My trip began on 2nd July when I set out from Nottingham, car share Pat on board, and drove to Stirling. We stopped at Kendal and a couple of service stations. In Stirling Pat stayed at a hostel while I kipped in the car (recently named Cricket, partly due to the noise the clutch makes and partly because I watch too much It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) in a lovely spot by the forest and Bannock Burn river just outside of town. Here I met a kitten that wanted to share my warmth and my food. I gave it some oat milk, but not a name.
The next morning I picked up Pat again. We took a quick look at Stirling Castle and set off on a beautiful scenic drive towards Fort William. I should have written this before, as now I fear that after all the amazing journeys I’ve been on here, the place names are beginning to blur into each other. We drove through Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. We stopped at Bracklinn Falls and Callander Crags after reading a signpost telling us that it was only 1/4mile off route. Bracklinn Falls was very pretty: a lovely walk through woodland and grassland, and so many orchids! I’ve been really surprised at just how common they seem to be up here – although I couldn’t tell you which species they are or even if they are the same species as I’ve seen white, lilac, pink and deep purple flowers. I did spot one distinctively different orchid though which I’ve since been told is a butterfly orchid (probably greater sp.) – how lovely!
From there we hopped back in the car and drove on to Fort William through Glencoe which was stunning. Car share Pat and I parted ways in Fort William – he was going on to some of the islands. I had decided that I would give Ben Nevis a good go, but with no real practice and quite a bit of apprehension. My bunk house (on recommendation from my housemate Robbie) was the Ben Nevis Inn and it was great. I arrived starving hungry and armed with MacSween’s vegan haggis and a bag of Jersey Royals ready to make the stodgiest carb-loaded supper. In the kitchen were two sorry looking souls who I later knew to be Jack and Gavin. Jack was half asleep on the table and I made a nuisance of myself (as usual) by spreading out my things as far and wide as possible and generally chatting nonsense about my bee quest. The three of us were shortly joined by more of the jolly group that called themselves the SnowForgers and eventually the remainder of the crew came back down from the mountain and introduced themselves too. They had been sponsored to climb Ben Nevis and were raising money for Bowel Cancer UK. I can’t even describe here how much it meant for me to meet such a group of wonderful people at this point in my trip. Kingsley, the experienced mountain leader of the group offered me advice; the ladies complimented me on my courage and independence; Steve flattered me by *pretending?!* to be interested in my bee mission; Gavin ensured I was stocked up with everything I could ever possibly need, including a whistle, glucose tablets and a good knife; and Jack took it upon himself to teach me how to properly use my map and compass. He even gave me a survival bag and a waterproof case and asked if I wanted him to fold my ordnance survey map for me, which I couldn’t really refuse! They let me sit in while they did a little presentation ceremony (with certificates and everything – I was kind of envious!) and although everyone will say I’m quite an emotional person anyway; I very nearly found myself tearing up as they all thanked Kingsley and Jack and congratulated each other.
The SnowForgers stayed up celebrating and I tried to have a reasonably early night, feeling much more positive and really quite inspired by them. We said our goodbyes in the morning and at 9am I started off up the highest mountain in the UK feeling a real high 🙂
The weather was misty and a little wet but I’m not the kind of girl that’s going to let a bit of rain put me off. The path was great and I got some nice views about half way up when the cloud cleared for a few minutes. I was super happy to meet and talk to two other girls who were doing it by themselves – a beautiful lady from Czech Republic who had decided to come up to Fort William after playing a football match in Glasgow, and a equally lovely girl from England who said ‘it doesn’t matter if I don’t make it to the summit, I’m just having a go’ but I was really pleased to see later on near the top. I had quite a few stops ‘to look at the view’, as well as layering and un-layering (as the weather really couldn’t decide what it was doing!) and snack breaks. There were a few sections of the path that were a bit harder going: the final couple of zig zags particularly., but any time I started to lag I just thought about where I was, and what I was doing and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face!
I got to the summit around 1.30pm. It had taken me 4 1/2 hr, but I’d made it! There was no view to speak of but I had an amazing feeling that I’d accomplished something. “I did a good thing”…
My main worry before setting out, especially after meeting the wonderful Snowforgers, was that in doing this trip by myself I had no-one to motivate me to continue on; to reach the summit; to find my bee; etc. At home, motivation is something I tend to struggle with so climbing Ben Nevis (even on the tourist route) with a huge rucksack (that everyone commented on!), in the fog and alone (although of course I’d chatted to a few people along the way)…. it really made me feel proud. I wrote on Facebook:
I can’t remember a day that I’ve spent on my own feeling as happy, motivated, positive, confident and proud as I did today’.
I’m writing it again now so that in the days, weeks or years to come I can remember that.
I spent half an hour at the summit, eating a delicious avocado and hummous sandwich and drinking tea. A little snow bunting that had been singing beautifully finally showed. It was great! Even though I know how dangerous Ben Nevis can be in snow and/or low visibility I was still quite surprised at just how little room for error or straying from the path there is at the top. The gullies are amazing and terrifying!
On the way back, I sat down in my waterproof trousers and slid down the little snow field. It was so so much fun, I laughed so hard and went really quite fast! The cloud began to clear a little as I got half way down and I stopped just off the path to eat my final sandwich (vegan haggis, mashed potato & salad).
The last hour or so of descent was the hardest part: my legs were shaking by that point. I stopped briefly to take a closer look at the biggest fly I’d ever seen, which turned out to be a male Giant Horsefly (Tabanus sudeticus). It was one of very few invertebrates I saw that day, probably due to the weather which typically had brightened up considerably by the time I got down. I got back to the bunkhouse at 5pm and was feeling a bit dismayed that the Snowforgers weren’t there to welcome me back (although they had insisted that I kept them updated on my progress and I knew that they were pleased for me and would be ‘raising a glass’ where ever their next stop was).
A new arrival at the hostel was an amazing 19 year old girl from Colorado who had just spent six days hiking and camping The Great Glen Way by herself (from Inverness to Fort William). I was very impressed, as I couldn’t imagine doing something like that at her age, or possibly even now! We had a quick chat and I would have liked to have talked more but through the wonders of social media and coincidence, I had plans to meet with a guy that I’d chatted to the previous night, and then bumped into on Ben Nevis. After a quick shower and finishing a ridiculous emotional postcard thanking my housemate for inspiring me and encouraging me (and lending me his tent & rucksack) for my trip I walked out to meet Connor, getting distracted along the way by yet more orchids. Finally I had someone to drink & celebrate with! After a quick pint in the pub, we grabbed a couple of bottles and headed down to the shore where we drank, chatted (he has his own mountain guiding business and told me lots of awesome things like that there’s an annual botanical and geological survey of Ben Nevis) and watched a pair of otters (he assures me… I didn’t have my binos). A perfect ending to a wonderful day…
To be continued…
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