Walkies!

Posted on: 24 Apr 2015

Now that the site is currently gripped by 'marathon fever', it hardly seems appropriate to be writing about walking! - but that's what I have to offer, sorry! Having been given an unprecedented 12 days free mid-season (something that has never happened before in the 28 years I've been here), I thought at first I might go on holiday somewhere, or to visit people in England. In the end, though, I decided I would just enjoy staying here, and take it day by day......... if 'enjoy' is quite the right word for the dentist visit scheduled for day one! Once that was out of the way, though, I could take advantage of my freedom and some rather glorious weather to go out exploring.

Tuesday 14th April: decided to fulfil a long-held plan and walk the Weg der Schweiz, a long-distance path (well, 35 kms) round the Urnersee, the southernmost section of the Vierwaldstättersee ('our' lake, maybe better known as Lake Lucerne.) This route was devised in 1991, to celebrate Switzerland's 700th birthday, the various cantons being marked along the way by a carved signet, the length of each section depending on the number of (Swiss) inhabitants, each of whom were allocated 5 millimetres. The route begins at Rütli meadow, where the original 3 cantons, Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden (now split into Nidwalden and Obwalden) met up and agreed to join together. So these are the cantons that start the trail, the others being added in the order that they joined the confederacy. For logistical reasons, (Rütli is not the easiest of places to get to, being accessible only by ship, and these are not that frequent outside the main summer season), we decided to start in Flüelen, at the far end of the lake, and do the walk over two days: the west side first; then back to Flüelen the next day for the east side. So off to Flüelen we went, about an hour on the train. A few minutes through a semi-industrial backwater of the town, not too attractive, but then across the Reuss delta at the end of the lake, a nature reserve of green spaces, reed beds, and lots of water. (And a gravel works.) I'd actually walked part of this section of the trail before, when it was new, and rather a victim of its own popularity (a cartoon of the time showed a picture of the route round the lake, and dozens of speech balloons, all containing the word "Grüezi!", 'hello' - Swiss walkers always greet each other, and on a populous day, it does get a bit ridiculous!) But the novelty has worn off, and it seems more peaceful now. New was a tower, constructed of wood and wicker (the wicker balconies worried me a little!), which we went up, walked round in about 10 seconds, and went down again. 3 kms took us to the end of the delta, and the next section, 'faut de mieux', was along the road, which we shared with traffic. (There simply wasn't anywhere to put a path at this point.) At Seedorf we rejected the first restaurant we came to for this reason, but further along at Isleten was another, quieter and more pleasantly situated, and we stopped off for lunch. I had fish Knusperli (lake fish in batter) and salad, and it felt wonderful to be able to eat a proper meal again! A bit more road after this (I rescued a ladybird, the first I've seen this year, which was unwisely crawling along it, and deposited it in some adjoining grass), and then we reached the tunnels. The path was supposed to have its own tunnel, but a section of it was closed due to rock falls, so we had to share the road tunnel for a while. There was a pavement, but it was still unpleasant, very loud and smelly, with the slipstream from larger vehicles pushing us into the side wall. It was a relief finally to be channelled back into 'our' tunnel. By now we were in 'Bern', and there were big 'cheeses' of carved wood stacked on metal spindles that you could push round and generally play with. (??? Fair enough!) Windows in the side of the tunnel opened onto the lake at intervals, letting in a gloomy twilight. Emerging, a bit chilled, into the sunlight again, and ready to push on to the next village, Bauen, we were stopped by a young man in uniform, who told us that they were blasting some loose rock from the cliffs just ahead, and we would have to wait until they had finished and it was safe to pass. 'How long? - about 10 minutes?' 'About that,' he agreed. So to pass the time we walked back along the tunnel up to the point where it was blocked off, then back to the exit, expecting to be permitted to continue on our way now.......... but no. Ten minutes became 20, and then 30; together with a family from Neuchatel who were similarly trapped (and who had a boat - the last one of the day - to catch in Bauen, and were getting somewhat nervous) we waited it out, now regretting having stopped to play with the 'cheeses'! Finally there was the sound of an explosion, and a cascade of rocks came thundering down. Most of them were caught by the steel nets at the bottom of the slope, but several fragments, some of them quite large, flew over the top, landing on the road, on the path, a few even splashing into the water. Another check by walkie-talkie, and our guard finally released us (and the traffic penned up in the road tunnel.) The Neuchatel family literally ran off, and we followed at a more leisurely pace. By Bauen, though, it was the end of 'leisurely', as the path abruptly took a steep upward turn, up endless stone steps. I read somewhere (I think) that there are 900 and something, but it felt like thousands. Bauen is a very pretty village, though, and our 'stairway to heaven' took us past a big flower meadow alive with butterflies (including many Orange Tips, which I had been particularly looking out for, apropos of 'Springwatch' again.) Even after all the steps, the way continued up and up, until it finally reached the summit above Seelisberg, and the most breathtaking view back over the lake and the mountains beyond. We sat on a giant bench (at least 5 metres long - room for a large extended family and all their friends) and admired it for a couple of minutes, bitterly regretting (again!) having forgotten to bring a camera. Then down into Seelisberg, past its little lake nestled into a hollow, and a decision: Rütli or bus? Rütli being a there-and-back walk of about an hour and a half, I wasn't sure we had time now, having lost so much back at the tunnel. Discovering that one of the infrequent buses was due in a few minutes rather clinched it: Rütli would have to wait for another day - maybe in summer, and by boat. So postbus via Emmetten to Stans, and train home. The tunnels had played havoc with the Garmin reading, but I'm guessing it was about 16 kms. https://connect.garmin.com/activity/746432270

