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October 2nd 2019

Autumnal colours and rainbows

The rain that had set in last night had stopped this morning, but the outside world looked however quite like autumn: the top of the Glishorn rising high above Brig had disappeared into the clouds and despite the small patches of blue the sky was just overcast… At Hotel Europe they had apparently had the idea that Autumn had really started, because in the breakfast room there was a nice autumnal arrangement on a table with many shades of orange. For today I had planned to go to Eischoll: a village on a mountain shoulder above the left bank of the Rhône downstream from Brig. It is some 20 minutes by train to Raron in the Rhône valley – and some 10 minutes with a tiny cable car to Eischoll. When last year I had been hiking several stages of the Via Alpina, I could see the village with its characteristic white church at the opposite side all the time. I know Eischoll a little bit: I have once been in the village in the winter of 2001 for skiing. It should have been clear to me that the mountains really don’t have much to offer to me in winter! I remember me being very scared, at the top of the ski slope: the fog had lifted and the only thing I saw in the bright sunlight was a kind of white abyss below me… By now I can laugh about it again! That is why I liked to go back to have a look at it now the snow has gone.

At a quarter to eleven I arrived by train at the station of Raron and had to go by foot to reach the hamlet of Turtig, from where two cable cars go up: one to Eischoll and the other to Unterbäch, the neighbour village of Eischoll. I was very early for the cable car so I went to a small chapel not far from the cable car. The sun was shining through the light clouds. The tree next to the chapel had something special to it: it was not that it was almost dead (there was a vertical crack in the bark and a new shoot was growing from its trunk), but that it was fully loaded with cast-away music instruments, like string and wind instruments, and electronic devices like a mixing desk. There was no sign with any explanation…

I took the 11.15 hrs cable car. While the small gondola quietly moved upwards, I saw the Rhône Valley sink deeper and deeper and the views widen. It wasn’t exactly nice weather: the village of Gampel-Steg was in the sunshine, but not long afterwards the first rainbow appeared, while the rain clouds covered the mountain tops. I had a chat with the other passengers: a very old gentleman and a much younger man, whom I asked about several people of those days. He was able to tell something about most of the people, the older gentleman filled in. In the past years a lot has changed… Arrived in the village I started with walking around hoping that I could still recognise something, but that was only the church. What I recognised for sure where the valleys and the villages at the opposite side of the valley: I saw above Raron and the small church on the hill the Bietschtal valley and more to the left, downstream, the valley throught which the Joli stream flows (Stage R97 of the Via Alpina). Last year I have hiked this stage in two parts: the first part from Mund to Ausserberg and the second part from Ausserberg to Gampel-Steg. It was fascinating to see this region again! Meanwhile more rainbows had appeared.

The village already has a long history. It has been named for the first time in 1250 as Oiselz and after some corruptions throughout the centuries it has become Eischoll. The cable car is since 1946 the fastest means of transportation between valley and village. A direct connection by road to the valley doesn’t exist: a cantonal road runs from Turtmann in the valley to the west of Raron that goes via Eischoll to Unterbäch. There is no other means of public transport from the valley to the villages! Nevertheless I get the impression that the village has decided to join the 21st century with new spirit. On the website is mentioned i.e. that the village is progressive in the field of energy (a plot project has started in 2015 in which inhabitants can rent an electric car that has been bought by the municipality to this end). A lot of attention has been paid to a special bulb that primarily grows in this area, the Spring meadow saffron (in German the Frühlingslichtblume, Colchicum bulbocodium): a bright pink crocus, that flowers in early spring (February to May) , when the snow is melting. The flower grows in several regions in Europe – from the Pyrenees to the Western Alps and further via Carinthia to the Caucasus. Eischoll however claimes that the Lichtblume will preferably grow and flourish here. The flower is also shown on the website.

I passed through the Dorfstrasse to the west and saw that the village looked very well-kept and that it was cared for with much attention and love. In the village square a statue of a sturdy looking mountain farmer, cut in wood with strong features was standing on a plinth, that appeared quite new in comparison with the old weathered Walser house . The planters with red geraniums completed the picture. At another fountain a colander was left with beautiful tomatoes in many colours and deep purple egg plants. The pruning shears were lying next to it. Later on I saw the lady who I had seen at work in a large vegetable garden further on, go home with her harvest in the colander – fresher than that isn’t possible! Near the large, white church from 1883 the coat of arms of Eischoll has been placed with pebbles in the colours red, white and black, held together with a metal strip: on a red field in a large white circle a black cross (a “plus sign”) is shown with equal legs ending in the shape of a cloverleaf. I can’t give the exact heraldic description… In the main street and the side roads against the mountain slope beautiful old houses and barns have been built, which sometimes are partly restored – it will take a while before the new wood is as darkened as the old wood! Because of the sheltered position and the powerful sun the flowers and the plants in the gardens are magnificent: large bunches of grapes were hanging form the vines and in the large vegetable garden dahlias were in bloom in many shades. A feast to the eye. From the higher positioned parts of Eischoll the parish church Maria Himmelfahrt is a dominant building.

