Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Ladybower Circuit – approx 8.50 miles

Sunday 17th October 2010


OS Explorer OL1 The Peak District - Dark Peak Area


Ashopton Bridge – Crookhill Farm – Bridge-end Pasture – Woodock Coppice – Lakeside Road – Fairholmes – Derwent – Lakeside – Ashopton Bridge


An almost perfect Autumn day, bright and clear, cool in the shade but quite warm in the sun.

Day two of our Dark Peak weekend couldn’t have started much better. A quick peek out of the hostel window showed purple hills rising below a clear, half-light sky, so we hurried down to the kitchen to make our porridge.

Pausing only to scrape the ice from the car windscreen – the first time this autumn – we threw everything into the car and set off. On a morning such as this, there are few better places to be than Ladybower, somewhere we hadn’t visited for a good couple of years, and very soon we were parked on Ashopton Bridge preparing for our walk.

We began by taking the rising path towards Crookhill Farm. As we gained height, we were rewarded with increasingly good views across the reservoir to Derwent Edge beyond. The stroll over Bridge-end Pasture was a joy; the sun’s rays now beginning to cut through the early-morning chill. At the top of the ridge, views began to open up to the west as the path traced the edge of Hagg Side wood. We stopped for a break by the junction of paths near Woodcock Coppice, with a magnificent view of the entire Edale skyline laid out in front of us.

After a quiet start, it was getting a busier. Walkers and cyclists began to appear from all quarters. Over the next mile and a half we followed the track northwards through sun-dappled woodland to meet the lakeside road close to the point where Ouzelden Brook enters the reservoir. Danger, in the form of Mountain Bikers, was never far away, but we made the road without any mishaps and turned southwards to follow the road along the side of lake.

Soon, we approached Derwent Dam. The little museum in the west tower was open, so we went in for a quick look round. It’s quite interesting, dealing as it does with both the history of the construction of the dams and of the famous Dambusters of WWII.

The visitor centre at Fairholmes was heaving. Although we are normally seekers of solitude, the buzz of so many people enjoying the fabulous day was quite exciting. We bought hot drinks and sat on a bench to eat our sandwiches in the sunshine. Ducks and dogs pestered us gently for crumbs and more.

Lunch eaten, we followed the road below the dam to the eastern side of the lake. The track along this side is relatively flat and rarely strays far from the lakeside, providing an easy ramble for the final couple of miles. Looking up, we could see the Gritstone outcrop of Whinstone Lee Tor presiding over the southern end of the lake.

The last mile or so followed a wooded track, eventually meeting the main road by Ashopton Bridge at the end of an excellent walk. Admittedly, it is not an especially long or difficult walk, but the weather and scenery combined to make this an unforgettable day, and we made a promise to ourselves to come back and see more of this area as soon as possible.

Chinley to Edale – approx 9.75 miles

Saturday 16th October 2010


OS Explorer OL1 The Peak District - Dark Peak Area


Chinley Station – Cracken Edge – Whiterakes – Peep O’ Day – Coldwell Clough – Oaken Clough – Edale Cross – Noe Stool – Crowden Tower – Grindsbrook Clough – Edale Station


A mixture of sunny and overcast conditions, mostly bright but with some rain in the afternoon.

Autumn is one of our favourite times of the year, and the Dark Peak one of the best places to enjoy its dazzling spectacle to the full. A spell of decent, clear weather is almost guaranteed to get the best out of the beautiful colours so we are usually ready and waiting to take advantage if the forecast is promising. So, with the prospect of a fair weekend ahead, we set our alarm clock early, threw all our gear into the car and made the long journey north.

Thus it was that we found ourselves leaving Chinley at just after 9.00am on a cool, sunny morning, climbing steadily towards Cracken Edge and the track that contours round its east side. Although still quite early, we were not the only ones to make a prompt start as the flurry of hikers, joggers and dog-walkers testified. Away to our right the hillside dropped steeply down to Otter Brook and the Hayfield Road, beyond which the bulk of Kinder Scout was fringed by low cloud.

We dropped down to cross the A624 at Peep O’ Day where a large delivery wagon was trying to squeeze its way down the narrowest of lanes. After a quick snack stop, we picked up the Pennine Bridleway, skirted the flanks of the curiously named Mount Famine and zig-zagged into Coldwell Clough where the metalled lane gave way to a rocky track, the ancient packhorse route between Hayfield and the Vale of Edale, and we began the long pull up Oaken Clough. As we crossed the Access Land boundary we took a moment to look back at the craggy ridge of Mount Famine and our earlier route.

Continuing upwards, we soon reached Edale Cross and the saddle between Kinder Scout and Brown Knoll. While catching a breather, we stopped in the warm sunshine to chat to a lady we met there, basking in the beauty of the day.

The next leg of our walk took us along the southern edge of the Kinder Plateau. After a very short stretch along the Pennine Way, we veered off to the right, heading for Noe Stool and the perimeter path. Weaving through a series of peaty channels and weirdly eroded rocks, we made our way eastwards along the edge.

We stopped for lunch. Perched high on the sunny side of a weather-worn Gritstone outcrop, we had a great view across the valley to the Great Ridge and Rushup Edge. But the skies had been darkening, and, as we packed our things away, a first few spits of drizzle began. Waterproofs were donned - this wasn’t forecast!

