“High Mountains, deep gorges, harsh winters : ideal for a railway” : The Albula Experience Way

Now and then you spot a train

Swiss Railways [SBB] always make a few special offers each month and before coming away I received notification of the June offers from the SBB. In the list was a 30% discount for a return journey from your local station to Bergün and the same off the entrance fee to The Railway Museum Albula just by Bergün Station.

Bergün from train

Bergün from the train

On further investigation I discovered a newly opened footpath the Albula Erlebnis Weg [The Albula Experience Footpath]. The path starts at Preda, the next station up the line. It’s all part of the UNESCO World Heritage Albula + Bernina.

UNESCO World Heritage

UNESCO World Heritage – A masterpiece of railway engineering

The line across Albula and Bernina, now more than a century old, is regarded as a truly unique masterpiece of the railway engineer’s art. Designed from the start to exist in perfect harmony with its surrounding countryside, the line stands as a monument to the pioneering days of railway-building. Since July 2008, the Albula and Bernina lines of the Rhaetian Railway have been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.

Where landscape and railway blend into one: in a series of wide expanses and elegant man-made structures, along the winding route through abruptly-sloping Alpine valleys. Monumental landmarks along the way include the Landwasser Viaduct, the series of winding tunnels between Bergün and Preda and the Circular Viaduct at Brusio. The line continues to be a model of its type.” Source

Last Friday was my day off so the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the offer whilst it was still on. The journey there and back involved 4 changes of transport. The line is up between Klosters and Davos-Glaris stations this summer so you must take two replacement bus services. Plus there is another change at Filisur for the Saint Moritz service – Glacier Express on tour.

Glacier on Tour

My add-on ticket took me as far as Preda. The weather this week has not been good but luckily I avoided all rain. However, I could have used a pair of gloves – it was freezing cold at Preda Station – 1789m ASL.

Leaving Preda Station

Leaving Preda Station

Preda station and sign

You can’t miss the Albula Way; it’s indicated clearly all along the route. Between Preda and Bergün there are ten information boards. The path continues down to Filisur with more boards but I only walked as far as Bergün as I had my Museum ticket.

Some features of the two hour walk :

Path heads down to Bergün

The Path Heads Down to Bergün

Don't worry about getting muddy!

Don’t worry about getting your boots muddy!

Swiss kissing gate

Swiss-style kissing gate

Another view of the train

Now and then you spy a train

Lots of mountain torrents

You cross lots of mountain torrents

Typical Infor Board

You can stop and read the Information Boards

Arriving in Bergün

Finally, you arrive at Bergün

Views From Swiss Windows : Trains

There wasn’t much going on in January – colds and ‘flu and general low feelings after Christmas and New Year. But once February arrived I was packing my bags to head off to the snow. Not for skiing or winter sports but to enjoy friends’ company and the wonderful scenery and to immerse myself in Schwyzerdütsch, Schwiizertüütsch, Schwizertitsch or however you wish to pronounce it! I’ve a little collection of books on the fascinating subject of the Swiss and their language, culture and customs.

Funny books

So, I arrived at Geneva Airport last Thursday and immediately took the train, straight from the airport itself, to Bern where I stayed until Sunday. Despite heavy snow the trains still run pretty much to time and the lovely big, clean windows are filled with wonderful views whichever direction you look in or side of the train you decide to sit. A couple of my journeys were in first class but the views and cleanliness were equally abundant on my second class travels, too.

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva and Vineyards

Vineyards by Lake Geneva

Travelling between Geneva and Berne the railway hugs the lakeside for much of the journey between Geneva and Lausanne

Sunday took me with friend Barbara out of Berne and up up up to Gstaad – in more than one meaning! Paul dropped us at Spiez station by Lake Thun and we took the train first to Zweisimmen where we joined the Golden Pass Line for the amazing journey to Gstaad. From here the train continues to Montreux, back on Lake Geneva.

Journey to Gstaad

Travelling to Gstaad

So much more snow had fallen since Thursday.

This time there was a bit of delay and we ended up on a later train than intended but still we had enough time to enjoy the delights of the Gstaad Palace Hotel lounge and the pretty main village street. Unless you ski there’s little else to do here on a Sunday in winter – unless, of course, you fancy a horse-drawn sleigh ride.

