Odd Man Out in the Alps

Odd Man Out in the Alps by Sir Ron NormanSir Ron Norman
Engineering, 1960

It was a sunny morning in late August. I was sitting on the sun deck of the steamer ferrying me along Lake Geneva, in pole position in the front deck chair, with unimpeded views to the left, right and centre. My gaze took in the wooded shoreline, followed the patchwork of green and brown hills and rose to the snow-capped mountains on the horizon. Away to the south, I could just make out Mont Blanc glittering in the sun, demure and gentle, her glaciers and snow-clad slopes a seductive rosy-white outline in a distant purple haze. The mountains beckoned and I could hardly wait to get among them. I curbed my impatience by concentrating on the attractions closer at hand.

The ferry chugged back and forth across the lake, docking at postcard-pretty villages. As we zig-zagged between the French and Swiss banks, I caught sight of grand old houses, mostly built in the local stone, their delicate cream colour contrasting with occasional patches of pinkish render, and brief, tantalizing glimpses of courtyards, of churches and of gardens. I bobbed from one side of the boat to the other like an over-excited schoolboy on his first outing. There were scenes all around begging to be photographed – but my camera did not work.  The battery was flat and I had forgotten to bring the charger.

This was the start of what I had originally intended as the most meticulously organized expedition of all time. My plan was to walk four hundred miles along that great footpath, the Grand Randonee Cinq (GR5) from lake Geneva to Nice. But so far, that was the full extent of my plan. I had no idea how long I would take, no idea where or when I might stop each day. It would all depend on the scenery, the weather, the wine or whatever. I would simply take things as I found them.

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