It’s my last day here in the Alps. I fly home tomorrow. I spent another day walking on prepared snowy paths in Central Switzerland. I joined my friend Kathrin on the train from Meiringen and we travelled just over the Brünig Pass to the village of Lungern where I worked in the hotel for the summer of 1975. The family I worked for at the Hotel Rössli became great friends of ours and the niece and her family that visited me on Sunday. The hotel is long gone and has been replaced, sadly, by a bank branch. The train journey took just over twenty minutes and we soon arrived at Lungern station. After a twenty minute walk we were at the totally new cable car station, only opened last year.
A walk along the Hasliberger Dorfweg (Hasliberg village trail) is like a 1960s geography lesson brought to life. Just as I did yesterday, I took the crowded cable car from Meiringen/Alpbach to Reuti at one end of the trail. In school we learnt how to draw a Swiss chalet and the practicality of the design. We learned about transhumance and how self-sufficient each farm needed to be and about diversification. In physical geography we studied glaciers and valley shapes and the importance of communication routes. The evidence is all to be found on this walk.
Hooray! This morning the rain had stopped and the sun came out and it was time to head up, up, up to the nearest peak and make my way back down quite a bit of it on foot.
Yesterday one of my teeth broke whilst eating lunch with my friend Barbara in Bern. She made an appointment for me to visit a dentist in Lucerne this afternoon. It’s a lovely journey from Meiringen on a train with picture windows which winds its way up and over the Brünig Pass out of the Bernese Alps region and into Central Switzerland.
There are probably other places in the world that have a claim to fame not from being the birthplace of a famous author but from being the location of the death of a character of fiction. But the ‘Borough’ of Meiringen in the Bernese Alps, as well as being the birthplace of the meringue, is also well-known throughout the world as the location of the dramatic ‘death’ of fictional English sleuth Sherlock Holmes, maybe the most famous. The Sherlock Holmes Museum is housed in the former English Church right opposite my hotel.
During November Milady was called to the Jury at Leeds Crown Court and those two (harrowing) weeks were followed by a week busy visiting family and friends in Norwich, London and Surrey and last week preparing for Christmas – writing cards, shopping and buying presents – and planning and packing for THIS week in Switzerland!
In addition to the Barry exhibition at the Bern Natural History Museum there were several other setions which attracted my interest. By the way, re-reading my post of yesterday reminded me that I’d seen a real live Barry on the Gornergrat a few years ago. I thought he was having a day out just like me but apparently he’s part of the scenery.
A St Bernard poses for the camera
Like most Natural History Museums the world over the museum in Bern has its fair share of mammals from around the world but these were not of great interest to me. I prefer something of more local interest.
The Planggenstock Treasure has been on display in the Museum since 2011. These quartz crystals and crystal clusters were discovered under the Planggenstock Peak in the canton of Uri in Central Switzerland in 2005.
The largest group of crystals weighs 300kg.
Smoky Rock Crystals
The oldest objects in the collection are three rock crystals found in 1719 on the Vorderer Zingenstock.
As time was limited I left the collection of minerals, crystals, diamonds and rocks and moved on to the section featuring dioramas of the wildlife of Switzerland. Here was diorama after diorama of birds and animals in their settings. I was particularly interested to se all the different types of deer. I would call a deer a deer but in Switzerland they always distinguish between roe deer and chamois and red deer and ibex.
Gemse = Chamois
Chamois feeding at Innsbruck Alpine Zoo (2010)
Ibex at Innsbruck Alpine Zoo
The Alpine Ibex is known at the Alpensteinbock in German. Chamois are Gemse and Reh is roe deer and Hirsch are Red deer.
Red Deer or Hirsch
Mountain Hares in Summer
Mountain Hares in Winter
And finally … Please take me home!
On arrival at Bern Railway Station on Monday evening (18th) the first poster to catch my eye (well, it’s quite a big one) was this :
“Barry, the most famous rescue dog in the world, died 200 years ago but remains a legend to this day. Barry can be admired at the Natural History Museum Bern, where a new exhibition explores the heroic deeds attributed to this extraordinary St Bernard from the Great St Bernard Pass. The question is, which of the stories surrounding him are fact and which are myths? The exhibition tells the whole truth.”
I knew Barry was a popular dog’s name in Switzerland. I have a children’s picture book which tells his story. So on the Wednesday morning I took the short stroll from Barbara’s house to the Natural History Museum of Bern to find out more. The excellent display is on the second floor of the museum.
Trusty Barry Diorama
Trusty Barry, cask at the ready. Left to his own devices for days on end, Barry patrols paths and ravines looking for travellers who are lost or buried in the snow. Wherever he goes he carries a cask of wine round his neck. The victims he finds are first offered a good strong drink. The faithful dog then runs back to the hospice to fetch help.
The Real Barry reworked by Georg Ruprecht in 1923.