Gstaad sleigh ride

Gstaad was a ‘side’ visit as later in the afternoon I was to meet friends at the pretty lakeside village of Lungern in Central Switzerland. Barbara suggested we make a day of it. On the return journey she left the train at Spiez to return to Berne and I continued on the same Golden Pass route to Interlaken and the connecting train to Lungern. These trains follow the lake sides of Lakes Thun and Brienz almost entirely.

Lake Thun view

Lake Thun

Interlaken and Lake Thun

Views of Lake Thun and (sometimes) Interlaken from the Golden Pass Train

Lake Brienz

Lake Brienz 2

Lake brienz 3

After changing trains at Interlaken Ost station my journey continued alongside Lake Brienz

On my last day I took the direct train from Lucerne to Geneva Airport so early yesterday morning that it was dark for much of the journey. Nevertheless, it being St Valentine’s Day, when I bought a tea from the catering trolley I was taken aback to receive a free heart-shaped chocolate! (The photo’s a bit blurry – either because of the time of day or the movement of the train!)

valentines on the train

Classic Alsace … you will be welcomed!!

I’ve just returned from a five day walking holiday in Alsace! After last year – my first such walking holiday – in Shropshire my sister and I vowed “never again”. But as the months went by our memories of the tough climbs and steep descents on the Offa’s Dyke Path Day gradually faded so much so that earlier this year we decided to take the plunge and book another such trip!

Here is Edina on the back cover of the ATG Footloose 2012 Brochure

Many companies will arrange independent walking holidays but ATG Oxford (Alternative Travel Group) came with an excellent personal recommendation from friends of mine. As they say on their website “almost everyone comes through personal recommendations”. They send out a Route Booklet, transfer bags from one hotel to the next along a continuous route and (I don’t know whether other companies do this) they add in the services of a Route Manager. Ours was the lovely Edina and in her ATG have  a star!

And here she is just before we said our goodbyes, yesterday

One reason for choosing the Classic Alsace Walk was the fact that it’s accessible by train and I love to travel on Eurostar, it is just so civilised and exciting. We met up in London last Wednesday evening and the next morning took an early train to Strasbourg via Lille and from there we caught a local train to the village, or maybe town, of Obernai – deep in the Viticulture and Degustation Region of Alsace.

The market square at Obernai


Obernai Corn Exchange

Obernai Place du Marche

Obernai Ramparts Walk

Obernai Ramparts

Obernai Ramparts

The Obernai Town Hall

Light rain was falling that Thursday evening but even so we dined on a restaurant terrace, walked the ramparts and generally relaxed before starting our four day ‘ordeal’ (which turned out to be nothing but a pleasure from beginning to end) the next day. Friday dawned brighter and sunny and Edina arrived ready to talk about the trip and transport us to our starting point. We met with two other lady walkers from the US who, although starting on the same day as us, were tackling the 8 day version. So our paths never crossed with them again.

Edina insisted that before starting out and before leaving Obernai we must visit the monastery of Le Mont Saint Odile way up above the town. Although anxious to begin walking we accepted her kind invitation and were delighted to have the opportunity to visit this most popular summit in the whole of Alsace. It’s quite a climb (even by car!) up to the summit of the sandstone crag but as you might expect the views are spectacular. It’s an important place of pilgrimage – popular, at least last Friday, as an excursion for young French school children.

Mont Sainte Odile

Gardens at Mont Sainte Odile

Courtyard at Mont Sainte Odile

The Tomb of Sainte Odile

Spectacular Views from Mont Sainte Odile

Finally, we said Goodbye and Good luck to Pam and Joyce and thanked Edina and set off on our own, with the Route Booklet as our guide, from Barr to Kaysersberg a distance of nearly 40 miles! Read more about our adventures in future posts.

Walking The Huddersfield Narrow Canal

About once a year we each volunteer to lead the other Weekday Wanderers on one of our monthly hikes. My choice of walk usually involves  something more than just pleasant green paths, nice views and heart-failure-inducing climbs – although I love these too! (Well, not the actual climbs, but the resultant views and feelings of achievement). For some time simmering on the back-burner  has been my idea of using public transport and doing an end-to-end walk as opposed to a circular one. With my interest in historical geography and since I heard about its re-opening about 10 years ago I’ve been wanting to plan a walk along the towpath beside The Huddersfield Narrow Canal. My chance finally arrived yesterday when I did a practice run for my ‘turn’ to lead in April.

