I have left the Chamonix valley now, but the night after I left there was more snow. We were probably lucky to get away because around 20cm fell overnight. Looking now at weather forecasts for Chamonix, it seems bright but really cold; as low as -17C in the valley! It sounds as though the weather will be very good for the downhill Kandahar race, due to take place this weekend in Les Houches, although they had to cancel the first practices today because there was too much fresh snow (40cm) overnight and the course was not ready! The Kandahar is now part of the ski World Cup but it originated in 1928 as a combination downhill and slalom race held in St Anton. It seems rather strange to have a ski race named after a city in Afghanistan, but there is a logic to it. It gets its name from a British army commander-in-chief called, among other things (he seems to have had loads of honorifics), Baron Roberts of Kandahar. He was an amazing man, with a fierce growth of facial hair (see below). He was christened Frederick Sleigh Roberts, but that rather remote winter sports connection hardly accounts for his immortality through a ski race. In 1903 he became vice president of the Public Schools Alpine Ski Club and donated trophies for various competitions. The Kandahar name was adopted in recognition.
He was born in 1832, and died of pneumonia in 1914 at St Omer, France while visiting Indian troops fighting in WWI. One of his most notable achievements was the relief of a siege of Kandahar which ended the second Anglo-Afghan war. This involved a march of 10,000 troops over 320 miles from Kabul to Kandahar. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kandahar
The long march from Kabul to Kandahar of the entire column of men, followers and baggage took 20 days – an average of just over 15 miles/day. The followers alone included nearly 2,200 dhooly-bearers, 4,700 transport men and over 1,200 servants. Although the march was unhindered by the Afghans, it was an historic and remarkable feat of human endurance and organisation.
So, you are all asking, “What is a dhooly-bearer?” Well it seems to be a carrier or a litter using bamboo poles; maybe a forerunner of a stretcher, used to carry the injured.
On our journey back to Wales we stopped at a motorway services called Aire de Sommesous. It had been, and is still, subject to renovations and the new toilet facilities are quite extraordinary; worth a picture I thought.
In researching this blog I discovered that there is a British Loo of the Year Competition, which was news to me. However, in practice the website is really pretty dull, in my opinion. Perhaps, it is just their presentation, but it I think it could have been a fun site. If you want to take a look it is www.loo.co.uk.
Back in Wales: it is cold but sunny. Driving down the M4, we saw snow on the Beacons but here, down on the coast, it barely manages a frosty covering on the cars and ground in the morning.