Thursday, 7 September 2017

An un-planned walk and surprise discovery

A quiet uneventful morning, reading and writing, waiting to hear of Clare's arrival back in Cardiff. Indeed, she was home by lunchtime after a hassle free journey. That's the same flight I'll be taking in three weeks from now, except that I'll need a seven o'clock start from Territet to be sure that I am dropping off my case the advised two hours before time. I could leave it later, as Geneva airport is familiar, and works efficiently, but it's good to make the effort to have more schedule slack, just in case there are unexpected delays. Who needs the extra stress?

After lunch I took my HX300 camera for a walk, heading first for the neighbourhood bottle bank up behind the Hotel des Alpes with a few empties to deposit. A tourism pedestre notice caught my eye, which led to me climbing dozens of flights of steps in between hillside mansions, crossing the road up to Caux, then climbing upwards through woodland on a footpath which eventually took me to a place in the road close to the Toveyre station on the railway line which ascends from Montreux to Naye.

From here, I followed a side road which took me further up into the wooded valley down which the Torrent de Veraye tumbles through the village of Veytaux, adjacent to Territet. The road ends at a farm with several large buildings and what looks like an accommodation block, perhaps a hostel or former hotel? I don't know. 

In the open pastures below the farm there were sheep, wearing bells that had a silvery tone to them, and several long horned goats in a paddock of their own. Above the farm, more forest, and a steep ascent to col between jagged rock peaks. The distant noise of traffic on the motorway, three hundred metres below this seemingly remote rural domain was a persistent reminder of how close it was to the developed urban coastal strip. Looking up the mountain, the only reminder of the juxtaposition was the necklace of high tension electricity cables strung high up across the valley, with a family of buzzards patrolling the airspace. 

The views across the lake into Haute-Savoie were well worth the climb, but the most surprising aspect of this unanticipated afternoon hike was the discovery that the footpath I climbed was in close proximity to the track of a disused funicular railway. In several places close to bridges, access was barred by large security gates, but the track and its cable guiding equipment were still in place. Maintenance of the track bed and sides was still being done, as there was no jungle of vegetation concealing the railway. I found signs of where train stops were made, and when I reached the end of the line, found the boarded up station house, landing platform and car haulage equipment were still intact, if rusty. 

A folorn notice was still in place announcing the next train in German, French, Italian and English, and advertising Gaulois cigarettes, perhaps dating back to the early sixties, but nothing to say the name of the station. At one of the lower stops there'd been a panel with the name of the funicular line on it, but it had weathered and was illegibile. So, at this point, the line was an intriguing mystery, and smartphone mapping was no help, as it tends always to be up to date. I couldn't access Google Earth on the phone I was carrying, so enquiry had to wait until I returned.

It wasn't long before I discovered an interesting enthusiasts' web-page, describing the history of the Territet to Mont-Fleuri funicualar, and found visual evidence of the existence of the line on Google Earth, which didn't exist on Google Maps as it would add nothing functional to the map's purpose. Mont-Fleuri was the site of a grand Victorian hotel, and  the line was opened in 1910 to serve its clientele, as much as local inhabitants. When the hotel closed in 1987, it became a prestigious girls' boarding school, and half the passengers using the funicular were students. 
The line had to close abruptly in November 1992 due to imminent failure of its traction cable. Talks about restoring the line to use have continued intermittently ever since. The cost of the project and who takes responsibility for payment is the problem. Nowadays roads have been improved and there are more cars around than ever. The need to restore the service may not seem as great, except that it would help reduce congestion on roads that aren't easy to drive, especially in winter. This would reduce pollution. An electrically powered funicular is far more eco-friendly, and can carry more people quickly uphill than a fleet of cars. The fact that the infrastructure has not been dismantled or neglected greatly gives cause for cautious optimism. We'll see.

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