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

Friday, 24 October 2014


I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing . . . which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time . . . Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is: the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious. CARL JUNG Memories, Dreams, Reflections

I sketched this simple mandala for myself some time ago; it helped me create order and clarify direction in a life which seemed, at the time, chaotic and anarchic. The circle signifies the unity of the universe (macrocosm) and the unity of the self (microcosm); all eight segments are individual, yet closely related — equally important parts of the whole. This is my life as creative self-expression; all aspects are essential to me, though some aspects may exert greater influence than others at different periods. Facets such as sexual, emotional, family and social relationships are not represented by this particular mandala, but that is not to say these things are not important — they inevitably impinge on and colour all the wedges, since everything is connected.

Further light on the meaning of each segment:

1. Private: This is the core of the self, the mysterious and unknown self, the self which has an inner, secret life, an almost primitive and animal-like self, the part of the self which is only partly acknowledged by oneself and hardly ever by others. However, it is a defining part, and necessary for mental, physical and spiritual survival. It's associated with instinct, emotion, creativity, irrationality, spontaneity and the unconscious, and can be dangerous — though it's even more dangerous if unrecognised or ignored. It's that part of the self which Freud and Jung and countless novelists have exposed in their work. 

2. Reading: One can only ever read a tiny proportion of all the books one wants to read. You have to evaluate, discriminate, be guided by chance, fate and circumstance. My current reading is focused on history, geography, travel, literature, the arts, biography, natural history, popular science, folklore, myth, religion, spirituality, philosophy, cookery, gardening and health.

3. Writing: Poetry, Blogging, Other.

4. Arts: Music, plastic and visual arts, photography, literature.

5. Walking: Long and short distances, different modes of travel, Europe, landscape, geology.

6. Cookery: Recipes, cookery books, world cuisine.  

7. Gardening: Plants, flowers, trees, fruit, vegetables, gardening books, design, wildlife.

8. Health: Stretching, resistance and cardiovascular exercises, walking, running, yoga, meditation.

Let me hasten to say that this is an 'ideal' framework, a mental paradigm which is never completely realisable; nevertheless, it's good to have goals and guidelines. It makes me feel better to lay things out like this, to prioritise what's really important in my life, and helps me realign myself at those times when I'm suddenly conscious I'm frittering away the hours.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Day 42: Bourg Saint-Pierre To The Col Du Grand Saint-Bernard

From Bourg Saint-Pierre it's supposed to be a four-hour walk (climb really) to the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard, one of the high alpine passes which link Switzerland and Italy. It took me five hours with breaks. It was a strenuous trek in parts — constantly up, up and up.

Yellow lozenges point the way.

The Barrage de Toules at 1730 m. 

The reservoir beyond the dam. You can see the route I've taken just above the water's edge.

Receding alpine ridges. Halfway down the pine-clad cliff on the right the road has been roofed to protect it from rockfalls and avalanches.

It's sad, I know, but this is the last cow picture. These beasts look formidable!

The path climbed relentlessly upwards, and the scenery grew starker and rockier as the day progressed. The valley gradually narrowed, still shadowing the road — but the path was quicker and more direct than the road, which took a switchback route.

There were pockets of snow on the mountainside — for many months of the year this area lies deep in snow, the road is closed and the path unwalkable.

This stream has eroded steps down into the gorge  . . .

The top of the gorge . . .

Note the ventilation shaft for the road tunnel below . . . 

The stony path crossed this footbridge and wound in and out the rocks, climbing ever higher . . .

Adenostyles Alliariae, a member of the Asteraceae family. I saw several of what for me were unusual plants, including some kind of mountain lily and a yellow flower with opposite lanceolate leaves I thought might have been a type of goldenrod.   

This is definitely Cirsium Spinosissimum, the Spiniest Thistle. There was quite a lot of it growing near the path as it approached the col. As far as other wildlife was concerned, I saw ravens and wheatears, and a small, black and white 'chacking' bird which could have been a black redstart. But the most exciting animals were the alpine marmots, and I saw a few of these. A Swiss walker pointed them out to me first, and I looked at them 'sunbathing' on a rock through his binoculars. Usually you hear them calling before you can see them — like meerkats, they post sentries which whistle a warning at any sign of danger. Once I disturbed one quite close to me and watched it run off — it had red and grey fur, and was larger than I'd expected. 

