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Just me and nature

A close encounter with an avalanche

Beverley Smith recalls a close encounter with an avalanche on a day trip in the Swiss Alps in 1967 . . .

Leaving my bicycle hidden in bushes near the walking track, I began my walk to Lauenensee — two lakes near Lauenen in the Canton of Berne, Switzerland.

It was just me and nature on this sunny May day in 1967. With no other walkers on the easy route to the picturesque small lake, the silence was only broken by the calls of unseen cuckoos.

A squirrel scampered past and scurried up a tree then, from its vantage point, stopped to regard me. I became quite Beatrix Potterish and envisaged this small creature returning to its nest and reporting how stingy the human was, not leaving a piece of bread or apple peel. My lunch was in my backpack and I intended eating it once I reached the shores of the lake.

Now and then, a flash of deep blue caught my eye and I would gently fold back the grass to reveal an exquisite tiny gentian violet.

By the time I reached the lake, the day had become quite cloudy and there was still some snow on the mountains. About to sit down and eat my lunch of one soft bread roll filled with paté and another with egg and mayonnaise, I heard a great rumble.

Across the water and no great distance from me, tonnes of snow and ice were crashing down the mountain into the lake. I didn't wait to see the avalanche splash. With pounding heart I hastily pressed the camera shutter and fled, not knowing how swift the waters would rise to maybe envelope me.

The bicycle was still under the bush where I had left it and I moved to the serenity of a meadow to eat my rolls. Yellow and white narcissi and other spring flowers were in abundance; nature provides an exceptional decoration. A doe lifted her head with a ballet-like movement, and a goat briefly stopped munching to regard me. “High in the hills is a lonely goatherd” — Julie Andrews's melodic melody came to mind.

By 1pm I had thoughts of returning back to the finishing school I was working at, to continue my planned round-trip via another valley — under the stern disapproval of Les Diablerets.

The Diablerets Range, perhaps because of its name, seems more forbidding than other mountains that don't seem to mind humans clambering and skiing all over them. I should be back at the school by 5pm at the latest before a search party was summoned.

Two days earlier

“Dinah, can I hire your bicycle next Wednesday please” I asked? Dinah the English secretary and Marion the Australian nurse had hired bicycles for a month and they kindly sub-let them at 2 Swiss francs a day to the other staff.

Wednesday was my day off from working as second cook at Les Volets Jaunes, the finishing school. I planned to set off at 8am and cycle through the charming villages of Rougemont, Saanen, the larger village of Gstaad and on to Lauenen — a picturesque village of wooden houses and shops and a 19th century church. There I would enjoy a hot chocolate and a browse in a souvenir shop where cuckoo clocks covered the wall and faux cow bells hung gaily, tempting one to touch them lightly resulting in a tinny clang. Nothing like the real thing. Once I had watched a grizzled old farmer lovingly choose a huge bell for one of his cows. The leather straps were patterned with edelweiss, the delicate white mountain flower.

My diary records that I arrived back at Chateaux d'Oex at 5pm and walked with the bicycle up the steep hill to the school, the only climb of the day. The staff were relieved to find me and the bicycle in good order. I recall my legs and thighs were stiff for two days.

PICTURESQUE: A postcard of Chateau-d’Oex (above), the municipality in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland where Beverley Smith worked as second cook at a finishing school for a time in 1967. Pictures supplied
FINISHING SCHOOL: Les Violets Jaunes finishing school is pictured here and and also in the following photo in this gallery.
LES VIOLETS JAUNES: The small balcony was off the bedroom where Beverley stayed while working there.
REMNANTS OF AN AVALANCHE: Beverley was about to tuck into her packed lunch after reaching the picturesque small Lauenensee lake on a day off work in 1967 when she heard a great rumble then saw tonnes of snow and ice come crashing down the moutainside into the lake just across from her. She snapped this photo quickly before fleeing.
A gentian violet.