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The Spectator

18 Sep t ember 2010 |

You’ll love it there, son — the scenery is breathtaking…

…we can go fishing at night…

…no mobiles, no television, noTwitter…

…just the two of us at one with nature.

Thank goodness it was all a dream!

F o s t e r l d

H a r o t o i e s l o g a p o i t h w


High and dry Ross Clark and his son enjoy the spartan pleasures of a walking tour in the French Alps

How do you break it to your 15-year-old son that he is going to be spending the evening of the World Cup final in a mountain hut in the French Alps, miles from the nearest television — at a time when England still had a chance of taking part? Theo took it well. He didn’t mind sacrificing the football — provided, that is, that we made a serious attempt on our personal altitude record.

That was set last summer at 3,096 metres when we hoofed it up

Mont Buez, ascending more than 2,000 metres in a single day, only to be deflated when I later saw the peak described in an old guide book as ‘Mont Blanc for the ladies’.This time we were going to do better. Rather than starting each day down in some car park well below the treeline, we were going to stay up high for several days by making use of the network of mountain refuges which are dotted all over the Alps.

I had passed them many times

Though the mountains were pouring with water, not a drop made it to our refuge before, some of them charming and some of them mini-Pompidou Centres which take the French taste for hideous public art — literally — to new heights. But I had never been inside one, let alone stayed in one.

Our first, the Refuge entre Deux Eaux, announced itself from several miles out with signs boasting of ‘douches chaudes’ as we tramped across the Vanoise mountain range from Val d’Isère. The signs were not joking, as I soon discovered, finding myself being boiled like a lobster and reaching out in vain for the non-existent temperature controls. I should have guessed, though: if a refuge advertises hot showers, it probably means they are the exception rather than the rule.

The refuge turned out to be run by a charming old lady whose fam-

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