Sunday, 19 July 2015


The Col de la Seigne was used since Roman times as an efficient trade route over the Alps, even in preference to the lower Little St Bernard pass to the south over which a road now passes. It's now part of the popular Tour du Mt Blanc, which circles the mountain in about ten days - we are far from being the only people crossing the col on a day of mixed sun and cloud. Here's the view back down as we climb. 

And, from a little lower down, looking up from a chapel in the last tiny abandoned hamlet. The col is up to the right. 

The top - and Italy! Richard at the col. 

Looking down on the Italian side.  

And up to Mt Blanc.

A night in a refuge about 200m down from the col - full of walkers doing the Tour du Mt Blanc and a large group of Italians on mountain bikes. Here's the view up to a glacier above the refuge. 

And then a day to get down to Courmayeur, my final destination, past more glaciers running off Mt Blanc or Monte Bianco as it is now called. This is the largest - the Miage glacier is the largest debris-covered glacier in the Italian Alps and it is hard to see where ice ends and moraine begins. 

Looking down to Courmayeur at the head of the long Val d'Aosta that winds down to the Italian plains. 

The steep descent produces a large mountain butterfly that I had been hoping to see - the gorgeous Apollo. (I've no idea what is the tiddler on the same thistle.)

My boots are breaking up and it's time to go home!

Many thanks to my companions for part of the way - Andy, Jay, Tina and Honi, Riccardo, Patrick and Judy, and Richard; to everyone who posted comments to the blog or who emailed encouragement; and to my hosts in many welcoming B&Bs and little hotels. It has been a wonderful journey..

Friday, 17 July 2015

One more col to cross

Luckily we will just be finished before this and any temptation can be resisted..

A long day starts early from Beaufort with a total of about 1600m of climb to be done. (About the same as Ben Nevis from sea level and then some more again!) This is the view to the north by mid-morning. 

And a couple of hours later looking north-east to Mt Blanc across the Lac de Roselend. It is impossible to stop taking photo after photo of this mountain..

There are some terrific rocky ridges above us at about 2500-3000m - here's one, with Richard, in mid-afternoon. We've just cooled off with a dip in the torrent in the valley bottom that feeds the Lac de Roselend. 

A night in a refuge on the Plan de la Lai. 

The quite open Plan and the Cormet de Roseland just above provide a surprising amount of high altitude cattle grazing above 1800-2000m. Hay has just been made in the more level accessible bits. Small herds with bells and with the same little mobile milking parlours I saw in the Massif des Bauges.

Then it's goodbye to the Beaufortain and down to another refuge in a valley that comes up from Bourg-St-Maurice to the south. The last col to cross is at the head of this valley. The 2500m Col de la Seigne will bring us around the south of Mt Blanc. It also marks the border with Italy and so will end the long march across France. It's somewhere out of sight in the centre of this picture, beyond the ridge in the middle distance and before the 'needles' sticking up behind. 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Towards the high stuff

Albertville marks the start of my last week. It just remains to climb up again, skirt around to the south of Mt Blanc and drop down to Courmayeur. I'm joined by Richard, recently returned from cycling down the Rhine (google 'Rhine Cycle Challenge' - in aid of a good cause). Can't wait for the salsa in Albertville - we've got to get up the valley that leads into the area known as the Beaufortain. 

We climb up a shoulder which gives views back to Albertville and the Massif des Bauges through which I have just come. And in the distance on the left to the Massif de la Chartreuse beyond Chambéry. 

More butterflies including this large fritillary that I just can't identify - a Queen of Spain perhaps - and a Black-Veined White, a butterfly my father had always hoped to see and which probably became extinct in England in his childhood. 

We stay in a refuge with a stunning view up the valley north-east to Mt Blanc. 

And also back to the north-west. 

Down into the valley the next day. Farms, hamlets, and a fountain - unusually labelled as drinking water. 

And then to Beaufort, the small town of about two thousand that gives its name to the area. The old gendarmerie opposite our hotel. The name presumably dates to 1860-70, after the final integration of Savoy into France and before the fall of Napoleon III. 

It's my last town or village in France and it's Bastille Day. A band plays on the church steps beneath our hotel window. We take it as a send off!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Mountain days

It needed two more long but beautiful days to get to Albertville. I climbed from Aillon to a 1700m pass and on the way got my first view of higher peaks with permanent snows to the south-east of the Massif des Bauges.

