Dear Readers, I am on holiday in Obergurgl, Austria for two weeks, so, as usual, I thought I would share a couple of my walks with you all. On Monday we went for a hike through the Arolla pine forest, a nature reserve that I can see from my balcony window.This is what I would describe as our first ‘proper’ walk, which means one where we actually break into a sweat, and where I notice that my heart rate, measured on my little Fitbit watch, has gone over 140 beats per minute. I should mention that once it goes that fast, I often demand a breathing break, or find something to look at that means that we stop. Like ‘ooh, an ant!’ or ‘Look at that tree!’ or even, once, ‘that’s a pretty cloud’. However, I think that my daily walks to the cemetery to feed the foxes have helped – the climb today, though tiring, required far fewer ‘ant stops’ than usual.
The trip starts easily enough as we skip through the meadow, and pass over a bridge. The bridge has a little shrine to St John Nepomuk, the local saint and a protector against floods and drowning. I notice that folk have started to attach padlocks to the metalwork to signify their undying love for one another.
The Alpenroses are gorgeous this year – they are actually azaleas, not roses. Normally by the time we’ve arrived in Obergurgl , they are already past their best. This year they are perfect. We stop on the edge of the forest for some water and some Toblerone (actually Swiss, but it feels like enough of an Alpine treat to indulge in in Austria). A woman in a white beanie hat is sitting on the seat, and we get chatting, like you do. She is watching her husband, who is doing some mountaineering on the rocks opposite. This little area has become very popular with daredevils who like edging around precipitous drops and crossing ravines via terrifying wire bridges, and I am impressed that her husband, who must be sixty if he’s a day, is giving the youngsters a run for their money. It suddenly occurs to me, writing this, that I shall be sixty in a few years. Funny how your impressions of age change as you get older. I have an Auntie who is 88 years old, and refers to a friend in her seventies as ‘a nice girl’.
We all agree that this mountaineering lark is ‘not our kind of thing’, however. The husband takes his hand off the rocks to give his wife a cheery wave, and she heads off to meet him at the bottom of the climb. John and I head on up the path.
It’s so cool under the trees. There’s a chiff-chaff singing his heart out way up in the branches. I always wonder why some birds cross from Africa to Austria and stay, while others come all the way to the UK. It also occurs to me that most of the plants that I see here I could also see in Britain, though not in such splendid abundance. Our plants, animals and geology are inextricably linked with those in Europe, and until rising sea levels severed our connection to the continent as recently as 6500 years ago, we were physically joined to the mainland. What a difference that hop, skip and a jump’s worth of water has made to our national attitude.
For such big birds, the nutcrackers are very shy, although the evidence of their work is everywhere, in the tiny baby trees that are sprouting randomly at the edge of the wood. Nutcrackers plant the seeds from the pine cones all over the place, and don’t always get around to digging them up, which means that they spread the trees far and wide. In this particular wood, all the trees are either very old, or very young, which the local naturalists think indicates that there was a forest fire in the 1880’s that took out all but a few of the ancient pines (some of the trees are over 300 years old).
At the top of the wood, we stop for yet more Toblerone and a look around. There is a tiny bog here, full of cotton grass, and dragonflies zip across it, making triangles and quadrilaterals in the sky. There are berry bushes here, growing close to the ground to avoid the worst of the winter weather. You get a wonderful view of Hangerer as well – this is the highest local peak, a fine pyramid against the sky. It’s possible to walk up it (allegedly) but this involves crossing snow fields and, as one of the mountain guides said ‘a degree of exposure’, so we will be admiring it from the ground for the moment.
A tough last climb brings us to the road, and our first view of the new Schonweisse hut. It used to be a classic Alpine hut, with a big sun terrace, the usual pitched roof and a tiny indoor area, where we would huddle if the weather was particularly inclement. Now, it appears to be a strange glass and shingle box. However, we are glad to see it, whatever it looks like. Inside, it has huge tinted glass windows which frame the incredible view of the Rotmoos valley beyond, but there is less outdoor seating than there used to be. We take a seat inside and, after a bowl of tomato soup with basil pesto, I realise, with some regret, that the berry pancakes that used to be on the menu are gone forever. Still, the food is good, the atmosphere a bit more ‘upmarket’ than it used to be, and the toilets are a lot less basic. Everything changes, I suppose, and there is much to like about this new incarnation. Except for the loss of the pancakes. Maybe I should start a petition.
As we walk back down the hill, we pass a herd of Haflinger horses, mares and some foals. These have to be among the most beautiful horses in the world, with their golden skin and flaxen manes and tails. I love the life that they have in the summer, out here in the mountains, free to wander and eat and behave like horses. They ignore the tourists who want to have their photographs taken with the horses in the background, and I am pleased to see that no one feeds them. Which is just as well, as nothing spoils the relationship between man and horse as much as getting the equines addicted to sugar.
So, after this hike I feel as if I’ve got my ‘mountain legs’ back. It takes a walk or two to regain confidence in my ability to get up and down tricky paths, but after all the years we’ve been coming to Obergurgl, we’ve finally worked out a way of making each day’s walk a little more difficult than the one before, so that we reduce the risk of injury or of just knackering ourselves out. It’s very lucky that we can come for two weeks – after a week, I’m just getting into the swing of it all! And there is so much to see and do here, if you like walking. It really is a small slice of heaven.
Photo One : By Original author and uploader was MurrayBHenson at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3708573
All other photos copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use and share, but please attribute to me, and link back to the blog. Thank you!