Exploring the local Downs

Living here for 30+ years you rather take for granted how beautiful the countryside is and don’t take the time to explore it. We’re always working or dashing off to apparently more exotic locations but having been furloughed for almost three weeks now as the bottom has fallen out of the airplane business me and the other half have pounded the local hills.

They call them Downs round here which I quite like. Dad says what happened to the ups but as any fellow skier will know (well apart from the nutters who prefer the skinning) it is all about the Down.

Down 1 – Charmy Down May 31st 2020

It was an old Airfield back in the day and now it’s just a big old open grassland.

This is the old runway .. an ex army pal was pretty sure you wouldn’t get a lancaster bomber down in one piece on that these days

Our Route was more or less past the bottom of Solsbury hill, up a ridiculously steep road parallel to the A46 up to Charmy Down, across the old airfield past some prettily backlit cows and cow babies,

down the other side through what would have been the most gorgeous garlic flowery drop a couple of weeks ago.

Then along to Monkswood Reservoir, all fenced off so not very picturesque, along the valley occupied by lovely long horn cows, need to go back there with the Nikon or Olympus and a longer lens as seemed a good idea to keep our distance .. they were very pointy horns.

Then up to and over the A46. The farm there has built 2 giant minion statues which had attracted the attention of passing motorists .. how odd ..

This looks flat but it was crazy steep.

Found an innovative garage construction

Then along to Wooly, a bit of a bonus up and past more curious cows

The A7s and the 12 to 24mm had a fine time out and about too.

Finally home to the light of the Petzel Duo S head torch (it is soooooo bright). Not bad given we didn’t start until 7pm ish. I do love these long evenings.

Thank you FATMAP for helping us to not get lost.

The next Down on the list is Claverton.

A sneaky weekend in Sainte Foy

Luckily for us before the world succumbed to a pandemic and retreated into lockdown we had what turned out to be one of the most amazing powdery weekends of snowy fun when we went to visit friends who have a lovely spot in a village called La Masure just down the hill from the Sainte Foy station ski hill.

We had skied there once before for a weekend in 2019 when there was, at some points, very little snow. to be fair it was the last day of the season.

It’s a fantastic spot. The resort itself has only a handful of lifts but some amazing off-piste and touring adventure possibilities. We didn’t explore it much in 2019 due to the epic melt in progress but had a fun few days .. which included a 3 hour lunch in Sainte Foy and a race to catch the last lift, a more snowy blast in Tignes, which is about an hour drive up the valley and a day of fabulous views and tarte aux framboises in Les Arc, which is accessible via a series of chairs from Villaroger.

The run down from Les Arc back to Villaroger was a bit exciting as the piste was, in places, just a 2m wide strip of snow snaking down the mountain. The glass of Rose part way down helped a lot.

Anyway this year, last weekend of February 2020, was a whole other ballgame. We drove through the night with a couple of like minded friends and arrived to a fresh dump of snow and blues skies and a wonderful breakfast Thanks to our La Masure buddies.

We spend three incredible days in Sainte Foy station and despite the fact it only has 4 lifts we never ran out of entertainment.

Sainte Foy 2020

and here.

Sainte-Foy-1

Day 3 we decided to do a route our hosts think they might have done with a guide before but they didn’t seem entirely sure which involved a big loop round from the Col de l’Aiguille to the historic village of Le Monal without too much human powered up.

A little movie of the adventure is here

And a few of B&Ws with the trusty little Olympus EM5 of Le Monal which was all snow bound and gorgeous.

Great spot for lunch.

Three of us got dropped at GVA to fly home on Sunday, Our Hosts headed back to their UK base a little later that day and my other half headed to Chamonix to finish off what was to be a rather curtailed season.

The mountains are still there though so high hopes for some more adventures here in years to come.

A day of two hills and two cameras

And a major milestone reached

We were supposed to be spending a few days in the French Alps with my morning and evening view being the Dru but we are nothing if not adaptable these days so breakfast in bed then off to Browne’s Folly .. hill one .. then plans for socially isolated birthday party on Solsbury Hill via zoom with a bottle of the most amazing pink bubbles on the planet.

