A few years ago now, Stuart mentioned that he would celebrate his 50th birthday by baring his backside at the top of Ben Nevis and ever since we have been looking forward to climbing Britain’s highest mountain to mark the occasion!
Here is the proof that Stuart bared his backside up Ben Nevis for his 50th
Three cars made the trip north to Fort William and without any pre planning, the conversations in all 3 cars were spookily almost identical for much of the way… well not that spooky really as they were all West Highland Way related! The road from Loch Lomond to Fort William traces the route of the walk so at every point of ‘interest’, the comments were largely the same. The responses in each of the cars were also similar as those that hadn’t done the walk soon got fed up of hearing about it!
This is where we had a meal on Day 2… this is where Jock couldn’t cross the road for 10 minutes… this is where a woman ran her car into William on Day 3… this is where Stuart told Jock & William Harry Potters railway viaduct was located on Day 3… this is where… blah blah blah!
We all arrived at the Glen Nevis campsite at pretty much the same time on Friday evening. Travelling up from Bolton were Wendy, Jay and Neal with myself. Jock had Justine, Kirsty and Carl (who came up from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire the night before) whilst Stuart had a full car, bringing Ali, Hollie, Ross, Jim and Lesley with him.
‘Girls’ were allowed on the TNC trip as it was a special event and consequently stress levels rose whilst putting the tents up. What is it with tents and women?! (although to be fair, Neal and Jay were equally useless!). Anyway, tents were soon up and a little lager refreshment soon put things right.
Friday evening was then a battle against the midges, that apparently weren’t too bad (according to the girl on reception) – god help us when they are bad! Quite early on, we were asked by neighbouring campers to be respectful towards a group of them that would have to be up early to start their 3 peaks challenge, so we knocked it on the head just after 11 and went to bed.
At 3am, our 3 Peaking neighbours were up – and so was the rest of the campsite – thanks boys, most considerate of you!! A broken sleep then followed before we were up early to tackle the walk up The Ben. The weather was beautiful – hot with clear blue skies. The exact opposite of a few recent trips – the drenching up Scafell Pike last September springing to mind most readily. We were away by half eight – Jock, Justine, Carl, Jay, Neal, Stuart, Hollie and myself tackled the walk leaving the others to sunbathe or enjoy themselves in Fort William.
The most notable thing at the start was the sheer number of people doing the walk. The visitor’s centre car park at the bottom was huge and packed with minibuses. The paths were teeming with people, going both up and down even at this relatively early hour. With the good weather, the path could be clearly traced, zig-zagging up the hill towards the visible summit, the people looking more like ants towards the top.
The walk itself wasn’t particularly difficult – the only issue really being the heat from the sun. The path was wide and well maintained although the rocky nature isn’t to everyone’s liking I suppose it’s necessary to minimise the erosion caused by the vast number of walkers. From the car park the track rose fairly quickly, first past the Ben Nevis Inn where a mental note to call in on the way back down was made, and then upwards to the top of the first lump of mountain (Meall an t-Suidhe). Here the track flattened out quite considerably and we took a long break close to the banks of the loch (Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe).
From here the zig zags continued up Ben Nevis and we soon reached a waterfall that may have been more spectacular with more recent rain, but as it was, still allowed us the now customary TNC dunk of the head in its water.
Not far after, we first encountered a group of lads carrying a 35Kg Boiler up the hill. That seemed to offer a great opportunity and so after a quick donation to their charity I borrowed the boiler to pose for a few pictures – and boy was it heavy!
The challenge of reaching the summit of Britain’s tallest mountain takes many different forms – here’s another one that I stumbled upon… pole dancing and bikini’s anyone?! Carl also spotted Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson on the way back down – see his story here.
As we got higher, then the last patches of snow started to appear. For me there is something magical about snow and it always brings out the kid in me and its made all the better when you’re wearing shorts and a T-Shirt and the temperatures hot – all that was missing was an ice cold beer! The patches got bigger and then the whole of the summit was covered in a good couple of feet of it.
It was good to finally reach the top and see the old observatory beside the trig point and I think we managed to edge out the crowd carrying the boiler in the race for the summit! Photos were great in the conditions – blue skies, white snow and green mountains providing a sensational back drop in all directions. Stuart lost his bottle at baring his backside in public (he said it was inappropriate in front of his daughter but we knew he was just chicken) so him and Jock went I search of some solitude which isn’t easy on a mountain top! Imagine the scene… 2 men casually walking away from the hoards on the mountain top. The big guy drops his pants whilst his bald mate draws on his cheeks with lipstick and then takes lots of pictures… enough said!
Lunch was taken besides the observatory before we set off back down the hill. As always, the downward journey took its toil on my knees which made it hard going, but eventually we retraced our way back to the Ben Nevis Inn where a couple of very well earned pints were taken and much appreciated. Hollie then had her first drink with her dad whilst he was also pretty chuffed that she had held his hand as they reached the summit. Good family stuff on a good family weekend.
We were pretty tired when we got back to the camp site. Mainly from the walk but also from the beer and the sunshine. No one was really up for cooking and whilst drinking is always an option – the battle against the midges was too painful and an early night ensued.
Sunday saw us up early again and after packing up, we drove south and stopped for lunch at The Drovers Inn at Inverarnan at the top of Loch Lomond. It’s a weird pub and difficult to say why. Yes its very old and its packed full of stuffed creatures (including a very rare wild haggis) and interesting old artefacts. Nobody seems to be able to say they actually like the place but its somewhere you have to go and see! (It was also where we had the evening meal at the end of Day 2 of the West Highland Way…. Ouch! Ok I’ll shut up!).
