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Swiss Holiday Diary 1908. By Margaret Wilson McNee
(born 1881 in Glasgow, Lanarkshire)


 

Part 4. The Niesen.

A postcard from Niesen

Friday, July 24th

Breakfast at 8 a.m. then preparations for the Niesen. We got our “twotoe” coverers and paid 1/2 franc for getting the studs put in. We had a nice little drive over part of the ground we covered yesterday, to a village called Zimmen, just at the foot of the Niesen. Here we got out and made preparations for walking. Our guide stowed away the lunch in his knapsack, a funny affair made of skin with the fur still on, and he offered to take all the cloaks that we would give him. We did not like to burden the poor man in this way, and slung them round our waists. We sent the lunch basket back in the machine and then proceeded on our way. It was extremely hot and very soon Mr Lister & Mr Allen had to discard their coats. These our sturdy little guide offered to carry, but the other gentlemen would not hear of it. The first part of the way was pretty easy, and we had breath enough to try our very bad German on our guide. He was exceedingly good natured and spoke very distinctly, but only in German. When we asked him if he spoke French, he shook his head decidedly and said: “Nein, nein, ich bin nicht Französisch.” By & by we came to some very stiff climbing and my breath quite deserted me. Mr Lister and T gave me a pull up but oh! I nearly ‘bust’. I felt myself a bit of a nuisance, but I really could not help stopping frequently to get a little breath. The scenery all the time was so beautiful that description of it is not easy. Although we climbed the shady side of the mountain, the heat was extreme. We should really have started much earlier, so as to have had our hardest work over before the heat of the day. Thirst soon assailed the party in general and me in particular, so we stopped at a chalet and had a drink of water. We passed many chalets on our way, which were shut up for the summer, both people and cattle having gone further up the mountain. By and bye, we came to huts with cattle inside. We could hear the jingle of their bells, so peeped in. The cows are kept inside during the heat of the day and allowed out in the evening. Far up the mountain side we came to a chalet, where the people were stirring milk in a large copper vessel over a fire. We came to the conclusion that they were making Swiss milk. There was a good supply of water all the way, and we took advantage of it. The troughs are tree trunks hollowed out, and the water is very good and icy cold. Once we stopped at a stream. It seemed to originate in a huge pile of snow, lying in a hollow of the hill, and the water was extremely cold. We put our arms into the water right up to the elbow, but I for one, could not keep them there for more than a second. The guide himself calmly stepped into the burn, and allowed the water to run over his boots. Then he put his arms into the water and held them up, thus letting the water run right into his armpits. The wild flowers were very plentiful, and our guide was never weary in getting them for us and telling us their names. One time he made a sudden dart downwards and soon reappeared with a plant that looked not unlike a plantain. This he told us with a broad grin was made into ‘Schnapps’ Whisky. Whether our exceeding droothiness made him think we should be interested, I can’t say. He seemed to think it a joke at any rate.

Once we stopped and had a pear. How delicious it was. By that time I was exceedingly tired, and could only go a few steps without stopping. The road seemed interminable – always up, up, up. Several times we met people coming down. How I envied them! When we were getting near the top we met a party of people, and endeavoured to ask them how long it would take us to reach the end of our long ‘spiel’. They told us half an hour. We were indeed thankful to hear it. At the long last we (he) reached the height of our ambition, and found a hotel there. I lay down on a wooden seat, while the rest explored and arranged about milk or coffee. I was disturbed by a peculiar noise, which I found to be falling stones, They had been loosened by the Niesen Railway makers, and were rattling down the precipices with a great clatter. We passed some awesome precipices on the way up, and on some sides of the summit there are others. We unpacked our lunch and ate it with some goat’s milk (50c) as our liquid food. I was only able to eat ½ sandwich as I was feeling rather sick. I enjoyed the milk, though the flavour was peculiar – like tinned Swiss milk. I returned to my seat and had another little rest. A nice big St Bernards dog made friends with the ladies of the party, but it evidently had objections to make to Mr Allan. After spending about an hour on ‘Niesen Kulm’ we began the descent deciding to go to Reichenbach, rather than Frutigen. And now began a scramble down a steep and very rough slope, which we found very trying on our ankles. Sometimes we sent showers of stones down, which was rather dangerous for those in front. On this slope were a great number and variety of wild flowers – butter balls, michaelmass daisies &c. I was not so spry as I might have been as I felt very sick. The guide was very good to me, and took my hand at the bad bits. After a sair ‘warstle’ we got on to the track. We took a glance at the slope, we had come down, and wondered how we had ever done it. Shortly afterwards we came to some chalets. We were just in time to see the cattle being let free for the evening. The tinkling of their bells was delightful and quite new to us. There was a very large number of them, so it was a case of “the more the merrier.” As we came gradually downwards we had many enchanting views. We could see the whole valley of the Kander along which we had driven yesterday, lying practically at our feet. I gradually began to feel spryer, but Mr Lister twisted his foot and was rather lame for a time. This we felt to be rather serious as our labours were by no means over, nor the road like the King’s highway. We all rather envied a youth who came out of a chalet carrying a milk can. He passed us, and we gave him no further thought, till we saw our guide’s merry face wreathed in smiles, and his finger pointing in the direction the aforementioned youth had taken. With one accord we gazed as directed, and there was the ‘child’ tearing along that rough, stony road at the rate of sixty good English miles an hour. Truly, the human frame is a marvellous creation! I think Swiss ankles must be made of no ordinary stuff, to ‘run and not be weary’, aye, or ‘broken’, on such a track. We gazed open mouthed at this surprising, but by no means elegant, performance. At the next chalet we made friends with a nice little collie puppy whose trademark (i.e. pawmark) we carried away on our skirts. And now the way led us through the pine woods – and a rough and stony way it was. It twisted and twined and wriggled, always going down, down, down. Our legs were tired resisting the force of gravity, and we felt as if we had descended millions, yes millions, of stairs. A woman with a pannier on her back, accompanied by a little girl, were [sic] trudging down the road in front of us. As we passed, the youngster smiled sweetly and presented ‘T’ with a posy of wild flowers, which she had been gathering . ‘T’ entered into conversation with them, but, as they spoke German, she did not understand very well all that the woman said. She was evidently surprised that we had been at the top of the Niesen. All things come to an end, and we really did come to the end of that pine wood, though we sometimes felt as if it had no end to come to. Shortly afterwards we found ourselves on the road to Kanderstegg, not far from our destination, ‘Reichenbach’.

