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September 15th 2018

A sunny day with cows, chapels and panoramas

This morning a luxurious breakfast awaited me in Hotel Europe, with a variety of muesli, cereals, dried fruits and confitures – everything “hausgemacht”, homemade. I like the hotel and the atmosphere very much this time again! After the breakfast I took the 8.18 hrs. Postal car to Blatten (officially called Blatten bei Naters, at 1.300m), which is situated high above the Rhone Valley in the valley of the Kelchbach stream. I had read that today the “Alpabzug” would take place: the cows will be guided in a festive parade from the high mountain meadows to the village. The cows’ heads are adorned with flowers and the people who guide them are all dressed up in their finest local costumes, the “Trachten”. Everything is accompanied by a lot of folk music and there are many stands and stalls with food and beverages – thus, a real popular event that I did not want to miss of course!

At a quarter to nine I got off the bus in Blatten. There it turned out that the cows would pass through the main street only around 11 o’clock, so I had plenty of time to walk over the fair ground and the older part of Blatten. The sun was already abundantly shining and the meanwhile many visitors were walking around in anticipation.

In the old centre of the village of Blatten the houses – like in the whole of the Canton of Valais – are built according to the so-called Walser architecture, the style which we consider to very “typical” for this part of the Alpine region: houses built of larch wood and local stones, with small windows with decoration above them, barns pressed against the steep mountain slopes. The Walser are a Alemannic tribe which have in the 13th and 14th century colonised from the Rhone Valley the often inhospitable mountain regions in the centre of the Alps towards the east, as far as the Vorarlberg in Austria.

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Blatten: view on the old village with Walser houses

In the old village centre of Blatten the houses are also made of black-discoloured larch wood and the barns (the “Spycher”) are also standing on wooden poles, with so-called “Mäuseplatten”, literally “mouse plates”: flat ,round stones (of lime stone or granite) to prevent mice and rats to climb up and enter the barn. At some houses and barns repair work has been done: within a few years the light-coloured wood will also be darkened by the sharp sunlight and the weathering.

Amidst of the dark-coloured houses and barns the white Theodulskapelle (Chapel of St. Theodul) dating from the middle of the 17th century. St. Theodul is the patron saint of the Canton of Valais: about 380 A.D. he was the first bishop of Martigny (Lower-Valais). Theodul is derived from Theodorus; sometimes he is also called Joder or Jodern. He is the patron saint of a. o. the winemakers. He is the church patron of the parish church in Visperterminen (yes, where they produce that good Heida wine!). He is also considered to be the patron saint of the Walser: at their migrations they have taken the worship of him – and of St. Nicolas of Myrna – as far as to Vorarlberg in Austria.
The interior of the Chapel is beautiful – and now also decorated with flowers in honour of the “Eidgenössischer Dank-, Buss- und Bettag“, the Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance and Prayer which is celebrated on the third Sunday in September (tomorrow September 16th) in the whole of Switzerland (except in the Canton of Geneva). It is a festivity that surpasses all faiths and beliefs.

On the way back to the valley station of the cable car to Belalp, where the festivities around the Alpbazug would take place, I passed a barn with a sign that reads: “Bitte nicht füttern oder stören” – “please do not feed or disturb”. When I looked inside, I spotted several exceptionally cuddly Valais Blacknose sheep… The looked at me slightly curious: I didn’t get the impression that I was disturbing them – I only made them more acquainted to people, that’s all. Is “disturbing” meant to be to the letter or to the spirit…?

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Blatten: these young Valais Blacknose sheep are just irresistible!

A lot of the preparations for the festivities had already be done: on the higher-situated meadow wire had been attached on poles, which was tightened at the corners by several agricultural machineries, with rings in the rope to which the cows would be tied later, and somewhat lower to the mountain side at the parking lot of the building of the cable car to Belalp the stalls drew a lot of public. Slowly the sidewalks on both sides of the main street filled up with visitors, who were all waiting in anticipation: the street looked like one huge “catwalk” or in this case actually a “cow walk” with the pedestrian crossing as “photo opportunity”! Around half pas eleven the front of the parade came into sight.

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Blatten: the fenced meadow for the cows after the Alpabzug

Then the show began; a tractor with a flat cart drove in front, decorated with green branches and pictures of the cows that had over the past years been crowned “Königin Belalp” (Queen of Belalp). On the cart young people sat playing cheerful folk music. Later in the afternoonwould be announced which cow would become the Queen of Belalp 2018.

Behind the cart followed first a beautiful, large cow with a black head and a rusty-brown body, of which I could not recognise the race; she was chosen as “Miss Naters” 2018 and she clearly liked all the attention (the villages of Belalp and Blatten are part of the Municipality of Naters). Then a Simmentaler cow with a nice bunch of flowers and a lot of flags between her impressive horns strode through the street.