By the time we reached the top of Grindsbrook Clough a steady rain had set in. The drop into the Clough is quite steep and rocky, and, although Gritstone is very grippy underfoot, the rain had made the mud a bit greasy and our glasses kept fugging up. A slip here could easily have led to a twisted ankle, so, as neither of us fancied carrying the other one down, we took our time, picking our way carefully step by step beside the stream. Even so, Missy G managed to miss her footing - fortunately, there was no real damage done, just some additional souvenir mud to take home with us.

Soon the path levelled out and the going became easier. The rain stopped, and the sun broke through the cloud again as we trundled towards Edale village, Grindsbrook Clough looking splendid in full autumn conditions.

As you might expect on a nice day at this time of year, the village was heaving. Besides all the walkers and day-trippers, a group of Geography students from North Staffordshire University were there on a field trip led, as it turned out, by one of my former lecturers. So it was with little regret we forsook a cup of tea and caught the train back to Chinley and our car – all of 8 minutes ride – reflecting on another great day.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Lan Fawr, Mitchell’s Fold & Marrington Dingle – approx 11.75 miles

Saturday 2nd October 2010


OS Explorer OL216 Welshpool & Montgomery


Todleth – Old Churchstoke – Cowlton – Lan Fawr – Mitchell’s Fold – Weston House Farm – Lower Ridge – Whittery Wood – Marrington Dingle – A490 – Alport – The Rock – Old Churchstoke - Todleth


A nice Autumn morning, gradually clouding over into the afternoon. Quite warm but with a cool breeze.

After a month of various celebrations and a very wet week, a good day had been forecast for this Saturday so we took the opportunity to get a decent walk in and chose the area to the north and east of Churchstoke. We started by walking along the lane that skirts the western side of Todleth Hill to reach Old Churchstoke with views across to Montgomery and the Vale of Kerry already in evidence. A short way along the road to Hyssington, below Roundton Hill, a lane branches off taking a rising line to the east of north. Passing the house at Cowlton the lane dissolved into a track across the hillside, from where we could see across the valley to the Kerry Ridgeway behind us.

The track continued to rise steadily towards the pass between Lan Fawr and Corndon Hill, with the hills of Snowdonia coming into view on the skyline to the west. Just beyond a gate we crossed into Access Land and branched off left to take in the small, knobbly summit of Lan Fawr, modest by local standards at 426m but a good place from which to admire the wonderful scenery.

After a quick coffee break we rejoined the track and continued northwards towards Stapeley Common and the Bronze Age stone circle at Mitchell’s Fold. Fifteen of the stones still stand and, from its impressive position, it is easy to imagine the legends woven into its 3,000 - year history.

We headed west off the common picking up a track in a steep-sided gully that took us to the lane near Middleton Hall Farm. The route we had planned was scheduled to follow a field path across five or six fields and rejoin the lane near The Knoll. But it was here we ran into our first problem of the day - although clearly signed from the lane, beyond the first field the path became impossible for us to find. There was no stile or signage and a large tree had crashed through the fence around where we calculated the next stile to be.

Whatever the reason, after around 10 minutes of searching we decided to backtrack to the lane and follow it the longer way round instead. Although the lanes are quiet and pretty enough it was a shame as there was already a fair amount of road walking to be done. However, we reckon it might make a good winter walk when firmer underfoot conditions might be advantageous.

Having got ourselves back on track, we had a break for lunch then carried on along the lane to Whittery Wood. Here we met the path through Marrington Dingle, a steep-sided, heavily wooded cleft that has the feel of a “hidden” valley. Threaded through by the River Camlad, the valley sits in the grounds of Marrington Hall and, although the main path is waymarked and passable, the surrounding land is signed as private.

This brought us to the second of today’s problems; the two paths marked on the map leading to the east were not in evidence on the ground so, to complete our circuit, we ended up climbing out to the west giving us about a mile of walking along the main road to meet up with our proposed route. I must remember to report these problems.

From Alport we took the muddy path down to the river and crossed by the footbridge. A short climb on the other side brought us out by The Rock. There were still a few late blackberries in the high hedgerows and, as we wound our way back along the lanes, we picked enough to flavour a handful of small, scrumped apples we had acquired.

Later, we went back up to Mitchell’s Fold to watch the sunset and reflect on our recent walk. Overall it was a good enough trip, but because of the problems we encountered a bit of fine-tuning is required to get the best out of it, and I’m sure we’ll be happy to try.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Autumn Glory

I love Autumn. Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” is, without doubt, one of my favourite times of the year. The prospect of some of the best British produce as well as some excellent walking means there is always plenty to look forward to.

Sitting here as the rain rattles against the window it is hard to imagine the sun ever shining again. But it can, and will, and when it does it can be a truly glorious time of year. Admittedly, the days are becoming a little shorter and the nights are closing in that bit sooner, but there is still plenty of daylight for an ambitious day out and the chance to work up an appetite. What could be nicer than a bracing walk followed by a hearty meal rounded off with a fine fruit pudding and custard?

