Back in August 2014, I went on an adults-only county Guide trip to Switzerland. A lot of international trips go to Switzerland because it’s where Our Chalet is, one of the four WAGGGS World Centres – more exciting than merely going to London but cheaper and easier than going to Mexico or India.
We drove down on Saturday and Sunday, spent Monday at Lauterbrunnen and then went to Our Chalet on Tuesday. Because it’s a Guide place, we went in full uniform, including international neckerchiefs. Of course, we were a bit of a motley crew. Two in Leader navy, three in Leader white, one with a pale blue gilet covering the polo shirt, two in Trefoil Guild red, one in Trefoil Guild cream and one in custom unit hoodie and two of the leaders wearing non-uniform county fleece so we didn’t match at all but that’s neither here nor there.
But before we could go to Our Chalet, we had to make a stop at the woodcarver. It’s a tradition to go there, to get carved wooden trefoil name badges. That’s the necessary. Plenty of people get carved wooden woggles as well, and assorted other things. It’s a good woodcarvery! And every spare half-inch of space on the walls and ceilings is covered in badges brought by visitors. I got a little red and white cow as well as my name badge. You can buy them for other people but generally if you see someone wearing one of those badges, you know they’ve probably been to Our Chalet.
After the woodcarver, we went up to the Chalet itself. The minibus can’t – or wouldn’t – go right up to the door so we stopped at the end of the drive and walked up, an epic walk for some of the ladies on the trip. A quick pause by the entrance sign and then we went in to reception.
First up was a Pinning Ceremony. This is a solemn little ceremony around the flagpole to celebrate the many nationalities of the staff, volunteers and visitors. We were from the UK and among the Chalet people were people from America, Australia, Chile, Finland, Spain and Slovakia. Little flags were placed in a holder on a table, songs were sung, speeches were made and we were all presented with a special pewter pin. These you can’t buy for friends – if you see someone wearing one, they’ve definitely been to Our Chalet.
When we’d all been Pinned, we went off for our tour, starting with a powerpoint presentation. There are hundreds and thousands of badges, brought by all visitors. There are vast pinboards of badges from all over the world, absolutely dwarfing the woodcarvers’ collection, boards in every room and every corridor, rooms full of neckerchiefs, book after book of pages decorated by visitors. Every plate, bowl & cup in the huge but traditional kitchen/dining room is marked with a little blue and yellow trefoil and it’s all so Guidey.
You see, you can stay there. There are big dormitories and private rooms and camping space and there are in fact several buildings. As well as the big Main Chalet, there’s a second one, Spycher. There’s little Squirrel House and even littler Baby Chalet and a Camp House. But it’s all very expensive. Most groups just visit, staying somewhere cheaper. I’d like to go and stay for an entire event one day, staying at Our Chalet itself, doing activities, making use of the mountains and living in that community.
When we’d done the tour, swapped some of our little trip badges from the swap box and poked everything, there was one more important ritual. It’s necessary to have a group photo taken on the back steps – google Our Chalet and you’ll find plenty of such pictures, groups of all ages dressed in all colours, but all lined up on these steps. So we climbed up the steps, coats left inside for this one to show off our various uniforms and then, because most of our group were pensioners, we had to go home nice and early to cook a big group dinner and play with the dog.