Thereafter a flag spinner made his entrance: he skilfully twisted and turned the flag of Canton of Valais with the thirteen stars and caught it again and again. This flag spinning is a sport which focusses on elegance, The flag should under no condition touch te ground…

Then it became truly loud – very loud! Then the “Scheller” (the Cow bell Ringers) made their appearance: a large group of men, each of them with a huge cow bell attached to their middle, led by the march leader carrying an old wooden hay rake in his hand and a doll dressed in a sheepskin on his back and slowly marched on. The show was impressive. In the video I made it cannot only be seen, but also clearly be heard! Everyone around me put their hands against their ears – so did I. I just forgot that the video was still running…, so after 8 seconds you can’t see much anymore, but you can hear even more!

Thereafter the cows passed, the one still more beautiful than the other. Everybody was enthusiastic and applauded!

Here follows an impression:

When the “Scheller” once more gave their performance the public flowed toward the meadow with the cows, the stalls and the eating and drinking booths. The sun was shining and everybody was having a good time.

Most of the cows were at ease with the situation and quietly stood or laid down. The notorious fighting spirit of the Hérens cattle showed for a brief moment: three beautiful black cows started a game of thrusting and pushing: the one apparently would like the place of the other! The visitors walked at the outside the wire-fence, admired the cows and made some small-talk with the people who guided the cows home. There were a lot of tourists, but also locals. There was also a general feeling of thankfulness that the summer season with all its joys, but with all its possible dangers has finished well. With the “Alpabzug” this period is ended and now a new season can start: the autumn.

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Blatten: a battle of hierachy is threatening between the three Hérens cows in the middle

There also were some young cattle that was fences in by crush barriers. A lot of people, especially children, wanted to pet the calves. The beautiful cow “Miss Naters” 2018 stood somewhere apart and appreciated the attention people paid to her very much: also she was padded a lot by many people…

After so much activity it was rather a relief to be able to walk by a nice, varied trail back to Brig. In Blatten I found a brochure describing a walk of approx. 2 ½ hrs. in which I would descent from 1.300 metres to 650 metres. The first part lead through the Blindtal Valley with old deciduous trees and spruces. There also were many blocks of rock overgrown with moss; many tiny streams ran down. The sunlight was filtered through the trees and the silence was blissful.

Coming out of the woods I had a panoramic view on the valley with the towering mountainsides. The autumnal colours already were clearly visible.

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Blatten: mountain scenery to the north of Geimen

After threequarters of an hour I arrived at the hamlet of Geimen, which I also passed on my way up in the Postal car. There is a modern chapel (dedicated to the Hl. Bruder Klaus, Holy Brother Klaus, Nicolas of Flüe, the patron saint of Switzerland), but also an old Muttergottes Kapelle (a Mother-of-God Chapel), which hasn’t been destroyed by the French troops in 1799. On a steep path uphill are stone plates, which seem to have been made of concrete: there are enclosures of gravel of a brighter colour. At the outer wall of an old house someone has attached quite a collection of old tools – here lives a real connoisseur!

A few moments later I crossed a narrow irrigation canal, that here in the German-speaking part of Switzerland is called a Suone. In the French-speaking part it is called a “bisse”. This is comparable to the “Waal”, the similar type of irrigation canal as is common in the Vinschgau: on July 30th of this year I have had a marvellous hike along one of the many Waale, the Bergwaal.This one here is the “Oberi Bitscheri”. After a while I saw below me a small mountain lake, the “Seeli von Bitschji“. The large, dark spots in the green water appeared to be fish (carps of trouts)! The birk trees are already colouring golden yellow in the autumnal sunshine – the temperature is rather high still.

About one and a half hours after I left Blatten I reached a modern chapel: the St. Laurentius Kapelle, the St. Laurence Chapel which in 1991 has been built by members of a catholic youth group, the Jungwacht. On one hand the chapel has been built to the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation, but on the other hand also to show that faith was still very much alive at the end of the 20th century. I is a particularly designed building with a nice incidence of light, located in an open spot with a lot of space to sit down. Outside there is even a water tap in the same design.

What especially stroke and moved me were the images of the Way of the Cross, in which a lot of light can be found as well…

From there I continued through a wooded area. Not long afterwards however the landscape became much more rocky and arid. The temperature was rising as well. I passed a kind of cave, about which the brochure mentioned that during wartime locals have been mining for o. a. lead, lime, quarts and talcum. For now I only spotted bright-yellow rocks at the cave wall and some boulders on the floor. A small, brown lizard was sitting on one of them, enjoying the coolness.

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Bitschji: arid and rocky landscape between Bitschji and Trämel

Half an hour from the St. Laurence Chapel I arrived in Trämel and saw the “Kapelle der Armen Seelen” (Chapel of the Poor Souls) dating from 1902, a small white chapel on a hill. The chapel has been restored several times; recently is the foundation against the mountainside has been renewed (2010). It offers a beautiful view over the Rhone Valley te the east of Brig. In the chapel a painting is displayed of a tough and firm looking Hl. Bruder Klaus, who lived in the 15th century as a hermit and a wise man.

After having appreciated once more the wonderful views I walked on to Brig, where I could look back with joy to a special and inspiring first day of my tour!

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Trämel: panoramic view towards the Simplonpass