Recent weekends have been taken up with a variety of celebrations – birthdays, weddings and anniversaries – with hardly any time for walking other than a quick hour or so here and there. So it’s quite nice to be looking forward to an October with few relatively commitments and a chance to get a few more miles under our belt. In anticipation I have been poring over the maps, plotting and planning our forthcoming trips, which is perhaps the next best thing to walking itself.

Outside, the leaves are already beginning to turn, their greens morphing to flaming yellows, burnished browns and fiery reds. Soon hillsides and valleys will appear emblazoned with rich colours that cannot fail to cheer the heart.

So, here’s to a favourable forecast and a good appetite. Roll on the next few weeks!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Didn't quite feel like it ...

It’s funny, isn’t it? All Summer it seems like I’ve been really revved-up about walking. With the prospect of long days, plenty of outings and a wonderful two weeks in the Swiss Alps to cap it all, it felt like the excitement would never fade. But last weekend, despite our best intentions, when the time came it seemed we just couldn’t find our usual enthusiasm.

I’m not really sure quite why we both felt that way. Usually, if one of us feels a bit under-motivated, the other will cajole them into going and, more often than not, we end up having a good trip. But this time the malaise appeared to affect both of us equally. In part it may have been that we were feeling a little bit under the weather, although this doesn’t explain it fully.

The thing is, although you imagine you could never want a break from walking, I suspect that is exactly what was needed. After all, most of the time, it seems an age between weekends or holidays and, having just enjoyed a fantastic trip, it is often only the thought of next adventure that keep you going through the week.

In the end, we spent an hour or so on a little local circuit that was really nice in the afternoon sunshine, and at least provided a modicum of exercise in an otherwise sedentary weekend. Hopefully, the break will have done us good and we will be ready for the Autumn delights to come.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Howgills From Sedbergh - approx 12.75 miles


OS Explorer OL19 The Howgills & Upper Eden Valley


Sedbergh – Howgill Lane – Winder – Arrant Haw – Calders – The Calf – Bush Howe – Breaks Head – Fell Head – Howgill – Howgill Lane - Sedbergh


A beautiful day; warm in the sunshine but with a cool, strong breeze.

After the long drive up yesterday and a half-day circuit round Deepdale, the Occupation Road and Dent by way of a warm-up, a promising forecast had us looking for a good, high-level walk with cracking views. In this respect the Howgills tick all the boxes, with far reaching views, sufficient challenge in the climbs and, hopefully, a little peace and quiet on a Bank Holiday weekend.

We designed our route to take us a bit off the beaten track: not quite pathless tracts, admittedly, but certainly less-well-used ways crossing the access land north of The Calf with around 840m of total ascent. Leaving Sedbergh by gently rising Howgill Lane, we gained a little height before accessing the fells via the track on the lower slopes near Ash-hining from where it was a steady pull of around a mile up to the summit of Winder.

Despite it’s modest spot height of 473m, the views are commanding. On a beautiful day such as this, Morecambe Bay and the central Lakes are clearly visible to the west, with Dentdale, Garsdale and the fells of the western Yorkshire Dales National Park to the south and east. We lingered for a few moments to absorb the views before making the gentle descent on a soft, peaty path to the saddle below Arant Haw.

Skirting round the east flank of Arant Haw we could see down into the Rawthay Valley and beyond to the bulk of Baugh Fell. From the narrow ridge marked as Rowantree Grains a short, steep climb, reminiscent of the Alps, brought us out by the cairn on Calders, from where we paused a moment to look back at Arant Haw and the deep gully of Bram Rigg Beck.

A relatively level path led along the plateau-like summit to The Calf, at 676m the highest point in the Howgills. The first couple of tops had been fairly quiet but after Calders the profusion of paths leading to the summit from all quarters had deposited a sizeable crowd by the trig point.

We moved on a few metres to find a quieter spot for lunch from where we could gauge the lie of the land for the next section. Around us the panorama encompassed Morecambe Bay, the Lakes, the northern Howgills, the Upper Eden Valley, the Pennines and the fells of western YDNP - miles in every direction - whilst ahead, our route stretched along an undulating ridge to the north west.

It’s fair to say we could have spent ages gazing around us but, all too soon, we had to continue. A spongy path led easily over White Fell Head and Bush Howe before the sharp drop into Windscarth Wyke. To our left, the wild amphitheatre of Crooked Ashmere Gills and Long Rigg Beck snaking away westwards below felt huge, as if part of a larger landscape entirely.

Then, after a short but breathtaking 90m climb to Breaks Head, we reached the start of the enticing ridge joining it to Fell Head. Swinging westwards, with the Lake District plumb in front of us, easy walking took us along the ridge and over Fell Head, accompanied by wonderful views and a sense of exhilaration all the way.

After a quick rest stop, a steep descent brought us to Whin’s End from where a contour path heading south and west round the lower slopes of Brown Moor to meet the lane at Howgill. From here, a quick look back revealed some of the drama of the last 3 miles.

In other circumstance we would have linked with the Dales Way at Crook of Lune Bridge for our return journey, a more satisfying way of completing the circuit. But time was against us, and the call of a quenching pot of tea and Chinese food proved too great a lure. So we headed back to Sedbergh along the lane, watching the farmers taking advantage of a few dry days to gather in the hay. Finally, we rounded the slopes below Winder and dropped down into Sedbergh at the end of superb day.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Grindelwald, Switzerland 24th July to 7th August 2010

Grindelwald, Switzerland 24th July to 7th August 2010

2 weeks based in Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland, making use of local transport – trains, buses, gondolas and summer lifts – to complete a series of daywalks. This was our first visit to this area, so we intended to make the most of it discovering the meadows, woods and high mountain scenery of the Jungfrau region, all watched over by the infamous North Face of the Eiger.