A lovely surprise of delivered flowers from my entire family, masterful organisation skills of sis number 2.

My new acquisition (pre birthday) of preloved Sony A7s mark II did a nice job of capturing these don’t you think.

Bacon and egg butties in bed courtesy of number one fella.

Then off for a wander to test the new toy and exercise the faithful D850 and my fav lens Nikon 135mm F2 Defocus loveliness. I bought it on a whim a couple of years ago and it always amazes me.

Bath is surrounded by hills and out the back window of our house we look across to Browne’s Folly. It’s perched on the hill above Bathford. Apparently was built as a marketing stunt for the stone they used to quarry there by Wade-Browne. There are some interesting remains of the old stone mine, some long buried ordinance casings, a gorgeous woodland and the pointless tower.

If you are feeling brave and have a head for heights you can climb up the unguarded steps inside.

The site is of special Scientific Interest and looked after by Avon wildlife trust https://www.avonwildlifetrust.org.uk/nature-reserves/brownes-folly

Aaah the lovely 135mm F2 ….. but my goodness it’s a heavy combination to lug about.

Made it home via the canal and these fluffy guys

#swanlings
#swanlings

We’ve been checking in on them on and off since these shots were taken. They are much bigger and still all 7 of them. Mum & Dad are doing a great job.

Home in time for a quick cup of tea and some socially distancing visitors armed with birthday gifts then off up hill number 2 for bubbles, Friday night Zoom and Sunset.

It was blowing a gale but the bubbles courtesy of Billecart-Salmon were so delicious and the sunset was a stunner.

Tomorrow we will hang the Dru. It was painted by my incredible niece https://www.instagram.com/shonainatimi_art_/ as it has been occupying the living room floor since December.

January 2020 in Chamonix

Another video from this ski season. OK it is starting to look like we only skied the Grand Montet.

Well that is almost true for the first couple of weeks of the season.

This was the best day ever with one of the most memorably fabulously fluffy runs down the back face after the heart attack inducing skin up to the top.

I may be almost getting used to it … almost

If you want evidence that we did do other things then check out the Flickr collection from our habitual 2 weeks with the usual suspects.

The Dru and friends

Eventually there will be a movie. One of the projects for the three weeks of furlough I am about to be sent on on account of the new coronovirus economics.

Turning back the Clock and up the Skyway

We’ve been to the Montblanc region a lot. Skied and walked on both the italian and French sides .. ok mainly skied but we’ve never been up the skyway.

Thanks to Storm Edna or something the Aiguille du Midi was closed and our Chamonix season pass should apparently get us up the Skyway which is just on the Italian side of the tunnel and takes you up to the other side of the Glacier de Geant to the Pointe Helbronner.

It was a stunning day with gorgeous light on the midi and Sun rays peeking out behind the Dru and the Aiguille du Grépon.

First time I’ve caught the sun peeking over the trees like this. We’ve either been away too early in the morning to ski or the weather has been too claggy with no sun to be seen. This was one of my favourite Dru shots.

I’ve now got a whole stack of them and several timelapses after 4 weeks of Springtime lockdown (I think it was 4) and plenty of early mornings with coffee in the garden waiting for the sun to pop over the tree line. This one stands out due to the contrail. The Sky is normally pretty busy over the valley but the last couple of weeks of March and on into April the sight of a plane was a rare one.

During the winter months our lovely season passes get you a massive discount on the tunnel, vaguely annoying that doesn’t work in the summer but that is rather a first world problem.

The Skyway was deserted and after a bit of negotiation up we went.

If you’ve seen The Kingsman 2 .. apparently the skyway gets exploded. Our trip up was much less eventful.

The Spike in the background is the Dent de Geant. Spookily we met our aspirant Guide from the winter adventure up and over the Col de Belvedere (James Clapham) in the lift on the way down. By then he’d become a fully qualified guide and had been off with his clients to scale this beastie. I guess it might have been him striding along the Glacier in the image further up.

Makes me wonder how the guiding community is faring in this stay at home world.

A wonderfully moody Dru which works great in black & white in the evening and para gliders over the Bossons glacier.

