09 May 2011

Lake Uri

In German, it's called "Vierwaldstättersee," or, "Lake of the Four Forested Cantons." Lake Lucerne (or, if you prefer, Lake Luzern), is a complicated, twisting canyon landscape with many deep branches and points. Though it's all one body of water, the locals call each of the different sections by a different name. There's the Buochser See, the Küssnachter See, the Alpnacher See and the Urner See. We spent two nights in Brunnen, camping by the waters of the Urner bay, which, in English, is called Lake Uri. It is a pretty, quiet part of central Switzerland, with a long and important history. These are the waters by which the Swiss Confederation was founded and on which William Tell sailed. It is here that the modern nation was born and where the canton of Schwyz - the namesake of Switzerland - rises up in forested hills.
Despite all of its history, Lake Uri is much quieter than the other, more westerly branches of Lucerne. Brunnen, where we stayed, is the largest town, but isn't all that big. We spent both days here hiking around the Swiss Trail, which stretches from Brunnen all the way to Rütli, which sits remote and misty at the point where Uri meets the Buochser See. Along the way, we passed through most of the little towns on the water. Some were actual villages, having a few cafes and churches. Some were little more than a ferry dock and two or three houses. Sisikon, where we stopped walking the first day, was one of the smaller towns. We waited at the dock for the boat, content in the sunshine. We were the only passengers getting on or off there, and were amusing to the ferry's crew.
Legend has it that William Tell, who was being taken across the lake to be executed after insulting the governor, was caught up in a storm. Fearing that the boat would capsize, his guards released Tell - who was renowned as a sailer as much as he was a marksman - to help them pilot the craft to safety. When they reached shore, however, Tell leaped onto the rocks and pushed the boat back out into the waves and wind.
Tell is a very famous figure here, with statues, shrines and streets bearing his likeness and name. Much of the mythology surrounding him was created - or exaggerated - by Friedrich Schiller, and the playwright is nearly as famous as his subject. There is even a gold inscription on a thirty foot high, natural obelisk in the lake that is dedicated to the writer.
The more salient historical points surrounding the lake, however, have to do with the founding of the Swiss confederation, which was signed into effect in 1291 here in Schwyz. The original cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden formed an alliance that was ultimately joined by the other five lake cantons, and then, gradually, by the rest of Switzerland. The spot where the document was signed is not far from the lakeshore, and is popular with tourists - we didn't visit, but we saw a lot of people going there on the ferry.
On the trail, high up above the waters in the alpine meadows, it's easy to imagine that nothing has changed here since the 13th century. The farmhouses are ancient, people still mow and turn their hay by hand and the plunking of cowbells is the only sound of civilization. The mountains, of course, are ancient and at the tip of the bay they rise steep and snowy.
The view from the campsite was tremendous, and we fell asleep listening to the lapping of wavelets and the distant churning of ferry engines. To the left, here, are the lights of Brunnen proper, and the entrance to Uri beyond.

28 comments:

  1. This looks lovely-planning to go next month. Can you tell us the name of the campsite you stayed at.
    Brian and Torhild

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  2. The campsite was called Camping Hopfreben in Brunnen. It was an excellent site with the more permanent RVs isolated in rows near the cafe/reception/bathroom/garbage facilities and two lawns right up against the water for tents and campers. You'll see a tent sign right from town. It's about a ten-fifteen walk to the ferry. We highly recommend it.

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  3. Thanks for getting back to us. You have lovely pictures and we are inspired by your trip.

    thanks again.

    Brian and Torhild

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  4. I traveled to Switzerland and drove past uri Lake on my way to Italy - I still cherish the memories of its vividly blue water and boats and steamers splashing its waters.

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