As the lights from the carriage flash by, reflecting off the dark, Cold, damp walls of the tunnel, the locomotive races toward the distant light and then explodes from the tunnel mouth, where snow and a mist so thick it could hide a wolf’s cry, mingle and the mountains soar higher than the Eagle flies and the train starts its long descent into canton Uri, winding its way through short tunnels and the river, as cold as the snows that feed it, accompanies us down to where the snow has not yet arrived. It is January but it is not yet cold and this long valley, with its steep, slate-grey sides, which now hide it from the low winter sun.
Higher up the valley from where we’ve just come, the mountains have lost their shroud as the grey clouds give way to the sun, and emerald banks are dressed in green cloaks that are almost springlike except for the absence of lambs but, before long, the train now kisses the edge of the Four Cantons lake, which mirrors newly-formed low, lumpy clouds as they pass, distorted in the ripples and a wind blows from the north.
Upon our return, just outside Zug on the Zurich side, I see a field of small wooden chalets which at first I take to be large allotment sheds, although the allotment alloted to each appeared small. Planning wisely, one could possibly grow a season’s lettuce in summer or a winter stock of greens later in the year. Behind this field rise rounded green hills which are sugar-topped with a thin white crown of snow, tinged with yellow in the late afternoon sun. A sprawl of angular concrete a mile further announces our arrival in Zug.
After a stop of only a few minutes we leave Zug behind and snake our way around its lake, reflecting the growing shadows as the first mountains, their features dark with the setting sun sitting behind, frown down upon us, their peaks gripped in ice and snow as we rise slow and easy up the incline towards Arth-Goldau.
Arth-Goldau is flanked on both sides by white-crusted mountains, the snow level low, only a hundred metres or so above the railway line. Our journey will now continue upwards and we return to skirt the Four Cantons lake, this time from the north, where straight, slab-sided cliffs rise shear from the still, leaden water, now mirroring the evening sky. The one regret of travelling by train in this beautiful, ancient mountainscape is the views that are missed as so much of this journey necessitates tunnels. As the white peaks stand strong against the ever-darkening blue sky with its high, pink clouds floating in the cold airs the view s suddenly lost with guillotine abruptness as another tunel is entered, as we head back to the long Gotthard tunnel and descend into Ticino for the homeward run thereafter.