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal was originally opened back in 1811 at the time of the great expansion of transport by waterways across England. The Canal runs for 20 miles between Huddersfield to the east of the Pennines and Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire to the west. This was no mean feat of engineering. Some facts from the website state :

“The summit of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is the highest navigable waterway in Britain.
Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is Britain’s longest canal tunnel.
The canal has a total of 74 locks. It connects end on with the Ashton Canal and the Huddersfield Broad Canal.”

I travelled by train via Leeds and Huddersfield to one of the furthermost stations in Yorkshire – Marsden. Alighting at Marsden I chose to walk back up the canal, as far as one may go on this side of the Pennines in fact. About half a mile from Marsden is the Standedge Tunnel entrance and Tunnel End. Here there’s a Visitor Centre and the starting point in summer of public tours into the Standedge Tunnel in glass-roofed narrow boats.

Tunnel End

Tunnel End Visitor Centre and glass-topped tour boats

The tunnel being 3 miles long and with no towpath for a horse to pull the boat it was down to men to do their own “legging” to get the boat from Yorkshire into Lancashire or vice versa. These days the tour boats are hauled into the tunnel by electric tug boats.

It’s about seven and a half miles from the Standedge  (pronounced Stannige) Tunnel down to the centre of Huddersfield and this section also includes more than 40 locks. Yesterday the walk was very peaceful. There were no boats on the canal but I hope there will be more ‘action’ on our April visit. Each narrow lock area has its own number and character and it was intriguing to look down into the depths of the lock itself.

There are stretches of shady wooded paths, paths past green fields and reservoirs, past old out-of-operation mills, past mills now converted to a multitude of innovative uses such as The Titanic Mill (below) opened in 1912 and named for the ill-fated liner launched in the same year now a luxury hotel, spa and apartment building …

… and through small towns like Slaithwaite (pronounced Slawit) where we popped into the irresistible Slaithwaite Bakery, noted the pretty Moonraker Floating Tearoom, saw the only working guillotine lock gate in the country and ate our sandwiches under shadow of the towering Globe Mill between the canal and the main street.

At Lock 4E you are diverted away from the canal as it passes under buildings in Huddersfield. The Pennine Waterways website provides a useful map and directions to get you back on track for the last section to where the Huddersfield Narrow joins the Huddersfield Broad Canal at Aspley Marina. Reaching the town and feeling the solid pavement under my feet I felt ready to hunt out the station and start for my journey home.

Poster seen on an unoccupied shop building in Huddersfield town centre

Peak Time Service – One Hundred Years At The Top Of Europe

There was a full-page article in the Financial Times last weekend about the upcoming 100-year anniversary coming up in August this year of the Jungfrau Railway. The weather outside being rather ‘Jungfrauian’ my thoughts went back to my journey on this wonder of the manmade world and visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch.

The author of the article, Jan Morris, was the guest of the Swiss National Tourist Office and stayed at the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa in Interlaken and travelled on the Jungfrau Railway to ‘The Top of Europe’. I was a guest of my dear friend Susanne and her family in their lovely home near Lucerne and we drove to Lauterbrunnen to join the same Jungfrau Railway.

My first visit to Switzerland coincided with my first ever trip abroad in 1966. A group of Girl Guides and Guiders travelled from Norwich and Norfolk by coach, via a stay in Paris in each direction, to spend 6 nights in a Swiss chalet in the tiny hamlet of Boden within walking distance of the large village of Adelboden and very near the Girl Guides Association’s ‘Our Chalet’.

Since then I have made possibly 20 or more visits to Switzerland including working in hotels for two long summer vacations from university, accompanying my husband on ski-ing trips, taking my mum on holidays and visiting my friends in Berne and near Engelberg (Wolfenschiessen).

I didn’t visit The Jungfrau until April 2010. It’s a very expensive day out and there has always been a huge choice of other things to do. My Bernese friend had also never done the journey and my friend Susanne had only taken her family on the trip in 2009. It was at her suggestion that we decided to bite the bullet and do the trip. I texted Bernese Barbara but unfortunately due to work commitments she was unable to join us.

