Chiltern Hills

Way back, at a time when the world went about its business in the usual way, as long ago as January I think, the Idle Skiers signed up for a 50 kilometres walk in the Chiltern Hills.

As I have mentioned before, the people behind the walk organise several long distance yomps each year, but so far, in 2020, they have all been cancelled. It was a surprise to everybody therefore, including the organisers I suspect, when the Chiltern event went ahead yesterday.

There had been much hard work to obtain the necessary permissions and a few compromises had been made. The route, originally one long loop through the hills, starting and finishing at Henley, became two 25 kilometre loops centred on Henley show ground, with just a couple of short excursions into the hills. We were happy it went ahead at all.

It was bitterly cold at the start and though the sun came out quite early in the day, it remained chilly throughout, with a vicious wind during the morning. The countryside was beautiful though.

Mid-morning; walkers socially distanced


As usual on long walks, Mrs IS was off like a shot from a gun and after a couple of kilometres, she was out of sight. I next saw her near the lunch stop, where the end of the first loop and the start of the second loop coincided. In the afternoon, Mrs IS was back at the finish and ready to head for home whilst I still had several kilometres to cover. Fortunately, I had the car keys.

Almost home

A couple of years ago, I walked from London to Brighton for the Dogs Trust. We hadn’t arranged any formal sponsorship this time around. However, some friends are kindly giving us money for this walk to pass on to the Trust.

Hampton Court

A couple of miles beyond Kingston upon Thames is Hampton Court. It is a magnificent house, built by the river for Cardinal Wolsey and, in a belated attempt to save his position of power, given by him in 1529 to King Henry VIII. In most years, it is a major tourist destination. For us, it has long been the turn around point on a River Thames walk.

Hampton Court Palace

This morning was bright and sunny when we headed out, westward bound. As far as Richmond, it was busy with runners, cyclists and dog walkers populating the riverside. From Ham House onwards, it quietened and beyond Kingston, we had the path more or less to ourselves. The palace, when we reached it in the early afternoon, was also more or less deserted. It is great news for Londoners, hemmed in as we are normally by the tourist masses, but poorer news for the capital’s battered economy.

Our trip took us through Putney to the bridge, along the Thames path to the equivalent bridge at Hampton Court and then back to Kingston, where we picked up a bus home. On a warm day, with a touch of autumn in the air, our winding journey along the river covered about 32 kilometres. We put our feet up for a while when we reached home.

We stand and stare

In summers past, when the sun has shone over the cricket ground at Arundel, the buzz of insects has been disturbed on occasion by the mightier sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the power behind the Spitfire fighter.

Sure enough, the sound of the engine would be followed shortly by the sight of that most elegant of planes. I do not know where the plane flies from, but Goodwood is not far away and that seems as good a bet as any.

In this shortened cricket season, the Spitfire has not been seen, until today anyway. It is early autumn, the second week of September, but the sun shines brightly on south east England. On a warm day at Arundel, the bees were working with added urgency and the wasps were angrier than usual.

Shortly after mid-day the thunder of a Merlin engine was heard and sure enough, the Spitfire appeared over the trees and made a long loop around the ground. The players paused, the spectators looked up and the early patrons of the pavilion bar decanted themselves outside.

A mackerel sky

I tried to take a photograph, but by the time I had found the iPhone, unlocked it and managed to open the camera, the plane was a distant speck in a mackerel sky.

I don’t know if the Spitfire is the finest plane ever made, or the Merlin the greatest aero engine, but one thing is certain; eighty years after their finest hour, still their sight and sound make us stand and stare.

Beyond a boundary

The English summer is time for cricket and so it has been since the eighteenth century.  For a long time this year, though, cricket bats and balls lay untouched.  The fear was that the recreational game, time consuming and expensive as it is, might be diminished forever by a lost season.

A few weeks ago, however, the season got underway, belatedly, and today the Idle Skiers enjoyed a day beyond the boundary for the first time since September last year.

At 1.30pm this afternoon, under a threatening sky, the umpires called “play” at Arundel Castle cricket ground.  The lunch tent was busy, the tea hut and bar were open and all seemed well with the world.

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The run stealers

It was a short respite from a benighted year. Moments after this photograph was taken, in the mid afternoon,  the skies opened, the rain poured down and lightening flashed through the sky briefly.

Our season is underway though and with a few fixtures left in the summer, the Idle Skiers will be found in West Sussex more often than not.

Homeward bound

The sun shines on Wengen this morning, but for the Idle Skiers our day is taken up by a trip to Zurich airport and a flight to London.  After nearly five weeks, we are on our way home.  Why now?  Well, the need to quarantine in England when returning from Switzerland seems a possibility very soon, and we didn’t like the idea of doing the time.

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Gone again

The U.K. government’s policy on the pandemic is described as “whack a mole”. Whilst I don’t think they could change much in their approach, it is more like “pin the tail on the donkey” with its seemingly random effect on people’s lives.

In the last five weeks, the sun has shone more often than not and we have covered some dusty mountain paths. Now we hope for the weather to turn sooner rather than later and for snow to be thick on the ground by November. Fingers crossed.

Allmendhubel

The weather has been changeable for the last couple of days. The sun has shone and then the thunder and lightning has rolled in. We have tried to match our walks and tennis to the weather, not always successfully.

