We set alarms for silly-o’clock on Monday 14th November and were out of the house shortly after 4.30 to drive to the alps.
We were a bit nervous as, the previous week, ‘stop oil’ protesters had caused a few days of rush hour traffic chaos by climbing onto overhead gantries and so blocking the M25 motorway. They said they were calling a temporary truce to the action – we hoped the early start would make sure we were safe but we didn’t really relax until we had passed through the battleground part of the motorway.
We got to the tunnel in time to be put on an earlier train and we rolled out into Calais just after 8.30 (our time, 9.30 theirs). The journey is about 713 miles (1147km) door to door and, after the break for the tunnel, we pushed on without trying to set any speed records – but stopping only once. Thirteen hours after setting off, we arrived in Les Carroz.
I had felt a bit foolish the previous week when I’d taken the car, in a very mild 12℃ (54℉), to swap its normal wheels and tyres for the winter set. For years I battled with snow chains – which are truly the Devil’s own work. One fight too many, in the dark, with dirty, wet and freezing hands and soaking sleeves and trousers convinced me that winter tyres were the way to go so a change of car brought a set of steel hubs with winter tyres a few years ago.
There was no sign of snow on any of the roads and it was fairly mild, even up the mountain, but I was relieved when I remembered that some alpine regions (including the Haute Savoie where we were) now make winter tyres mandatory from 1st November to 31st March.
As always at this time of year, most of the village was shut. The things that can be relied on are the two supermarkets (though not necessarily with fully stocked shelves or full opening hours) and one or two restaurants taking it in turns to open.
Every year, we do the trip to check the apartment prior to the ski season, so we spent time cleaning and replacing – I took running kit but never got close to using it. Normally, we take 5 days for the trip but only had 4 available this time which made it a bit of a rush with so much driving, but it was a great change of scenery and very enjoyable, even with the return 713 miles on Thursday (at 61mph and 62.9mpg for data lovers).
On Friday I went to the gym, rather bleary-eyed but the weights quite well and I also did a sub 5 minute km on the treadmill to stretch my legs.
After that we got ready for trip number two and set off for the Lake District (again very early) on Saturday – a mere 260 miles (nearly 420km). Another delightful ritual, this one a weekend with the two couples that we ‘do’ the Lakes and Bournemouth with each year. We got away early enough to miss the traffic that often builds up around Birmingham and arrived in Ambleside before 10.
We went out onto the fells by midday and took on Stickle Ghyll and then Pavey Ark, a challenging route above the tarn. From the car park it’s more of a random stone staircase on the way up to the tarn which was reasonably hard work but it was somewhere between a scramble and almost climbing above there around Pavey Ark. Coming down was probably even harder and we ended up descending the last bit to the car park using mobile phone torches which was very testing. Only about 5 miles but with the equivalent of climbing around 160 flights of stairs.
On Sunday I borrowed a mountain bike and our host and I rode to Tarn How’s and joined the others (who, sensibly, drove) on a lovely walk up Black Crag. The ride there was only about 6 miles but very hilly and tough in cold wether walking kit. After the walk we had the short ride to Coniston for a late lunch – flatter, but by then it was raining.
After lunch we rode back to Ambleside in the gathering dark – only about another 8 miles but hilly again and raining stair rods so we were soaked almost immediately. Not completely lovely – but what can you expect of the Lake District in November … and the rain didn’t manage to spoil a great day in excellent company.
Interesting stuff this week
1. African wise words: The quarrel of lovers is the renewal of love
2. BBC News website: Reality edges in to advertising?
As ever, many Christmas TV ads conjure up sentimentality, nostalgia and joy but as the cost of living soars, some retailers have opted for a more muted approach to their campaigns this year. John Lewis said its advert, featuring a foster family, was less about buying things and more about kindness.
Retailers have to strike a balance between recognising that consumers are facing financially challenging times, but also acknowledging that people still want to have a brilliant Christmas, particularly after the past couple of years during the pandemic.
Marks and Spencer’s advert cuts to a table set with a huge spread of festive food and Sainsbury’s advert also ends on a display of a vast festive buffet. Such indulgent and expensive-looking scenes have drawn criticism for being at odds with the more modest offerings many families will be able to stretch to this year.
3. BBC News website: What’s the price of fraud?
10 months ago, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty of defrauding investors. Her company was once valued at $9bn (£7.5bn) but now it’s a byword for corporate fraud.
She, claimed the start-up could diagnose hundreds of diseases with just a few drops of blood. That wasn’t true and in January a jury concluded she had deliberately misled investors. She was convicted of four counts of wire fraud – with a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Her legal team was arguing for 18 months of house arrest while the prosecution wanted a 15 years in prison and an order to pay back the best part of a billion dollars to investors. The judge had a big decision to make and Silicon Valley executives will be watching with interest.
She has been sentenced to over 11 years in prison
4. BBC News website: Death of the world’s oldest primary school pupil
99 year old Priscilla Sitienei started developing health complications after attending class on Wednesday. She, and her 12-year-old classmates, had been preparing for final exams set to start next week.
She started learning to read and write – an opportunity she never had as a child. At first the school turned her away but soon understood how committed she was to learning.
5. BBC News website: Truly, a man of the people
There will be no foie gras served in royal residences, a letter from Buckingham Palace to animal rights campaigners has confirmed. King Charles is understood to have been a longstanding opponent of the food, made from the liver of a duck or goose, that campaigners say is cruel because of force feeding.
That’s force feeding of the ducks or geese, not the palace guests
6. BBC News website: Well, that’s the energy issue sorted
The governor of Tokyo has urged city residents to wear turtleneck jumpers this winter to reduce energy consumption. Workers at city hall will be told to set an example by adopting the jumper.
Ms Koike said “They’re warm and overall energy consumption is reduced so we can link it to lowering CO2 emissions,” she said.
7. BBC News website: One man’s pheasant is another’s unicorn
Some 140 years after the black-naped pheasant-pigeon was last sighted by scientists, researchers have “rediscovered” the rare bird. In September, a team captured footage of the species deep in the forest of a tiny island off Papua New Guinea.
It felt like “finding a unicorn”, said expedition co-lead John Mittermeier.