Nestled at the foot of Col de la Seigne, Refuge des Mottets lies in shadow. On with the flip flops and, for good measure, the micro fleece; breakfast calls. We cross the yard to the breakfast room, find our places at one of the breakfast tables. Here, there’s lots of orange juice to go round, pots of coffee and tea, jugs of hot milk, jars of muesli and honey puffs and a choice of bread, complete with butter and jam; it’s infinitely better than Gîte le Pontet’s meagre offering.
Ordinarily, I’m not a morning person: give me an early alarm and I’ll find a way to wake up later and get ready faster. On the trails, it’s a different story. We rose at half six, packed up and joined the queue for grub on the dot of seven. Breakfast was, shall we say, unsubstantial: three slices of baguette, with jam, Nutella and butter on the side doesn’t quite cut it when you have ten or so kilometres and a sizeable peak standing between you and lunch.
Claps of thunder roused us during the night; lightning danced across the inky sky. By first light, the storm had passed and only a few grey clouds lingered. The Tour du Mont Blanc was calling – but first, breakfast (or, more accurately, breakfeast; our Airbnb host put out a seriously good spread).
Before setting off on the Tour du Mont Blanc, we had a couple of days in Geneva and Les Houches to relax, stock up on supplies (long time no see, BN Biscuits!) and squeeze in a short hike up Col de la Forclaz.
Traversing France, Italy and Switzerland, the Tour du Mont Blanc (or TMB, for short) is an iconic hike, and one which had sat on my wish list for nigh-on six years. The TMB is 170km (or thereabouts, depending on any variants taken) of snow-capped cols, alpine pastures (minus the cast of The Sound of Music) and lush valleys; an adventure like no other. / Traversant la France, l’Italie et la Suisse, le Tour du Mont Blanc (ou TMB, en abrégé) est une randonnée iconique, qui est sur ma liste de merveilles depuis presque six ans. Le TMB, c’est 170km (à peu près, dépendant des variantes) de cols toujours enneigés, d’alpages (sans la distribution de La Mélodie du Bonheur) et des vallées verdoyante; une aventure sans pareil.
Postbridge lies on the fringe of Bellever Forest, right in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, and is best known for its medieval clapper bridge. We’d crossed it the previous evening, but as we hadn’t had time to admire it properly a detour first thing in the morning was in order. After eating our fill of cereals, we set off into Postbridge, opting for the dirt tracks instead of the main road.
I was expecting bleak expanses of moorland, shrouded in fog. What I experienced was the polar opposite: blistering heat and clear, blue skies. If I had to choose a favourite day in Dartmoor National Park, it’d be the one spent hiking to Postbridge, via Princetown (for that all-important cream tea) and Wistman’s Wood (a magical spot which, in misty conditions, would be a dead ringer for the Forbidden Forest).
I’m used to waking up under canvas on hiking trips; on this trip, we branched out into the world of camping pods and B&Bs. I woke snug as a (fried) bug, toasted by the underfloor heating. Outside, blue skies, sunshine and footpaths (twenty-odd miles of them) beckoned.
First stop: Tavistock, a stannary and market town on the fringe of Dartmoor National Park. From Exeter, it should have been two trains (down to Plymouth, up to Gunnislake) and a bus ride away, leaving us with a short, scenic walk across the moorland to our accommodation. Two trains in, outside Gunnislake station, those plans unravelled.
Dartmoor National Park is peat bogs, pine forests and ponies (lots of ponies); mile upon mile of open moorland, crowned with tors; and stars – more than I could count, than I’ve ever seen before – twinkling against inky skies. Over Easter, Laurence and I spent five days hiking across Dartmoor National Park, sampling cream teas, exploring market towns and quaint villages and getting very (very) sunburnt along the way. I’ll retrace our footsteps through Tavistock, Princetown, Postbridge and Widecombe-in-the-Moor in subsequent posts, but for now, here’s a selection of my favourite snapshots . . .