Lake Brienz


CLOUDY THIS morning and from the gondola down from Männlichen we spotted only one marmot by its burrow.

When we arrived at Grindelwald we found that the Tour Suisse had arrived and the small town had taken on a festival atmosphere. We decided to leave the bustle behind us and we took the next train to Interlaken Ost, then decided to get off at Wilderswil to walk alongside the river to Bönigen on Lake Brienz.

12.55 pm, Lake Brienz, or Brienzersee, from the ferry landing stage at Bönigen. Compared with Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake, the water is turquoise with the surrounding hills rising to about three times the height.

Drawing this view reminded me of the song Bali Hai sung by Jaunita Hall in her role as Bloody Mary in the musical South Pacific – a film that I saw only once, one torrentially wet day in Ayr in 1959, when the windscreen wipers of our Standard Vanguard estate broke, being unable to cope with the force of the deluge on our Scottish summer holiday. I’m surprised to see on Google-Street that the cinema – a rather forbidding-looking grey blockhouse of an Odeon on its ‘own special island’ – still stands in the middle of town and the garage where I remember us stopping half a century ago is still there, now a filling station.

The craggy island in the film is shown in glorious Technicolor ‘floating in the sunshine, [its]head sticking out from a low-flying cloud’.

I also remember a large hotel in Ayr where we sat drying out with a tray of tea by a fireplace decorated with tiles depicting the Greek myths. I kept pestering my mum to tell us the story behind them, such as the one of Hippomenes who threw down three golden apples to distract the huntress Atalanta in a race.

Wonder if the hotel too has survived and if so whether the wonderful fireplace survived the era of ‘modernisation’ in the 1960s and 1970s.

I’d be about 8 years old at the time and I’d already taken drawing books on previous holidays but that Scottish holiday was the first on which I remember trying to write and illustrate a holiday journal. I went for a magazine format, folding up some reject offset paper my dad had brought back from work (disadvantage; it had the yellow separation of a colour photograph of a woman in fur coat printed on it at regular intervals). My cover drawing was of a Scotsman in a kilt, carrying his bagpipes through a glen and stopping to smile at a sheep. The back cover featured the Edinburgh Castle Tatoo but I think that was about as far as I got with it and unfortunately I lost it long ago.

2.45 pm, Japanese Garden, Interlaken


4.30 pm, on the return journey we see four marmots in what I’ve come to think of as the lower colony near the stream but none in the upper colony near the gondola station.

We get good views of a couple of Snow Finches, looking down on them as our gondola approaches the upper station. Appropriately one of the finches lands on a patch of snow and starts pecking about. The book says ‘often seen foraging at ski-resort restaurants’.

Until I looked up this bird in the book when I got home, I’d assumed that these were Snow Buntings, which I’ve seen in the Cairngorms and Iceland but in the Alps they’re replaced by this similar but not very closely related species.