After lunch we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. For the car destined for Bolton, we had only got a few miles when we reached Inveruglas on the banks of Loch Lomond. The weather was still hot and I couldn’t resist the temptation to dive off the jetty and have a swim. It was great and not that cold at all! Ice creams were then the order of the day before we set off again on the long journey home!
Another great weekend – roll on the next one…. Happy Birthday Stuart!
BEN NEVIS SUMMIT (Jock’s)
The West Highland Way is now a 96 mile epic walk from Milngavie in the Glasgow suburbs to Fort William in the Highlands of Scotland. Originally 95 miles long, it was recently (very unnecessarily) extended to take in the delights of Fort William’s High Street, but hey, what’s another mile after walking 95!
It was Stuart’s idea to walk the West Highland Way. For a long time now he had set himself a goal of completing the walk by his 50th birthday and as that will be in May, this really was the ‘last chance saloon’!! So accompanied by Jock, Marek, Willie and myself, we set out to walk the 96 miles in 5 days – a tall order in anyone’s book but necessary to minimise the number of holidays that we would have to use for the trip. Hammy agreed to drive a support van which was invaluable and he was accompanied by his dog Cooper and he also got saddled with looking after Jock’s dogs Nip and Bonnie for most of the trip!
Our previous TNC adventures have been easy to write up because by and large, the events encountered had been shared by all. The West Highland Way was a 5 day hike from Milngavie in Glasgow to Fort William in the highlands. Make no mistake – it hurt and when it hurt the most then you were less likely to be marvelling at the scenery and be focusing solely on achieving the daily objective. Individually, we all hurt at different times and consequently we will all have our own memories and recollections of the walk, making it a very personal experience. This is just my story.
One thing we would all agree on though, is that in advance of the walk, snow was coming down by the bucket-load and the forecast for the next few days was grim. Thank goodness the weather forecasters were hopelessly wrong!
Write up by Craig Hall.
Click The Links Below
Craig’s West Highland Way Photos
This walk was arranged as a practice / training walk for our up and coming West Highland Way walk in aid of Soldiers off the Street – Scotland.You can find out more details over at SotS-Scotland website or SotS-Scotland FaceBook
Marek’s quality video of our walk over Hart Fell Ridges
Report by Craig Hall
Driving up the M6 motorway towards Scotland on Saturday was a strange journey. The weather forecast was showing bright red, severe weather warnings for snow and ice in the Moffat area, but the view through the windscreen was of clear blue, sunny skies. As we approached Carlisle, the picture changed and the heavens opened. Any thoughts of being lucky seemed dashed! Thankfully, another 20 miles later and we were back to blue skies and that set the picture for the rest of the weekend.
After a good evening in Moffat and a lovely stay at the Hart Fell Hotel, the gang met up early on Sunday morning. 6 of us this time – Craig, Jeff, Jock, Marek and Stuart were joined by Wendy who was given a (very) temporary, one day’s pass to join the TNC Gang!
We had a map and directions but still managed to get a little confused at the start – unsure where to leave the road and head into the hills. We could see the majestic outline of the horseshoe before us – the tops covered in snow looking very inviting. We hadn’t been expecting a lot as the area didn’t conjure up many thoughts of big hills, but the combination of blue sky, snow covered peaks and warm (ish) sunshine led to a feeling of excitement and eager anticipation.
Having decided on a route, it was only a short distance from the road to the foot of the first climb, hardly giving our muscles the chance to warm up before it was straight into a very tough ascent. We had been pre-warned that the paths were a little ‘faint’ and we weren’t disappointed! But largely the overall route was pretty obvious – it was just a case of getting to the top of the first hill (Black Craig – 2100 ft) and then following the ridges down one side of the valley and then back up the other.
The footpath snaked up the side of a gorge cut out of the side of the mountain by an ancient stream. The going was tough and extremely steep as we zig-zagged up the side of the hill following the narrow sheep trails. All our efforts on improving fitness were temporarily masked and deep breathing was heard from all quarters! Even Marek seemed a little tired although he had kindly gone the whole of the previous night without any sleep just to put us all on an even playing field…!
Eventually we made it to the top of the first section and after that, the gradient became less steep. As we gained further altitude then there was more and more snow lying on the ground and any scarves, hats and gloves that had been discarded on the initial ascent were quickly retrieved as the temperatures plummeted.
The trail then continued around the ridge towards the summit of Hart Fell at the far end of the valley. Midway along we encountered a pinnacle jutting out into the valley close to Swatte Fell (a 2392 ft Donald). With its steep sides and prominent position it was a great place to rest and have a photo taken before carrying on. Eventually we made it to the trig point that marked the summit of Hart Fell, a 2651 ft Corbett. As always we marked the achievement by standing on the trig point and having photo’s taken – much to the amusement of some other walkers who assumed that this was a special occasion rather than just getting to the top!
Our new acquaintances (complete with their ice axes for a couple of inches of powder snow) kind of ‘cramped our style’ and our stay at the top was prematurely ended to escape to a quieter place to have lunch. Lunch proved to be a swift affair as it was far too cold to keep the gloves off for more than a few minutes!
The return to the car was a much more ‘up and down’ experience than the outward leg. First though we had to cross a ‘largely’ frozen bog as we headed up towards Under Saddle Yoke (2444 ft) and then Saddle Yoke (2411 ft ). I say largely frozen as Wendy managed to find a deep bit that wasn’t frozen… haha!
As is usually the case, coming back down proved to be a painful experience for a few of us – very sore knees on the steep hillside. By the end of the walk we were all pretty shattered and headed back into Moffat to have a well earned drink and bite to eat at The Black Bull.
Another fantastic day for the TNC Gang and more good training for the upcoming West Highland Way.