Hallwag Outdoor Map 17 – Grindelwald, Wengen & Murren 1:50,000


The Bernese Alps by Kev Reynolds (Cicerone).

Sunday 25th July 2010

Day 1: Grindelwald Orientation – approx 3.50 miles


Hotel – Grindelwald Centre – Grund - Hotel


Bright and warm all day, with a little cloud.

After the previous day’s journey, a mad dash to catch the last train from Geneva airport and our unexpectedly late arrival in Grindelwald we fancied a slow start, so decided to spend most of the day getting our bearings. First impressions of the town were good: there are plenty of shops – food, gear, souvenirs, etc – as well as a variety of lifts, gondolas, bus and rail links to all parts, and a selection of restaurants to cover a range of tastes and budgets, bearing in mind this is Switzerland (and tourist Switzerland at that) and nothing is particularly budget.

The main town, including the adjoining suburb of Grund, lies roughly east to west along the valley and runs to approximately 2 miles end to end. We had a wander down the main street to familiarise ourselves with the whereabouts of the local grocers and bakers and the location of the transport we were hoping to use, then bought a few food essentials, a map and a timetable, and went back to the hotel to do some serious planning.

Monday 26th July 2010

Day 2: Grosse Scheidegg to Bussalp – approx 10.11 miles


Grosse Scheidegg – First (Top) – Waldspitz – Bussalp

Total Ascent: 669m / Total Descent: 838m


Overcast with some low cloud and sunny spells.

For our first walk proper we caught the bus to Grosse Scheidegg, a 30 minute journey up the winding alpine road towards Meiringen, rising through woods and meadows to the 1962m pass at the foot of the Wetterhorn.

No sooner had we got off the bus than we saw a fox searching for food by the mountain restaurant, and seemingly quite tame. Our route headed northwards along the ridge dividing the Grindelwald valley from the Reichenbachtal on what is known locally as the Höhenweg 2400. The first section follows a track as far as the Kuhmattenschärm where, shortly afterwards, the path breaks off to the right to contour round the side of hills towards First, crossing a couple of the numerous mountain streams as it does. We caught sight of a Marmot here.

Although somewhat cloudy, the views away to our left across to the Wetterhorn and the Schreckhorn were hinting at their magnificence. A short climb brought us to First, the top station of the gondola from Grindelwald, where we rested and had a drink. We sat out on the sun terrace watching the swirling cloud veil the massive peaks opposite and considering our options as there are many possible routes from here.

Given the conditions we decided on a relatively low-level contour round to Bussalp, beginning with a sneaky path down the cliff face below First, then across towards Bachläger and on to Waldspitz connecting with the lower Höhenweg 2000. From the path we could see directly into the gorge of the Oberer Grindelwaldgletscher.

The path led through mixed woods and pasture and we made steady progress round the side of the mountain. We took advantage of an improvement in the weather to eat our lunch, sitting on a make-shift bench whilst soaking up the sunshine.

A steep-ish zig zag path led us up to a grassy spur at Feld where a flock of Choughs wheeled overhead. From here we could see our final destination, the mountain restaurant at Bussalp, a 45 minute descent below. After a stop for refreshments, we caught the bus back into Grindelwald reflecting on an excellent introductory walk.

Tuesday 27th July 2010

Day 3: Grindelwald and the Höhenweg 1400 – approx 8.64 miles


Grindelwald – Mühlebach - Höhenweg 1400 – Aellfluh – Abbachfall – Tuftbach – Terrassenweg – Mühlebach – Grindelwald

Total Ascent: 585m / Total Descent: 644m


Raining in the morning, improving to sunny spells in the afternoon.

A wet morning: we opted for a low-level walk to explore the hillside just to the north of Grindelwald below First and Bussalp. We followed the winding road towards Grosse Scheidegg, rising gently as we left town. At Mühlebach a metalled track led up to meet the Höhenweg 1400 path below Bort.

The early drizzle had settled into a steady rain, and, despite being relatively warm, waterproofs were donned. As it’s name suggests, the path contours round the hill on around the 1400m mark, mainly through lovely pine woods. Mid morning the weather began to improve. We stopped for a break at a viewpoint just above the Aellfluh hut (currently closed due to fire damage) and spent a few minutes gazing over the valley to where the massive peaks of the Shreckhorn and the Eiger were trying to shed their cloudy crowns.

Continuing, we dropped quite steeply to a track near Sattelhalten before meeting the Bussalp road where we saw a Black Squirrel and a Kestrel. Aiming downhill we soon reached Abbachfall – a waterfall found a short distance along a side road.

Back at the Bussalp road a well-positioned bench provided the ideal spot for a leisurely picnic and a bit of Eiger-watching, the elusive summit deigning to show itself clearly for the fist time since our arrival. It’s impossible to get a sense of scale from the photographs, but the summit towers almost 3,000m above the valley floor.