We had to ‘decent’ ourselves, as a greater collection of beauties it would have been hard to find. Nan’s collar was crying, Hurrah! in the breeze – ours were decorating our pockets. Our blouses were all open at the neck, as worn in the back woods of America, and as for our sleeves, they were rolled up to our elbows, as if we had been having a good days charring. Our skirts were, to put it mildly, ‘well kilted’, our hats were mostly at a very rakish angle, and the hair beneath, well, a trifle ‘tousy’. We did our best to adjust these little matters before exposing ourselves to the gaze of the public. At Reichenbach station we had to wait for three quarters of an hour. We amused ourselves with a bonny wee girl, who was playing about and she amused herself with us. By and bye she was joined by another, and neither of them seemed to be at all shy. They were very pretty children. Going home in the train, we had a splendid view of the Blûmlisalp, lit up by the setting sun – a lovely rose pink.

We were all very tired, but determined to put our best foot forward. And ‘make believe’ that we were not in the least overcome. We trudged down the road from the station very gaily, and shortly appeared at dinner looking sunburnt, but according to our own ideas, fairly spry. I took a much better dinner than I thought I should, when at the top of the Niesen. The folks at the Hotel knew we had reached the top of the mountain, as they telephoned while we were there, to see if the wanderers had arrived. I forgot to mention this earlier. The guide told us about it, while we were having lunch. Before going to bed, we took a short walk on the verandah. Mr Morgan was enjoying ‘a puff at his pipe’, and hailed us with, “Well Scotties.” Phys said: “I don’t think you are nice.” He said: “Why, I thought that was the greatest compliment I could pay you.” We admitted that it most assuredly was. Mr Morgan smiled, and said: “Ah! if you want to get at a Scotchman, say something about his country.” We all laughed, and did not contradict the truth of that statement. Phys had evidently some bee in her bonnet about tomorrow’s proceedings. She did not want to miss Beatenberg – our programme for tomorrow – nor did she wish to forego Interlaken. She assailed Mr Morgan with questions about the relative merits of the shops, in Interlaken Grindelwald and Luzern – a nice corner to put a man in. The truth was, she was ‘taken’ with the shops in Interlaken, and wanted to buy things there, but if she went to Beatenberg, she would not have an opportunity of doing so. If the Grindelwald & Luzern shops were as good as those of Interlaken, then her ladyship would go to Beatenberg with a light heart and a full purse, but how was a mere man to understand all this. The victim in question had a notion that she wanted to do the impossible, so he said: “My dear young lady, you can’t do Switzerland in five minutes.” Phys declared she did not want to, and endeavoured to explain what she did want. I think, that eventually, he was enlightened, and she re-assured. After all this baz-faz, he said, he thought he would like to say something nice to us, before we retired, and asked us if we could suggest something suitable. We told him we did not want parrot compliments, and, that we had always given him credit for being more original. He then said: “Oh, very well. You are all exceedingly nice girls,” whereupon, we spread out our skirts and bowed to the ground, in acknowledgement of this well deserved? Compliment. After that, there was nothing left for us to do, but retire gracefully (as well as we could). We paid Nan & Phys a visit & ‘T’ punched their quilts as usual. Then to bed.

 

 

Notes / Glossary:

 

Droothiness - Lowland Scots for thirstiness.

Sair – Sore/painful

Worstle – Wrestle

Tousy - Tousled; tangled; rough; shaggy.

The construction of the Niesenbahn funicular railway was completed in 1910.

 

 

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Copyright free. An acknowledgement would be nice though!

 

Winamop 1908