Countryside Wanderings

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out of doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

Category: Switzerland

Incidental ambles

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

The start of a new year can be a useful time to take stock of life. January can be a month that some find too quiet but it has its uses as I am finding out for myself. A current career break means that I have added occasion to think over what I would like to do for a living. After five years of family bereavements followed by responsibilities added through inheritance, there is plenty of reason for this. What had not been obvious to me is that my last job was not a match and the experience left its mark, one that needs to be overcome.

Throughout all of this, I am not forgetting that I am an explorer at heart. There has been time to catch up on reading and I now have my fill of travel writing so I will not be lured into book purchases as easily as before. More discernment could be the way of things for me and that cannot be so bad when finances need to be kept in check during times like this hiatus from work.

Also, I have been travelling around England and Wales collecting ideas for walking trips like Roseberry Topping and Pumlumon Fawr. Surveying the countryside about the latter brought me the added benefit of a short if muddy stroll around Llangurig. Visiting nearby Rhayader is another thought and a short stay in Aberystwyth could facilitate more than initially had come to mind. Other parts of the Welsh River Wye are ripe for exploring too and the hills of the Black Mountain in the western side of the Brecon Beacons could be another tempting idea.

City visits to Edinburgh and Cardiff have come to pass. In the middle of the latter, the banks of the River Taff offered an oasis of calm with Llandaff Cathedral feeling as if it is in a country rather than where it is. Bute Park was another delight that makes me wonder why it took so long for me to make an independent visit to the place and there is Cardiff Castle if I wanted to include that as part of a return visit. There is plenty there for cyclists too and I am not surprised that bicycle hire is available.

Those city wanderings remind me that there have been times during the last few years when energy for more strenuous outings has not been as readily available. Edinburgh has featured quite a few times and there are regular haunts nearer my home in Macclesfield. Knutsford’s Tatton Park, Disley’s Lyme Park together with Macclesfield’s Tegg’s Nose Country Park and Dane’s Moss Nature Reserve all have been places where quick visits offered respite from life’s tumult when enthusiasm for longer trips was not to be found. The same could be said for more urban spots like Buxton, Chester, Sheffield and even Manchester. Anywhere where a coffee can be enjoyed away home has had its uses.

Strolls on my own doorstep like circuits taking in Prestbury all had their uses when my head needed clearing, like on Christmas Eve during my first ever Christmas spent in Macclesfield. That was a stormy affair, as much in my mind as it was out of doors. When a brighter interlude offered, it did not need much persuasion for me to head out on a longer round that linked Tegg’s Nose, the Saddle of Kerridge and the White Nancy. It became just the breather that I needed at the time.

The last few months have been as much about exorcising hurtful memories as anything else. That included the past Christmas and New Year period when it felt more normal than others. Trips to Tatton Park, Manchester and Lincoln all broke up the flow and I also got learning that camping stoves should be used out of doors too, a misadventure that I have no relish for repeating.

Getting past that was like everything else in life in recent times. 2017 became a year when I lightened some of life’s load so I need to think ahead now. Getting an enjoyable and fulfilling work life is one thing and my zest for exploring countryside continues. Overseas excursions could restart yet since I am making my way through Kev Reynolds’ Walking in the Alps at the moment and there is his The Swiss Alps, The Pyrenees and Trekking in the Alps after that. That lot should keep me going for a while yet and I am not overlook what hill country is nearer to hand either.

Uphill strolling from Grindelwald to Kleine Scheidegg

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

Flushed with satisfaction after a spellbinding day spent around Zermatt, another Swiss walking excursion became inevitable and the weather held up for this one too. My destination became Grindelwald and the lure was a possible sighting of the Eiger. Quite how I selected this is lost to recollection now but I suspect that a BBC television documentary about the first successful ascent of the mountain’s north face might have had something to do with it.

On the way there, I took the chance to see Bern again and my time there this time around proved short but it was good to potter about the city in sunshine rather than the greyness of the preceding Saturday. Just as on the way to Zermatt, the sunlit surroundings enlivened the train journey all of the way to Grindelwald and not just my flying visit to the Swiss capital.

When I finally arrived at my destination, a bit of bumbling around the place ensued. It was an unplanned affair probably caused by own inattention or an unwillingness to lose height at the start of my walk but it handily got me oriented. With my bearings obtained, I then set off downhill towards Grund and it was all uphill walking after that.

