LATE NOVEMBER, 2010
Contemplating the purchase of an idiot-proof GPS, I stride ever further away from Altdorf station. My error costs me an hour, but I’m walking at a caffeinated clip and if I must get lost, at least I’m doing it at an awe-inspiring pace.
The unplanned diversion does provide a surprise bonus. Doubling back, I spy atop a little hill a jagged spike, ruins of something striking and very old:
A glance back at the mountains, and I’m Altdorf-bound again:
At last I reach the market square of Altdorf. A dozen altstadts in Switzerland and they never lose their power to make my jaw drop. This little city is capital of Uri canton, and relics dating back to the 3rd century BC have been unearthed here. Nowadays it’s known for its bronze monument, erected in 1895, to Wilhelm Tell:
Uri is one of the three founding cantons of the Swiss Federation, and was also home to that most famous of Swiss libertarians, Mr Tell. Unfortunately, the evidence for his existence is inconclusive at best — he seems to serve an equivalent role in Swiss folklore to England’s Robin Hood.
This is the very spot where Tell, who had offended the Austrian Habsburg bailiff Gessler by refusing to bow to his hat, was ordered to shoot an apple from his son’s head:
Here’s Tell, grateful Walter, and this early example of Swiss precision tool-making:
A half-hour of trying to squeeze the monument into my viewfinder, to the amusement of several locals awaiting their bus, and I am at last heading to the lake and the resumption of the path:
This part of Switzerland is almost 90% Catholic. There’s no escaping His presence, even on the trail:
It’s another cold, bleakly overcast day, another virtually deserted pathway. The view across the lake reveals the enormous peaks I scuttled beneath yesterday:
Pretty soon I’m back inside the mountains. The old road. Magnificent vistas framed by rough-hewn windows; a mezzanine of mountains. More Tolkien flashbacks, a sensational bit of walking, even sans trolls and dwarves:
Canton Uri took its name from an old German word for wild ox. Here’s the cantonal coat of arms:
Flat land for roads in Switzerland is at a premium. This old road I’m hiking down was cut right into the cliff:
In a few places, drivers on the modern road can pull over to take in the views:
I descend to the lake shore and the quaint Tellskapelle — Tell Chapel — dating from the early 1500s, though the current structure was built in 1879. The chapel is accessible by boat and annual services are held here:
Its four-panelled frescoe depicts the highlights of the Tell legend, painted by Ernst Stückelberg in the early 1889s, and kept secure behind a locked gate:
With some contortion I am able to capture part of each dramatic panel through the bars. Here’s that swine Gessler and the uppity Tell:
Refusing to submit, and having revealed his intention to kill the bailiff if his son had been sliced instead of the apple, Tell is put in chains and taken by boat towards Gessler’s castle. In what seems suspiciously like divine intervention, a storm descends on the Urnersee, and Tell is unbound and ordered to steer; he escapes, making it ashore at this very spot, known as the Tellsplatte:
Our hero then makes his way on foot to the Hohle Gasse, an alleyway between the Immensee and Gessler’s Küssnacht stronghold, where he ambushes the tyrant and puts that mighty crossbow to deadly use:
The ensuing tide of rebellion culminates in the oath sworn at Rütli (see previous post), and Tell figures again in the subsequent conflicts:
Stirring stuff. Suitable stirred, I climb up above the lake again…
..and resume my journey…
All morning I’ve been hearing the throb of a far-off helicopter, rising and falling like the spasms of a bad hangover. With each bend in the path, the volume increases…
The memorial to a long-dead tunnel construction worker. I wonder if Josef Rennerschuler is remembered at all, 56 years later. Still, a plaque is more than a lot of folk get…
..and out again, a stiff little climb, with some truly bizarre diversion above:
Aerial forestry. Workers on a steep hillside are felling trees. There’s no room for a truck, so they attach that line to a trunk, chainsaw it, and pluck it out of there and down the road to dump it and return not 10 minutes later…
I pass a schützenhaus — an emergency hut for winter use. The copter is still at work in the distance:
And up I climb, onto a country lane, through quiet, snow-covered pastures. A woman comes out of a big old farmhouse, says hello, and stares. With dusk settling in, I race towards the lights of Morschach, a ski resort-village dating from the 13th century.
I descend in darkness, past sleeping chairlifts, sedentary chalets, through the woods above Brunnen. A couple, taking an evening walk, nod hello. A young guy points me at the station in careful, accurate English.
Another spotless carriage. I’ve come full circle on the Swiss Path and conclude an amazing walk with another cold Swiss beer, another hearty sandwich…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote