“The views backward of the Vale of the Rhone very interesting at every resting-place. An Italian Vagrant overtook us, and kept company with the Guide, or with one or another, all the way to Chamouny.” –Dorothy Wordsworth, in her Journal of a Tour on the Continent (1820)
Day 2: The Rhone Valley Walker’s Superhighway, or simply The Superhighway, as I’ve taken to calling it. This stretch of Swiss footpath is wide and flat, sometimes paved, sometimes hard-packed rock. It runs along the Rhone River from Martigny to Brig, Switzerland. I walked for 13 hours on this day, and more than ten of that was passed on this monotonous path in the searing sun. When Wordsworth and Jones walked through the Rhone Valley, their path was probably a dirt road with some orchard and vineyards alongside. Today, the Rhone Valley remains the same lush fruit and wine growing ground that it was then, but it’s also dotted with towns along its entire length, and a major train line and highway also run through the valley.
For most of the distance along this path, I could see the Rhone running alongside me, a big silty river whose banks were so steep that I couldn’t even dip my sore feet into the water. And this wasn’t the kind of water you’d want to drink:
By mid-morning, there was no shade on the path, and the light-gray color of it seemed to reflect the sun. At moments, I felt as if I were walking on desert sands.
I didn’t pass any other walkers all day, and none passed me, until early evening when people came out of the villages to walk their dogs. All day long, however, I passed orchards and vineyards. I wondered if this valley supplies all of Europe’s fruit. It seemed that it did (apricots here):
The vineyards were cut into terraces up high on the mountain slopes and sometimes grew around these incredible old castles where people still live:
Once I reached Sion (nearly 40 kilometers from my starting point in the hills above Martigy), I couldn’t find a place to stay. The campground was like a gypsy convention, so I didn’t think it would be safe to bivouac in the middle of that. I tried an auberge: full. The youth hostel finally took me in. It was also full, but they allowed me to sleep in the attic on a wooden pallet. I was so relieved…until I woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of chatting mice in the corner beside me.
Note: this post is one in a series of posts about my recent attempt to retrace William Wordsworth’s footsteps from Chamonix, France to Como, Italy on the walking holiday the poet took with his friend Robert Jones in 1790.