The Old Furnace

 THERE’S AN inscription carved on a cornerstone dated 1682 but the notice (in German) appears to suggest that the structure, a ‘Schmelzofen’ (smelting furnace) may date from 1650 but the date 1715 is also mentioned, possibly referring to a rebuilding. The structure stands on the east bank of the river between Zweilutschinen and Lauterbrunnen.

There’s no trace of burning in the arched openings on the north-west and south-west sides but there is a crust of what appears to be lime around the base of the bee-hive-shaped central chimney.

The inscription on the cornerstone on the north-west side of the furnace.

It had started to rain but I was able to draw sitting at a picnic bench beneath a sheet-plastic awning. A large woodsman’s axe had been left by a covered pile of logs, kept under cover for use on a large barbecue. You wouldn’t leave one of those lying around in England!

The Marmot’s Tail

 Friday (Freitag), 10 (zehn) June (Juni)

Sound of whistling – repeated 2-note phrases – as we passed over the marmot burrows. These two appeared to be keeping watch on some walkers 100 yards away.

Seen from above the marmot has a tail as thick as a German sausage – thicker in fact – with a black tip.

A stand-off – who will come out on top? –

A pair of Ravens or the mighty marmots – Europe’s largest member of the squirrel family?

No contest; one Raven pecks the tail of one of the marmots, which scampers off and stands right next to its bolt hole. The other marmot likewise stands beside a hole while the Ravens continue to strut along as the cocks of the walk.

Some of the marmot holes are enormous – perhaps where multiple tunnels have collapsed into each other.

Romantiweg

Pipit, Alpiglen

The Wengen-Männlichen gondola was back in operation again yesterday after repairs to the supporting cable following a lightning strike so this morning we were on it at about 9, up in the high Alpine grasslands about ten minutes later and before 10 we’d made our way to a little knoll on the north end of the Männlichen ridge that gives views of all the places in the vicinity that we’ve visited – Interlaken, the Alpine Garden at Schynige Platte, Grindelwald, and the Lauterbrunnen Valley, although this morning cloud blotted out the Jungfrau.

Drogerie, Grindelwald station

After coffee at the restaurant we followed the Romantiweg – the Romantic Footpath – across the slopes down to Alpiglen, making slow progress as there were so many different species of wild flower to stop and try to identify.

Chamois 

On our return descent to Männlichen, in a cable car filled to capacity, we were able to position ourselves on the north side of the cabin so that we could see the area that the Chamois Trail footpath goes through on a steep upper slope where narrow meadows streak down between phalanxes of conifers. We were in luck; we saw our first Chamois. Well, actually I’d just decided that it was an odd-shaped sandy grey boulder lying by the path when Barbara spotted another 10 yards away from it, making its way along the path into the forest. We could make out the general shape through binoculars but not whether it had horns.

My close up of the Chamois (right) was of a stuffed specimen in a glass case in the lower cable car station. It was larger than I imagined; the size of a goat.

A day or two later we got a better view of a single Chamois, spotted by a sharp-eyed Australian as we waited for the cable car to descend. It was standing at the foot of the grassy gulley/clearing that runs below the cables. That one definitely had horns.

Mist over Männlichen

6.30 pm; These lower pinnacles of Männlichen were soon completely swathed in cloud when I started adding the watercolour to this little sketch made from our balcony. It’s now raining heavily (rather than torrentially) but it’s also brightened; there’s an overall yellowish hue to the meadows and chalets of Wengen, below the increasingly misty mountain above. The light is similar to the yellow band in a rainbow.

Murrenbach Waterfall

Mürrenbach waterfall, drawn from the kiosk cafe at Stechelberg at the top end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley 

WITH CLOUD swirling over the upper slopes we make our way down to Lauterbrunnen. We’re surprised to find hoof-prints, and fresh cow-dung, on the winding path through the woods – surely they don’t take the cows up and down this path for milking every day!

Talking to Barbara (another Barbara) who serves us coffee at the Jungfrau Hotel, we learn that today is the day that the Lauterbrunnen Valley cattle are taken to the upper pastures on the Wengen side of the valley. On the Mürren side they were taken up a week earlier. This proved premature as an usually late snowfall meant that they found themselves up there in the snow.

Looking at my drawing of the Altetsch Glacier, Barbara tells us that she runs in the Aletsch half marathon which involves 21 kilometres along the lateral moraine of the glacier at over 1000m altitude.

Sand martins, house martins and swifts swoop low over the river.

Folk Evening at Wengen

Wengen Bell Ringers parade along the main street with their enormous cow bells, creating a rhythmic racket. As we’re in the mountains their procession reminded me of the ceremonies that Tibetan Buddhist monks perform to frighten off evil spirits.

The Alpine horn also resembles and instrument played by Buddhist monks but in Switzerland to mellow, rather than other-worldly, effect. The Buchel horn resembles a curled up Alpine horn. The soloist performed a piece called ‘The Guy from Mūrren’ which a friend had composed for him.

The Wengen and Mūrren Yodel singers didn’t go for the sort of yodelling that would echo across the valley; their songs were rather gentle and harmonically complex, about homely, Swiss country life, such as ‘The Saturday Evening Meal’.

The event, the first of a series this summer, was held in a large marquee by the tennis courts.

The band finished with a Dixieland jazz piece and the evening finished with dancing to an accordian trio.

Lace-makers and spinners demonstrated their crafts and there was a chance to sample local food and drink.

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.

Grindelwald

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.

Alpiglen

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.

Jungfrau

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.