The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes. MARCEL PROUST

Monday, 20 October 2014

Day 41: Orsières To Bourg Saint-Pierre (2)

The massif . . .

. . . at the head of the valley . . .

. . . seemed to get bigger and grander with every step.

Once I missed a footpath sign and was briefly lost — ending up in a grass meadow with no exit. So I retraced my steps. The scenery was captivating: all around were jagged peaks, pine-covered mountains, steep wooded slopes and lush green valleys, and at my feet were grasshoppers, and exotic-looking butterflies, and purple autumn crocuses, and alpine flowers I had never seen before.  

It was haymaking season, and the sweet smell of new-mown grass wafted from the meadows.

Small tractors with hay turners revolved the grass . . . 

. . . and kept it in line . . .

Sometimes the whole family — including farmer's wife, children, even baby — came out to help, complete with rakes.

A quintessentially Swiss alpine landscape in August.

After this hive of activity in the fields, I passed some real hives . . .

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Day 41: Orsières To Bourg Saint-Pierre (1)

A last look back at Orsières. The early morning sun is just starting to brighten the slopes, but most of the village still remains in shadow. 

I had gained an altitude of 900 m, but still had 1600 m to climb over the next two days.

It was a fantastic day's walking through wonderful panoramas: grey, bare-topped mountains with pine-clad lower slopes, snowy peaks, deep valleys, rushing streams and rivers. The temperatures were typical mountain temperatures — very hot in the sun, but quite cool in the shade. 

Doll's house chalet (with flag!).

I walked through the hamlets of Montatuay . . .

. . . and Fornex . . .

. . . climbing higher and higher above the river Dranse.

Distant, snow-patched mountains urged me on . . .

The Via Francigena is signed much more widely and efficiently here. Well, of course — this is Switzerland!

I crossed a bridge high over a gorge — the stream water was now much clearer, and sparkling, rather than a dull milky green — and returned to the valley floor. This is the village of Dranse . . .

. . . comprising the familiar short-spired church and chalet-style houses with overhanging roofs . . . 

It was a tiring route with plenty of ups and downs. Here I'm climbing again — up a switchback road from Dranse . . .

. . . to Liddes, where I sat on the step of this church door to eat my picnic lunch . . . 

. . . of bread (soft on the inside and crusty on the outside with sprinkled grains and seeds), Emmental cheese, red wine (left over from the night before), pumpernickel and lightly-smoked prosciutto. Could any outdoor lunch be better? — particularly with such a grandstand view of the mountains.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Day 40: Martigny To Orsières (2)

Leaving La Garde, I continued to follow upstream the spectacular, V-shaped valley of the river Dranse. From my school Geography lessons I remembered that these slopes were called interlocking spurs, formed by the river taking the course of least resistance . . .

Turning hay . . .

. . . on a warm afternoon in the Dranse valley.

Everywhere . . .

. . . was just so green and lush.

As I continued along the valley, higher peaks beckoned . . .

Taken from the main square in Orsières. 'Pam' is the name of a chain of Italian supermarkets — showing just how near I was to Italy.

A helpful lady pointed me to the priest's house, and the priest, Abbé Jean-Michel, showed me to the gîte pictured above, which was actually a venue used for church functions. It had a kitchen, shower, WC, and mattresses upstairs in the attic. It was all very clean and comfortable — the gîtes are of a much higher standard in Switzerland. The recommended price for the night was a very reasonable 10 Swiss francs. Here I met a German couple, Jürgen and Christina, who had just begun a week's walking on the Via Francigena. Christina had never been on pilgrimage before; her créanciale, or pilgrim passport, had been a 60th birthday present to her from Jürgen. I was the first pilgrim she had ever met, so I tried to make a good impression! They were very nice people — he owned a bicycle shop and she was an art therapist. Later that evening we shared a bottle of red wine and talked together. After all these weeks speaking French, my German had become a little rusty, and their English was not brilliant, but we managed fine. Before I crawled into my sleeping bag I read a text from Peter saying he had reached the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard and was already 20 km past the border — and it was much easier going downhill! Of Pierre he had seen no sign.     

Opposite the gîte was the Église Saint-Nicholas . . .

. . . which containd some striking, modern stained glass windows.

The river Dranse in Orsières.

Wooden bridge connecting church and cemetery.

I can't quite work out what this stone column commemorates in this pleasant corner of Orsières.