Now I have the attention of my dear, curious reader! Always eager for some dramatic news. Did our hero trip over a ski pole? Perhaps a slide on a fondue slick? Who is this unfortunate sleuth, anyway? In truth, this is old news …over one hundred year-old news, and the aforementioned detective is none other than Sherlock Holmes.
His fall was documented in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem which was published in The Strand Magazine in December 1893. The magazine’s readers were so shocked by the untimely death of their favourite fictional character that over 20,000 subscriptions were cancelled and The Strand narrowly missed following Holmes into premature oblivion. The Reichenbach Falls evidently made a great impression on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was introduced to them on a holiday to the area by his host, Sir Henry Lunn, who was the founder of the Lunn Poly holiday travel empire.
In The Final Problem, Holmes comes up against Professor Moriarty, a master of crime and his personal nemesis. Holmes is forced to flee to the Continent with Moriarty in pursuit. ‘It was on the third of May that we reached the little village of Meiringen, where we put up at the Englischer Hof, then kept by Peter Steiler the Elder,’ writes Dr Watson, Holmes’s faithful companion.
These days the Reichenbach Falls are just a short drive away. The Falls are also accessible by the Reichenbach Fall funicular. The lower station is 20 minutes’ walk, or a 6 minute bus ride, from Meiringen station. The actual ledge from which Moriarty and Holmes fell is reached by climbing the path to the top of the Falls, crossing the bridge and following the path down the hill. The ledge is marked by a plaque reading: ‘At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarty, on 4 May 1891.’
The town of Meiringen, unlike the detective, does really exist, and is believed to be the birthplace of the meringue that we know today. The invention of meringue in 1720 is attributed to a Swiss pastry-cook named Gasparini. The Guinness Book of Records lists the biggest meringue as that produced 1985 in Meiringen. It was 2.5 metres long, 1.5 metres wide and 1 metre high. The usual-sized meringues are often eaten as cases filled with fruit and cream, such as Pavlova. They are still served with whipped cream in local cafés; one could hardly visit this small town without trying one or two of these airy and sweet delights.
But back to Sherlock standing by the Reichenbach Falls: ‘As I turned away I saw Holmes, with his back against a rock and his arms folded, gazing down at the rush of the waters. It was the last that I was ever destined to see of him in this world.’ Dr Watson tells of the emotional discovery of his friend’s assumed death: ‘There was Holmes’s Alpine-stick still leaning against the rock by which I had left him. But there was no sign of him, and it was in vain that I shouted. My only answer was my own voice reverberating in a rolling echo from the cliffs around me.’
Meiringen has taken its fictitious visitor, Sherlock Holmes, to its heart. There are hotels, bars and restaurants named after the detective and the hotel which features in the book is still welcoming guests. Park Hotel du Sauvage is conveniently situated next to the Sherlock Holmes Museum which draws fans from around the world.
The museum opened in 1991 on the 100th anniversary of the death of Sherlock Holmes, and in the presence of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and Dame Jean Conan Doyle, daughter of the author. The museum is found in the basement of the old English church in the centre of the village. It’s a small museum but one of the most memorable I have visited. The sitting room of the Victorian lodgings at 221b Baker Street where Holmes and Dr. Watson lived has been thoughtfully recreated in sufficient detail to please even the most dedicated Holmes aficionados.
One can reach Meiringen via Bern with SkyWork Airlines who fly from Southend Airport. From Bern travel time is 1 hr 31 minutes using the celebrated Swiss train network with 1 change, going via Interlaken Ost.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018