Forest Trail

Wednesday (Mittwoch), 8 (acht) June (Juni)

View from our balcony at the Hotel Bernerhof, 1.50 pm

OUR ONLY day of the holiday without a travel pass, so, on this drizzly morning, we walk up to the Park Hotel to follow Wengen’s Forest Trail on the lower western slopes of Männlichen. You can get a trail leaflet from the Tourist Information Centre in Wengen.

It’s an easy way to get familiar with the trees and flowers of the area as 69 species are labelled with their botanical names and in German, French, English and Italian (we’re only 22 miles from the border with Italy, but that’s over the mountains and across the Rhone Valley). Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, for example, is Charme in French, Carpino in Italian and Weissbuche or Hagebuche in German.

2.15 pm

Rhododendron hirsutum is the German Behaarte Alpenrose, French Rhododendron cilie and Rhododendron peloso in Italian. The label suggests Hirsute rhododendron as the English name but I’d go simply for Alpenrose, which is also the name of one of the hotels in Wengen, one that has been attracting guests for over a century. In winter, one visitor tells us, you can ski right down to this hotel from the slopes.

The Top of Europe

THE DAY STARTS as our clearest yet, so we head up the hill towards Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe. After we change trains at Kleine Scheidegg the railway ascends via a tunnel through the Eiger, with two brief stops to take in the view. At the first stop you look through the most unlikely of picture windows, cut in the North Wall of the Eiger, down on Männlichen and Grindelwald while at the next you feel you’ve entered the mountain world as you look out over the Eiger Glacier.

Unfortunately by the time we arrive at the terminus station in the mountain at Jungfraujoch, cloud has shrouded the summits. It soon fills the valley below too, erasing the view even of these nearby pinnacles of the Jungfrau (above). The terrace by the restaurant is closed because of the danger of falling ice.

After a break for hot chocolate, I resign myself to drawing the icicles hanging from the roof – which is as far as I can see in the cloud – but I’m delighted when the cloud clears sufficiently for me to make my drawing of the glacier.

The Aletsch Glacier

At 23 kilometres (17 miles) long, the Aletsch Glacier is the longest – and also the widest – in Europe. There are no trees or buildings to give an idea of scale in this mountain landscape. It’s not until later, when I see figures far below walking on the glacier and tobogganing in the Snow Fun area, that I realise that those crevases on the left would be large enough to swallow up our house.

Ascending from Wengen (1274 m, 4180 ft) to Jungfraujoch (3454 m, 11333 ft) involves a large drop in air pressure so when I attempt to start drawing with my ArtPen, a fountain pen, I find that the ink leeks out uncontrollably. Luckily this doesn’t affect my Pilot Drawing Pens which are fibre tips.

For the view of the Aletsch Glacier I switch to pencil for the drawing before adding watercolour. In the original of this drawing the watercolour washes fade imperceptably into the white of the paper, something that seems to be impossible to reproduce in a low res scan.

As I sit on the floor by a full-length window in the coffee shop I’m just on level with a small Japanese boy who ask me repeatedly (as his father eventually translates) why don’t I use brighter colours, such as red.

Two South Korean women ask if they can photograph my drawing then photograph me with my sketchbook. I’m touched by the way they thank me; standing, side by side and bowing in unison.

Jungfrau from the Sphinx (left), which is the highest point you can visit at Jungfraujoch .

Pressure change also affects the journey down; I drink the last of my water as we wait for the train to set off, then screw the cap back onto the bottle. When I take the bottle out of my bag in the hotel, I discover that it has collapsed under the increased pressure.

The Marmots of Mannlichen

As we came up above the treeline on the gondola from Grindelwald to Männlichen bahn (2225m) we saw plenty of marmot holes amongst the rough moorland but it was several minutes before Barbara spotted one walking – or waddling – over the turf, as if it was wearing incoveniently oversized pyjamas, raising its head to peer up the slope.

A few minutes later, I spotted two marmots which appeared to be smaller than the first one, scampering along to a low mound. A third marmot ran towards them and was soon involved in a fight (or a boisterous greeting) with one of the pair while the other looked on.

4 pm; At the top near the summit at the Männlichen Berggashaus, a restaurant run by the family Kaufmann, we share a slice of Studentenschnit, a traditional iced Swiss cake made with lot of ingredients and a Nussgipfel, a pastry croissant with nutty praline in it.

On the journey back down we thought that we’d passed back descended out of marmot territory when I spotted two by a stream. One flicked its tail as they encountered each other – like the other two we’d seen – and they greeted each other with a ‘hug’ – in this case it was less of a tussle.


