.............not all those that wander are lost..............

Friday, 25 March 2011

Training?...............what training?

We skied our last day yesterday before packing up to return home over the weekend. On the days we haven't skied (usually because the weather hasn't been co-operative) I have tried to walk for at least a couple of hours, in a vain attempt to get fit enough for the TGO Challenge in May.

Snowshoeing had to stop a couple of weeks ago when the snow conditions changed and the avalanche risk increased dramatically - there were sadly a few people killed in the last week or so. They were mostly ski touring and had set off the avalanches themselves. However it's not an exact science and I decided to err on the side of safety.

Throughout the season the downhill skiing has been on very good snow and mostly under deep blue skies. As the days get longer the air begins to warm up, which means quite a few excellent picnic lunches at the summits but also wetter, heavier snow by the end of the day.

For my walks I have mostly been exploring the local hamlets, often with interesting short walks which I've been able to link together. I've been aiming to do about 12 kms and always more than 600 m of climbing.

In the more sheltered parts of the forests I came across quite a lot of snow still lying, normally very icy on the surface and difficult to walk on in just boots. My microspikes have been well used to get across these sections! What a great bit of kit - I can't recommend them highly enough. I would add that it if you need to take them on and off frequently (as I did) your hands do get rather muddy - thank heavens for baby wipes!

{Microspikes - on an icy path}

One of the local walks, which I have often done in the summer months, takes a path up to a remote farmhouse. It's not a long walk (maybe an hour or so) but goes through a very interesting, ancient and rare forest of juniper trees. These trees are usually found in Morocco and other very hot dry places.

As you go up the hillside there are storyboards with facts and photos to read. The trees themselves were giving off a very pungent smell of turps in the warm sunshine. I had a brilliant view down on the little village of St Crepin, with all the houses nestled into one another beside the church tower.

{Looking down on St Crepin}

Some of the trees have wonderful, twisted trunks. One is apparently (according to the information board) called 'la mere' and looks like an old elephant, a sort of icon for the people of the village. I took a photo but it's hard to see the elephant I think....

{The elephant tree}

There was a photo of this tree taken in 1879 on the board, looking quite remarkably the same!

Extending this walk took me higher up the side of the hill above the River Durance where the tiny villages are very old and feel as though time has passed them by. One called 'les Chapins' claims to be the birthplace of the Chopin family from the 1600s.

The small strips of land that the farmers work are often cultivated largely by hand. Traditional methods are dying out though, along with the older inhabitants of the area. Extended and refurbished homes usually indicate they have been bought as second homes by the people of Marseille or Grenoble.

{Bales of hay collected by hand outside a traditional farmhouse}

Walking above the house here on the opposite side of the valley brings me to our main village, which consists of about 13 small hamlets. Our hamlet is round the hill away from the main village but it is easy to walk to it along the tracks through the forest. The loggers have finished their work but have left debris on the paths, making progress a bit slower than usual.

{Broken branches litter the path}

Following the paths here is fairly straight forward, although in common with maps at home, not all the tracks you see are shown. Often there are signs to help with direction and distance. I find these quite comforting especially when walking in wooded areas where navigation can be challenging. Main local paths are marked with yellow markers from time to time, and most helpfully, there will be a yellow cross which indicates you have gone the 'wrong' way.

{Sign posts with general timings}

I know there is a strong lobby at home who are against signage of this kind, but here it seems the norm and accepted. The signs are mostly unobtrusive and carefully placed at difficult junctions. They can even be just a splash of paint on a rock or tree.

The end of a great winter - now I'm looking ahead to May and the TGO Challenge. There are still a few weeks to get organised - and fitter!

{Sunset from Ceillac - earlier in the season}

1 comment:

Louise said...

Sounds beautiful Laura, so glad you've had a fabulous time. Can't agree with you more about the microspikes, I'm actually quite disappointed I didn't need them more this winter! Have a safe journey home and I'll see you soon x