Wetterhorn & Mättenberg, Grindelwald, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

There was no doubt about the way ahead once the course of gaining height had begun. Swiss efficiency with regards to signposting and continued attention to the map saw to that. The mix of road and off-road walking was heavily swayed towards the latter there never was any recourse to threading on bare pasture like what you would find in Britain or Ireland. The investment in path maintenance bested what is found in those other places and the views over Grindelwald opened out more and more as I continued higher and higher. Even so, steady progress ensured that I was going strong until at least Alpiglen.

Though it was the Eiger that may have drawn me, it was the rocky pinnacles of the Wetterhorn and the Mättenburg that held much of my attention as long as I had sight of them in pleasant sunshine. Wisps of cloud graced the mountainsides as if to foretell the way that the skies would fill with them in the afternoon before breaking up again at evening time. Seeing such craggy fastnesses as I did among landscape that is much tamed was no contradiction. All appeared to fit together surprisingly well.

Burg & Bira, Grindelwald, Switzerland
Winteregg & Retti, Grindelwald, Switzerland

As I continued higher, other views began to attract my notice. The north side of the valley leading to Grindelwald was green in appearance in spite of its steep slopes and cragginess. On the other side of this lay Brienzersee and its environs though all of that lay out of sight. My hike never was to take me above the altitude of the intervening summits and I was surprised to spot a mountain hut (more like a hotel really) perched on a mountain top around 2500 metres above sea level in a photo months after my Swiss escapade.

The railway line never was far away on this stroll and often provided chances for stopping early if the need arose. There are those who probably use it to gain height before walking downhill again, the reverse of what I was doing. Steep inclines mean that it is a cog railway but they did not scare me at all when I eventually used the train to return to Grindelwald, quite unlike what cable cars can do.

Cloud started to take over as I plied the woodlands between Brandegg and Alpiglen so my cloudless views of the Eiger were not to be. All I got were glimpses through wisps of cloud before then and that was to be my lot. Beyond Alpiglen, my memories are of overcast skies and barer countryside with views of Kleine Scheidegg ahead of me. Its buildings looked so near that the thought of their being my final destination felt unreal.

Having set aside the idea of finishing my walk at Alpiglen, I was now to go along the track as far as I had intended to travel. With the sunshine absent, there was a certain chill in the air and my course was to take me past idle cable car stations. The out of season feel lent an added sense of desolation to this part of my saunter.

Height was being gained all the while and I noticed a certain shortness of breath descending on me. Unlike the previous day around Grindlewald, the altitude was making its presence felt. Progress just had to slow to what my lungs would allow. That my legs still were more than willing did not help matters. A pair of walkers coming down from Kleine Scheidegg shared words of encouragement and I was well in time for the next train down to Grindlewald.

The views that I hoped to enjoy were denied me and the lack of metalled streets surprised me. The chill in the air was enough to stall any thoughts of dallying and places felt closed down when I might have liked to stop somewhere for a while if I was to hang about the place. In the end, catching the next train was my priority and I got on the next one once I had a ticket for the journey.

Once in Grindelwald, I stayed a while instead of taking the next train to Interlaken Ost. Aside from the fact that cloud cover was breaking to all some evening sunshine, I also needed time to collect myself after being over 2000 metres above sea level and ascending over 1000 metres to get there. Though I was flying back to Manchester the next morning, what I did not need was any rushing about and it had been a great introduction to where I was. It is true that I learned a little life lesson about what altitude can do to you but there was much satisfaction too so that is how I will remember my day in Berner Oberland.

Unfinished Business and Other Possibilities

There is much to savour around Grindelwald and Kleine Scheidegg and I still fancy seeing the sight of the Eiger uninterrupted by cloud cover. Other lofty eminences like Mönch and Jungfrau are nearby and there is the prospect of a railway excursion as far as Jungfraujoch, a costly escapade with views to match the outlay. Less outlandishly, other hiking possibilities are their to be savoured and it helps that nearby Lauterbrunnen also is well served by trains. Enjoying a longer walk would less in the way of height gain or more altitude acclimatisation sounds more than a good thing to me.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey between Geneva and Grindelwald with changes at Bern and Interlaken Ost. Train from Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald.

Seeing much more than I expected around Zermatt

Monday, December 25th, 2017

In early September 2015, I got to make good an intention to savour some alpine scenery. When I pondered the option in July of the same year, the predicted heat looked offputting so I chose Iceland instead. In any case, summer temperatures among the Alps can be such that shoulder seasons are preferable so long as winter conditions neither linger late nor arrive early.

