Humanity has had a long fascination with waterfalls. Poets have sculpted beautiful words in describing them; artists have conjured up soul-stirring depictions of them on easel and canvas and even explorers have compared them to phenomena from the heavens. The town of Meiringen in Switzerland has had the nearby Reichenbach Falls immortalised by literature. For this is the fateful site where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill off his most famous literary creation, Sherlock Holmes, by having him fall to his death (only to later resurrect him by popular demand) while locked in combat with arch nemesis Moriarty.
It’s fair to say Meiringen has taken the legendary sleuth to their hearts, as evidenced by the certificate declaring him an honorary citizen of the town that hangs in the town’s Sherlock Holmes museum. On just about every street corner is a shop, restaurant or hotel bearing the name of the great detective. There’s even a cardboard Sherlock figure for tourists to poke their head through at the top of the funicular that takes you up to the falls. Quite what Conan Doyle would have made of such uber-commercial kitsch is something I’ve decided is best not to dwell upon.
All the same, whether you are a Holmes fan or not, the falls are undoubtedly an impressive sight, a horsetail waterfall that corkscrews down the side of the cliff-face, and splits dramatically in two before crashing down to the river below. It is simply beautiful to behold: a place fit, indeed, for a legendary literary figure and his brilliant foe to fall not only to their deaths, but toward a sort of literary apotheosis.
The spot where Holmes and Moriarty did (fictional) battle is marked by a white cross, visible from the funicular railway across the precipice, and commemorative plaque. To get to the spot requires a steep climb and descent from the village of Zwirgi situated above the falls, so the physically unfit, or indeed even non-Holmes fanatics, may want to give it a miss. I’m not suggesting the chances of life imitating art from this spot are high, of course, but if you are the nervous sort…
You don’t have to possess Sherlock-esque powers of deductive reasoning to appreciate how art is inspired by nature. After visiting the falls I resolved to read the relevant Sherlock Holmes story (The Final Problem), and those who have read the story would hopefully wish to visit the falls. For the sublime power of nature has always inspired the arts; and in turn, the appearance of nature in novels, paintings and the like prompts travelers to visit them.