Leaving the functional Hotellerie Franciscaine

At last, a shorter day! This set of 5 days walking since our last rest day in Orbe has been very physically demanding, with three long days and one excessively long day, so we’re very much looking forward to a shorter walk today and doing very little tomorrow.

Swiss postie with his nifty electric delivery vehicle

Filled rolls and oranges bought, we walked up through the centre, past the railway station, over the railway, and out of town onto the lower part of the hillside beyond.

Looking back to St Maurice tucked in behind two spurs which conceal it from view from lower down the valley

There is a narrow strip of sloping ground each side of the flat valley before the sides rise steeply to the peaks towering above, part wooded and part cultivated, with small villages all along the valley bottom and others clinging to the higher slopes above. Meanwhile, the main transportation routes cut up through the middle beside the Rhone, providing a constant hum of traffic and intermittent rumble of trains.

The conical mountain at the head of the valley is getting closer!

Most of today was spent ambling through farmland and woodland, past fruit orchards, around the back of industrial areas, and through villages, well away from the main road. We were mostly on well defined paths which were flat or gently rising with the occasional steeper section. It was reasonably easy walking; much if it was in shade and we had a stiff breeze blowing from behind us. Ahead of us was the draw of the conical mountain we’d seen from way down the lake and all the way up this long valley.

Looking up at mountains to our right and clouds swirling below the summit. L’Argentine on the left and the Grand Muveran(?) on the right.

Late morning we passed around the back of a large chemical works owned by Siegfried, which we later discovered is a Swiss based international company manufacturing for the pharmaceutical industry. It employs 3637 people at 11 sites worldwide, 343 of them here in Evonniaz. There is an odd juxtaposition of heavy industry and pristine mountains in this valley and we wondered what steps are taken to keep Lac Leman’s waters as clear and clean as they appear to be.

Seigfried’s factory at Evonniaz

Soon after this it was lunchtime and we found a seat in the shade with a wonderful view of the mountains to our left. We’ve noticed that in Switzerland there are many more seats along footpaths than there were in France, often placed just where you would want a rest or to spend a while admiring the view.

How’s that for a lunchtime view? L’Argentine.

Whilst waiting for our lunch to digest and Julie’s feet and socks to dry out (a daily lunchtime ritual to prevent blisters) we noticed a very pretty insect on the ground. We have no idea what it is, but would be interested to find out – do any of our readers know? It looks a bit like a helicopter when flying, with wings whirring. Tom initially thought it was a hornet, but we don’t think so having seen it close up.

In the next village we walked past a fruiting monkey puzzle tree and ripening kiwi fruit on the vine, and we’d seen orchards of apricots, cherries and other soft fruits during the day. Not to mention vineyards on every possible slope, and on impossible-looking slopes, all along the valley. It is amazing what can be grown in a continental summer with little apparent effort, though sometimes with the help of irrigation.

Ripening kiwi fruit

As we walked through the village we were struck by the modern architecture of the church and decided to try the door. We have done this so often only to be disappointed, but this time we were in luck. We think the church is reformed, not catholic, but couldn’t be sure. Either way it was pleasingly light and simple inside, with a relief of Jesus the carpenter beside the front door.

The next kilometre or so took us alongside the busy main road which was pretty unpleasant with lots of traffic hammering by, but we were soon able to take a side road into Mieville with its charming old houses and the ubiquitous lavoir decorated with red geraniums. Just beyond the village a spectacular waterfall tumbles off the mountainside, and fortuitously our path took us to the bottom of it.

After another stretch walking in the woods we came out into fields and then walked along the fence behind a hydroelectric power plant, before diving back into woodland again. The contrast between pristine mountain scenery and heavy industry couldn’t be more stark than here.

During the day we’d passed and been passed by another couple of pilgrims several times. Stopping to chat, we discovered that Oli is a retired geologist, specialist in glaciology, and Inga a working botanist, both from Reykjavik in Iceland. Tom enjoyed comparing notes about the then controversial theory of plate tectonics when they were both undergraduates. Oli told us about the Russian geologists working in Iceland during the USSR years who were required to subscribe to the old theories by the State whilst their practical experience was telling them that plate tectonics made much more sense.

One of many sets of beehives hidden away in the woods

After a few more kilometres in woodland we emerged at the back of another hydroelectric power station, and then joined one of the roads into Martigny for the last stretch of today’s walk.

First we had to cross the old wooden bridge over the river Dranse, rebuilt in 1829 with the later addition of footways in 1948. Apparently the idea of covering the bridge is so that when it snows the bridge doesn’t ice up due to the cold air beneath it, allowing horses and cars to cross safely in winter. These sorts of bridges are quite common in Canada. Here we bade farewell to our Icelandic friends who are continuing up the valley tomorrow whilst we will have a rest day in Martigny.

View up the canalised river Dranse at Martigny

Unfortunately our hotel turned out to be at the other end of town – always a blow at the end of the day – but we will probably be glad to avoid starting with tramping urban pavements when we resume our walk in two days time.

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