I have been doing my best to count our blessings by looking back over some of the photos I’ve taken this year in order to put my latest annual retrospective together. Although the coronavirus and its ramifications have had their toll on us individually and as a family, Jo and I have largely been able to adapt and to enjoy some lovely experiences. Sufficient, as it turns out, to split our year across more than one blog post.
As the first reports of what became the pandemic began floating around at the start of the year, Jo and I were concluding our annual trip to visit family in Britain. During our time in England, we made one of our semi-regular visits with Mum to Savill Garden, a botanical haven off the A30, which is part of Windsor Great Park.
Later in January, the annual ski races came to the Bernese Oberland and given the fair weather reports, I headed for the summit of Männlichen to photograph the accompanying annual air show for the first time. It was a terrific experience and I came home with a few wonderful shots, although cloud rolled in from the valley to obscure the view for a large part of the air display.
For some reason, we hadn’t visited the annual hot-air balloon festival in Château d’Oex before, despite seeing photographic reminders online every year. This year, we made the effort and I was most pleased with the photographic results. I shot a handful of interesting vignettes and close-up shots amongst the other visitors, before taking to the hillside above the town once the sky was full of balloons and capturing one of my favourite scenes of the year.
Once the pandemic began to take a real hold in March, we decided that we should avoid as much contact with people as possible, and stick to non-tourist areas for our days out. We visited lesser-visited areas in the Jura mountains; La Brévine (known as the coldest inhabited place in the country in winter), where I found a wonderful copse of silver birch, and some all-but-deserted woodland off the beaten path at Cernil.
Even the most beautiful mountain landscapes can become monotonous sometimes. After so many years looking at the Bernese Alps, I have been striving for new views and different places to visit and so we’ve spent an increasing amount of time in French-speaking Switzerland over the past few years. This year, our go-to destinations, mainly sought-out in order to get away from crowds, have been around Lac de Neuchâtel, where there are plenty of secluded spots and much more wildlife than in our mountainous region. One of my favourite spots – simply for photographic reasons – has been a long jetty near a little village on the southern shore, which seems to remain relatively lacking in people.
Our search for more remote places to visit and new views to photograph took us on the search for spring crocus, and the most common Google search results indicated that we should visit Emmental. Having settled on Rämisgummen, we headed up a labyrinth of little roads to the end of the line, before finding a parking spot on a forest track and walking for an hour or so. The photographic results were a little disappointing, so we visited a regular haunt near Beatenberg instead, where thousands and thousands of white flowers had sprung up as the snow had begun to retreat from the mountainside.
As the weather began to turn more spring-like, I took to the saddle of a new e-bike and started exploring the routes from home. One of the easier ones is a fifteen-minute ride along the lake shore to Leissigen. I cycled the route several times this year, putting my drone in the air from time to time to capture the familiar landscape from new angles.
As the lower landscape began turning spring-like, the mountains remained white and so we chose a beautiful day to return to Melchsee-Frutt. Keeping to ourselves in the main, we wandered from the western to eastern edges of the spare village and I took several drone shots of the combination of wintry landscape and spring sunshine. I love scenes like this one, in which the crips sharpness of the images makes the other visitors to the high mountain valley look like stick-insects in the snow.
The last (easily-accessible) places at which winter retreats are on the high mountain pass roads. Both the Susten Pass and the Grimsel Pass are closed until early summer, when the snow ploughs have cleared the roads and the warming weather has cleared the slopes alongside the route sufficiently to avoid any danger of slushy avalanches. It’s at this time when these areas are at their most peaceful, as the snow gates are still keeping traffic off the upper reaches of the roads. However, it’s possible to drive a reasonable way up the pass and then abandon the car on the most convenient parking spot and enjoy the remainder on foot. As we’d visited the road above the Steingletscher Hotel in 2018, we chose to visit Grimsel this year and walk the section of road between the Räterischsboden dam and Mälchenegg.
This is one of a series of posts reviewing my personal highlights of 2020.