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July 30th 2018

A walk through town and countryside in the Vinschgau

After again an elaborate breakfast with a. o. aniseed bread, this time with apricot jam, and apple cake, I started out at half past nine. Although I initially had planned to go by Postal car to Taufers in the Val Müstair Valley for Stage 69 of the Red Trail of the Via Alpina, I changed my mind: very high temperatures were forecasted and I didn’t like the idea to go for a hike of over 6½ hours with ascents of 1.000 metres of difference in altitude. But I still liked to hike anyway!

That’s why I chose a trip to the other side of the valley, to the walled city of Glurns and a small white church, the St. Martinskirche, at the foot of the mountain slope which I can see from my hotel room. From there I would make further decisions.

To start I walked to the village of Tartsch again, but this time I followed the signs pointing to Glurns. I passed a very tiny chapel, dedicated to the Holy Josef. Inside there was only place on the church bench for just three people. Above the votive candles a effigy of Josef with Child Jesus was placed, that appealed more to me that the rather “sweet” painting of Mary with Child.

I soon left the houses behind me and passed underneath the railway tracks running from Mals to Meran. Since 2005 the Vinschgaubahn uses this track for passenger transportation with modern diesel powered trains. It runs on a meanwhile over 100 years old track. I walked through orchards and past fields with rye and maize (for the polenta!) into the direction of Glurns. On the way I noticed details of the whole panorama that I have seen from my balcony! Thus it turned out that the green “roof covering” of a warehouse actually consisted of large green apple crates…

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Glurns: view on the town from Tartsch

Arriving at the city gate of Glurns, the Malser Tor (Mals Gate) I saw how beautiful the city walls with the gates and the towers on the corners are. Glurns is the only city in the Vinschgau; it was granted city rights in 1304. It has known periods of great prosperity, because of the market rights and its strategical position, but also many destructions by fires and war. Floods by the river Adige/Etsch have caused a lot of damage. Only in the 1970s the city has been restored and revitalised, which has had a positive influence on tourism.

Coming closer to the northern city gate I noticed how narrow the passage is. That was what I had spotted last Saturday (and many times before) from the Postal car that had to manoeuvre through the gate with really centimetre-precision!

On the city wall at the northern side is indicated to which height the water had risen on June 16th 1855 – to approximately 2 metres above the footpath… According to the information panel the municipality of Graun in the Reschen Valley had tried to lower the water level in the local lake in order to get more agricultural land and had constructed a new dam. In spring 1855 the water level rose because of the ongoing rainfall and the huge amounts of melt water from the mountains. The new dam that was almost finished broke. The water masses flowed across the Malser Haide and destroyed a. o. Burgeis. That city walls can also be very useful in times of peace was then proven: they held back the water, so there were no casualties. However the damages were considerable. It took several months for the marshy lake near Mals and Glurns formed by the flood to dry up…

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Glurns: Sign to indicate the water level after the flood of June 16th 1855

A hiking and cycling path runs around the walls. At the south side of the city flows the river Adige. It is an idyllic sight, especially because of the large walnut trees and the lush vegetable gardens.

The St. Pankratiuskirche, the St. Pancras church, is situated just outside the city walls on a slope. It was built in 1481 on a spot where already a church had been standing since the 13th century. The only item of the original building is the church tower with the onion-shaped spire from 1664.The interior of the church is said to be very special a. o. with beautiful frescos, but I walked on: from the square in front of the church the hiking paths are starting.

Not long thereafter I passed orchards with apricots, here also called Marillen. All safe behind high fences… Then I spotted alongside the footpath upon an embankment a row of apricot trees, with their branches braced. At the bottom a large tablecloth was spread with a wooden beam at the bottom to hold back the apricots that rolled down the slope. Just as I was puzzling on a method to get down the embankment I saw much to my delight that there were lying many ripe apricots next to the path in the grass! Because I hadn’t seen any fox droppings or half-eaten fruits, I thought it was sensible to eat those apricots. They tasted wonderful! I put a large amount in my pockets as a nest egg or in this case a “nest apricot” and continued my path.