Monday (Montag), 6 (seches) June (Juni) 2011

WE’VE GOT just one ‘big trip’ still to do during our stay here; we want to visit Jungfraujoch, the ‘Top of Europe’ but today isn’t the day to go up there as cloud is swirling around and down below us even here at Wengen. This is the view looking up Lauterbrunnen Valley from the station at 10.15 am, as we wait for the train.

We arrived in cloud on Wednesday and the next morning, when the cloud cleared partially to reveal the mountains at the head of this U-shaped valley for the first time, it was as if the curtains had been raised on a great scenic theatrical spectacle.

A man cuts back the scrub on a steep banking by Allmend station, the next on the line as we travel uphill from Wengen. Alder scrub is one of the habitats recreated at the Alpine Garden at Schynige Platte.

It looks as if the cloud will hang around for a while so we take the next train down the other side of the slope from Kleine Scheidegg to resume Saturday’s walk down to Grindelwald from Brandegg, where we finished up the other day.

A St Bernard, much larger than the Swiss Mountain Dog I drew yesterday, is one of our fellow passengers.

There’s time for a coffee break at Brandegg Restaurant before we start. I settle down to draw the musical cows in the surrounding pasture and, feeling a little more confident with my phrasebook German order:

‘Drei cafes mit milch, bitte.’

Which I think is German for ‘Two coffees with milk, please.’ It isn’t; the waitress brings three coffees! But she kind enough to take one away again, much to the amusement of the staff.

Sheep have smaller bells than the cows. A group of 9 or 20 were slowing grazing around an old barn in the flower-rich meadows above Grindelwald.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum

THE ATTRACTION of the reconstruction of Sherlock Holmes’ study at 221b Baker Street, London (which I drew in September), is that you can walk around it but the tantalizing fascination of this meticulous reconstruction, housed in the basement of the small Sherlock Holmes Museum at Meiringen, Switzerland, is that you can’t walk around it. Hermetically sealed behind a glass wall, which is punctured only by bullet holes spelling out the initials ‘VR’ that Holmes has made in the wall during an idle moment, you feel as if you’ve been transported, by some kind of out of the body experience, to a place where ‘it is always 1891’ and that you’ve only just missed Holmes and Watson who, minutes earlier, have set out on an adventure.

To complete the period atmosphere, the BBC drama department supplied a CD of the sounds of 1891 – including the clatter of hooves on cobbles – which plays in the background. Through the bow windows, you can see Georgian town houses across Baker street; contrary to popular belief, the commentary informs us, it wasn’t always foggy in Victorian London.

In my photograph the ‘ghost’ of a headless policeman stands guard at the deal table where Sherlock performed his chemical experiments; he’s a reflection from one of the display cases in the corridor behind you. The audio guide points out that while the British bobby carried a truncheon, his Swiss counterpart at that time (the one in the reflection) carries a cutlass.

The museum is housed the town’s former English Church, the airy nave of which on the ground floor, serves as an art gallery. From here you can look out to the wooded slopes of the valley to the west and the gorge of the Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and his arch-enemy Professor Moriaty fought to the death in Conan Doyle’s story The Final Problem.

Today we’re looking towards the Falls over the big top of a travelling circus, hopefully one that is less prone to disaster than the circus described in The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.

The Reichenbach Falls

I take the chance to do a little drawing when we take the funicular railway up to the Falls as I’ve got my own Sherlock Holmes project to complete. I’ve been working on it off and on for nine years so I hope that I’ll be inspired to finish my book by visiting the ledge where Holmes fought the Professor.

‘He is the Napoleon of Crime, Watson’, says Holmes, ‘the organiser of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city…’

The criminal mastermind is still at work today in Meiringen; returning from the Falls, Barbara and I are about to follow a narrow walkway alongside some roadworks when the wind starts toppling the barrier and its sturdy posts from the far end towards us in a domino effect. A narrow escape!

This gasogene, a Victorian soda syphon, is just one of the authentic period details in Sherlock’s study. My drawing has turned out even more wobbly than usual, possibly due the effect of looking sideways in low light my new varifocal glasses. Or was it the narrow escape we’d just had . . . or the effects of being on a rather slender budget and being unable to fortify ourselves by sampling one of the famous Meiringen meringues!

Standing on the sideboard by the gasogene (far right in my photograph above) – and also tantalizingly out of our reach – is a tantalus; a stand for decanters which can be locked up while remaining visible.

Graham Moore’s novel The Holmes Affair starts at the Reichenbach Falls and ends with a note recommending that, if the reader should ever find him, or her, -self in Meiringen, that they should visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum and take a close look at some of the exhibits.