Not far now — St Bernard and a crooked arrow give the direction . . .

'St Bernard guides our steps' . . .

The end is in sight at the top of the cliff . . .

But first there is a dogleg bend to negotiate high above a rocky ravine . . .

 Can you spot the two hikers coming up on the track behind me? They were a friendly American couple — from Bellingham in Washington State. When I told them I had a blog friend who lived there, they remarked that it was a small world.  

Proof that I made it! I scrambled over the top — and was met with a car park. I had a big feeling of anticlimax. For some reason Dylan's line 'There’s a marching band still playing in that vacant lot' (Señor:Tales of Yankee Power) came spontaneously to mind. But there was no celebratory marching band, just a few tourists, bikers, cafés and gift shops. 

Looking across to Italy, which begins at the customs post on the right.

The building in the centre of the photo is the Hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard. I'd intended stopping there the night with the Augustinian canons (community priests), but the place was undergoing renovation, and was noisy, and busy with visitors. I booked in — then booked out again pretty quickly when I realised I would have to share a room with a stranger who wasn't even a proper pilgrim. I didn't even feel like visiting the St Bernard Dog Museum. Instead I crossed the border into Italy, crossed back again and sat in a bar nursing a beer, surrounded by plastic St Bernard dogs and other tawdry gift items. I'd just walked 1000 km and was thirsty. So I had another beer. Then another. And at 4 pm I took the daily bus back down to Orsières, then a train to Martigny, then another train to Geneva, where I slept in the youth hostel. It was a strange experience in the bus and the train as far as Lausanne, for I relived the latter part of my journey backwards, and at great speed — even glimpsing from my fast-moving cocoon people I'd seen or met briefly en route.

Well, that's it. Including detours, I'd walked 1000 km in 42 days from Guînes just south of Calais to the Italian border. I'd crossed two countries and edged my toes into a third. The next morning I managed to buy a reasonably-priced train ticket from Geneva to London via Lyon and Marne-la-Vallée. The journey was good, but at Marne-la-Vallée the cramped Eurostar train filled up with excitable kids who were returning home from Disneyland Paris. I could have done without that. To escape the din, I closed my eyes and relived the trip in my mind. It had been a memorable pilgrimage in so many ways: such an incredible variety of landscape, of weather, of people. Yes, it was the people who made it special — above all, the people.

I've really enjoyed putting my thoughts and photographs together into some sort of order, and I hope you've had as much pleasure reading about this trek as I have writing about it. Que Dieu vous bénisse, and thank you for your company along the Way.

Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.

*************** THE END ***************   

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Day 41: Orsières To Bourg Saint-Pierre (3)

Hôtel Bivouac Napoléon at the entrance to Bourg Saint-Pierre. Here I met up again with Jürgen and Christina, the German couple I'd shared an attic with in Orsières. We drank a coffee and talked about our day's adventures.

Mural of St Bernard dogs and the church at Bourg Saint-Pierre. Cardinal is the most common draught lager you find in these parts.

Close-up view of the mushroom-shaped supports for this wooden granary or raccard. In Britain we call these staddle stones.

In Switzerland . . .

. . . flowers . . .

. . . are . . .

. . . everywhere.

The Église Saint-Pierre.

More or less the same view in the evening.

Jürgen and Christina had taken a chalet on the campsite, but I chose to stay in a dormitory here in the Auberge du Petit-Vélan. It was modern, comfortable and spotlessly clean, with a wood ceiling and hot power showers. That night I treated myself by ordering a steak in the Petit-Vélan's restaurant (I'd only eaten what I would call 'proper' meat — i.e. steak as opposed to charcuterie — twice in six weeks) and really enjoyed it. Later Jürgen and Christina joined me for a nightcap.   

The main street in Bourg Saint-Pierre. Because of the high altitude (1630 m), it grew quite chilly as the sun went down.