I got up early for breakfast. To be honest I did not need my alarm clock. I had been awake most of the night, firstly trying to turn down the heating in my room (I had to give up and open the window) and then listen to the sound of the heating system as it gurgled and chuckled its way through the night. I reckon I got two hours sleep. It was a dull cloudy day. There was a hint of rain, and as I walked into Fort William to get some laces for my walking boots, I could see that Ben Nevis, was shrouded in cloud. I did consider whether it would be better to do something else, but we Birdwatchers are made of sterner stuff so I stuck to plan A.
I have been up Ben Nevis before. Thirty three years ago. It was summer and I was a younger (obviously!) and fitter BW then. When I got to the Nevis visitor centre there were very few people about. Those that were had ropes and crampons and ice axes and looked serious about the whole thing. I trudged across the suspension bridge, feeling slightly self conscious in my odd assortment of ill matching walking clothes. The first bit was easy. I made good progress and stopped at a bench to have a coffee and to look at the scenery. I was feeling good. A robin flew in and joined me. I decided to have a second cup of coffee. A party trudged up the path and stopped to chat. Did I know where the summit was they asked. I waved my stick vaguely in the direction of where I though it might be, explained that I had not been up there in thirty years. They asked me if I was going all the way. I said that I might but that it looked as if the ziz zag bit of the path was covered in snow and might be a bit tricky without the proper equipment. So I probably would only go as far as the lake. I turned to look at the view and they were off. Funny I thought to myself because at this point the path curves back on its self, a bit of a hairpin. They had gone straight on, following a sort of sheep track. I began to feel uneasy. When I had waved my stick in the general direction of the summit I had not been indicating the route, but maybe they had thought that I had been. I decided to follow them and call them back to put them on the right route so to speak. Now much as I love mountains, I have to confess that I suffer from vertigo. It seems to be getting worse the older I get. Soon off the main path my vertigo kicked in. I stopped. Clearly this was not going to work out. I had better go back. I felt a little guilty about the people that had gone on before me, but they were adults and should know better than to follow the advice of a badly dressed forty something.
The weather wasn’t very good. The summit enveloped in fog, mist and snow. I trudged onto the loch, but decided that it was not worth going any further. So I turned round and with a slightly wistful backward glance wimped off back down the mountain. I made good progress and passed quite a lot of people coming up. I avoided eye contact though so as not to have to confess that I had not got to the summit.
I was half way across the suspension bridge at the end of the trail when I saw a small terrier like dog coming towards me. It had two sticks in its mouth, one small one and one large one that was sticking out to such an extend that it spanned the whole width of the bridge. It clearly had no intention of stopping or slowing down. I had two options, to turn tail and run back off the bridge, or to carry on in the hope that the dog would stop or if not then leap the stick. The dog clearly had no intention of stopping despite the giggled commands of its owner, an attractive young woman and her two companions. I was going to have to leap. In the end it was more of a sort of hop. Either way it was undignified, and the giggling intensified. Of course they apologised for the dog. Not that it was bothered. We turned to look at it. It had reached the end of the bridge and was impatiently waiting for them, still holding on to its sticks. Good luck to them! I did not here of any dog related injuries on the mountain so I presume it must have got bored with the sticks at some point.
Having failed to “climb” Ben Nevis, I decided to do a different walk back to Fort William. It felt good to be out on the hills. I watched a couple of buzzards hunting, and followed the trail to Cow Hill. The views of Loch Linnhie were wonderful. Even Fort Willima had a sort of grim charm about it seen from this distance.
As I walked down the hill into Fort William, the back way, just as grim and unpreposesing, as the main way in, I kept being stopped and asked what I was doing in Fort William. I had a fascinating chat about the impact on the local ecomony of the hydroelectric scheme, at least that is what I think we chatted about. To be fair I did most of the listening and gazing back at Ben Nevis which appeared to be coming out from behind its cloudy shroud.
Back in Fort William I decided to have a beer. Standing at the bar, the bloke next to me turned and said “so what brings you to Fort William then.” I was dressed in walking gear with walking boots. I had a rucksac on my back and a walking pole as I believe they are called, dads stick the fledglings call it, next to me. I stared at him. I was going to say ” I have come up from England to steal your sheep and take them back South of the border.”
“Walking” I said. It was a good call, I learn’t moments later that he had just got out of prison for GBH.