Heading back towards Grindelwald a maze of paths threaded between houses. At Tuftbach we picked up the Terrassenweg, another contour path/road a bit lower down the hillside that skims the top of the town, back to Mühlebach and then the hotel.

Wednesday 28th July 2010

Day 4: The Eiger Trail – approx 10.19 miles


Kleine Scheidegg – Eigergletscher Station – Eiger Trail – Above Alpiglen – Boneren – Gletscherschlucht - Hotel

Total Ascent: 536m / Total Descent: 1292m


Overcast but with high cloud base in the morning, drizzle in the afternoon.

With the prospect of improved weather over the next few days, we decide to arm ourselves with a Jungfraubahnen Pass - £95 for 6 consecutive days of unlimited travel on trains, buses and lifts in the area. It’s good value if you intend to make multiple journeys - Swiss transport is highly efficient but eye-wateringly expensive at full price!

We took the train up to Kleine Scheidegg, a clutch of hotels, restaurants and railway buildings perched in a saddle below the Eiger and the Mönch, with connections to the Jungfraujoch and the Lauterbrunnen valley. Understandably it’s a very busy place, so, while the crowds dispersed, we stopped for a coffee, taking time to soak up the atmosphere.

Firstly we headed up to the Eigergletscher station, some 50 minutes away, to pick up the Eiger Trail, a clear mountain path that skirts along the base of the famous North Face. As it was a nice morning, the trail was packed – unsurprising, really, since connections with the mountain railway at Kleine Scheidegg and Alpiglen makes it one of the easiest mountain trails to access.

Despite it’s popularity it is an interesting walk. The first part traverses below the mighty North Face just under the lower cliffs. At one point, a board shows a picture detailing the route of the first successful attempt by Heckmair et al, plus some of the other pioneering routes, and a number of the key features can be made out. Below, thousands of pounds worth of top-notch jackets and clothing were watching on – my 10-year-old Craghoppers top and Lowe Alpine trousers looking a bit shabby by comparison. We ate lunch looking out across the valley to Bussalp and beyond, with the Eiger looming over our shoulders and the Wetterhorn and Grosse Scheidegg away to our left.

Soon after lunch the path split: one way leading down to Alpiglen, the other, which we took, continuing to contour along the lower slopes of the Mittellegi ridge, loosing height all the time. Cloud had been accumulating all through the day: now the rain began as we entered the trees near Boneren prior to the steep descent into the gorge of the Unterer Grindelwaldgletscher.

A short metal ladder, easily negotiated, brought us out on to moraine, from where the path led down, once more through trees, to Gletscherschlucht where the glacial river emerges from the narrow defile. Pleased to be down after around 1,300m of descent, a 30 minute road walk brought us back to our hotel for a welcome rest, dinner and a drink.

Thursday 29th July 2010

Day 5: Lauterbrunnen & Trümmelbach Falls – approx 5.50 miles


Lauterbrunnen – Trümmelbach Falls – Staubbachfall - Lauterbrunnen

Total Ascent: 98m / Total Descent: 123m


Heavy rain for much of the day.

We awoke to a wet scene – heavy rain and low cloud – which looked thoroughly set for the day. So, after breakfast, we decided to take the train, via Kleine Scheidegg and Wengen, over to Lauterbrunnen in the next valley. It was a slow journey, but one which proved pleasing enough given the conditions.

We planned to walk to the Trümmelbach Falls, a trip of around 2.5 miles each way, figuring these should be good after so much recent rain. The Lauterbrunnental is the valley of the Weisse Lütschine, a river fed by myriad waterfalls that plummet down the steep valley sides. At Trümmelbach, the water has cut deep into the valley wall so that the falls are almost cave-like, and the water roils and swirls as it crashes from chamber to chamber. Seeing as we were already pretty wet from the rain, the spray from the falls wasn’t unduly annoying providing a tough test for our waterproofs.

Afterwards, we had soup at a nearby café, and walked back towards Lauterbrunnen to catch the train back to Grindelwald, still in heavy rain: the waterfalls that the valley is so famous for now streaming down the steep-sided walls.

En route we made a short diversion to see the Stubbachfall – one of the lacy falls that can you walk behind. The additional soaking went almost unnoticed.

Friday 30th July 2010

Day 6: Männlichen (Top) to Grindelwald – approx 12.48 miles


Männlichen (Top) – Kleine Scheidegg – Alpiglen – Brandegg – Grund - Hotel

Total Ascent: 189m / Total Descent: 1191m


Heavy rain early morning, gradually improving to a nice afternoon.

We awoke, yet again, to a downpour. So we lingered over breakfast and decided to spend some time reading before setting off in the hope of better weather. An hour or so later, we donned waterproof gear and set off for Grund to catch the lift up to Männlichen at 2,225m on the ridge a 30 minute ride above the valley. Rising through the clouds, the expected views of the Eiger were non-existent but we saw and heard a Marmot on the hillside below us.

From the top we took the popular path southwards towards Kleine Scheidegg, surrounded by mist and low cloud. The rain was trying to ease, and tantalising glimpses of the mountains on both sides of the valley began to appear.

