Hiking is having something of a renaissance. The singer Taylor Swift loves it and so, of course, does Theresa May, who will be able to do a lot more of it in the Swiss Alps having left 10 Downing Street.
I am lacing up my boots in the land of eternal snow, cuckoo clocks, yodelling and Heidi to ramble through the verdant valley of Lauterbrunnen near Interlaken, in the heart of Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland.
Lording over me are the majestic summits of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau when, suddenly, our guide, Thomas, tells us to watch out for Gandalf, the wizard in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fairy tale fantasy. Had he been at the Gluhwein? Well, no. The jagged black peaks poking through the clouds like witches’ hats were the inspiration for his Misty Mountains in The Lord Of The Rings.
Wonderful wandering: The green valleys and snowy peaks of Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland
Tolkien came hiking in this other earthly Eden before suffering trench fever on the Somme, hallucinating that cavalry horses were dragons. Years later, the carnage he witnessed on the battlefield prompted some of the icy wilderness of his dark fairy tales.
The Bernese Oberland has a kind of celestial aura, the landscape seemingly created by cosmic forces, its mountains decorated with foaming waterfalls tumbling down ravines to fathomless lakes.
I am here on a four-day hike through the wild flower meadows and pine-clad slopes, with our luggage sent ahead to Belle Epoque hotels, as well as rustic hideaways – one at the Rosenlaui Glacier Gorge, where Brahms composed his gentlest pastoral symphonies.
Wild meadows: Hikers walk along a trail under the north wall of the Eiger Mountain
There are five of us on this trip, ranging from energetic 25-year olds to me of, well, more seasoned status. ‘Welcome to the valley of 72 waterfalls,’ Thomas announces gaily. ‘In winter, everything covered in snow. Wonderful for skiing. In summer, everything green. Beautiful for walking.’
Under hot, cloudless skies, we wander past dairy farms, where docile, wide-eyed brown cows are happy to be stroked, before reaching the Trummelbach Falls, plunging hundreds of metres. There’s so much billowing spray it’s like standing in a shower.
Back in the sunshine, paragliders hover high in the sky. ‘They must be careful to stay away from the eagles’ nests,’ cautions Thomas. ‘If they get too close, the eagles attack the parachutes with their talons and then … kaput!’
The churning maelstrom of the Trummelbach Falls, which descends hundreds of metres
At the Schilthorn, a cable car zips 1,000 metres to the summit, with dramatic views of the Matterhorn and the distant Mont Blanc.
There are more than 200 miles of easy-going paths for all abilities in the Bernese Oberland. True, there are a few blisters at journey’s end, but a wonderful camaraderie has fused us together.
None of us had met before, but, temporarily disconnected from our normal lives, secrets have been shared and confidences exchanged. Somehow, the world seems a better place.
Roderick travelled with myswitzerland.com, offering three nights’ half-board in hotels, including flights from London to Zurich with Swiss Air (swissair.com) and train fare, from £660pp. The Swiss Travel System provides tickets for buses, trains and ferries exclusively for visitors from abroad (swisstravelsystem.co.uk).