Our Chalet – 2015
In August 2015 I had the opportunity of a lifetime when 3 Leaders and 10 Guides and Senior Section members were chosen to go on a NEE. We decided to undertake the Swiss Challenge, staying at Our Chalet in Switzerland. Once the forms and paperwork were completed, the journey could begin and we all met and set off from York train station.
The journey to Bern was challenging to say the least and after many train and bus journeys we finally arrived at the Youth Hostel in Bern at 02.00. Not once did anyone complain about our extended journey and we were still singing on the final train into Bern in the early hours.
This spirit remained with the girls throughout the trip and after another train and a bus and a very long, soaking wet walk up a mountain we finally arrived at Our Chalet.
Almost immediately a group of Japanese Girl Scouts arrived and straight away the girls were teaching each other how to count, talk and say their names in Japanese and English and were chatting away as if they had known each other for years. They showed what the family of Guiding was truly about. Very soon the girls met the two Canadian groups and true International friendships began to flourish!!
Our first day staying at Our Chalet was a familiarisation day getting to know our surroundings and we began to do some of the challenges for the Our Chalet Challenge badge. Due to the rain and low cloud we could not see any mountains although we were assured they were there! We then took part in the International Night and our version of “I’m a Little Teapot” went down very well.
On the Monday we visited the famous chocolate factory at Interlaken and enjoyed some of their samples. In the afternoon the group split for a while and one half went to the Trumelbach Falls to see this area of outstanding beauty. The rest of us went to the Lütschine River to participate in White Water Rafting! What an amazing, exhilarating experience!
On Monday night some of the groups went on a night hike to the Bunderspitz falls while the more hardy of the group set off to hike up Elsigen Mountain to reach the peak at sunrise and watch the dawn break over the mountains. Unfortunately due to the rain and low cloud they were not able to get to the peak, so instead the group spent a night sleeping in the loft of a cow barn. The girls claimed that they were lulled to sleep by the sound of the cow bells, but all I know is that they absorbed the atmosphere of that place and came home smelling strongly of Swiss cow!
Tuesday was our free day so we spent the morning looking at some of the photos from the rafting and the visit to the falls then set off to walk into Adelboden village to do the scavenger hunt. The sun shone briefly, then the rain came and we returned to Our Chalet to take part in a surprise Japanese Hen night for Hiromi, the leader of the Japanese Girl Scouts taking part in the Challenge with us. It was interesting watching the girls eat chocolate cake with chop sticks to say the least!
Wednesday we set off on a “flat walk” to the Choleren Gorge. A flat walk in Switzerland means you hike along the Mountain, rather than going straight up it, but in reality it is not flat!! There are many hills to go up and down so the name is rather misleading!! We arrived at the Gorge to take part in an abseil. As Leader of the group I insisted that I would hold the bags but the girls were more insistent that I took part in the activity so I quickly found myself roped up, lowering myself down a 15 Meter abseil then attaching my safety rope onto the cliff to go along and then wait to take my turn on the 30 meter abseil down towards the raging river at the bottom of the Gorge!! This second abseil seemed to take forever and as I was turning in a circle I did manage to get a glimpse of the amazing water as it rushed through the gorge before I fixed my gaze once more on the rope and lowered myself with trepidation the rest of the way down! After my feet touched solid ground once more I looked back up to where I had come from and was amazed how far I had come! If I had known what I was doing beforehand I never would have done it as I am scared of heights. However, I was very proud of myself and all the girls who completed the abseil. Sometimes, ignorance is definitely bliss!
On Thursday morning we woke to see blue skies and MOUNTAINS!! The sun definitely had his hat on and stayed with us for the remaining 3 days we were at Our Chalet. We had a trip up the “Swiss Pyramid” aka Mount Niesen and went up to 2362 metres above sea level on a funicular to be greeted by the most amazing views! Then we went on a boat across the beautiful Lake Thun into Thun town where we spent some free time enjoying this medieval town. Thursday night the girls took part in a Free Being Me session while the Leaders had an hour off.
Friday morning saw another flat walk to Elsigenalp. We climbed this mountain by cable car and had a picnic lunch with our feet dangling in the cool water of a glacier lake, while beautiful majestic eagles soared overhead. Some of the group hiked to the peak and sang Edelweiss to the rare national flower growing there, although one of the girls was slightly less enthusiastic and remarked that “it just looked like a weed really!!”
On Saturday another flat hike took us to the adventure park where we did rock climbing and completed the whole of a 1.5km zip wire. Some of the more adventurous then completed a high rope course followed by an abseil down the bridge and then climbed the pole to ring the bell on top. Definitely not for the faint hearted!
Saturday night was the closing camp fire and we were all presented with the Our Chalet Challenge badge. After the final song, there was a mass of weeping girls as everyone said goodbye as we were aware that our time to leave would soon be on us and we would leave these wonderful friends behind.
Not only did the girls get on with the other units, but for a group of girls who had only known each other for such a short space of time, they also got on with each other very well. They helped, encouraged and supported each other throughout the week in such a way as to make the leaders very proud of them. The volunteers and staff also told me how much they have enjoyed having all the groups and as this was the final week of the Summer programme, they feel it has ended on a high!! So much so that most of the volunteers came and saw us off, even walking down the mountain part of the way and singing us off as we went.
Throughout the week we have laughed together, cried together, and enjoyed every single moment. Even when they have been so tired, I have never heard a complaint or cross word from any of the girls. We comforted them when they have been sad to see their friends go, plastered their blisters and even blown their noses for them! In return they have provided us with fun, encouraged us to do crazy things we might not have otherwise done, sang to us from outside the toilet, made us laugh and given us confirmation that this is what Guiding is all about! It has certainly refreshed my enthusiasm for Guiding!!
If anyone else would like to have a similar experience I would really recommend going for International Selection at either a County or Regional level. The support you get is outstanding and the experience you get is amazing. I came back as second Mum to 20 girls from England, Canada and Japan and new Facebook friends from around the world! Where else could you get that, but in Guiding?