Do you have a Sherlock fan in your life? We do. In fact, our 15-year-old daughter, Kristen, recites quips from the BBC Sherlock series starring Benedict Cumberbatch while wearing Sherlock-inspired attire and spouting facts and quotes from each episode. She’s the ultimate fangirl. Besides reading the original stories about Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and re-watching each of the television episodes five times on NetFlix, how does a true Sherlock fan wile away the years, awaiting the new season? If you’re a die-hard fan, you hike to the top of the Reichenbach Falls to pay homage to the greatest detective that never lived…eat a Sherlock Holmes ice cream sundae…visit 221B Baker Street…then stalk the Internet for the new season’s trailer while wearing a deerstalker cap. It’s elementary, my dear Watson…(By the way, Sherlock never utters those words in the stories by Doyle. Thought you’d like to know.)
Sherlock Holmes: Fulfilling a Fangirl’s Dream
Most of us assume that watching television discourages reading. In the case of the BBC’s series, Sherlock, we’re wrong.
After the first series aired in 2010, sales of the books written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle jumped 53 percent, from 57,000 copies in 2009 to 88,000. Like other fans newly introduced to Sherlock Holmes through the television series, our daughter, Kristen, became smitten. Not only did she re-watch each episode obsessively on Netflix to catch the subtleties we missed the first time around (“Did you hear Sherlock may have an older brother?!”), she read the books and stalked the Internet, awaiting word of when the new season would air.
While many of her peers memorize lyrics from boy bands, Kristen’s favorite quotes stem from the World’s Only Consulting Detective: “I’m not a psychopath. I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.” She also sports a t-shirt that mirrors the wallpaper in 221B Baker Street—spray-painted smiley face and all.
So, when we planned our summer vacation to visit my husband’s parents in Switzerland, I knew what one of our day trips would entail.
It was time to take our Sherlock-obsessed daughter to the Reichenbach Falls.
The Reichenbach Falls—and the Fall of Sherlock
Located 1.2 miles from the town of Meiringen, Switzerland, the Reichenbach Falls include a series of waterfalls on the Reichenbach river in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. At 300 feet, the Upper Reichenbach Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the Alps. It’s also the scene of the final battle between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero, Sherlock Holmes, and the villainous Professor Moriarty in the short story, “The Final Problem,” where both men supposedly fell to their deaths.
Or did they?
“The Reichenbach Fall” is also the title of one of the episodes in the BBC series, but the falls don’t make an appearance in the series until “The Abominable Bride” episode, where the standoff between Sherlock and Moriarty inexplicably occurs on the opposite side of the falls—not where memorialized on the physical site. As I’m not one to spoil surprises for folks who haven’t read the books nor seen the show, let’s return to our tour, shall we?
The first portion of our adventure began on the Reichenbach Falls funicular. We referred to it as a tram, but in actuality the mode of transportation is a “funicular”: a cable railroad on a mountainside, in which ascending and descending cars are counterbalanced. Opened in 1899, I’ll admit that I held my breath as we ascended the mountain, acutely aware that we climbed a 61 percent incline to a height of more than 2,750 feet in a car that was 117 years old.
(It makes a passenger hope that maintenance on the funicular is very thorough throughout the years.)
As we slowly climbed the mountain, breathtaking views eased my nerves.
Upon reaching the first viewing platform, we headed straight to the lower portion of the falls. As the falls roared in our ears, with spray misting camera lens and leaving us damp, we took advantage of a few touristy photo ops:
Before we headed off on our hike up to the top of the falls, we backtracked to the small informational museum on the platform, which provided a bit of history of the falls, as well as its rise to fame.
And then, off we went to follow the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes…
Following Sherlock’s Footsteps Along the Reichenbach Falls
While we often hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains at home, the steep climb up to the Reichenbach Falls left me winded. Embarrassingly winded. In fact, I told my family that I needed to stop to take photos of the wildflowers, when actually I needed to catch my breath! Perhaps it was the quick change in elevation rather than my lack of fitness, but whatever the reason—I needed to rest during the climb. In fact, after looking at my FitBit as we refueled in the very pricey restaurant at the top of the trail, I discovered we’d climbed an equivalent of 49 floors.