At Kleine Scheidegg we stopped for coffee before continuing on our descent towards Alpiglen. The temperature, pretty cold at Männlichen, was gradually rising. Up to our right, the black and white face of the Eiger materialised ghost-like out of the cloud revealing a fresh dusting of snow.

We reached Alpiglen shortly before 2.00pm and, with further rain in the air, we decided a good lunch at the Berghotel Alpiglen was in order. Very soon, two substantial plates of Rösti were placed in front of us and we tucked in hungrily.

After lunch, in another blustery shower, we set off for Brandegg, half an hour or so further down the hill. By the time we got there, yet another about face of the weather had left us overdressed in warm sunshine, and we were rapidly shedding layers. A maze of tracks and metalled footpaths led steeply down into Grund, now bathed in lovely sunshine. We tried a different way back to the hotel, but inadvertently found ourselves walking through an industrial area – a route we shall avoid in future. Still, it didn’t spoil an otherwise reasonable walk well-suited to the wet weather.

We had dinner in our room, sitting on our balcony to enjoy the now-beautiful evening. It was amazing just how spectacular the mountains looked in good light – the first time we had really seen them so – with a crystal clear Fiescherhorn and the alpenglow on the Eiger following as the sun sank below the skyline. We hoped this augured well for tomorrow.

Saturday 31st July 2010

Day 7: Jungfraujoch, the Mönchsjochhütte & Männlichen – approx 8.50 miles


Jungfraujoch to the Mönchsjochhütte and back / Kleine Scheidegg to Männlichen / Grund to the Hotel

Total Ascent: 428m / Total Descent: 173m


Beautiful, sunny weather all day.

At last, wonderful weather and the prospect of a fine day. We decided immediately on waking to make our trip up to the Jungfraujoch – the classic rail journey through the Eiger to the highest railway station in Europe at 3,454m – which requires a high cloud base to get the best views.

After a quick breakfast, and packed in preparation, we boarded the 8.17am train in Grindelwald, changing at Kleine Scheidegg for the Jungfraujoch. It’s not a quick journey – in addition to the normal stations, the train also stops for passengers to get out and look at the views from inside the mountain from a window in the North Face of the Eiger and across the glaciers at the Eismeer station.

So it was getting on for mid-morning by the time we got to the Jungfraujoch. Needless to say, on such a morning, it was very busy. We had a coffee while the crowds abated then started our look round. The views are superb, out over the Grindelwald valley, across to the Jungfrau and Mönch summits and south to the vast Aletsch Glacier.

After a quick tour round the station, we took the snowy path across to the Mönchsjochhütte (3,657m) about one hour away, a good first test for our Yaktrax which seemed to do the trick nicely, where we had a proper Alpine lunch – Goulash soup and beer!

After lunch we retraced our steps to the Jungfraujoch and caught a busy train down to Kleine Scheidegg for about 3.00pm. It was still a beautiful day, so we walked over to the Männlichen lift, pausing along the way to admire the fabulous views back to the Eiger, surrounded by Alpine Choughs.

We took the lift down to Grund and walked back to the Hotel for dinner while the shadows creeping up the pinky-orange-tinted Fiescherwand marked the second successive grand sunset in a row.

Sunday 1st August 2010

Day 8: First to Schynige Platte – approx 11.29 miles


First (Top) – Bachsee – Faulhorn – Männdlenen – Schynige Platte.

Total Ascent: 750m / Total Descent: 1039m


Beautiful, sunny weather all day.

Another fine start and great forecast persuaded us to tackle one of the classic walks of the area. It can be walked in either direction, but we fancied getting going as early as possible as well as giving ourselves more options should the weather deteriorate.

By 9.00am we were riding the gondola up to First at 2,167m. It was sunny and warm as we set off, T-shirt weather from the outset. A wide track led to Bachsee, bounded on either side by Alpine meadows. Behind us, stupendous views opened up across to the high mountains and the glaciers beyond.

After about an hour we reached the alpine lakes at Bachsee, a popular viewpoint and understandably so with the backdrop of huge mountains reflected in the waters. We had a short break before commencing the 90 minute climb to the summit of the Faulhorn.

The path skirts round the north shore of the lake before rising steeply towards the saddle of Gassenboden, from where it’s about 30 minutes ending in a sharp climb to the 2,681m summit. We had lunch here (Rösti & soup, plus beer) sitting on the sun terrace soaking up the sun and the amazing views of the Wetterhorn, the Schreckhorn, the Finsteraarhorn, the Fiescherhorn, the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau and more. What a spot!

All too soon, we had to move on. The next stage was the one-hour stretch along the Winteregg ridge to the Weberhütte at Männdlenen. To the north, views opened up to the large lakes of Brienze and Thun way down in the valley below us. By now it was quite hot, so we had another refreshment break of about 30 minutes at Männdlenen. Below the hut, the path doubled back on itself contouring round the ridge high above the small, unnaturally green Sägistalsee lake.

After traversing the Sägistal, the path dropped down and, to the accompaniment of numerous Marmot whistles, we began a long contour round the southern side of the Loucherhorn, skimming the top of the treeline. Once more, magical views again opened up to the south - the glacier-bedecked Bernese giants in a breathtaking panorama.