Barry had been stuffed in 1814 using the primitive techniques of the time. Ruprecht used modern techniques at the time to create a plaster model of Barry’s body and clad it in the dog’s skin.
Barry was born in 1800 at the hospice on the summit of the Great St Bernard Pass. At almost 2500m altitude cold, fog and snow posed a danger to travellers and, accompanied by dogs, clerics and lay brothers from the hospice would go out each day looking for lost and weary travellers. Barry was to become their most tireless assistant he is said to have saved over 40 people from an icy death.
In 1812 a servant from the hospice brought the old and weary dog to Bern and he died there in 1814. After his death his body was handed over to a taxidermist so “that after his death this loyal dog will not be forgotten” [F. Meisner, 1815]
The Great St Bernard Pass in Winter
The Hospice of the Canons Regular of St Augustine at the summit of the Great St Bernard Pass has been a place of safety and shelter for travellers for almost 1,000 years. In the 11th century, in order to help wayfarers, Bernard of Menthon founded a simple monastery at the highest point of the pass, and so the hospice was founded.
Nice to see the modern-day monks (clerics) enjoying a tasty meal with wine
By providing shelter, food and a bed for the night the hospice vanquished the perils of the frightening, seemingly infernal, mountain world outside. Exhausted travellers and victims of bandits knew that they would be safe as soon as they reached its doors. For this Bernard was widely revered, and in 1123 eventually made a saint.
In addition to the story of Barry and the hospice high up on the pass the exhibition moved on to tell about the real dangers of avalanches today and to dispute the exaggerated stories of Barry. Even the best trained and strongest St Bernard dog could not have carried a child on his back as the story is told. But dogs still do important work in the field even today.
The Story of Barry
Finally, we could listen to the shocking stories told by the fortunate survivors of avalanches; as a clock ticked away the number of minutes that are needed in order to achieve a successful rescue. The chance of survival declines dramatically after just 15 minutes.
“Around 70% of avalanche victims survive if the remaining members of their party manage to dig them out straightaway. This is only possible if everyone is carrying a detector device and knows how to use it. If an external rescue party is required the survival rate drops to 30%.”
After Cornwall and Port Eliot Festival I returned home briefly on 28 July, made excursions to Manchester, Jervaulx and Scarborough and on 12 August set off on a Swiss adventure with a foray into Italy only returning last Thursday 21 August.
Here are links to a couple of my posts over at Lynne’s blog Dovegreyreader
Not my post but here is my entry for the Port Eliot Flower and Fodder Show Tea Cosy Competition:
On 11 August I re-opened My Swiss Diary briefly and a further Swiss Post will follow here shortly. Meanwhile I can show you a few photos of the places visited in Italy :
The View from the house at Luino (Lake Maggiore)
The Ecological Swimming Pool
Il campanile (1585-1774) Varese
Art Nouveau in Varese
Art Nouveau Varese
Arriving in Canobbio on Lake Maggiore for the Sunday Market
It’s my birthday and I have received some lovely gifts including this book :
You may remember that last summer I spent a month in Switzerland and posted each day about my experiences here.
I still haven’t read Bewes’s ‘Swisswatching’ [below] but I think ‘Slow Train’ will jump the queue as I’m a seasoned traveller on Swiss trains and I remember there was feature about Miss Jemima’s diary on the Myswitzerland.com website and in the Financial Times around the time that I made my trip. I see there is now a fancy app. to accompany anyone wishing to emulate Miss J and D Bewes.
“It was the tour that changed the way we travel. In the summer of 1863 seven people left London on a train that would take them on a thrilling adventure across the Alps. They were The Junior United Alpine Club and members of Thomas Cook’s first Conducted Tour of Switzerland. For them it was an exciting novelty: for us the birth of mass tourism and it started with the Swiss.” [From the fly -leaf of Slow Train to Switzerland]
Bewes followed in the footsteps of this group and is able to do so because one member, Miss Jemima from Yorkshire kept a diary that was lost for decades but survived as a unique record a historic tour.
Reading about this I’m remembering my very disappointing visit to The Swiss Alpine Museum in Bern last February. I had expected to be able to see displays and dioramas illustrating the history of alpinism with particular reference to Switzerland (and including, of course, the British contribution) through books, maps, photographs, hotels, transport, clothes and footwear, transport, personalities, and other displays and artefacts. What I was presented with was a series of enlarged photographs and a heap of broken skis. My disappointment was so great that I wrote to the Museum Director and here is part of his response :
“We decided to start up a new concept dealing much more with contemporary issues for people who like to face the reality of the alps. “Intensive care stations” is an example of this new approach … The reality of the alps today is packed with debates and very discursive issues, so our museum concept tries to shape a platform for contemporary themes around mountains.”
It was nice to get a personal response and good luck to them but I still felt cheated of my 12 Swiss francs entry fee!
Actually, this small display of Swiss products featuring mountains was quite interesting but this was small compensation to me!