Exploring Cities

In my case, waiting until the end of the summer holiday season paid dividends. What I was hoping to do was to keep the cost of my Swiss escapade under some sort of control and the weather did not disappoint either. Within a single week, temperatures had declined to more comfortable levels so it was with some pleasure that I wandered around Geneva on my first day in the country. The city’s famous fountain on the edge of Lac Léman was in operation as I strolled along the lake’s shoreline as far as the city’s botanic gardens where I stayed a while before retracing my steps to my hotel near the train station. As I did so, I passed the buildings occupied by the United Nations under now clouded skies.

The cloud broke again to leave a ravishing evening to be enjoyed by all who were out and about. Though I could not pick out Mont Blanc either through lack of visibility or lack of knowledge, there were other French slopes to see as I crossed the River Rhône to the other side of the lake where views of their Swiss counterparts were to be gained. All this ensured a late finish in spite of any shortening in the hours of daylight and I still diverted around by the city’s main cathedral church as light failed. Later again, I returned to the shoreline to try my hand at some night time photography.

While this kind of thing scuppered arrangements in Iceland, there was little such impact in Switzerland. For one thing, the next day came dull and cloudy and the country enjoys an efficient if expensive public transport system. In any case, I was bound for Bern where I spent some time sauntering along the banks of the River Aare that partially encircles the heart of the Swiss capital. There was more exploration than that and I got to seeing the improbably larger clock on one side of the Zytglogge too though overhead wires for powering both trams and trolley buses do not help photographic compositions. Nevertheless, it was good to explore another Swiss city and sample more of its famed rail network than that between Geneva and its airport. Returning to the former at a reasonable hour allowed for planning of the next day’s outing among other necessities.

Seeing the Matterhorn

Macclesfield’s proximity to Shutlingsloe means that I have stood on top of it more than a few times. The distinctively wedge shaped hill also manages to earn the soubriquet of being Cheshire’s “Matterhorn”. It is a comparison that flatters other hills with Yorkshire’s Rosberry Topping and Wales’ Cnicht falling into the same category. As ever, the real Swiss mountain is a very different prospect though its profile is known to many. The obvious difference is a summit height that more or less guarantees the presence of snow and ice together with the need for hiring a mountain guide.

My own encounter was not to need such things since I stayed low and looked up from there. Though the summit lay over 2000 metres above me, its 4478 metre altitude meant that I too was up higher than I ever had gone before. Even so, I did not notice the altitude as I strolled up and down Zmuttal in the bright sunshine. My own route’s highest point was at around 2179 metres above sea level, a height gain of over 500 metres above that of Zermatt itself. This became a pleasant day trip would bring many rewards.

Once I had paid for a train ticket using cash withdrawn from an ATM, I was set to commence a sunlit journey to Zermatt. Weekend computer system maintenance had put paid to my acquiring a Swiss travel pass as much as buying a train ticket using a credit or debit card. All that was left after me with wonderful views across Lac Léman to occupy much of the travel time. After rounding the lake and seeing views sampled the day before in better weather, we left the waterside at Montreux in a French speaking part of Switzerland to head east to Brig in a German speaking one. From Brig, a cog railway conveyed us through often narrow valleys to its terminus at Zermatt.

Zermatt is a car-free town with car travellers needing to park up at nearby Täsch before using the railway to get the rest of the journey. There were additional shuttle services so Brig-Zermatt trains are not doing the work alone. Coming out the station, I noticed some horse-drawn carriages for conveying visitors to their hotels and electric vehicles shuttled about too.

Even with some vehicles going about their business, the place felt largely pedestrianised so I could walk freely. The sunny day had caused others to visit the place too but that was no intrusion. The strength of the sun was enough encouragement for me to address an oversight so a set of sunglasses was acquired and much used.

Matterhorn, Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland

It took me some time to get clear of Zermatt and the track towards the village of Zmutt was what I sought. The unmistakeable beacon that is the Matterhorn lured me in the right direction and I sated my appetite for capturing it in some photos of my own. There were other sights to savour too for the light remained so glorious that many photos were made. For the whole day, I was going to be in my element taking in what lay around me.

In the midday heat, I was appreciative that my route was to take me through some tree cover. There are times when trees obstruct wider views of a landscape but this belt of woodland was not to outstay its welcome. Any shade while breaking the back of an ascent had its uses and others were going the same way. This was no intrusion and any concentration of humanity petered out the further along the valley that I went. My pace was to be mine alone.

