Saturday, 20 June 2015

Go with the flow - follow the bisse...

Vercorin Bisse
Within the Valais there are over 2000km of 'Bisse' - as they're called in French, and Wasserleite or Suonen in German. These ancient, man-made water channels, traverse the mountains, bringing valuable water from rivers to villages and fields. Once they were a life-line, but after WWII many fell into disuse and disrepair as technology advanced, and the cost of maintaining them rose.
Paddles and locks control the flow of the water along the Vercorin Bisse
Today, many have been restored and you can walk the well graded paths next to the channels. Here, in the Val d'Anniviers, there are several dotted around (although not all have water). Vercorin is a favourite - through forest, and around the hill into the Vallon de Réchy. It's a great walk, and on a hot day the water acts as a natural air-conditioner below the trees. Elsewhere in the Valais, there are more 'sporting' routes, such as the Torrent-Neuf above Savièse. A great example of the risks and feats of engineering that were achieved to get water to where it was needed.
Torrent-Neuf, Saviese
The Torrent-Neuf dates back to 1430, with many extension and even tunnels added over the centuries. It has recently been restored and is open to walkers between May and November. But you need a good head for heights -  bouncy new suspension bridges, link cantilevered sections of boardwalks across the tall cliff face. An amazing route, and the information panels with old photos show just how dangerous this was to build and maintain:

For more hiking routes that follow bisse in the Valais:

The Museum of bisses is in Anzère:

Some wonderful old footage of a 'guardian' of the bisse at work:

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