I’d second that.

Swiss Mountain Dog

You can’t see the Falls themselves from Meiringen station but you can see the cliff of the gorge and the star that marks the place on the ledge where Holmes and Moriaty fought.

I draw some of the crags as we take the train back alongside Lake Brienz (Brienzersee) to Interlaken.

This morning, as we waited for the train at Wengen, I drew this Swiss Mountain Dog. That isn’t brandy in his barrel; he carries his own supplyof water and, in two small panniers, his dogfood.

Barn on the slopes to the east of Lauterbrunnen station.

Kleine Scheidegg

THIS MORNING, for the first time, we’ve taken the uphill train from Wengen to the terminus at Kleine Scheideggat the top of the pass, a station that reminds me of the Tintin stories, with mountain railway trains, some of them charmingly vintage, arriving from three directions and a constantly changing cosmopolitan throng of people embarking and disembarking, some of whom I could imagine having walk-on parts in Hergé’s comic-strip adventures of the globe-trotting Belgian boy-detective. The absent-minded Professor Calculus and the comically but heroic Captain Haddock might appear at any moment. The dapper ticket inspector shepherding passengers onto the ‘Top of Europe’ train would be perfect in a cameo role and these Alpine horn players might add a touch of local colour.

They set up their 3 or 4 metre long instruments on the hillock behind a large tepee which serves as a beer tent. The calm, mellow notes of the horns carry well in this mountainside setting. There’s a subtle play of harmonies when you hear two horns together. It’s a reflective, nostalgic kind of sound, with a hint of sadness about it to my ears; not the audacious bull-roar that you might expect from such a monster of an instrument.

Alpine Chough

If this was one of Hergé’s stories, by now Snowy (or Milou, as he’s called in the original Belgian version), Tintin’s dog, would have slipped away from the performance to team up with a St Bernard in the beer-tent to drink the contents of its brandy barrel. Thieving magpies feature in one of the Tintin stories but in this mountain setting their place is taken by streetwise Alpine Choughs, one of which surprises Barbara as she’s sitting writing her journal by flying down to the table, right beside her, to check for scraps.


We walk down from Kleine Scheidegg towards Grindelwald, the holiday village in the valley below the Eiger, photographing wild flowers as we go. Alpiglen, halfway down, is perfectly placed for our lunch stop (Goulash Soup, right).

Through the window, beyond the window box filled with geraniums, there’s a view of the lower slopes of the Eiger. The peak itself towers way out of sight above the window and, this afternoon, is lost in the clouds.

Most of the roofs in the small hamlet of Alpiglen, and many elsewhere in the area, are clad with wooden shingles, often with a metal ridge along the apex.

Fieldfare and Swallowtail

This thrush-sized bird has us puzzled. In my notes, I record it at 2.20 pm by broad-leaved woodland edge (we’re well down the mountainside now) by a meadow with Globeflower, mallow and trefoil. We’ve seen it several times but it wouldn’t be until after our holiday, when I looked it up in the bird book at home, that we realised that it’s a Fieldfare. I assume that when I noted that its breast was ‘white’ I was getting a partial view as the breast of a Fieldfare is spotted. In Britain Fieldfares are winter visitors, in the Alps they can be seen throughout the year.

The swallowtail butterflies are easier to recognise.

Apple Fritters at Brandegg

Our final stop before getting on the train for the rest of the journey is at Brandegg, where the restaurant makes a speciality of apple fritters. We sit outside and I draw this view looking north across the valley towards the hamlet of Bussalp, perched amongst the high meadows above those limestone cliffs.

A Buzzard circles high above the valley to the west, descending into the forest. A Redstart, with a breast the colour of ‘rust washed with saffron’ according to my note (I’ve been adding the colour later to these bird note sketches), sings from the gutter at the corner of the restaurant. Cow bells ring like a laid-back gamelan ensemble in the surrounding meadow.

As we walked down the track between Alpiglen and Brandegg we heard a noise as if a train was coming towards us along the nearby track. It built to something more like thunder or distant gunfire. We looked up to the north face of the Eiger to see an avalanche coming down, funneled into gullies on its way so that you might mistake it for a waterfall but it was more like the sand in an egg-timer. As it came down from one terrace it built up a pile – as an egg-timer does – below. When this became unstable the avalanche continued down to the next level, sometimes forking to descend down two gullies.

Climbers on the Eiger prefer to set up camp and take a break during the afternoons to avoid the avalanches that are then likely to start.

This long-horned beetle flew onto the fence between our table and the meadow. It was about 2 inches long including the antennae.