With the Schynige Platte station in sight, we reached a junction of paths and took the alternative Panoramaweg, the cliffs plunging away in a sheer drop to the Brienzersee 1,500m below us. In an awesome panorama, more mountains could be seen away to the west across the Thunersee. It is certainly a great walk, deserving of good, clear weather to get those wonderful views at their best.

Half an hour or so later, we reached the Schynige Platte station and caught the train for the long descent down to Wilderswil and the connection to Grindelwald. The line still uses some of the original 1890’s stock, maintained and restored, and, in places, attains a 1 in 4 gradient during the 1,420m descent.

Later, we had pasta and a glass of wine sitting out on our balcony. As night came we had the unusual spectacle of the fireworks celebrating Swiss National Day trying to compete against the thunder and lightning that now enveloped the high peaks.

Monday 2nd August 2010

Day 9: Männlichen (Top) to Wengen – approx 14.84 miles


Männlichen (Top) – Kleine Scheidegg – Eigergletscher Station – Moraine Path – Wengernalp Station – Wengen

Total Ascent: 300m / Total Descent: 1260m


Cloudy and often wet.

After two good days of weather, last night’s thunder and lightning signalled a change to wetter conditions. Morning brought high cloud and a little weak sunshine, so we took the gondola up to Männlichen with the aim of walking to Wengen.

The first stretch took us on the now familiar path to Kleine Scheidegg - this time more atmospheric as cloud billowed up from the valleys - with only occasional glimpses of the mountains through the mist on both sides.

As usual, Kleine Scheidegg was busy so we pushed on towards the Eigergletscher Station (2,320m). The cloud had been thickening and getting darker all morning and, about 10 minutes before we reached the station, the rain began. We decided on a quick drink stop to see whether conditions would improve. The rain did back off slightly, but the low cloud remained.

So, with waterproofs on, we crossed to the Moraine path running under the glaciers below the Jungfraujoch. Almost everything was obscured in the fog, but we could look up and see the streams pouring down the steep, glaciated rock walls.

After a while we dropped below the cloud and, somewhat unexpectedly, the sun came out for a few moments so we stopped for lunch. But, by the time we were crossing the pasture to Wengernalp, the cloud had rolled in again and, although the views were hidden, we did see a couple of deer racing down the slope ahead of us.

We could have bailed out at Wengernalp but decided to push on to Wengen, an hour or so further on. Ten minutes down the track the cloud thickened again, and down came the rain, almost immediately settling in to a steady downpour. Even though we had full waterproofs on (or at least lightweight, summer waterproofs) the rain managed to penetrate and soon we were properly soaked. About 30 minutes away from Wengen the rain relented long enough for us to dry out somewhat, then another downpour swept in just before we reached shelter, providing yet another soaking.

From Wengen we took the gondola to Männlichen to connect with the one down the other side of the ridge to Grund. The half-hour walk back to the Hotel provided ample opportunity for a further soaking, so we stopped for Pizza on the way back to lift our spirits. Finally, we got back to our room ready to shed all our soggy clothing, get some cozy, dry kit on and make some warming coffee. Despite the weather we had enjoyed the walk – in better conditions the sight of the mountains, glaciers and waterfalls, plus the views into the Lauterbrunnental would have been superb – and would definitely recommend the route.

Tuesday 3rd August 2010

Day 10: Itramen, Brandegg & Grund – approx 5.95 miles


Egg Kehrplatz – Brandegg – Grund - Hotel

Total Ascent: 314m / Total Descent: 417m


Cloudy and wet to start, improving in the afternoon.

As anticipated, yesterday’s poor weather spilled over into today with a heavy drizzle greeting us over breakfast. However, the sky looked as if better might be to come, so we decided to read for an hour and see if conditions improved. As it turned out, they did, so we set off mid morning to catch the bus to Itramen on the slopes below the Männlichen lift.

We followed the road uphill for a while, branching off along lanes, tracks and paths towards Brandegg. At a junction of paths we opted for the higher route that turned out to be a good choice – a lovely path contouring through woodland and crossing a rushing stream.

The rain was never far away, but waterproofs kept the worst off and soon we arrived at the Restaurant Brandegg. With Rösti on the menu, choosing lunch was simplicity itself.

The sun was out and it was warming up nicely as we set off again. Another mix of lanes and tracks led through the wooded slopes and pastures, and the tinkling sound of cowbells filled the air. Instead of a direct route back we chose a different way down, eventually reaching Grund in warm sunshine. A detour through the town centre allowed us to restock vital supplies on the way back to the hotel.

As an aside, I read the following quote in Dervla Murphy’s “Where The Indus Is Young”:

“Each day I seem to feel more deeply content and inwardly stronger, as though the uncomplicated joy of travelling through these mountains were a form of nourishment”

After a week in these Swiss mountains, I can’t think of a better way of putting it!

Wednesday 4th August 2010

Day 11: Grosse Scheidegg to Grindelwald – approx 15.69 miles


Grosse Scheidegg – First (Top) – Bachsee – Faulhorn – Bussalp - Grindelwald

Total Ascent: 719m / Total Descent: 1647m


Mixed conditions: generally fine but overcast at times and better in the afternoon.

With decent conditions predicted, we had a lengthy walk in mind to make up for yesterday’s shorter effort. The early conditions looked promising so we caught the 8.55am bus to Grosse Scheidegg. In fact two buses were sent, the first being full of walkers heading that way on the strength of a good forecast.

