Mountain and mine

Posted on: 01 Jul 2015

I couldn't believe how well-behaved my knees were during the race - they hardly complained at all. But oh boy, in the middle of the night, did they let me know what they thought of what I had inflicted on them! - the right knee in particular. No matter what position I tried, it was painful. But then I remembered the tube of Voltaren was still on the bedside table; I groped around and found it, applied some in the dark, and gradually it eased. By morning, it had apparently forgiven me - just a bit stiff, plus the usual slight ache of muscles remembering their exertions.

Breakfast, then off out walking. With the car to Motier, leaving it in a car park we had run past yesterday, then retracing our steps through the woods for a while, with more time to look around and enjoy the surroundings. Reaching the point where the HM had turned off, we now continued straight on, following the route of the ultra as it made its way, increasingly steeply, up the Poeta-Raisse gorge. This is spectacular, with the path at times negotiating flights of steps and clinging to the side of a cliff, the river rushing far below. Hard to believe people had RUN here!





A final narrow passage between walls of rock, and we emerged into a totally different landscape, open and sunny, where the river was now a cheerful little stream, babbling harmlessly along between waterside plants, the path keeping it company for a while. By now we had said goodbye to the ultra route, which had turned off before the end of the gorge. On across fields and more woodland, encountering (and soon leaving behind) a huge group of people on an organized walk, then along a breezy upland valley, a green and white landscape that reminded me of Derbyshire's White Peak. The sky was clouding over, after a sunny start to the day - I thought we might need our rain jackets soon. Onwards, still climbing, now on the Jura Höhenweg: the Jura High Route; a section of road, then the final slog up to the the highest point of the walk, Le Chasseron. On the way up, we re-encountered the orange arrows - we were back on the route of the ultra. Reaching the top, just time for more photos before the clouds closed in.



It was looking ominously dark to the west, and thunder was rumbling. We retreated to the nearby restaurant and waited for the elements to do their worst. It was mid-afternoon by now, so they could only offer soup or salad; but the soup was delicious, and served with a huge lump of Gruyère cheese - no gourmet meal could have been more welcome. We sat there by the window, looking out at the intermittently panoramic view over Lake Neuchatel far below/sheets of flying cloud, and considering how to get back. We HAD to get to Sainte-Croix by half past 5 for the only bus, which would take us to Buttes, where we could get a train back to Motier. Luckily the threatened storm had moved elsewhere, and when we emerged from this cosy haven, it was 'only' to thick mist. But we couldn't afford the time to get lost, so we reluctantly turned our back both on the Jura Höhenweg and the ultra, and took the most obvious route down from the mountain, a straight downward trek through woods on a path cutting across loops of road. (The knees did start to grumble a bit again at this.) In fact, we made such good time that we arrived in Sainte-Croix with over half an hour to spare. The rain was now coming down in earnest, so we retreated into a slightly sleazy-looking bar (nothing eslse seemed to be open) to await the bus, and paid the unexpectedly space-age public toilets a visit. A lovely journey through various small villages (including the attractively-named 'Cote-aux-Fées'); in Buttes, the odd spectacle of a railway line that simply ended at a set of buffers, as though they'd just got tired of building it (it resumed in Sainte-Croix, but only in the other direction); the little train back to Motiers. Motiers is very pretty, with lots of old buildings lining the improbably wide main street, and a couple of substantial public fountains/drinking troughs along it - a lovely place to visit on a drier day! We had thought of eating there; we did see one restaurant, but it looked a bit grand for our requirements, so we walked the 1 km or so back to the car and drove back to Couvet. Yesterday's restaurant was closed, but we managed to find another. It looked a bit of a dive, and we had no great expectations, but were pleasantly surprised. J. had trout, and it was excellent (he let me have some); I had a salad from the buffet, and an intriguingly-named dessert, I can't remember exactly what, but with 'Fée' in the title, I felt fairly sure of what might be in it! - and yes, it was a kind of absinthe sorbet, and absolutely delicious. A good end to an enjoyable day. No thunderstorm that night......... just pouring rain.

Which was still pouring the next morning, and continued to do so the entire day. What to do on such a day? - go down an asphalt mine, of course! This is at La Presta, between Couvet and Travers. It's disused now, but in its day was huge, with hundreds of kms of tunnels. Arriving late morning, we were told there wasn't another German-speaking tour until half past 2, so with about 3 hours to pass on, we went to revisit the farm where we stayed last time we were here, driving miles up into the hills on a winding little road, picking up a hitch hiker for some of the way. A rural paradise of cows, horses, a cat with kittens, swallows diving in and out of the cowshed, flowers everywhere. The people remembered us, and invited us in for tea. Even the dog remembered us! Back down to La Presta, and our mine tour. A bilingual one in the end: German for us, French for another couple. It was cold in the mine, I was glad of my fleece and jacket; and the trail shoes didn't come amiss either. Equipped with torches and helmets, we were escorted along tunnels, up and down long flights of steps......... I hoped our guide knew the way! (She did.) It was interesting (who would have guessed there was so much to know about asphalt?!), and an eye-opener into the working conditions in this subterranean world. Emerging into daylight once more, we made for the restaurant, and its speciality 'Ham cooked in asphalt'. As they were about to close soon, we got the benefit of an extra-large portion (everything that was left) - and it was wonderful, very tasty and succulent. Highly recommended! Just time to stock up on absinthe chocolate in the adjoining shop, and we were on our way again.

And still it was raining, as we retraced our route back to Neuchatel. In fact, it was so heavy at one point, an absolute cloudburst, it was almost impossible to see through the windscreen, even with the wipers going full blast, so we pulled off the road for a while to wait for it to ease off a bit. Getting into Neuchatel seemed easier than getting out of it - just a bit tricky right at the end, trying to find the way in to the underground car park at the station to return the car. And so, laden with more than we arrived with (I was carrying my prizes in a shoebag on my back - I didn't trust the paper carrier bag in the rain!), we headed for our train, and home. An action-packed and very enjoyable few days.

And now I'm off on my annual visit to Sheffield - back in a couple of weeks!

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