A Rover Ramble to the birthplace of Scouting

A journal entry from Kandersteg International Scout Centre, Switzerland

By Scouter Liam Morland, September 19, 2001

I am sitting in the staff room of the Kandersteg International Scout Centre 95 km South of Bern, Switzerland. A train is just going by on the track outside, having just emerged from the Lötschberg Tunnel, a 15 km train tunnel which houses the main line between Germany and Italy. The tunnel was built between 1906 and 1912. In 1908, a chalet was built to house the workers and their families. The chalet was abandoned after the tunnel was complete. In 1923, Walther von Bronstetten, Chief Scout of Switzerland, suggested to Baden-Powell that the chalet would make a great international home from Scouts. Impressed by the international friendship shown at the recent world Jamboree, B-P had been looking for a place where Scouts from all other the world could gather on a permanent basis. Thus, Kandersteg International Scout Centre was founded.

The centre is run for young people by young people. The staff are called "pinkies" after our bright uniforms. Last Saturday, I was given my pinks at a campfire ceremony with five other new staff members. The ceremony marked our graduation from the week-long staff training program, a model of the good use of the Scout Method, in particular, learning by doing. The six of us are now short-term staff, here for three months. We will work in all areas of the centre, from keeping the chalet in order to maintenance on the campsite. We work with the long term staff who are here for nine to twelve month periods.

I came to Europe for the international Scouting experience that the centre offers. On my way over to the centre, I spent almost two weeks in England.

A Rover Ramble to the birthplace of Scouting

I flew KLM to London Heathrow Airport arriving August 28. I assembled my bike headed downtown to Baden-Powell House, trying to get used to left-handed driving as I went (more difficult then I thought). A Canadian flag fluttered from the back of my heavily loaded bike. I arrived and slept the night, trying also to change time zones. The next day I bought maps, visited the city, and headed from Gilwell Park.

I arrived at Gilwell at nearly midnight. Seeing no one about, I set up camp and slept the night. I registered the following morning. The next two days were spent exploring the home of Wood Badge training. I saw the many artifacts and spent much time reading in the Betty Clay Library in the White House at Gilwell. I particularly enjoyed the collection of paintings of Scouts by Ernest Carlos.

That evening, I was invited for tea by a Scout troop that had setup camp for the weekend. They invited me to join them for their camp. The next day, we played with a world ball, built a bridge with materials from Gilwell's famous pioneering shed (which deserves every bit of its reputation), attended a campfire, and went on a night hike in Epping Forest.

The next day, I packed up my bike and headed north to St. Ives, Cambridgeshire to visit a Rover whom I had met on the Internet. It was a beautiful 108 km bike through the English countryside. I spent the night in St. Ives, meeting a few Rovers and hearing of the Sea Scout troop they run.

I caught the train to Oxford to visit some friends. I spent the next two days seeing the city and its museums. One night, I went into London with a high school friend to see a Proms concert in the Royal Albert Hall.

I took a day trip from Oxford to the most important Scouting site in the world: Brownsea Island, where B-P held the first Scout camp in 1907. I took the train to Poole then one of the many ferries to the island which is now a National Trust site. The site itself, appropriately, is unimposing. It is still a Scout and Guide camp. A large stone commemorates the first camp.

The following day, I returned to Gilwell Park for the 75th Gilwell Reunion. Over nineteen hundred Scouters from the UK and around the world turned out. Learning some new knots from the International Guild of Knot Tiers was the highlight of an amazing day. The day closed with an energetic campfire.

I rose early the next day and rushed to London Gatwick Airport to catch an EasyJet flight to Geneva. I met up on the flight with two others heading to Kandersteg. The Swiss rail service was amazing. Their rail system is completely electric and as such is very quiet.

I changed trains in Bern and headed south. The track snaked its way along the valleys, steadily rising. At one point, the train spiralled through the mountain, emerging periodically. As a consequence, I passed the same scenery three times, each time from a higher vantage point. When I disembarked at Kandersteg, I looked up and say myself surrounded by snow capped mountains. It was beautiful.

We were met at the station and taken to the centre for dinner and ice-breaker games. I quickly settled into what would be my home for next three months.

In the Mountains at Kandersteg

Here at Kandersteg, I live among a fantastic group of people from many different countries (mostly European). The relics in the chalet are a testament to the thousands of Scouts who have come to the centre to experience international friendship in an alpine environment. Over six hundred neckers line the hallways.

Work has been hard and satisfying. One day, I and a few other staff filled the wood store with enough wood to keep the centre warm all winter. I spent some days cleaning.

Today was my day off. I got on my bike and headed up towards Kanderfirn, the glacier which feeds the Kander River which runs through the site. The first part was a steep road cut right into the side of the mountain and tunnelling through it in two places. My bike did not have gears low enough for this road! I noticed that the bikes of the locals have very small front sprockets. This combined with the relatively thin air at 1500 m had me walking for much of the way.

Once I reached the upper valley, I was able to ride again. The road ended at a farm and I continued on foot. I rose above the tree line and was alone with the snow, scree, and rock. I achieved an altitude of about 2200 m before being turned back by deep snow. (My snow hiking gear has not yet arrived in Kandersteg.)

The bike ride down the mountain was one of the most relaxing ever for me. I just sat and watched the mountains speed by, being careful to keep the breaks on.

I am looking forward to the rest of my stay in Kandersteg. This place is truly filled with the Spirit of Scouting and I have the privilege of being part of making it happen.

I wrote more about my trip to Kandersteg in "Over the Alps on the Lötschepass".