Friday, 8 November 2013

Switzerland: Le Chant de Bisse

When we were in Switzerland in August we went for a gentle walk along the village bisse.

A bisse is a traditional method of bringing water to fields which are often some considerable distance from the water source. Essentially it's an irrigation canal. It's really amazing technology when you consider some of these water channels are hundreds of years old and carry water on a very gentle incline for miles. The Bisse d'Ayent was built (I read) in 1442 and runs from the Lac de Tzeuzier to the Mayens d'Arbaz via Anzere.


Of course, as it is Switzerland, some parts of the bisses are fixed to very terrifying cliffs or run through tunnels where you have to crawl. I'm definitely not going to attempt to visit them.

The section that runs through Anzere is more like a nice clean ditch filled with running water alongside a gentle woodland path edged with wild flowers. It's really very pretty.

© Andrew Clark and found on YouTube

This is a photo of the Bisse du Ro between the Lac de Tseuzier and Crans Montana. It looks extremely terrifying and you wouldn't me get to walk along it in a million years. There's a fascinating video which I do recommend but it is very terrifying and just thinking about the overhanging cliff, the huge drop and the narrow vertiginous path make me feel quite sick. I used to be a bit better at heights but in the last 18 months or so I've developed quite severe vertigo. Which is a bit unfortunate given how many heights, and edges, they have in Switzerland.
Obviously I can't take my own photographs of such frightening looking places but luckily for me our local stretch of bisse is a Sunday afternoon stroll in comparison. In fact people I class as elderly attack this stroll with rather more vim than I do but I suspect they are used to struggling up steep mountains to get to the gentle strolly bit of their walk. My excuse is that I come from London and I'm used to flat pavements. Oh yes, and I live at sea level (OK 60 feet above sea level but that hardly counts when you're up a mountain). Anyway, none of the people we meet along the way seem to spend time photographing the flowers and that makes our walk rather slow.

At times the water runs along a metal trough which would once have been wooden, but mostly it's this beautiful ditch all overgrown with wild flowers and while the path along the bisse has quite steep sides, it's not very scarey at all. When there's a rock in the right place, or the bisse turns a corner, the water makes the most lovely sound. This stretch runs through a wood; mostly pine but also whitebeam, rowan, alder and hazel, so it's a wonderfully shady walk on a hot day.

The village is developing up the mountainside so there are houses on the lower side of the path, the back of the building up against the mountain, and more houses up the mountain too. Rather a lovely place to live but a bit of a hike to get to the bakery for fresh croissants in the morning.

One of these houses is called Le Chant de Bisse. Which I suppose translates as the song of the water. It's a shame that the water that runs past the house  is particularly quiet.

We met a family sailing a boat along the bisse. There was a bit of a crisis when they came to a tunnel (a very small path over the water giving access to the handy bench where were having a sit down) and Mummy, or possibly Granny, had to rescue the boat before it got sucked under. We also met the warden of the bisse, Lucien, who checks for blockages and rubbish, and had to stop talking to us to rescue a dog which had jumped into the water to get cool and couldn't get out again.

It was a beautiful blue sky sunshiney day and the crickets singing in the long grass and not a breath of wind. About an hour after we got home the sky turned black and rain thundered down as though it was the end of the world.

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