Unlike Morris we began our journey from the station at Lauterbrunnen.  Our visit fell between seasons so we left the car in the vast, empty multi-storey car park, purchased our tickets and travelled via Wengen on The Jungfrau Railway.

Morris describes much better than I could what it’s like at The Top Of Europe.

The settlement up here was first established in 1912 but it still feels to me almost surreally futurist. For inside the rock of that snowy mountain, or clinging to its surface, a small town thrives. Besides the highest railway station in Europe there is the highest post office and also, this being Switzerland, the highest watch shop. There are three restaurants (including Bollywood serving Indian cuisine) and souvenir shops, of course, and a coffee bar. If we have time to spare, we can wander through the Ice Palace, a long pedestrian tunnel beneath the glacier equipped with ice-figures of penguins, polar bears and such, together with instructive geological features. But dear God, that’s not all. We may well feel queasy now, after our trek through the Ice Palace at 11,000ft-plus, but after another trudge through another tunnel we find awaiting us a space-age elevator. In the blink of an eye this whisks us vertically another 400ft to the tip of a pinnacle called the Sphinx, the very top of the Top of Europe, and here science fiction becomes science fact.” 

For the full article see : http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7973ce3a-476c-11e1-b646-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1m6qCETdx

Bernese Bear and Cub in the Ice Palace

Susanne brought sandwiches and fruit for our picnic so apart from a cup of tea we didn’t try out the restaurant facilities.

We made the return journey by train/funicular via Kleine Scheidegg and Grindelwald.

In the past I’d visited the peaks of the Stanserhorn, the Titlis, Pilatus and the  Gornergrat from Zermatt but the Jungfrau trip was truly the icing on the cake and the most memorable experience.

The Matterhorn from the top of The Gornergrat

Mount Pilatus near Lucerne

Dickens on the train and Dickens in the shop – a visit to my neighbour

Members of my online reading group are scattered far and wide around the world. I have been lucky enough to meet many of them here in the UK and also when I’ve been on holiday abroad. My nearest group ‘neighbour’ lives in Carlisle about 100 miles away and luckily we have the famous Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line to assist us in our efforts to meet up every so often.  On Thursday I made the trip north. As you can imagine it’s a full day trip – but well worth it just to visit Carlisle but the added bonus of meeting up with a friend makes it doubly so. I was lucky in other respects as well.  The weather could not have been better, blue skies and sunshine showed the scenery at its best – you could even see snow on the Lakeland peaks in the distance.

All the trains ran to time, although on parts of the journey the L-S-C train moves very slowly. During all this time with just the odd glance out of the window I was engaged reading Claire Tomalin’s ‘Dickens: a life”.

We met up at the station and went straight for tea/coffee at John Watt’s. Watt’s is primarily a Coffee Shop but I was pleased to note that they serve loose tea by the pot. Having just checked the website again I notice that they are tea blenders as well as coffee roasters. The over riding smell in the shop/cafe is roasting coffee and although I don’t drink it I have no objection at all to the smell. Teas and coffees are only half the game – they sell every kind of tea and coffee requisite accessory imaginable plus high class chocolates of all kinds. I couldn’t resist asking where the Christmas decorations had been hung – there didn’t appear to be any free space at all.

We visited two bookshops. Handily placed was The Oxfam Bookshop (most towns have one now) just two doors down from Watt’s. And then we moved on to Carlisle’s piece de resistance for bibliophiles The Bookcase. It’s a many-roomed shop filled to overflowing with books. The owners are up to date with secondhand book prices but we found lots of the old orange Penguins in pretty good to excellent condition for just a couple of pounds each. I bought an unread copy of Monica Dickens’ ‘My Turn to Make the Tea’. (The copy on the far left of the picture.)

My friend and her husband have not long lived in Cumbria. They moved over from Northumberland in 2010. I was taken back to their new home for a lovely lunch and inspection of house and garden. Suddenly it was time to head to the nearby quaint old station at Armathwaite where we said our ‘Goodbyes’ and I headed back to Leeds arriving with just one remaining chapter of the life to read.