The Tyrolean mountains and valleys are wonderfully fresh and green, and with this comes, naturally, a certain amount of rain. Our German friend Petra wisely suggested we might like to take rainwear the first time we went, and so we always pack waterproofs along with our walking-boots. Sunshine is most welcome, but wet weather doesn’t put us off – especially if there is a “gemutlich” Stuben at the end of the walk. This year we set off on a very rainy morning to walk the ‘11’ route, stopping en route at Ellmau to buy our ‘snap’ at Billa (excellent supermarket full of fresh food and friendly faces). We caught the chairlift at Going (we’re suckers for chairlifts!) up to the Astberg, and set off for Brandstadl – about 4 and a half hours’ walking up and down some substantial slopes. We were enjoying ourselves, but we’d missed our morning kaffee, and were on the lookout for a suitable Alm. The word Alm seems to cover various degrees of pit-stop – sometimes it’s a little hut where you can buy refreshments, but sometimes, we found, it’s not! There was one ahead on the map, and after negotiating our way through a herd of curious bullocks, we came to a charming establishment with “Komme gleich!” written on the door. Now, although my O level German grew fairly fluent in my 20s, it’s not been regularly taken out and exercised enough since then. I can get by, and I love the language, but with every passing year the holes in my vocabulary get larger. I read the sign as “Come right in!”, whereas it means, I found out later, “I’ll be right back!”
We enjoyed an hour or so’s welcome break from the cold and wet with this lovely man. He told us that he was a seasonal herdsman from Tegernsee in Bavaria. I just about kept up with his strong accent – Petra, who’s from northern Germany, tells me that they call Bavarians the wild mountain-folk! We had a lively chat about the Celts, and connections between this part of the world and the Celts in Wales. He would soon be taking his bovine charges down the mountain for the Alpine cattle drive day, a Saturday at the end of September, when the cows are adorned with paper flowers - as a symbol and thanks for an incident-free summer on the alpine pasture. Then he would be moving to the nearby town of Kufstein for the winter.
We asked him what the drinks cost, and he said that you if one wished one could offer a voluntary contribution when given hospitality at an alm. We crossed his palm with silver, thanked him, shook hands and went on our way, stomachs and hearts warmed by our