THE SWISS ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
"It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house."
I stand atop Reichenbach Falls and watch the raging waters tumble 120 metres into the black-rock chasm below. I listen to the booming roar of the water and feel the fresh spay on my face. My wife and I were touring Switzerland, passing by car from Interlaken to Lucerne, when I had insisted on a little detour near Meiringen to the site of the spectacular falls, the place where Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had tried to kill off his fictitious super-sleuth in the story "The Adventure of the Final Problem."
The walking path along the cliff-side might now be a little better maintained otherwise, I imagine, not much has changed from the scene that Conan Doyle described on May 4th, 1891. It was here that Sherlock Holmes met his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, and, after a fierce fight, the two had purportedly fallen to their deaths. One would suspect that, had Holmes been as pugilistically adept as Robert Downey Jr. in the latest Holmes' film adaptations, he would have had little problem coping with an aging villain.
And perhaps he really didn't. Faced with a great public outcry, Conan Doyle was forced to alter his narrative plan and bring Holmes back from the abyss, back for further adventures on the pages of The Strand Magazine. He resurrected his nemesis by claiming that Holmes had managed to grab a tuft of grass during the fall into the "dreadful cauldron" and so had lived to solve another mystery. A memorial plaque at a viewpoint reminds visitors of the fictitious incident, and on May 4 every year, members of the international Sherlock Holmes Society make a pilgrimage to the falls to commemorate the "death" of their beloved hero.
Even without its literary connection, the beauty and wildness of the waterfalls would make Reichenbach a worthwhile side-trip. From a parking lot at the hotel below, a short trek accesses the three viewing terraces which offer breath-taking views. A railway tram also transports visitors alongside the raging waters of the Reichenbach, to the uppermost waterfall.
The charming Swiss town of Meiringen is, for many Holmes fans, a kind of Mecca. Set at the heart of the Hasliberg hiking region, the town has long been a favourite mountain walking resort. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stayed here many times, taking up residence at the Park Hotel Du Savage. This grand 1880's hotel still stands, retaining its romantic period charm. A plaque on the Victorian porch announces Conan Doyle as a guest. The author had, in fact, used the hotel as Holmes' and Watson's lodging in his story, calling it the Englischer Hof.
Near the hotel is Meiringen's town square, refurbished in the 1980's and renamed Conan Doyle Place. A statue of Holmes sits contemplatively on a park bench, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum can be found in the basement of a quaint English Chapel. The centrepiece of the Museum is a life-size replica of the sitting room at 221B Baker Street, put together with scrupulous accuracy. Many items are strewn around, including Holmes' violin, a bust of the detective used to decoy his enemies and a copy of The Times left on the floor in an attempt to convey the impression that Holmes and Watson had only moments before gone out.
Another fabulous museum dedicated to Holmes was established by Sir Arthur's son, Adrian Conan Doyle, in the charming town of Lucens. Among the curiosities, one finds a small viper preserved in aspic, from the story "The Speckled Band," a bust of Conan Doyle, a deerstalker hat owned by Holmes illustrator Sidney Paget, and several of Paget's illustrations, including Holmes wrestling with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. This museum concentrates as much on the writer as on the fictional sleuth.
It might be fair to ask, other than being the background for one Holmes story, why is there such a fascination for the great detective here in Switzerland so far from his London home? Well, in a country renowned for its clockwork efficiency, order and logic, the answer is…'elementary, my dear Watson'.
IF YOU GO
Switzerland Tourism www.myswitzerland.com.
Swiss Rail accesses Meiringen, and a Swiss Pass allows unlimited travel on the Swiss Travel System including trains, buses and boats, and also allows free access to over 400 museums, including the Sherlock Holmes Museum. www.sbb.ch/en
Reichenbach Falls firstname.lastname@example.org and www.reichenbachfall.ch
Photos by Jamie Ross
1. Reichenbach Falls
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