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Summer Solstice on the Ben

So, its been 8 months since my last blog… I’ve had plenty to write about, I’ve been out loads but between work, play and adventure, its been difficult to make time for a written ramble. This week i experienced something so awesome that i need to get it down in actual words for my mental preservation. I knew i’d be able to do it, i knew it would be emotional, bloody hard work and a once in a lifetime experience. Ben Nevis, in the dark and a sunrise so beautiful that we cried unashamedly…

On the 20th June, my friend and I headed towards the Highlands in my mostly-finished camping Vivaro. He (Harvey RV) now has a sofa bed with storage and a kitchen at the rear. The back door flips up and becomes a roof/shelter allowing me to be able to cook outside. The first official stop was at the ridiculously crowded Three Sisters car park in Glencoe. One solitary space was left and I parked with the rear facing the mountains. The greatest place on earth to enjoy a humble cup of tea. Boot flipped up, kettle on, mugs, teaspoons and contents were rattled into place. A lone piper appeared in full Scottish regalia. I shouted across an offer of tea which he accepted. “Milk, one sugar” The kettle whistled its final stage and tea was poured while we enjoyed polite chat about the weather. The further we chatted, the more i learned. His grandfather piped on that spot until his 87th year was reached. This piper has been christened in the tiny village of Buchlyvie: the village i grew up in! How small is this world? He also knew a gentleman from Strathblane, the village i now stay in. I had so many questions but asked only a few. Sometimes its nice just to wonder and enjoy a short impromptu meeting with a stranger. Cars and coaches rumbled through carpark potholes, spewing out selfie-sticked tourists that surrounded us, clicking and bustling to get that ideal Facebook post. Harvey found some fame too when the steaming mugs left the back caught the attention of about 15 travellers. We were surrounded by photographers clicking and chattering away in Chinese intrigued at the van conversion. A spokeswoman approached politely asking questions requested from her companions relaying my reply. It was outrageously surreal and we praised Harvey on being such a hit with the ladies…


Moving on, after a quick stop at The GlenCoe Ski Centre, Black Rock Cottage and Kings House Hotel) we drove through Fort William, keeping Loch Eil to the left. We visited the viaduct, train station and the Bonnie Prince Charlie monument. No surreal moments there but all require a definite visit if you’re in that area.


Black Rock Cottage with Buachaille Etive Mor behind


Stag at Kings House Hotel, backdrop of Buachaille Etive Mor

We had booked a table for 7.30 that night at The Ben Nevis Inn based at the foot of the mountain. A stunning but rustic converted barn providing bunkhouse accommodation, bench seated food (average but reasonably priced) & drink with Tuesday night live music which we were lucky to stumble upon! We enjoyed the evening until 11pm when time was called and we headed to attempt sleep in the van. That didn’t happen… These two old school buddies anxiously giggled into the dark hours and got no sleep whatsoever. We changed, applied mozzie spray (which wasn’t necessary) and packed our food.  Our two fellow walking companions and the guide from Atlas Mountaineering turned up to give the lowdown on what to expect through the night. We left the base excitedly, head torches on full glow as five of us began our adventure…


Last sunset of winter a few hours before we left

Now, Carole and myself are not the most speedy of walkers, we like to take everything in: the smells, the noises, the views which tends to add about 25% onto a ‘normal’ journey time. But we like it that way. We knew this was going to be a walk like no other For one, it was dark! The worry we did have prior to booking was that we’d slow everyone down and miss the first sunrise of summer. But did we catch it in time…?


Here comes a new day…

Heads down, terrain ever changing, we walked for around 4 hours stopping in very short bursts for layers on/off and water. The walk itself is very manageable but constant. Imagine over 4 hours of walking up an escalator the wrong way and you’re nearly there! The mountain path is fantastically maintained which i imagine is no easy job. As a group, including Connor our guide, we chatted most of the way. Exchanging stories with the constant chatter was very reassuring and a great distraction. Whatever hill i do, no matter what size, there comes a time when i say to myself “what the f*** am i doing? Why is this necessary” I suppose that’s what you’d call ‘the wall’. After that, i’m fine, i walk easier, more content in myself at the speed i’m doing and more accepting of doing my own thing, not trying to impress or keep up. Usually a 10 minute sit down resolves those issues too…


Connor bursts into raptures “just wait until you get round this corner, you’ll think you’re in paradise” I’d asked him previously how many times had he climbed the Ben, he says honestly “hundreds”. His excitement seems genuine yet i wonder how he can be so excited about his regular ‘commute’ up this mountain.


Wow. The sun has lit the sky but not quite broken through the horizon. We get a moment to watch. “Connor” says I, “i presume we are not at the top as i can see a higher bit in the distance” He nods that i am correct although I know full well i am…

We pick up pace and see the observatory and hotel ruins in a glorious, orange tinged silhouette. Connor shouts us together, “drop your bags and get here. Be careful” as we teeter along the glowing red rocks. We each find our space. And sit…


Caroles fabulous picture, sums it up perfectly


The time is now about 4.30am. I have had no sleep. Climbed faster than I’ve ever done and higher than I’ve ever attempted. My body is spent of energy. Emotions are like i have never experienced before. My mind is racing with nothing in particular and i realise i will never witness this exact moment again. Then the tears come… Tears for the people who are witness to this sight and tears for the people who are unable to experience this. I can see what seems like the whole of the world from here, layer upon layer of mountain top separated by low cloud so thick you could dare walk upon it. A wisp closer to us rolls in a perfect form catching the first sun of summer as it flows fluidly through the crevices. Although the tears are running, i’m at the most content I’ve been ever in my 47 years. We have reached paradise and are incredibly honoured to be witness. Connor was right…

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