We disembarked at Grosse Scheidegg, as did most of the other passengers, so we hefted our sacks and made a quick start to get ahead of the group. Today’s route was a combination of paths we had done before with some new bits too, starting with the Höhenweg 2400 round to First.

Although there were good views across to the Schreckhorn and the Eiger it was noticeable that the cloud was beginning to build, and by the time we reached First the views were already coming and going in the mist. Next was the 90 minute stretch via Bachsee and Gassenboden to Faulhorn, still a good walk despite the low cloud.

At 2,681m, the Faulhorn is a modest summit by local standards, but its situation on the ridge between the Bernese giants to the south and Lakes Thun and Brienze to the north confers it with magnificent views all round. The Berghaus, sited just below the summit, is a splendid place from which to admire these views and indulge in a spot of lunch too.

The cloud lifted long enough for a photograph, but soon blew back in and, with it, the temperature dropped. We finished our lunch rather hastily, piling on layers of extra clothing to beat the sudden chill. The route down involved a short backtrack to the saddle at Gassenboden, then the steeply descending path to Bussalp. Soon we dropped below the cloud again and into warm sunshine, accompanied by fine views of the Eiger ahead.

Bussalp presented us with a mild dilemma – whether to catch the bus to Grindelwald or walk back down. As the weather was as good as any time during the day, we opted for the latter, allowing us to walk off the cake we had just consumed at the restaurant.

The descent was easy enough, with a number of different routes possible. We just followed paths down hill, taking a short break at the same bench we had visited near Abbachfall a few days earlier, and reflecting on a great walk.

Thursday 5th August 2010

Day 12: Terrassenweg – approx 4.75 miles


Hotel – Terrassenweg - Hotel

Total Ascent: 102m / Total Descent: 102m


Wet most of the day, slightly better in the afternoon.

Today had been forecast as a thoroughly wet day for most of the week, and the rain duly arrived in buckets. After a leisurely breakfast and an hour’s reading, we decided to use the opportunity to do our holiday shopping. Grindelwald has plenty of shops selling food, souvenirs, outdoor gear and chocolate, so ample opportunity for browsing and, occasionally, buying.

Back at the hotel, we had lunch and decided to go a short walk. On such an uninspiring afternoon the Terrassenweg – the road/path that skims the top of the town - seemed a good option. A couple of hours at most, at least we got some fresh air and worked up a bit of an appetite for Pizza.

Friday 6th August 2010

Day 13: Hotel Wetterhorn & Bäregg – approx 10.84 miles


Hotel Wetterhorn – Chalet Milchbach – Pfingstegg – Bäregg – Hotel Wetterhorn - Hotel

Total Ascent: 878m / Total Descent: 1005m


Mixed, wet at first then improving.

There was a good forecast for our last day, but somehow it failed to materialise - far from it, in fact. Breakfast was yet again accompanied by heavy rain and low cloud, so we delayed our departure by an hour or so in the hope of some improvement.

A good choice, as it turned out, because, by the time we had taken the 9.55 bus to the Hotel Wetterhorn, the skies were dry and the sun trying to shine. We took the broad track from the car park, crossing the brisk Schwartze Lütschine by a wide wooden bridge. Two paths led towards the Chalet Milchbach – we took the left-hand option with views into the gorge at the mouth of the Oberer Grindelwaldgletscher – a small restaurant 120m higher up the hillside.

Our path contoured round the lower slopes of the Mättenburg in a lovely mix of woodland and open mountainside, with Grindelwald laid out in the green valley bottom. At one point, to avoid an obvious avalanche gully, the path passed through a tunnel lit by solar-powered lighting.

A short climb led up to the cable car station of Pfingstegg where we took a short break. In the improving weather we shed a few layers, not realising the next section of the path was washed by a number of waterfalls. We contoured round into the cleft of the Unterer Grindelwaldgletscher on a rising path clinging to the steep side of the gorge wall. Regular soakings added to the fun.

To our right we could look down into the step gorge, whilst ahead of us the vast north wall and glacial basin of the Fiescherhorn loomed into view. Around an hour and a quarter from Pfingstegg, we negotiated a short steep section and reached the newly-built mountain restaurant at Bäregg (replacing the Stieregg hut that fell into the gorge in 2005 when global warming caused the moraine it was built on to collapse) spectacularly situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the glaciers, surrounded by high mountains. It is possible to walk beyond Bäregg to the Schreckhornhütte, 3 hours and 1000m climb further along a crumbling, protected path, but not today given the mixed conditions and lack of time.

We had a nice Rösti for lunch, but cooling conditions meant we didn’t linger. Heading back to Pfingstegg we could see right into the gorge.

Passing Pfingstegg, we retraced our steps to the Chalet Milchbach - where we stopped for a drink and had a chat with the old lady serving there – and back to the Hotel Wetterhorn. Finally, as we had time and the weather was good, we walked back down into Grindelwald, making the most of our last afternoon.

All in all, a very good walk – in fact one of the best of the holiday, with great views and spectacular scenery, and a perfect lesson in the process of glaciation - and one thoroughly befitting our last outing. Although we were sad to be leaving it was impossible to feel too downhearted after such a great walk.