The large white building is also quite an eyecatcher from the northern slopes of the Rhône Valley, as I had seen last year, and not only from the train leaving the old Lötschenbergtunnel and going towards Brig (picture from June 23th 2018), but also from the hiking trails, like the one between Mund and Ausserberg (picture from September 19th 2018)!

Now I was able to see the world from the other side: across a meadow with rusty-brown cows that very much looked like – however somewhat out-of-place – Scottish highland cattle I had a wonderful view on the church and the mountain area on the northern slope with its deeply indented side valleys. Impressive.


Eischoll: view from a higher road on the church and the mountain landscape at the other side of the Rhône

In Eischoll a lot of attention is paid to hiking trails in and around the village. One of the trails is the Suonenweg. This is a walk that starts just above the village and goes along the old irrigation canal, the Alte Suone von Eischoll. On the way much information is given about the characteristics of a Suone, how the water is shared and what the rights and obligations are between the “Geteilen” (the participants). The origin of these water canals can be traced back to Roman times. The Rhône Valley is situated between two high mountain chains that hold back the rain clouds from the west and the south. Therefore relatively little rain is falling, what is nice for the tourists, but not so much for the farmers. So the water management by the Suonen is still important. From this Suone at least seven side streams branch off, that all have a name ending on “Rüüss“, an ancient word meaning “water course”. In turn these streams branch off again in order to provide every plot with water. In summer the Suone carries three “Wässerwasser“, meaning that three farmers can tap off water at the same time – one “Wässerwasser” amounts here to 30 litres per second, so 1.800 litres per hour. In Eischoll a “water cycle” of 24 days has been used in the period between May 15th and October 1st. The surface area of the plot is determined for the amount of water: a quarter of an hour per 400m² of land. Based on this distribution key an owner could be allotted water during half an hour to 27 hours! So it is a complicated administration as to who gets how much water and when. The “Suonenvogt” (the canal manager) kept note of these “water hours”: not only on small wooden boards (“Tessel“), but also in a “water book”. Here in Eischoll the municipality had the water rights determined by three “wise men” for the last time in 1933; until now this outcome still is valid. These water rights are legally “attached” to the plot: at the sale of the plot the water right pass on as well. A peculiarity was the so-called “Sunday water”: between Saturday evening 20.0 hrs and Sunday afternoon 15.00 hrs the water supply was blocked. The Suonenvogt could sell these water rights by auction to the interested landowners. Opposite to the rights were the obligations: in Spring every landowner was supposed to participate in the great spring cleaning of the Suone.

The trail runs against the direction of the current of the water, that is tapped off from the Milibach stream flowing in a valley to the east of Eischoll. It runs through very varied landscapes. In the beginning the path goes along steep and lush meadows, where the water flows in a bedding of flat stones, closely put together. The sides have been carefully mown.

Along the trail many old sheds have been built – some of them still are in reasonable condition, others have partly or even completely collapsed and are covered with moss. Sometimes young birches are growing on the roof and larges patches of lichen on the protruding beams… The Suone has completely been restored in 2002, i.e. by the Zivilschutzorganisation Aaretal (a Swiss public authority for civil protection, one level below the police, fire department and ambulance) from Münsingen in the Canton of Bern, between Bern and Thun. Here and there their name is shown, like on a small overflow through a hollowed tree trunk. Near the fast-flowing water a buttercup with bright yellow flowers was growing and somewhere further upstream a large Campanula with astonishingly blue flowers had wound itself through a jumble of branches. Still some colours of summer!

At one point the difference between progress and decay was very much visible: in a meadow a solar cell had been placed on a machine for electric fencing and behind it a barn of which the roof had disappeared for the major part – still one winter to go and then also that part would collapse on the stable floor… Here the Suone was flowing through a woody area, where fairy-like light shone through. A few moments later the water went through an open grassland; a wooden floor board was laid over a tap point. Further on the path looked like a nice autumnal lane along the water that didn’t flow in a natural bedding, but through a straight concrete track.

Somewhere I passed underneath the chairlift that during summer (in July and August) takes hikers uphill and in winter skiers – I had been in that chairlift in that particular winter… The snow making machines stood in a nearby meadow waiting for the next winter season. Not only the ZSO Aaretal from Münsingen has been contributing to the conservation of the Suone in 2002: a sign mentions that in 2012 several organisations and authorities have made the further renovation possible, among which the “Schweizer Patenschaft für Berggemeinden“, an organisation that has been founded in 1940 as a private initiative to diminish the gap between the rich “Unterland“, the low part of the country in the north, and the by then poor people in the mountains and to stimulate the quality of life in mountain regions, and also the City of Zurich. At the bottom of the sign the municipality has mentioned: “Vergälts Gott” – a way of expressing gratitude.

The autumnal colours of the trees were beautiful, as was the red colour of the sprouts of (willow) roots hanging here and there above the water of the Suone. Further on the trail the water of the Suone disappeared underground: I could only hear it flow. About ten minutes later the water surfaced again and I saw a concrete floor, covered in dark green moss with several metal hatches and turning wheels, clearly to block the water or just to let it pass.