The other day, shortly after running into some friends in the Lauterbrunnen valley and following a quick coffee break at the Trummelbach falls cafe, we were caught in a big storm. We had just managed to put on our wet weather gear before the rain hit.  Around here, in this sort of weather, if you are still fishing the jacket and over trousers out of the rucksack when the rain arrives, it is too late and you might as well not bother.

Today was set fair though,
 according to Meteo Swiss.  In fact, it was pretty warm, though not like the intense heat of last weekend. I walked down to Lauterbrunnen, took the cable car to Grutschalp, then the top path to Allmendhubel and on to Murren.

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On the path to Allmendhubel 

This was a new venture. Mrs IS has done the walk in the past, but for me, until today, it was just a sign post. It was well worthwhile though, with a long uphill stretch in the cool of the trees and then spectacular views all the way to Murren.

Lunch was on a bench in Murren, the village being busy, but not in the same way as our last visit a couple of weeks ago.  In the afternoon, I took the path along the side of the railway line.  It was quiet, except for the cyclists on this non cycling path.  Things are not what they used to be, even in Switzerland.

 

Walking in sunshine

On Saturday we had our hottest walking day ever in Wengen, possibly anywhere.  We went to Scheidegg via Mettlenalp and Biglenalp. From Scheidegg we took the granny path to Mannlichen, with a steady stream of grannies coming in the opposite direction. It was about a five hour trip, door to door, and when we made it home, it felt like we had been walking on Mars.

So, in a solo trip today, I headed for the shade of the Eiger trail.  Tucked under the north face, it is an hour before the sun is on the path at all.  Since the work on the new cable car station began a couple of years ago, the start of the path has been much lower, going through the Punch Bowl rather than along the scree slope at the base of the mountain.  It is still an awe inspiring sight though.

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Eiger north face 

The path does emerge into the sun finally and drops down through a rocky landscape to Alpiglen. By the small hotel above the railway station is a meadow, which I am sure must be the place Heinrich Harrer described in The White Spider, the camping ground where Fritz Kasparek and Harrer spent the night before their climb of the north face in 1938.

From Alpiglen, I took the big path back to Arven and from there headed to Mannlichen. My lunch stop was by a trough on the path to Mannlichen, just before the trees.   As I ate, a rock slide came down the north face.  It sounded like a snow avalanche, but was grey and left a pall of dust on the scree slope.

We had an excellent meal at the Caprice tonight; it seemed well earned.

Mid-day sun

We played tennis today.  The only court available was at mid-day, under a clear blue sky and a burning sun, but we took it anyway. The village is busy still; it is another irony that in the year of little tourism, Wengen seems busier than ever. The package tourists of most summers, who journey up to the Jungfrau and the Schilthorn and hunker down in their hotels between times, are missing.  Instead, the Swiss are enjoying their own country and filling the village, its bars and restaurants, the tennis courts and the mountain paths.

The weather has picked up dramatically since the beginning of the week and we have covered the highways and bye-ways. On Tuesday, when the poor weather lingered longer than forecast, we stopped for lunch at the Trummelbach falls cafe. Sandwiches around here tend to be ham, cheese, salami or a combination of the three, so the eclectic choice at the cafe always makes it a worthwhile halt.  The best sandwiches in Switzerland we think.

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From Mettlenalp

Yesterday, in the afternoon, we were on the same path as had been my introduction to ski touring nearly five months earlier.  There were no white hares in sight this time of course, but plenty of cows and still more battery powered mountain bikers.

Tomorrow is forecast to be hot again.  It is also Saturday, so it might be standing room only all over the mountain.

Cats and dogs

The weather forecast was poor today. The MeteoSwiss rainfall bar chart suggested it would be raining cats and dogs for most of the time. Still though, at breakfast, it was fine, although grey and unpromising.

This morning was the first morning after last week’s fall on which I didn’t feel as if I had been run over by a steam roller, so despite the forecast, I headed out for a walk. Mrs IS, taking heed of the promised cats and dogs, stayed at home. 

I took the cable car to Mannlichen, with few worries as to social distancing, and walked the longer route to Scheidegg, via the top of the Tschuggen lift and, what in winter, is the Arven red piste.

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Above Arven

It did rain hard. There were a few other walkers around, but not many.  The absence of tourists from the Far East meant Scheidegg was almost deserted. The Jungfraujoch train which came down the mountain just as I started for Wengenalp had ten passengers at the most.

It was one of those days when the rain seems to be layered, changing in intensity with altitude and the differing terrain.  At the old cafe Oberland, it was more or less solid and it seemed as though I could swim home from there.

Tomorrow promises even more rain.

Thirty five degrees

We played tennis this morning and even at 10.00am, it was hot.  After that, we met up with friends for a quick cup of coffee, enjoyed the air conditioning at the Co-op briefly and staggered home in the mid-day heat.

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Summer’s day

In the afternoon, it was nearly 35 degrees in the shade on our balcony. We checked the temperature in Cyprus and it was warmer here than on an island not far from the Middle East.

Tomorrow, 1 August, is Swiss National Day, the anniversary of the Federal Charter.  This evening, the flags were out in the village already and a steady stream of weekenders decanted themselves from the trains.

It is forecast to be hot again and Wengen will be busy it seems.  A walk is planned, but I am still suffering the after effects of last week’s fall.  Tennis is fine and uphill is okay, but downhill is a struggle.  I might be a quiet day, for the Idle Skier at least.