Something home cooked for tea tonight and planning to head up the Buet valley to the Refuge de la Pierre á Bérard tomorrow. Retracing our steps from the winter to below the Col de Belvedere from the other side.

Count down to the big 50

Mysterious request from the other half for my top 20 pictures of the Dru.

I think I did well and got it down to 40 but I only went back to 2018.

Here are the top Digital Black & Whites. I think my fave B&W will always be the one taken with the OM20 and lovingly processed by Fez at https://back2blackandwhite.com/about-us

I’ll do a proper scan and share the wonder that it is very soon including the voodoo magic developing map that Fez also produced. He is a wonder.

In the mean time here are the digital lovelies .. 3 from the Olympus EM5 before it decided to have an on off hissy fit and the rest from the glorious Nikon D850. Honestly if it wasn’t such an exercise in fitness to lug the thing about the EM5 wouldn’t get a look in .. plus the D850 is not actually quite mine exactly.

Just sharing the love….

Local Pointy bits on VE Day

Not that pointy or that high but Little Solsbury hill of Peter Gabriel fame was looking lovely covered in buttercups, daisies, clover and dandelion clocks.

Got to stay round the edge at the moment as there are Skylarks nesting.

Fantastic views of Bath and a lovely sunset and a zoom with locked-down friends while we we out for some fresh air and exercise.

enjoying the portal to other worlds … she looks like me 45 years ago.

Some nice shots with the little Olympus EM5. It has decided to stop letting me turn it off or on for that matter. I have to take out the battery. A common bug apparently according to the interweb. I did a firmware update but no change.

Spurred me on to buy myself an early birthday present …. But that’s another story.

A little something from 2020

We managed an unexpectedly long stay in Chamonix this year courtesy of the new coronavirus but before the world fell off a cliff we got to do some skiing.

This is back in early Jan with some earned fluffy turns of epicness with Clive and Mike down the back of Les Grands Montets. Clive’s third time ever skinning in three days. Good man!

Day one was zero vis and then snow up from the Bochard and down the front into the Italian Bowl with a super lucky clear 5 minutes to see us down. Our reassurance of come on it’ll be fine, you wanted to have a go at touring so… might have sounded a bit thin when Mark had to look at the GPS part way up as for all we knew we could have been skinning straight up the Pendent Glacier.

Fabulous light on the dru that evening

Second skin was the Roches des Enclaves in les Contamines on a lovely sunny day so his confidence in us was somewhat recovered and he seems to have got the touring bug and I think Mark was lucky to get his R108s back.

The White Dot gang

Then day 3 up the GM again and this time caught on GoPro helmet cam.

There were plenty more adventures this season right up until the lockdown but thats another story.

Still back in 2018

After 3 months playing in the snow we couldn’t stay away. September 16th and most of the lifts have closed but still some opportunities to exploit the season pass.

Down Town
Rose at the Terrace Bar
last light and moon over the Glacier

Up earlyish the next morning and up the Flegere cable car heading for lac blanc. Hoping for pristine reflections but was a bit to windy.

Got tangled up in a flock of goats on the path. I have a couple of Black and White film photos still to be printed of that encounter. Yep dusted off the OM 20 and took it adventuring. The film is developed and have some digital scans but I really need some dedicated dark room time https://back2blackandwhite.com/

Here are some of the best shots … plenty of the Dru of course. Was strange to see the belvedere with no snow after our adventures back in the winter https://badkneeclub.com/2018/03/26/big-mountain-day-out-day-46/

Admiring the Dru
The Col de Belvedere with a lot less snow
and a very green lac blanc
Lac blanc looking blue
Some dodgy looking ladders on the way down
Completely privileged to see this file fella on the way down

And it took a lot longer to get down than planned via Argentierre. Just managed to catch the last bus back to Les Praz

waiting hopefully for the bus
The nose of the Argentiere Glacier

and rounded off with a touristy tea of tarteflette and outrageous ice cream in the Chalet Hotel Le Castel Chamonix in les Praz. Never been in there before it is bizarrely decorated if exotic fake stuffed birds.

Last light on The Dru

Plotting a trip up the skyway tomorrow. Never been up and as the Aiguille du midi lift is kaput our passes should get us up there.