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Glurns: ripe apricots are there in abundance alongside the hiking trail

When I a few minutes later arrived at a crossroads of hiking paths, I saw a piece of art made of red coated wire that was supposed to represent a hiker with walking stick and rucksack. To me it looked more like a tired elderly person, leaning on his stick and holding one hand behind on his aching back… That cannot have been the artist’s intention!

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Glurns: a stylised hiker alongside the hiking route

After a rather demanding ascent I reached the fork where one road went to the St. Martin’s church and a second one to the irrigation canal of the “Bergwaal”. At that moment I chose for the Bergwaal, because I really wanted to see a nicer irrigation system than that of yesterday. It didn’t take long before I reached an open grassland with picknick tables and a grilling place and also a large concrete water basin, in which still water was flowing, clearly audible. The structure was fenced and provided with a sign prohibiting climbing into the basin. That wasn’t appealing to me at all… On the contrary the picture I got when I turned around again, was quite appealing: many large orange butterflies with wings that were veined with brown were sitting on the abundantly blossoming thistles. I found out that they were Silver-washed fritillaries (Archynnis paphia)!

The trail lead further through an open forest of larches and firs over a path that was thickly covered with a layer of needles, broken over the years. After a while I saw a concrete construction: it was the system for the water regulation in the Bergwaal. The Bergwaal was dry – the iron stop to regulate the water level was lying beside the obstruction canal. Later I would read that this “waal” only carries water from spring to July 21st included. So I was a week too late!

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Glurns: the construction for the regulation of the water supply in the Bergwaal

Despite the fact that no water was flowing through anymore I have enjoyed the trip along the Bergwaal, that took over one-and-a-half hour. I was fascinated by the thought that over the centuries people have been “forcing” the water they needed for the irrigation of their fields in ingenious ways not to take the shortest way down, but slowly descending through small canals and so to be useful to the people. Here man and nature have cooperated well. The Bergwaal and the path slowly ascended the slope, in windings. Sometimes the wall was running straight on, sometimes there were small waterfalls and retention basins, sometimes path and waal were in the sunshine, and then again in the shadow. Then there was a nice display of light and shade. The heat was also bearable.

Here follows a small selection from the many pictures…

It is evident that the necessary care is paid to maintenance. It is not only a nice hiking trail for tourists, but it is also a “working trail”: the water has to be able to flow undisturbed, therefore no branches and other obstacles should be lying in and around the water. Sometimes this leads to funny situations, like the perhaps somehow easy-going forest worker who didn’t cut the complete tree that had fallen over the path, but who just cut a “step” out of the tree or the worker who found it necessary to cut his initial into the tree: “I was here”. Recently they have been busy clearing the damages of the storm that raged early this year. Many huge trees have been uprooted or broken off.

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Glurns: a large tree has been blown over by the storm and now cut

One had to pay attention to where one walked, because there were smaller and larges tree roots and stones and pieces of rock. Somewhere however there was a very impressive root system: had the roots been growing above the soil of had the soil been flushed away over the years? It was also interesting to see, now the water had gone, in what way the waal has been built. In many places the sides are made of fine loam – it looks as if it were a layer of cement. The bottom consists of small pebbles. At other places rounded stones are put on the bottom.

At some points people have helped the watercourse a bit by putting wooden linings at the sides or even letting the water flow through a hollowed tree. Also tapping points to the nearby meadows are made at several places. At a certain moment I heard the chiming of cow bells, which actually belonged to two sheep. They were laying in the shade under a few bushes – one of them did not trust me very much, because he got up despite of the heat.

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Glurns: sheep resting in the shadow near the Bergwaal

After passing the meadow with the sheep and a few minutes later passing the ruin of a farmhouse I suddenly noticed that there actually still was some water running though the Bergwaal. It was over a small distance however: somewhere the water came thought a pipeline out of the slope. The water refreshed the surroundings a bit, but immediately there were also horseflies!

