Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Great Gadgie (Ou le Gadgei Grande)


It being almost Christmas there is no gadgie walk so to avoid helping with preparations for the holiday I am going to recall a walk we did some four years ago. We were all true gadgies, having bus passes although they were no use in France.
  In early September 2007 three of us, Ben aka halfmarathonmeister, Harry, aka routemeister and I ,aka the blogpiemeister, decided it would be fun to walk part of the cross European long distance walk known as the GR5. The section we chose was from Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) to Chamonix through the Haute Savoie, and this is how we did it.  We chose this time because advice told us that the mountain huts would be quiet, no need to book in advance,  we would complete the walk before the snow came, and more important, many of the huts closed at the end of the month.
  We packed as little as possible for what was planned as a ten day stay, but my rucsac weighed in at 11.3kg, a bit heavier than Ben's or Harry's, it's all the pork pies.
 Ben drove us from Newcastle to Edinburgh Airport, we checked in, searched in vain for a decent English breakfast, and, after coffee and croissants, boarded the plane for Geneva. As the plane took off Ben confided in us that he thought he had left the interior lights on in his car, as if.
 On our arrival we took a bus down town, found the railway station and bought train tickets for the journey round most of the lake to Saint Gingolph, a small lakeside town partly in France and partly in Switzerland. It was possible to walk from one country to the other across a small stream,  and without showing passports, spend Euros or Swiss Francs on either side. For small island dwellers like us, with no international borders, it is a strange thing to be able to do. Somewhere I have a photograph of my feet, one in Austria and one in Italy. I got the same silly thrill standing astride the Greenwich Meridian once, it's the child in all of us.

The train at Saint Gingolph, although Swiss it was not clockwork but it did arrive on time.

 A friendly man in the tourist office directed us towards a small lakeside hotel and we booked in, explored the village, ate an evening meal and went to bed.
  Walking day 1.
  After continental breakfast we found a small store, purchased supplies for lunch and armed with maps and an excellent guide book* set off to walk to Chamonix.
  One of the good points of walking this area, and also of the guide book, sign posts give times rather than distances, and so does the guide book. So having found the first of the route markers in Saint Gingolph, red and white horizontal bars painted on rocks or walls, we began the steady climb (1530m, almost a mile) to the Col de Bise. We reached the pretty village of Novel in an hour, less than the posted time, which was surprising as we kept looking back at the views of Lac Leman.

Looking back at Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) on our climb to Col de Bise.

We walked through forests and meadows, breathtaking views on all sides, past the Chalets de Neuteu and ever upwards until we finally reached the aptly named col itself. Col de Bise translates as Col of the NorthWind but it was not a cold one today, pleasantly warm, ideal for walking. After 45 minutes of walking we reached the Chalets de Bise and stopped for a beer and sandwich. As we enjoyed our snack a herd of goats appeared down the road, followed by a man who had a one legged stool strapped to his backside. Much to our delight, and that of the other people eating at the outdoor restaurant he proceeded to milk his goats.

On a one legged stool sits a lonely goatherd, yodel, yodel, yodel ee.

Although we had only walked ten miles we decided to stay in the chalet for the night instead of moving on to La Chapelle d'Abondance, the original first day target.
The chalet accomodation was basic, a French style toilet, a single cold shower and a bed that slept at least ten. Fortunately we were the only guests so we could spread out.     And we had a filling meal of pasta.

There could have been ten in the bed.

Walking day 2
   Next morning, after a simple breakfast and a cold wash, we set off again, climbing to the Pas de la Bosse, at a mere 1815m., and down to the pretty town of Chapelle d'Abondance. A pause for morning the and on our way, through the town, more beautiful meadows and on to La Torrens, a chalet, to the Col des Mattes, from where we got our first glimpse of Mont Blanc. Continuig through occasional boggy paths we reached our next nights meal and rest, the Col de Bassachaux. It was closed, something to do with a bank holiday. I would expect restaurants and hotels to be open on a bank holiday, but not today!  Harry, practical as ever, found a couple of tarpaulins we thought we could make into a simple tent, but at that moment two of the finest Frenchmen in the whole history of that country appeared. Amazingly both these men had worked for some time at Proctor and Gamble in Newcastle, and naturally they spoke English. They offered to take us down the valley in the direction of Chatel and  look for accomodation. Most gites, refuges and hotels were closed but eventually we found rooms in a hotel run by some Dutch people. We were too late for dinner but the chef, with apologies, rustled up one of the finest salads I have ever eaten, washed down with a couple of beers. And after the cold water of Bise we could luxuriate under a hot shower, sleep in single beds, with proper sheets ! The days walk had been about seventeen long miles.
 We had come about eight miles down the valley from our route and in the morning asked if there was a bus or taxi to take us back to Bassachaux. The young manageress said no, but if we didn't mind squeezing into the back of her van she would run us up there. Wonderful people. I have always liked the Dutch, their Amsterdam cafes have a certain air.
Walking day 3.
  Back at Bassachaux we rejoined the route, reaching via the Col de Chesery, the Refuge de Chesery in less than two hours. It had been open the previous evening, we could have stayed there had we pushed on.
 We had morning the at the refuge and took in the breathtaking scenery, walked round the Lac Vert, back into Switzerland to the Porte du Lac Vert. Here we were presented with spectacular views of the Dents du Midi, Grand Mont-Ruan and the Dents Blanche, the highest point being over 10000 feet, and snowcapped.

