Sherlock Holmes comes back on the Swiss trail

Fans of the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes have been criss-crossing Switzerland on the trail of the British sleuth, with a few crimes of their own to solve.

This content was published on June 23, 2005 - 17:18

swissinfo caught up with the members of London’s Holmes Society as they took their breakfast in Leukerbad in canton Valais.

The pilgrims, wearing Victorian bathing costumes, came in for a shock as they enjoyed the resort’s hot springs. What seemed like a horrific crime took place as they quietly ate their first meal of the day, complete with champagne, on floating wooden trays in the spa waters.

Suddenly, a woman let out a horrendous scream. A certain Dr John H. Watson M.D. was fortunately on hand but could not stop the inevitable. The lady gasped her last breath at the side of the pool and Holmes was called out of the water, complete with magnifying glass, pipe and deerstalker hat.

But he too, for once, was at a loss to explain how the woman had suffered such an enigmatic death.

Enter Britain’s Queen Boadicea, complete with shield and trident, to discover and explain that the deceased had suffered from the sting of a jellyfish. Helvetia for Switzerland also makes a guest appearance, while two stretcher-bearers cart off the dead woman, suitably covered by a Union Jack.


As the sea creature is hoisted out of the water, the pilgrims punctuate the moment with some lively singing, including the Swiss Navy Anthem, which seems to be a particular favourite.

Is there no stopping this group of more than 60 members of the Holmes Society on their eight-day trip across Switzerland, particularly to locations where author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took his hero?

Dressed in period costume throughout their pilgrimage, the members of the society from many European countries - but also North America - were commemorating the centenary of the detective’s retirement from his practice to take up the relaxing pleasures of bee-keeping in the south of England.

Hence the title of their pilgrimage: Making a Bee-Line for Switzerland.

In Leukerbad, they were just a day away from the inevitable climax of their adventures - the struggle between Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen in the Bernese Oberland.


Veteran society member Eileen Holman was in for a shock as the party reached the restaurant at the top of the Gemmi Pass above the spa resort. A fellow member, who had put a postcard in front of her, asked for an autograph.

Holman was taken aback to see herself on the postcard. The photograph featured her in a sedan chair in a shot that was taken in a previous pilgrimage in 1988. It was the first time she had seen the post card.

The heat wave failed to stop the intrepid travellers as they made their way to Kandersteg on the other side of the Bernese Alps, at times plodding through snow, and still in period costume, on a two-and-a-half hour walk.

Dramatic destination Meiringen beckoned, after a steam train journey, courtesy of the King of Bohemia.

Meiringen has a beloved relationship with Holmes. There’s a statue, a hotel, a museum and other memorabilia to be found in the village.

On Wednesday, the local authorities reaffirmed the detective’s honorary citizenship, with a large turnout from the local community.

But less than 24 hours later Holmes disappears with the dastardly Moriarty at the top of the Reichenbach Falls after a struggle between them.


The inevitable question is whether these pilgrims are mad or just a little eccentric?

Doctor Watson, late of H.M Indian Army, (alias Charles Miller from an auction house in London) gave swissinfo his learned opinion.

"I don’t think we’re eccentric at all. This is quite normal behaviour for anyone who enjoys a good time."

He should know, with a business card describing him with specialities including Beaune disease and housemaids’ knees. He apparently likes his wine and the ladies.

Sherlock Holmes (whose real name is Philip Porter, a London author) put it this way:

"Yes, or as our former president and founder of the society Tony Howlett said, 'People who are mad think they are sane but we know we are mad.’"

But all the members said that they enjoyed "playing the game" with gusto. It is for them a priceless holiday and one which tourist authorities here recognise is a valuable trump card.

The "game" pays off with extraordinary media coverage. Even Holmes is aware of that.

"It sounds terribly blasé and arrogant but we’re used to it, in that each time we’ve been to Switzerland, we’ve had extraordinary coverage. And it’s wonderful that people all over the world are still interested in Sherlock Holmes," he said.


Professor Moriarty, the villain of the trip, told swissinfo in an exclusive interview that he found it very satisfying to be the "Napoleon of crime", although he too enjoyed being a "film star" for a week.

"There are no boundaries for me. I can do what I like. I can plot my criminal fiendish plans and no one can stop me. I dislike him [Holmes] because I am thoroughly evil," he said.

He also maintained that boos and hisses he received from the rest of the party were unjustified.

"I deserve more respect for my academic prowess. I am after all a professor of mathematics," he argued.

Before the showdown at the Reichenbach Falls when both disappear, Moriarty was unrepentant.

"I intend to rid the world of that man Sherlock Holmes. He will get the fate he deserves at the foot of the Reichenbach Falls, oh yes," he uttered menacingly.

As the story goes, Holmes miraculously returns to woo his readers. It is what they wanted way back when they could not have enough. His fans of today are as passionate as people were when Conan Doyle wrote his stories.

"Elementary my dear Watson," as Holmes might say.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes on the trail of Sherlock Holmes

Key facts

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was attracted to Switzerland on many occasions between 1893 and 1925.
Through his writings and lectures, and together with his great friend Henry Lunn, he made a significant contribution to Swiss tourism.
In 1894, Doyle pioneered the first crossing on skis of the Mayenfelder Furka (2,445 metres) from Arosa to Davos, making history and popularising skiing.

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In brief

The Sherlock Holmes Society of London has more than 1,000 members and has made six trips to Switzerland.

It was originally founded as the Sherlock Holmes Society in 1934.

It is a mine of information on all things "Sherlockian".

Rumours have it that the society, including all the main characters, is determined to return.

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In compliance with the JTI standards

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