Looking towards Zermatt over Zmutt, Valais, Switzerland

Looking back on it now, I reckon that Zmutt was the chosen destination for any fellow travellers because continuing beyond the place had me meeting with scarcely anyone at all. Eateries were open in the aforementioned village and I was tempted to stop a while but decided to keep walking. My desired loop was larger than the one that I nearly made through error. Others could enjoy the smaller circuit while I carried towards and beyond the closed hut at Chalbermatten.

Strahlhorn, Adlerhorn, Gornergrat & Monte Rosa, Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland

The longer that I continued along the trail, the wilder things felt. Having open mountainside brought ample views of mountains all around me. However, what I had not realised then was exactly how much I could see; that only became apparent while I was creating a new online photo album afterwards. When naming photos, I just had to counter my usual scepticism to admit that lofty heights like Gornergrat and Monte Rosa had come within my sights. Such was the collection of mountain tops that I passed that a very long list would appear if I was to mention them all here.

Unter Gabelhorn, Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland

Much of my time on this hike, my eyes were led back down the valley along which I had come. It was not just the developing sights but the fact that the sun was in the way for photos in other directions. That included the Zmuttgletscher at the valley head as much as the Matterhorn itself. While the other side of the valley was clothed in tree cover, the steeper aspect of that where I was walking made both for barer surroundings and for loftier sights less accessible to my camera. The latter was to be resolved among the trees where I was turn to start on my return to Zermatt.

Leaving the path that would have taken me to Schönbielhütte, I made for a crossing of the Zmuttbach without much in the way of any sign of the pools shown on my map. Any views towards the Zmuttgletscher and its neighbour glaciers were to be left behind me too as I made for the track that was to carry me through woodland for much of the way back to Zermatt. After all that I had enjoyed, any restriction in views was no irritation as I passed Stafel and Biel. Others linger in those spots and I was left the trail to enjoy because not so many were using it. It seemed that visitors to this valley dissipated in the late afternoon much in the same way as their counterparts would in Britain and Ireland.

Dom & Taschhorn, Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland

Loss of height was not a thing that the track did rapidly so I was granted views overlooking the village of Zmutt and other parts of the valley below. Enjoying these may have involved peer between trees but that felt like a mere triviality. Eventually, I was to leave tree after me and regain views on the way to the Furi cable car station that looked resplendent in the evening sunshine. Cows were grazing in what would be an improbably high pasture if it were to be found in Britain or Ireland. The shelter of high mountains has raised this as much as the tree line.

Dropping some 100 metres of height, I passed Zum See on the way towards the path that I had used on the outbound leg of my walk earlier in the day. My mind was by now focussed on reaching Zermatt’s train station to start the return journey to Geneva. Everywhere lay quieter compared to earlier in the day and I made steady rather than hurried progress. The day had been pleasant and memorable for all sorts of good reasons and I still marvel at the number of photos that I made and how well they look. All the effort proved more than worthwhile.

Further Possibilities

It may be that this could become a start of a series of visits because there remains much more to see. For one thing, there is a higher level walk around Zmuttal, at least on the valley’s northern side, that could reward any added exertions. More leisurely pursuits like taking the train up to the Gornergrat remain tempting prospects as could making use of cable cars in spite of my sense of exposure every time that I have used one. After all, they could give me a leg up for exploring other lofty spots such as Stellisee. Zermatt is surrounded by wonders and there are enough hiking trails to keep anyone going for a good while.

Travel Arrangements

Return air travel between Manchester and Geneva with Easyjet with rail connections to and from Geneva. Return train journey between Geneva and Zermatt with changes of train at Brig.

A few new photo albums

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

After last year’s overseas excursions, I finally got to internationalising the photo gallery. Photos from two visits to the Isle of Man are in their own album and ones from a business trip to Sweden are in another. My trip to Iceland last July yielded a bumper crop of photos as did that to Switzerland in September.

Stories of my Manx excursions already appear on here because I was following the coastal path around the west and southwest of the island. More urban sights are there to complement the in the gallery. There is not so much of the outdoors on view in the Swedish album since it was a business trip allowing evening walks around Södertälje and Stockholm. Also, I could have done with a better camera too but went without many hopes and with a life change in front of me. The tale of those wanderings is to be found in the travel section of the website so it has not been lost to online posterity.