This is the view of the Jungfrau (4158 m., 13642 ft) from our balcony at the Bernerhof Hotel, Wengen. Most evenings it was partially, or entirely, lost in cloud.

Alpine Garden

FOR THE FIRST TIME since we arrived, we can see all the surrounding peaks as we set off for the Alpine Garden at Schynige Platte to get familiar with the local wildflowers.

As the train goes through a tunnel on the steep ascent, I get – for an instant – my first view of the Eiger, framed by a narrow shaft.

I draw Globeflower, Alpine Snowbell and a white anemone in the garden. A useful guide in English explains that the aim of the garden is to recreate the main Alpine meadow habitats you might find in the area. There’s an ‘ideal’ Alpine meadow, rich in species, the kind of thing that might result from years of controlled grazing and gradual recycling of nutrients but also examples of the changes that can take place through the addition of too much fertiliser or the effects of too much trampling, whether that’s by cows or skiers.

The Alpine meadow is a dynamic habitat, or perhaps that should be a habitat in dynamic balance. It’s possible that very similiar types of grassland, wild versions of the present-day cow pasture and hay meadows, existed even before the introduction of agriculture.

Trummelbach Falls

WE WERE heading elsewhere but the view of the Lauterbrunnen valley – the valley of 72 waterfalls – as we descend on the funicular railway proves irresistible. After so much travelling yesterday, we’re ready to leave the station behind us and stroll in the sun towards the head of the valley.

It’s an easy walk, mainly along quiet lanes, from Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg and the Trummelbach Falls make a spectacular break along the way. Not that there’s much to see of the Falls from the Trummelbach hotel where I made the drawing above, looking towards the top of the valley. A glacier-fed torrent from the Jungfrau and its surroundings has tunnelled its way down through the limestone, so you need to ascend by lift and hundreds of steps into the cliff to see – and hear – the spectacle.

I’d forgotten my watercolours, so my drawings today, including this one (above) from a shady bench across the valley from Trummelback, are in pen and ink. The jagged line at the bottom is the channel the Falls take, fed by the hanging valley as a gutter feeds a drain-pipe. Above the cliff-top line of trees in the distance there’s an ice-fall, or perhaps I should describe it as a small glacier. The summit of the Jungfrau is lost in cloud.


We take a lunch stop at a kiosk cafe near the Stechelberg cable car station at the top of valley, sharing a local dish; Chäschüechi, a kind of mildly cheesy quiche with a pastry base and a light egg and cheese topping, seasoned with nutmeg.

We take the cable-car up to Mürren then the railway back to Grütschalp to descend via another cable-car to Lauterbrunnen. There’s a steady flow of people leaping from the tops of these cliffs and either making their way down gradually via parachute or, alarmingly, leaving it until the last possible moment to pull the chord, giving them just enough time to slow down before they reach the fields below.

Red deer antlers in the dining room at the Bernerhof Hotel.


6.30 am, Dewsbury station; WE’RE OFF on our travels again but this time heading west through the Pennines via Marsden Tunnel on the train to Manchester airport. I’m aware that our familiar moors aren’t going to compare in scale or variety with the scenery that we’ll encounter in Switzerland.We set off from Manchester airport at 10.50 am.

By 11.30 we’re reaching the coast of France at a height of 35,000 feet.

The fields in the this part of France are longer and narrower than most you’d see in England and, in this area at least, there’s more woodland than you’d see in most parts of our country.

Getting into holiday mood, I go for a Merlot from the Pays d’Oc and an Easy Jet in-flight snack-pack which consists of Belgian Ardennes paté, a triangle of Vache qui Rit spready cheese from France, not to mention biscuits from various corners of Britain; water biscuits from Carlisle, Hula Hoops from Ashby de la Zouch and Scottish shortbread from Aberlour on Spey, plus a packet of olives from somewhere in the Med.

12.10 BST and we’re descending between two layers of stratus to Zurich airport.

The first bird that we spot is a Heron flying over the river at Zurich HB station. The river is muddy – there was heavy rain this morning.


I could get used to this kind of life. We even paid a modest premium to travel in the extra space and comfort of first class for our tranfer via Swiss railways, changing at Bern and Spiez, travelling most of the way on the upper deck of a double-decker carriage with panoramic windows.

No first class on the final stage of the journey via a funicular railway climbing 1500 feet out of the deep U-shaped valley at Lauterbrunnen to the little town of Wengen, which will be our base for the next two weeks.

Still in holiday mood, I opt for one of the Swiss speciality raclette. You scrape the raclette cheese as it melts from the top of the block of cheese onto your new potatoes, pickled onions and gherkins.