyon, bound for Manchester

A super trip with four seasons in a fortnight. 

Thirteen Days - 207 km, 16650 metres ascent
That's it for now. I think I'll leave the cost analysis (about £850 per person including flights from Manchester) and a complete list of  70 different flowers that we identified, to the handwritten (volume 74) version of our diaries.