In contrast, the Icelandic and Swiss escapades came after an even bigger life event. There are plenty of views of Icelandic countryside to go with those of Reykjavik even though the level of outdoor wanderings was not as extensive as those that have taken me around Britain. The Swiss outdoor incursions were more so thanks to the efficient public transport system that got me from Geneva to Zermatt and to Grindelwald, albeit at a cost. The sights that I got to see easily compensated for this though and I hope what is on view shows them at their best. Their stories has yet to be told in full on here and I already have the beginnings of those entries in place.

What I also hope is that more overseas explorations follow these. Norway, Germany and Austria are in mind and, out of curiosity, my mind has taken to explore the prospects of American, Canadian and Kiwi escapades. With what I have ahead of me already this year, I need to temper any soaring ambitions. Once outstanding personal matters are settled, only then can I really begin to dream about heading outside of Britain and Ireland again. In the meantime, the home countries still have a lot to offer me and parts of Ireland as yet unvisited by me may see my footfall. Reining in dreams can be good.

Overseas escapades

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

After playing with the prospect earlier in the year, I made good some of my designs on overseas explorations. July saw me head to Iceland for a few days. An early morning arrival allowed plenty of time for exploring Reykjavik before a day when I embarked on an excursion that took in Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and the enormous Gullfoss. On my last full day there, I ventured as far as Landmannalaugar for a day walk in its striking hill country. The weather may not have played ball then like it did on other days but the whole visit was a good introduction to Iceland for a first time visitor and there are other possibilities to be undertaken if I get more brave.

Wetterhorn, Mättenberg & Eiger, Grindelwald, Berner Oberland, Switzerland

Alpine ambitions also were partially sated with an elongated weekend spent in Switzerland. My base was Geneva and another morning arrival allowed me to stroll about the place to get my bearings. A trip to Bern followed on the only totally dull day of those that I spent in the country. There were day walks in Alpine surroundings too with one around Zermatt allowing plentiful views of the Matterhorn under blue skies. That was followed by a journey to Grindlewald that allowed a little taste of how Bern appears in sunshine on the way there. From Grindlewald, I trotted up to Kleine Scheidegg with the Eiger steadfastly remaining cloaked in cloud. Others were on show so I was not at all disappointed. When the altitude surprised me with its effects after walking at similar heights around Zermatt unperturbed, I was happy with slow progress on the final stretch to Kleine Scheidegg’s train station. With cloud overhead and a certain chill in the air, I did not dally either. After gaining around 1,000 metres in height, I was surprised that my legs were more willing than my lungs so that is a lesson for the future.

Both of these punctuated a year that has been a journey of spirit following the passage of my father from this life in January. The Icelandic escape slipped me out of a rut into which I had fallen and got me away from concerns about political events in Britain. Solace was a distinguishing feature of the Swiss interlude and it felt great to stick with enjoying delightful sights in place of life’s troubles. That sense of peace has returned from time to time since then though there has been mental turbulence too. Thankfully, the latter appears to be subsiding while life is running its course.

Federal Palace, Bern, Switzerland

One downside to both excursions is the cost and I should have got myself a Swiss Travel Pass for rail travel is expensive there. That means that any future ventures beyond British, Irish or Manx shores will have to await 2016 and I am looking the possibilities for Norway at the moment. In addition to that, there is more of Switzerland to see with Austria, Germany and France all having their portions of the Alps too. Given what I gained from this year’s trips, savouring scenery in other parts of the world is something that I fancy continuing.

Another thing that attenuates foreign travel ambitions after the cost of such exploits or the passing of the summer is the need to find my feet again when it comes to Ireland. It no longer feels the same with both my parents gone and it is as if an anchor has disappeared. There no longer is the feeling of attachment that there once was even though I still have family there and there are things that need doing on a continual basis. The latter offer a chance to find my place there again and only time will tell as to how things proceed.

Living in the U.K. for as long as I have has compounded the lack of attachment to Ireland yet it also has not been a year for walking excursions in the country that I now call home. Around April and May, there were quite of few walks around Macclesfield’s hills and August saw me reprise a walk between Monyash and Bakewell via Lathkill Dale. Another factor that may have played its part in keeping me from my usual hill country haunts has been my return to cycling local roads now that I have regained my road confidence. Cheshire has featured strongly in the various routes and there even was an incursion into Staffordshire that took in Leek and Tittesworth Reservoir. Maybe the shortening days will draw me backing to wandering among hills again.

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