The high meadows are full of flowers and butterflies - numerous Mountain Ringlets confirming the sighting in Les Monts de la Madeleine as well as many smaller ones I don't know and that too elusive to photograph. And cows. As I descended from the pass I came across this little mobile four-cow milking parlour at about 1300m, the herd nearby all with their bells clanging away. The milk might go for the excellent Tome des Bauges cheese I am eating, made in Aillon.

Down to École. The roofs are all slate again now with some huge eaves to protect against winter snow I presume. 

The next day's goal is the pass which is a nick in the ridge in the middle distance of this photo. 

There's an evening fête in tiny École with food and fireworks. But alas I need to do some more miles if I am to get to Albertville on the morrow. So it's on up the valley towards the pass and a lovely campsite. The rocks prove a hard mattress but the sound all night of the river is ample compensation together with the stars. 

The view at 7am the next morning of the ridge to the south-east above the river. 

And another to the north just before I get to the top a couple of hours later. 

And from the top, a first view of Mont Blanc to the north-east that takes my breath away. Italy lies on the other side..

And another on the long steep way down to the heat of Albertville, from beneath the plum tree where I stop for lunch and a snooze. 

Friday, 10 July 2015

Into the mountains again

The next target is Albertville. The easy way from Chambéry would be to follow the valley down and round - along with the autoroute, the railway etc. I decide instead to go through the mountains, the Massif des Bauges, shown in this map. It will need three days, with a stop at Aillon-le-Jeune - where I am the only person in the little self-service walkers' hostel run by the commune - and then somewhere near Jarsy beneath the stars (everything is booked on the first weekend of the main French holiday season).

The view down to Chambéry late morning.  

I've forgotten what it is like to climb 1200 or so metres with a full rucksack, loaded with food - 20 miles a day in the plains with 35 degrees suddenly seems easy by comparison! Lungs are gasping.. But at last I make it to the col and this is the view back, the heat haze having built in the time taken to get here. As ever, the endorphins kick in with the view and it all seems worth the effort. And the cool mountain air is beautifully refreshing. 

And then down to Aillon-le-Jeune. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Over a ridge to a lake and a town

The route is now east into the mountains - to Chambéry. This means leaving the Rhône and getting across the Mont du Chat. Here's the view from Yenne of the top of the ridge, about 1500m high, at the end of another blistering hot afternoon. 

But I sneak over the col just out of view to the north, involving a much more modest climb, accompanied by Patrick and Judy, on their way home to Brittany. Left to their own devices, they would surely have gone over the top! And on the other side is France's largest natural lake, Lac du Bourget, with Aix-les-Bains beyond. Note the delicious cool grey cloud - I even put a jersey on later in the evening. Aah...

And so to Chambéry at the southern end of the lake where Patrick and Judy proceed on their way. 

Were this the first half of the 19th century my walking would have been over too - I would have left French soil. This part of Savoy was only definitively incorporated into France in 1860, the last Duke becoming the first King of the newly unified Italy. (Suitably, Chambéry is twinned with Turin.) As it is, the Massif des Bauges lies ahead, running up to about 2,000m, and higher stuff yet after that. 

But for the moment a rest day and Chambéry is a good place to spend it. The centre of town has a relaxed feel to the idle visitor. Fine tall buildings with shuttered windows and the mountains often seen at the end of a street. The red flag with a cross is the Savoy flag, everywhere in evidence. 

Monday, 6 July 2015

Along the Rhône

I met the Rhône at Lagnieu. Here it turns and flows towards Lyon after its zigzag northwest following its descent from Lake Geneva. The map shows the cycle path which differs in places but the sense of the river's course is conveyed well. 

Suddenly the Alps seem very close - the ridges and cliffs to the east of the river shout 'high ground'. 

I walk along the river for the best part of two days. There is always something to look at. A chateau in a still stretch in the early morning. 

A power station. 

One way of getting rid of your car.. 

They knew a hot day was coming!

The farmers watering the maize - the great drum of hose very slowly winds in, almost imperceptibly, pulling the spray on its wheels. 

And a Scarce Swallowtail (called a 'Flambé' in French) which we used to have many of in Italy. Zebra-striped wings, an almost triangular shape, and the tails sticking out the back. 'Scarce' as very unlikely to be seen in England.