A Smashing Time in Switzerland

Tuesday 30th August

Altdorf to Brig

Late August is the beginning of the Swiss bridge and tunnel maintenance season. Every other bridge and tunnel on our route to Brig was reduced to one lane and contraflows and temporary traffic lights seemed to have been placed with the malign intent of turning our 90-minute journey into a marathon. Whoever was responsible needn’t have bothered as it turned out we were quite able to do it ourselves!  

It began, as these things do, with another ‘hot topic’ in the van as to whether our vignette covered us using the St Gothard Tunnel, was the St Gothard Tunnel open and was the St Gothard Tunnel the right way to go? The answers turned out to be yes, yes and no. It was indeed fortunate that the Tunnel was free to use as we had to use it twice!

Thanks to the Swiss’s copious use of cones and other temporary street furniture I was distracted at the critical time when I should have taken the left-hand lane entering the contraflow and missed junction 40. Unfortunately, Junction 41 was 29km away, the other side of the St Gothard Tunnel! There was nothing for it but to enjoy the civil engineering delight all the way to the southern end, perform a dodgy U turn and then study, the bits of the tunnel we had missed on the way back. Once I had shouted at Wendy, she had sworn at me, I had apologised, she had apologised, we both felt a little better and were able to enjoy the breath-taking views as we drove towards the Furkapass (don’t giggle Katy!). We never got to the top of the Furkapass (stop it, Kate!) as satnav told us to turn left for the ferry.

The ‘Ferry’

What is a ferry doing at the top of a mountain? It turned out to be a rail ferry that cut out miles and miles of tortuous hairpins by taking us through a tunnel underneath the Furkapass (for the last time Katy!) and the Rhone Glacier, the source of the Rhone. A very nice lady explained all this to us as she checked that our van was under 3.5metres tall and sold us our ticket as we assured her, we were only three metres tall now we have removed the satellite dome. We joined the small queue and watched as the train rolled in. The train consisted of twenty, open-sided, flat bed carriages with metal hoops holding up the roof. You drove on at one end and drove the length of the train.

A worried looking member of the train crew came over to us again checking that we were under 3.5 metres tall and didn’t believe us until we showed him our ticket. All the cars were loaded on first and then it was our turn. As we drove on to the carriage it was clear that there was going to be loads of headroom – no worries!

And then… 


We had been so concerned about the height we hadn’t given a thought to the width!

Our van is 2.8 metres wide, and the carriage roof supports must only be 2.6 metres apart. Our port side wing mirror had taken the brunt and was now shattered and there were still 14 carriages to drive through and there was nothing for it but to keep giving it a gentle clip each time in order to preserve the driver’s side mirror. It was a very subdued 20-minute ride through the tunnel as Wendy tried very hard not to blame me for our van being too wide.

It is narrower than it looks!

We limped through the remaining five carriages as we disembarked and pulled up in the car park to survey the damage. Yes, it was smashed, but all the pieces were still in place. A liberal application of duct tape and a bit of brute force to reposition the frame and we were on our way again. Fortunately, it still works, after a fashion. Which is a good thing as we are driving on the continent; It now means that if I want to overtake on the motorway, I have a kaleidoscopic view of any vehicles behind me.


Brig is a lovely town on the Rhone, in the shadow of the Jungfrau which in turn blocks our view of the Eiger. Our campsite is on the banks of one of the Rhone’s tributaries and we arrived just before the Fozzies and managed to get two pitches backing on to the river and under some shade as the temperature was well into the 30s. As you can imagine we hadn’t seen each other for fourteen days, so we had a lot of catching up to do!

All caught up and beers finished it was time for a quick dog walk up the river. And what a beautiful walk it was. The river Saltina is part of a hydroelectric scheme as warnings of rapid changes in the river level informed us. Bryn and Enzo were in their elements – Valais is one of the cantons that allow dogs to be off the lead in the countryside – and they took full advantage, in and out of the river. What they didn’t notice was how this little side valley, this little Swiss backwater, had more stunning scenery in 30 minutes walking than the whole of Derbyshire. The setting sun lit up the snow-capped peaks like some vast son-et- lumière.

All in all, another smashing day in Switzerland

Tomorrow we are off to Italy.

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