A few moments I left the forest: a large open area with the appropriate name “Breitmatten” (wide meadow) showed a wide view on the slopes of the Augstbordhorn with oncoming rain clouds on the south side and a sunny picture with view on the mountain slopes at the opposite side of the Rhône and on the foreground beautiful cows. In the distance a small white chapel was standing, once belonging to the possessions of the von Roten Family. One of the family members is Leo Luzian von Roten (1824 –1898). He was a politican in Valais and a poet: in 1890 he has written the (bilingual) anthem of the Canton of Valais, that since 2016 is considered to be the official Valaisan anthem. Breitmatten was his favourite spot, especially because of the view on the Bietschhorn – today this mountain was largely hidden behind the clouds. Near a large farm a beautiful Simmentaler cow was standing, that quite enjoyed licking the salt that has been scattered on the ground.

At Breitmatten I had the opportunity to return to Eischoll, but another road went on into the direction of Unterbäch, the “Wanderweg Alte Eischlersuon“, the trail of the old Suone of Eischoll. At first this trail led over narrow paths through meadows, along more streams. In the end I entered a wildly romantic valley with large larches and a lot of ferns: here the Milibach stream from which the Suone gets its water. Meanwhile it had started to rain te little. The sun was shining through it – in open spaces I could see multiple rainbows again. It was a strange experience to walk under an umbrella in the sunshine and to see that in my shadow!

On my journey I spotted again many mushrooms that have been growing because of the abundant rainfall and the temperatures that are quite high still. A Collared earthstar (Geastrum triplex) was about to “explode”: the star-shaped collar of the mushroom especially occurring in deciduous forests was quite visible. A bushel of grass had retained many rain drops. At its foot a mushroom had grown of which a part that has obviously been gnawed by a small animal that had left its tiny poo in the shape of rice grains on its cap as thanks! A large group of a sub variety of the Honey fungus (Armillaria), was standing somewhere hidden in the side of the road. On the leaves water drops were lying like beads. When I had almost reached Unterbäch I saw a colossal rose-bush full of rose-hips. Between the leaves a bird’s nest from a few seasons ago was slowly decomposing: without a doubt it has been built in a place that had been well-protected by thorns…

Unterbäch is a somewhat larger village than Eischoll and is situated on the same altitude. There are nice old houses and the Holy Trinity Church that has been built in 1558 in a late gothic style. On the church square two old bells from the church tower have been displayed: the Baroque “Mittagsglocke” (noon bell) from 1560 and the Rococo “Evangeli- or Kapetschglocke” from 1784. On the hard stone plinth a double cross, from the coat of arms of Unterbäch, has been engraved. The village has given itself the nickname “Rütli der Schweizer Frau” (the Rütli of the Swiss Women) – referring to the Oath on the “Rütli mountain, by which the original Swiss Confederation has been founded. On March 3rd 1957 women have been voting for the first time – they haven’t had voting rights in Switzerland yet by then. Although the result of the vote had been annulled, a powerful signal has however been given, which eventually resulted in the introduction of women’s suffrage. In 1985 a memorial has been unveiled in honour hereof by the first female “Bundesrätin“, Elisabeth Kopp, who also is honorary citizen of Unterbäch. The memorial is an artistic variation on the coat of arms or the municipality. In 2000 a “Frauenzitatweg” (a ladies’ quotes trail) has been opened from the valley of the Milibach stream to the village with on twelf panels quotes by world-famous women.

When I hopefully arrived at the mountain station of the cable car Turtig-Unterbäch, I read a sign indicating that today it was “Kontrolltag“: during the day the cable car was closed due to maintenance works… So that meant that I had to go back to Eischoll or just from Unterbäch descend the slope to Turtig and from there to the railway station of Raron. I chose the latter option.

Leaving the village and the beautiful white church behind and with a view on marvellous rainbows that were completely semi-circular I descended the slope for an hour. The panoramas still were inspiring.

Gradually the contours of the buildings in the Rhône Valley became distinguishable again, also the white church of Raron on a spur high above the valley. From this altitude I could also see the activities around the huge project, the so-called GERA, Gedecker Einschnitt Raron (“the covered incision Raron”), a part of the construction works at the main motorway A9 from the French border in the west to Brig – the “Autoroute du Rhône“. Large parts of the A9 are led through tunnels. I had read about it on a huge information panel when I passed by this morning. Here the cut-and-cover method is used: they have started to dig out the trajectory of about 1.460 metres long, after which the tunnel will be built on the floor like a kind of overturned “bathtub”. The actual tunnel will be 1 kilometre long with on both ends a “bathtub” of 200 metres (on the east side) resp. of 260 metres (on the west side). The project has started in March 2018 and will go on till Mid-2022. This morning I had already taken a look at the construction site…

At a quarter to six I took the train from the railway station of Raron to Brig, where I arrived 15 minutes later. The rainbows had gone, but the sun was still shining. I had really liked to see Eischoll again and to walk along a Suone with all those wonderful panoramic views!