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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Rachel Attwood: Volunteering with Girl Guiding

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    01 Oct

    On 18th August 2018, the 1st Bredon Guides and I started our journey to Switzerland, via Heathrow where we would meet the other half of our travel party coming from Cambridgeshire. In total, we were a group on 45 with 20 adult leaders, 24 girls aged 10-17 and one 2-year old. Although stressful at times, as a result of 5-minute train changes in a foreign country with 45 suitcases, we all made it to the chalet we were staying in on the outskirts of Adelboden at around midnight.

    Sunday 19th began with a leisurely start, breakfast at 9am followed by lunch preparation (my main responsibility for the week) then a hike across the valley to visit ‘Our Chalet’, one of five world guide centres run by volunteers and the World Association of Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting (WAGGGS); this was the main purpose of the trip to Switzerland and for many, including myself, this was a first-time experience, but for others an 8th or 9th visit. We hiked for around 2 hours walking up to a waterfall on the way to ‘Our Chalet’. After lunch at ‘Our Chalet’, enjoying the Alpine scenery and sunshine, we attended a pinning ceremony; a tradition that dates back to when the Chalet was founded in 1932 where those attending receive a special pewter pin badge which can only be worn by those who have visited the Chalet; we then had a tour and presentation about the history of the centre, following by some time in the shop to buy and swap badges (a favourite pastime of any true guiding girl). We then headed back across the valley in for tea, an evening of craft and an early bedtime.

    Monday and Tuesday brought earlier starts with a boat trip and chocolate tasting on Monday in Interlaken, an aptly named town situated between two lakes and with spectacular views of the Jungfrau Mountain and a trip to the Trummel Woodcarver on Tuesday. Tuesday also brought the first day of serious hiking; in groups of 10 or 11, we walked for over 4 hours (up to an elevation of 1520m above sea level) over the mountain between the woodcarver and the chalet. Never have squashed cheese and tomato sandwiches tasted as good as when sat in an Alpine Garden on top of a mountain, singing Edelweiss around the plant itself. We also walked through the spectacular Choleren gorge. In months of heavy rainfall, a thundering waterfall pounds down through the gorge and alongside the pedestrian steps. Swiss health and safety measures for such months: a sign telling you not to enter the gorge if the water level is ‘too high’.

    On Wednesday we caught the bus to the Hangebrugg-Beizli, the longest suspension footbridge in Europe. This was quite a treat for a Civil/Structural Engineering student such as myself and I enjoyed admiring the view and the structure of the bridge itself while walking across. Many of the group were afraid of heights however, so half an hour of singing at the top of our voices ensured the whole party made it across. We then walked to Frutigen, a small town with an outdoor swimming pool with more spectacular mountain views. It’s not often you get to sunbathe whilst looking at snow topped mountains!

    On Thursday, the group split in half, with most of the guides choosing to go rock climbing and zip wiring at an adventure park nestled beneath a road bridge and most of the leaders opting to stay firmly on the ground and visit a Swiss cheesemaker. I went to the adventure park where we threw ourselves out of trees going down progressively higher and longer zip wires for around 4 hours. The evening was round of with more traditional Girlguiding campfire songs (although without an actual campfire) such as ‘The Crazy Moose’ and ‘The Banana Song’, most of which were accompanied by enthusiastic dancing.

    Friday was the last full day in Adelboden, and the weather, which had been gloriously sunny all week so far, was starting to take a turn for the worse. However this didn’t stop us from riding a cable car up to the Sillherenbuhl at over 1900m above sea level. In the winter this is a hot spot for skiing, but in order to bring tourists in in the summer, ‘Trottiland’ has been created; the footpaths down the mountain have been made suitable for scooters which look like mountain bikes without seats and you can go up and down the mountains all day to your heart’s content. After one leader suffered a puncture and it started to rain however, we returned to Adelboden for lunch and shopping; after all, no trip to Switzerland is complete without a suitcase full of chocolate and cheese and a Swiss Army Knife to come home with. The final day was rounded off with cheese tasting and a delicious meal at a Swiss restaurant.

    By Saturday, we were all in agreement that although this had been a spectacular week, it was definitely time to travel home, so after a thorough cleaning of the kitchen pots and pans, we headed homeward.

    This was my first Girlguiding international adventure and my first trip as a leader and although looking after 25 girls for a week has been a challenge on more than one occasion, with home-sickness, injury and sleep deprivation, it truly has been an incredible week and I’m so glad and grateful to have received Gateway funding to make it possible!

    Rachel Attwood