Suddenly the path steeply climbed and came out on a wide mountain road. There I met two mountain bikers – the first people I saw after my departure from Glurns. They planned – on bike – to descend the steep slope, but they looked somewhat doubtful. I suppose that they probably had to carry their bikes on the shoulder than that they could be biking…, considering the unlevel path along the Bergwaal. The wide mountain road crossed the (clearly man-made) bedding of the Bergwaal that at that point comes straight down the slope and also continues straight on, down the slope I just had climbed.

There were on the whole trip many plants that grew and flowered, like a large clump of silver thistles (Carlina acualis), which still looked lush and green despite of the drought and the heat. At places where it was bright larges clusters of ferns were growing in and around the Bergwaal, undoubtedly fed by the water that flowed past (until recently). Next to the track near the point where the Bergwaal comes running down the slope, enormous patches of wolfsbane (Aconitum napellus) were growing. This plant and especially the flowers look beautiful, but in fact all parts of the plant are very poisonous.

From the wide road I went into the direction of the village of Lichtenberg on easy paths. Because I wasn’t sure about the timetable of the busses from Lichtenberg back to Mals, I decided to just head back to Glurns on foot. There were wonderful views, into the valley of the Obervinschgau into the direction of Meran, to the east, as well as on Schluderns with its castle and the Matscher Tal Valley to the north. At the end of that valley high mountains with glaciers are visible, a. o. the Weisskugel, part of the Ötztaler Alps, situated in Austria.

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Glurns: view on Schluderns and the Matscher Tal Valley

Descending the slope I started on unpaved roads in the shade of trees, later I walked on a asphalted road leading towards a few farmhouses. It made the going easy, but it also was very hot! Somewhere a huge pile of burning wood. Someone has been very busy cutting into small pieces especially large branches of larch. It looked funny, but why not – it will burn nicely as well!

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Glurns: branches cut into small pieces will burn as well – a pile of wood at a farm above Lichtenberg

While walking on the paved road and steadily descending I looked every now and then over my shoulder to the menacingly billowing clouds, indicating a thunderstorm. It was almost half past two by now…

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Glurns: clouds of a thunderstorm appear over the mountain ridge

Further on towards the valley I passed a field where the rye was recently harvested. There were standing – very traditionally – sheaves of grain. The ears were still on the stems, so I supposed the threshing will also be done in the traditional way. It was a wonderful sight and also a nice thought that in these modern times someone still was willing to harvest in this sustainable way. It needs quite some effort and knowledge to prepare the sheaves!

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Glurns: it looks like gone-by times, these sheaves of wheat

At a certain moment I could leave the paved road behind me and continue on, according to me, a new of a renewed footpath which would lead me back to the St. Martin church. On the way however I sat down for a while, despite of the increasingly billowing thunderclouds. There had recently been placed a luxurious covered sitting bench, which can pivot. After a short break in which I ate some of my apricots and studied the surroundings through my binoculars (I discovered a.o. a large field with partly harvested oxheart cabbages!), I continued ‘though over the nice path with the frolicsome accents, like a sawn tree which in the form of a red pencil serves as a road marker.

At half past three I heard the first grumbling of the thunder and I rushed as swift as I could downhill to Glurns, where I arrived in time to catch the Postal car to Mals. From the railway station it was only a short walk to Hotel Margun. The skies looked menacing especially into the western direction: in the Schiliniger Tal Valley, where the Sesvenna Hut is situated, halfway the Val d’Uina Valley and the Lower Engadin… I had been less that half an hour in the hotel when the thunderstorm started.

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Mals: a threatening thunderstorm arrives from the Schliniger Tal Valley (in the west)

After again a delicious meal I sat on my balcony for a long time – the thunderstorm had been refreshing, but the temperature still was very pleasant. It was interesting to see from here where I had been hiking during this day: I even could see the tablecloth underneath the apricot trees!