The next day SHOULD have been 'Weg der Schweiz part 2', but there was a spanner in the works in the form of J's achilles, which was hurting rather a lot. He'd kept quiet about it the day before, but didn't think it would stand up to a second consecutive day of walking - especially as this was the more demanding half. Also he had races coming up, having already entered the whole GO-IN6weeks series (I told him this was rash and unnecessary, entering them back in December!) beginning 23rd April, and wanted to try to be fit for those. (Hmmm, I've had this affliction myself, and know it doesn't get better in a matter of days......... but let's be optimistic.) So, change of plan required. Back in the heady days of last spring, I won a prize in the Luzerner Stadtlauf, viz, a voucher for a visit to the 'Roman/Irish spa' at Morschach, and had somehow never got round to using it. Perhaps this is the time.........? I sold the idea to J. on the basis that it might be good for his ankle, and off we went. Train to Brunnen, bus up to Morschach. Not entirely sure what to expect, especially as the brochure suggested it needed 3 hours for the whole process. And Roman AND Irish? - how did that work? I never did really fathom out the Irish bit, but the Roman theme was clear: a series of rooms as in the ancient Roman bathing culture - tepidarium, caldarium, laconium, frigidarium, etc.( Even the toilet was labelled 'Latrina'!) There was also a saltwater pool just big enough to swim in, a saltwater jacuzzi, a soap massage if you paid extra for it (I didn't), a herbal steam room (we thought this might be the Irish element), indoor and outdoor relaxation rooms, a drinking fountain and free apples. The 3 hours passed surprisingly easily. I even braved the icy water of the frigidarium, jumping back into the warmth of the salty pool afterwards with a pins-and-needles sensation prickling all over my skin. Admission to the main swimming pool was also included, this being a more conventional thermal-type bath (minus the sulphurous element) with massage jets, bubbling pools, a mill race, and indoor/outdoor sections. We gave that about half an hour too, but by then were getting like wrinkled old prunes from so much water contact, so called it a day, got dressed, and went in search of some dinner. Found a lovely Italian restaurant just up the road, where we were the only customers. Much enjoyed my Lasagne and Tiramisu! Then got the bus down to Brunnen again, and train home. Not a bad way to spend half a day - thankyou, Stadtlauf!

On the Thursday, I decided I'd better try running again, to see if I still remembered how to, after 2 weeks off! Garmin was very reluctant to pick up a signal - was this an omen?! But that proved the only problem. I only intended to do 5 or 6 kms, but felt good, so extended it to 11 - just the usual loops around the Bireggwald. Not particularly fast, but comfortable and enjoyable. A check on the ponds found just two meagre blobs of frogspawn - not a vintage year.

Up to now, the weather had been warm and sunny, but on Friday that changed, and Saturday was rainy too. I could have done a local race (the Rotsee 10k) had I so chosen, but made the conscious decision not to. Having done it so many times before, I'm a bit bored with it - I'd rather look for something new to do. And after the interrupted training, I didn't feel up for it, somehow. Besides, I was busy planning my next adventure! - a visit to (hopefully) sunny Ticino, right down in the southernmost tip of Switzerland. Account of that next time.

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