No wonder I needed a break! The Reichenbach Falls hike was a bit more strenuous than our Asheville adventures.
The kids, however, easily raced up the trail as I brought up the rear, making them pause so I could document our ascent along the fictionally historic path. The views provided a perfect excuse to stop.
Finally, we reached the epitome of the journey: the ledge where Sherlock vanquished his foe, tumbling down the falls into legend along with his nemesis.
While our 11-year-old, Michael, always enjoys a good hike, Kristen glowed when she reached the pinnacle of the journey: the ledge where Sherlock Holmes once stood—well, you know, fictionally.
Of course, when a fangirl adores a character, there’s a fine line between fiction and reality.
A star marks the spot where Sherlock plunged to his death. We could see it faintly from the bottom of the falls. However, what we couldn’t see until we reached the ledge was the memorial to Sherlock—messages left by some of his closest friends, wishing him well in his journey in the Great Beyond.
It was an emotional moment for our girl, reading the plaque of her fictional hero at the site of his fictional fall:
“At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarty on 4 May 1891.”
Emotionally drained (Kristen) and in physical need of a drink (the rest of us), we stopped by the extremely picturesque and highly overpriced tourist trap restaurant along the path, where we treated our Sherlock fans to ice cream—an actual sundae commemorating Sherlock Holmes.
It cheered our bereaved girl immensely.
After resting a bit, we realized that we needed to speed-hike back down the mountain if we wanted to reach the Sherlock museum in time to visit, as it closed at 6 p.m. How could we deprive Kristen of a visit to 221B Baker Street?
(Besides, descending the mountain didn’t require as much energy as the climb did, thank goodness!)
221B Baker Street, Meiringen, Switzerland
From the bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes in front of the building, we should have immediately realized that the museum resided in the small building behind it. Still, we didn’t expect the Sherlock museum’s home to be a former church, so we asked directions.
The museum is located in the town of Meiringen, a short drive from the funicular station. A path telling the story of Sherlock Holmes leads to the building, which was a former English church.
Founded on May 4, 1991, the 100th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes’ death, the museum opened under the patronage of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and Dame Jean Conan Doyle, the daughter of the author.
A lovely museum employee outfitted us with audio guides, which described each element of the museum in detail. From the certificate honoring Sherlock Holmes as an Honorary Citizen of Meiringen to display cases showing John Watson’s memorabilia from his war tours to letters written denouncing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works and banning them, as they “corrupt Swiss youth,” each display led to the epitome of the museum: a full, historically accurate recreation of 221B Baker Street.
Kristen’s fangirl excitement escalated, as she stood in front of Sherlock’s living room, reading his notes and noting his messy habits.
It was like she met her soul mate.
Now, outfitted in her own deerstalker cap with memories of Sherlock’s journey, she can channel his spirit, as she anxiously awaits season 4, airing sometime in 2017.
Interview with Sherlock fanatic, Kristen
Q: Favorite quote from the show?
A: “I’m living in a world of goldfish.” Mycroft
Q: Favorite episode?
A: “The Reichenbach Fall,” (which ties in nicely with this post. Thank you, Kristen.)
Q: Favorite Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story?
A: A Study in Scarlet.
Q: Favorite supporting character?
A: I like both Molly and Mary. Both women are funny and intelligent. Mary has a mysterious past but loves and wants to protect John. Molly wears her heart on her sleeve with her feelings for Sherlock, who is oblivious to her love for him.
Q: Favorite part of the hike?
A: The quotes on the Sherlock memorial by the falls are great—really clever.
Q: Favorite part of the museum?
A: I loved how they reconstructed 221B Baker Street so authentically. Oh—and I love my Sherlock hat!
While the hike is particularly fun if you’re with a Sherlock fan, the Reichenbach Falls provide a beautiful destination, regardless of your affinity for Sherlock Holmes.
The Reichenbach Falls are located in the lower part of the Reichenbactal valley, 1.2 miles south of Meiringen and 16 miles east of Interlaken. The lower viewing platform is accessible by funicular, which runs every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., May through October.