Just one of many spectacular views on the GR5 walk.

The next col was the Col de Coux, on the border. There is an ornithology station on the col, fine nets are used to trap migrating birds and insects, but only to study migration patterns, one bird had been caught seven times !  After a chat with locals and twitchers we pressed on to the Minesd'Or for the next nights rest. After dining on rabbit, salad and a delicious chocolate sweet, we slept well, it had been a fourteen mile day.
Walking day 4
After breakfast we bought the makings of a packed lunch, fresh rolls and local cheese and resumed our walk. It was a misty morning, but as predicted, a scorcher by lunchtime, as we progressed to the Col de la Golese, another ornithology centre. The next port of call was the village Les Allemands, named after a Germanic tribe routed by Clovis in the 5th century. This was the first time we had had a walk of any length on road rather than mountain track, it was not interesting! Neither was the small ski resort of Samoens, which with the exception of one cafe, seemed to be closed.

The Mines d'Or, a popular eating place and hotel.

A misty morning on leaving Mines d'Or.
I am nearer the camera, Harry is ahead.
Les vaches sont tres amuseant.

Back off the road and into woodland we past "Sixt -Fer- A -Cheval", six horse town to us  and ascended fixed ladders to get round a waterfall before we reached the next stop, Salvigny. An interesting auberge, my experience with school trips suggested it was used by parties of schoolchildren. We had a stroll round the small town, admiring the outbuildings which were built well away from houses and were heavily padlocked, a later bit of googling told us that they were store houses for grain, honey, brandy and even valuables, kept away from residences in case of fire. ( I hasten to add the googling was done back home, not on an iphone or anything).
Back at the auberge we joined about twenty others in the simply furnished dining room. The master of ceremonies served us with carrot and for the second course we were summoned, table by table, to the head of the room where Bernard doled out plates of a most delicious omelette. We were even allowed seconds, and ice cream. After a beer or two we slept well, 13 miles from Mines d'Or.
 Walking Day 5

  Next day we left Salvigny early. It was Sunday and we found many families out for a walk in the beautiful area around the waterfalls of Le Rouget, La Pleureuse and La Sauffaz.

Waterfall on route for Colletd d'Anterne.

As the number of walkers thinned out we climbed the Collet d'Anterne to 1900m and paused to admire the views. Centre piece itself was the white capped Mont Blanc. Soon we were at the Refuge Alfred Wallis (Chaletsd'Anterne) where we stopped for lunch before walking round the lake and climbing to the top of the Col, the views were even better. Soon we had descended a few hundred metres to the Chalet Refuge De Moede- Anterne, an attractive refuge with the standard large beds, aq very friendly warden, an excellent evening meal with a delightful wine to go with it and views to die for. We had walked 12 beautiful miles.

Mont Blanc appears out of the mist.

The Chalet Refuge De Moede-Anterne.

Walking Day 6
 The last day of the walk, and in some ways the hardest. A walk of two halves as they say. The first half was a steady downhill stroll to the Pont d'Arleve at a height of 1597m, followed by a tough rocky climb to the Col du Brevent at 2368 metres. But the effort was well worth it, directly below was Chamonix, directly ahead across the valley lay Mont Blanc, and yards in front of us a cable car. A sign on the path to Chamonix said it was closed because of a land slide so we invested 10 Euros on a trip down in the car. I enjoyed it, my wife would not have! (See Walking with a Gadgette)
 Mission  accomplished  we considered our options, stay in a Youth Hostel close by or go on to Geneva for a few days rest and culture before we flew home. We chose the latter and caught a coach back to the lakeside city, only to run into problems.
   The Geneva Youth Hostel was full. (Gadgies are allowed in Youth Hostels; in facy most English YHs are kept going by older people and primary school teachers with work sheets)  The UN was holding a conference in Geneva and accommodation was almost impossible to find, at least in our price range. Eventually we found a room at the At Home Hotel, but only fo0r one night and we had three nights before our flight. Nevertheless we took the offer, enjoyed a hot shower, relatively clean clothes and a meal in an Indian Restaurant. On the wall there was a large rectangle with moving pictures. Harry and I could not take our eyes off it, much to Ben's amusement.
 Next morning we went to the airport to see if we could change flights. Easyjet said we could go home at 10am, for an extra charge. We quickly decided to fly rather than spend time searching for a room. Anyway the extra cost was less than a hotel and another curry.
 Som home we went, arriving in Edinburgh at lunch time. Back in the carpark we loaded the car but as you may have guessed if you read carefully, it would not start. Ben had, indeed left the interior lights on! However, canny Scots know we English are prone to do foolish things and have a van that goes round the carparks giving the necessary juice! And at no charge! Brilliant!
We stopped on the way home at Morrisons Supermarket outside Berwick. Should you ever be in the area and hungry, I recommend the all day English breakfast. It doesn't quitem match the famous "Eight Item Breakfast" at Lerwick Coop, but that's another story.

 I am indebted to Ben for most of this. He is far more organised than me. I wrote a full, step by step account of the trip but, idiot that I am, did not make a hard copy or back it up. Ben kindly gave me his notes, we pooled photographs.
Without a doubt this was the best walk I have ever done, I would love to repeat it before I hang my boots up.
*Walking the French Alps; GR5 Lake Geneva to Nice.  byMartin Collins.
Published by Cicerone Books. They produce some excellent guides but we gadgies think we can live without the Northumberland Walks edition.